This is the second chapter in our celebration of women in comics history. In this post we will highlight a fantastic group of writers that made lasting impacts on the industry.
This category has been one of the most difficult to fill. While some of the women listed in Part 1 of this series were cartoonists in that they both wrote and drew their stories, the list of impactful full-time writers before 1990 is short, and to be truthful, most of these women started their careers as editors. It is disappointing to see the paucity of women writers in some of the formative years of comics creating.
I will say that the last two decades have seen a substantial rise in women writers in comics. But that rise is of course relative when you look at how bad it has been. While more women are getting work writing, recognition still has some territory to gain. There have been fifteen people in the last thirty-two years who have received Eisner Awards for Best Writer. Only two of them were women, and they were only in the last three years.
Well, let’s celebrate some amazing writing. The women listed below in alphabetical order created some amazing stories:
Born Audrey Anthony Blum, Toni Blum, was one of the very few women comic writers in the golden age. She worked the Eisner-Iger Studio which produced stories for Quality Comics and National Allied Publications. She wrote scripts for golden age characters Dollman, Black Condor, The Ray, Uncle Sam, and more. She even ghost-wrote stories of The Spirit for Will Eisner. One of the remarkable aspects of Blum’s career is that she used over a dozen pseudonyms and all of them were either gender obscured or outright masculine. Even her most commonly referred to professional name is gender blind adaptation of her middle name. She was the only woman working in her office and contributed in important ways to some of the biggest comic characters of her time.
Mary Jo Duffy
As a writer for Marvel Comics in the 1980s, Mary Jo Duffy is responsible for some well-known long runs of stories. She wrote Power Man and oversaw the transition of the title to Power-Man and Iron Fist. She had a memorable run on the Marvel Star Wars series and wrote the Fallen Angels mini-series spinoff of New Mutants. In the 1990s she wrote the first fourteen issues of the first ongoing series for DC’s Catwoman. By the mid-2000s, Duffy had retired from comics writing. She began her career as an assistant editor for Marvel and often went by Jo Duffy in credits. Her work is spread across dozens of titles in the 80s and 90s and made an impact.
Barbara Kesel has had an interesting career arc in comics. Her first freelance writing work, a Batgirl backup story, was published when she was twenty-two. She later became a full-time staff editor at DC Comics and then transitioned back to writing. She helped create Dawn Granger as the new Dove and wrote the “last Batgirl” story as DC retired Barbara Gordon from the cowl for a long time. She has also had stories published by Archia, CrossGen, Dark Horse Comics, Image, IDW, and more. She has gone by her birth name Barbara J. Randall at times earlier in her career. Kesel is known to be a staunch defender of women’s rights in comics and featured strong and fully formed women characters in her writing. She continues to write and create interesting stories to this day.
Writer Mindy Newell made important contributions to women’s place in comics creating during her career. She began writing stories in DC’s New Talent Showcase and moved on to do fill-in and scripting duties on Legion of Super-Heroes stories and Action Comics. She is the first woman to be credited as writer on an ongoing Wonder Woman series. That occurred prior to the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot, and she returned to script Wonder Woman later in George Perez’s run. She was the writer for the first solo Catwoman series in 1989. A fantastic writer and a champion of accurate portrayals of women in comics. Mindy Newell is welcome addition to any list of great women writers in comics history.
Note: If you want a treat, find a copy of the letters page from Swamp Thing, Vol. 2 #46 and see Mindy take Alan Moore to task on his depiction of a woman character in an earlier issue. Fantastic Stuff.
In the 1980s, at Marvel, there were a few women who graduated from editing to full-time writers. Ann Nocenti was one of them. She edited the X-Men books among others for several years. However, she is most known as a writer. Her first regular writing assignment was to pen the last four issues of the first Spider-Woman series. She later wrote the important Beauty and the Beast mini-series as well as the Longshot mini-series that introduced the title character along with antagonists Mojo and Spyral. Both of those books strayed from the typical superhero “battle books” that were common at the time. Her seminal run on Daredevil followed that. She introduced the character of Typhoid Mary and continued to bring metaphysical stories to modern superhero comics. Annie Nocenti is still actively writing today and has released Ruby Falls and Seeds in recent years through Dark Horse Comics.
Ruth Roche was a writer in the Eisner-Iger studios in the 1940s and wrote comics stories including the characters Phantom Lady and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. She was sometimes credited as R.A. Roche or Rod Roche. After Will Eisner left the studio, Roche became Jerry Iger’s business partner and the name became the Roche-Iger Studio. She was one of the very few women comic writers of the Golden Age of comics.
We have reached a personal favorite on this list. Louise Simonson, originally credited as Louise Jones, began working for Warren Publishing in the 1970s. She moved to work for Marvel Comics as an editor and was editing Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men and then The New Mutants. She made her writing debut with the creation of Power Pack with June Brigman. She also took over writing for Claremont on The New Mutants and took on X-Factor shortly after its inception. It was on that book that Louise Simonson created the villain Apocalypse. She was also responsible for the creation of Cable, Rictor, and Steel (John Henry Irons) among others. In the 1990s, she was part of the group that architected and wrote the “Death of Superman” and the “Reign of the Supermen” arcs. She has been inducted into the Eisner Comic Hall of Fame and is one of the most influential comic writers of the 80s and 90s regardless of gender. Louise Simonson is still writing and active in the comic book creative community.
An interesting story in the amazing career of Mrs. Simonson is that she was friendly with the hot young comic artists of the early 1970s including Bernie Wrightson, and when she was still Louise Jones, she modeled for the cover of House of Secrets #92 which is the first appearance of The Swamp Thing. This is a footnote at best, because her writing, which is thought provoking and filled with emotional impact, is what makes her an important part of comics history.
You can see a recent interview with Louise Simonson with interviewer Christy Blanch from last year’s virtual Baltimore Comic-Con below:
Kim Yale was a wonderful comic writer. She worked as an editor for DC Comics and often wrote with her husband John Ostrander. Her first published work was on New America for Eclipse Comics. She also wrote Manhunter, Suicide Squad, and Deadshot for DC. She wrote many stories that take place in the GrimJack universe in Munden’s Bar. Kim’s passion for comics characters led to perhaps her most lasting impact on comics in her tragically too short life and career. Unable to passively accept the results of The Killing Joke, Kim along with Ostrander rescued the character of Barbara Gordon and gave her purpose as Oracle, the information broker to the superhero community. She took a character that had been tossed aside and turned her into an inspiration and an icon for women and differently abled readers. Barbara Gordon has become a critical fixture in DC Comics universe. She has subsequently appeared in the Birds of Prey comics and TV Series. News was recently confirmed that there is a Batgirl TV series in development at HBOMax, and very likely that wouldn’t be the case if it wasn’t for Kim Yale.
Writing comic books is a different animal than straight prose. That is why the two are not always successful by the same writer. The women who were able to break through and become innovators and comic creators are important and brought us amazing stories and characters that have enriched the pages of comics for decades. You could do a lot worse that picking up the work of the women listed above.
Come back over the week as we explore the women trailblazers in other areas of comics. Next up: Colorists and Letterers.
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.