We are well into March and this year is the thirty-fourth annual celebration of Women’s History Month. It is supposed to be a time to highlight the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. Since one of the focuses of Pop Culture Squad is to promote inclusion and diversity, we are taking this opportunity to remember the impact that women creators and professionals have had in the comics industry.
In an industry dominated, in the past and present, by men, it is critical to acknowledge the work that was done by women who brought innovation to the industry and joy to readers for generations. We are focusing on women whose careers in comics began prior to the 1990s. Many of the women working in comics today have been inspired by these women who came before them.
In the first part of this series, we will start out with recognizing the important contributions of women artists and cartoonists and the subsequent chapters will cover professionals from other disciplines in comic creating. Many, if not all, of the women on this list faced difficulty in finding work and getting published in comics at all. However, the industry is better for their perseverance. The fantastic women creators below are listed alphabetically:
Artist June Brigman began her professional comics career by co-creating Power Pack with Louise Simonson for Marvel Comics. She also penciled Supergirl for DC Comics among other titles. June took over for Ramona Fradon as the artist on Brenda Starr from 1995 until its end. She was a prolific artist in comics books before taking on the Brenda Starr responsibilities. One of the most important aspects of June Brigman’s career is her work as an educator. She has taught art at the Kubert School and Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). There are bunches of current comic professionals who credit her with helping them develop their craft. She currently teaches at Kennesaw State University‘s School of Art and Design, and is the penciller on Ahoy Comics’ Captain Ginger.
Colleen Doran is a write/artist most notably recognized for her creator owned space fantasy A Distant Soil. A Distant Soil is often hailed as a significant influence for current comic storytellers. She began to get paid work at a very early age and has continued a long career that has garnered multiple awards including an Eisner Award last year for her collaboration on Snow Glass Apples with Neil Gaiman. Colleen has worked for Marvel, DC Comics, Image, Dark Horse and others. Some of her other most well know works include stints on Sandman, Shade, the Changing Man, Valor, and the graphic novel Amazing Fantastic Incredible Stan Lee. She is a fierce defender of artist and creator rights and is actively sharing the knowledge that she has acquired as a woman in the comics industry.
As member of a group of Kubert School graduates that took the 80s by storm, Jan Duursema is a comic artist who co-created Arion, Lord of Atlantis at DC Comics. She is also well-known for long runs on X-Factor for Marvel and Star Wars Legacy for Dark Horse Comics. She is currently a renowned instructor at the Kubert School, teaching the next generations of comic professionals the tools of the trade.
Artist Ramona Fradon is the co-creator of DC Comics hero Metamorpho, and well know for her work on Aquaman in the 1950s and early 1960s. Fradon had a long run as the penciler on the Super Friends monthly comic book in the late 1970s. She also had a fifteen year run as the artist on the Brenda Starr comic strip. Ramona is respected for her longevity, and the beauty of her clean lines. She still attends comic conventions occasionally into her nineties. Her pioneering spirit has served as an inspiration to generations of comic professionals.
Note: Current comic writer, and friend of the site, visited with Ramona during the pandemic last year and shared it on social media. It was as adorable as you would imagine.
Cartoonist Dale Messick created the classic comic strip Brenda Starr, Reporter. She wrote and drew the strip for over forty years, and a while she is not the first woman to be a published comic strip creator, she is one of the most notable. Messick changed her given name from Dalia and published under “Dale” to reduce the “feminine” quality of her name. Brenda Starr was an inspiration for young women, and despite glamorizing the life a reporter, it also presented a career oriented women that served as an example for millions. At its height in the 1950s, Brenda Starr was syndicated in over 250 newspapers. The importance of Brenda Starr can be seen by the fact that all three women who drew the strip are on this list.
June Tarpé Mills
Most people today do not realize that the first female superhero pre-dated Wonder Woman by six months and was created by a woman. June Mills created Miss Fury, and she first appeared as the Black Fury in comic strip form in April of 1941. Mills signed her professional work with her middle name Tarpé to obscure her gender. Miss Fury ran in Sunday Comics pages until 1952 and was collected in comic book form by Timely Comics (the predecessor of Marvel). June Tarpé Mills was a true pioneer as a woman in comics who was creating women in comics.
Elfquest creator Wendy Pini has been working as a writer/artist on the fantasy creator-owned comic property for over forty years. The fan favorite independent comic has inspired generations of fantasy writers and artists. Wendy has also been referenced as one of the first female cosplayers and was well known for cosplaying as Red Sonja in the early days of comic conventions.
Trina Robbins is a force of nature. She is a pioneering spirit in feminist independent comics beginning in the late 1960s, and she is also credited with being the first woman to draw Wonder Woman comics for DC Comics. Trina is known for her work in underground comics as a contributor and co-founder of Wimmen’s Comix. She is also credited with designing the costume for legendary character Vampirella for Warren Publishing. Robbins continues to be a voice for inclusion and exploration in comics to this day.
Comic artist Marie Severin truly fulfilled that title in her career. She began doing color work for EC Comics in the 1950s. She worked for Marvel in the production department when the Silver Age of comics got into gear as the primary colorist for the company. Her career branched out into penciling, inking, and even lettering. She famously followed Steve Ditko as the regular penciller on Strange Tales for Marvel. She co-created Spider-Woman and designed her costume and appearance. Marie is revered as a talented comic professional whose skills spanned the full breadth of the medium.
Jill Thompson is a comic artist and creator who began her career penciling The Elementals from Comico in the mid to late 1980s. She is well known for her work on DC’s The Sandman, Wonder Woman, and The Invisibles. Her creator-owned book Scary Godmother, which has been published by Sirius Entertainment and Dark Horse Comics was made into two television animated specials. She continues to work creating comics on her terms.
All of the artists on this list challenged the accepted norms. They forged a path for themselves in an industry dominated by men. Some of them had to take measures to hide their identities in order to gain acceptance. Every woman comic artist today has these women to thank for making their road just a little easier, and we know that the road is long and hard to this day. The comics industry and the world are better because these women chose to share their talent with us.
Come back over the next few days as we explore the women trailblazers in other areas of comics. Next up: Writers.
If you are interested in more information than these short blurbs each of these women have entries on Wikipedia.org detailing their lives and careers.
June Tarpé Mills