As we continue our Women’s History Month tribute to Women In Comics History, we focus on two areas of comic making that are often overlooked: Colorists and Letterers. Both of these disciplines have changed radically since the women in this list began working in comics.
The technological innovations of the last couple of decades have revolutionized comics coloring and lettering. They have also opened the doors of opportunity. Both of these careers were at one point considered part of the in house production department of comic book publishers. These women who were innovators and trailblazers made great strides in their fields and showed that they are part of the creative team deserving of recognition.
When these women were working in the industry the process of coloring a comic involved using dyes and creating color maps on copies of comic book pages to give printers instructions on how to apply color to the pages. Today almost all comics are colored using digital software to add tones, hues, and effects. Without those tools, these women were able to generate amazing depth to comic books for decades.
Glynis Oliver (Wein)
Glynis Oliver spent most of her career working for Marvel Comics. She colored the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, New Mutants, Thor, and Uncanny X-Men among many others. She also worked at DC Comics and contributed to titles such as Batman, Superman, and Adventure Comics. For a time she went by her married name in the comics and was credited as Glynis Wein. She was a constituent contributor to some of the most important comics for over twenty years.
Colorist Adrienne Roy has special meaning to me as she colored my childhood. Her work on the New Teen Titans and Infinity Inc. series was glorious. She worked primarily for DC Comics during her coloring career with long runs on the afore mentioned series as well as Batman, Detective Comics, and the Outsiders titles. There was richness and depth that Adrienne brought to the comics she colored. Her life was cut short by cancer at the young age of 57.
Christie “Max” Scheele
Christie Scheele worked as a comic book colorist for over two decades. She is most well remembered for her long run coloring Daredevil for Marvel Comics. The famous Frank Miller and Ann Nocenti Daredevil stories were painted with color by Christie Scheele. Her use of tone and hues give those stories important emotional narrative. Besides over one hundred issues on Daredevlie, Christie worked mostly for Marvel on titles like Squadron Supreme, Defenders, and The Avengers.
Award winning colorist Lynn Varley created the color pallet for some of the most critically acclaimed comic books of the last half-century. She was the colorist on The Dark Night Returns, 300, Sin City, and Electra Lives Again. The color work on each of these books is a critical factor in the texture of the story and how the reader experiences the comic.
Tatjana Wood began working in the comics in the 1950s doing uncredited work in issues published by EC Comics. By the 1970s, she was the primary colorist on covers for DC, and that role lasted into the mid 1980s. She had long runs for DC on Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and Grant Morrison’s Animal Man. She brought the color to the well regarded Brian Bolland line work in Camelot 3000. She has over 1000 comic book credits to her legacy. Chances are that some of your favorite historic covers from the ’70s and ’80s were colored by this legend.
The least remembered comic book creative team member is always the letterer. This is a shame because anyone who is involved with comics will tell you that bad lettering can wreck a good comic. Lettering became a freelance occupation in the 1970s and there are precious few women letterers early days of the profession. Thankfully that number of women letterers is increasing today, but there are miles to go before any semblance of decent representation can be talked about. There are only two women letterers who worked for widely distributed comics after lettering left the production department of comic publishers. Women like Ellen Cole, Gerda Gattel, and Duffy Mohler are a few of the very small numbers of women who worked in the production departments of comic publishers prior to the 70s.
Janice Chiang is an exquisite letterer. Her career began in the mid 70s at Marvel. She has worked on titles like Squadron Supreme, Dazzler, The Defenders and more for Marvel. She also worked for DC Comics, and did work on Starslayer for First Comics among others. She did extensive work for Milestone Comics, and recently lettered the award winning Superman Smashes the Klan. Janice a true professional whose craftsmanship is exceptional. As one of the very few women in her profession, she has shown perseverance and exceptional talent as a letterer.
Jean Simek was the daughter of legendary Marvel letterer Artie Simek. Beginning in the late ’60s she followed in her father’s footsteps and became a letterer for Marvel. She also worked for DC Comics and others during her career that lasted into the ’90s. She worked on Roy Thomas’ Infinity Inc and Young All-Stars in the ’80s. The daughter of a comic professional entering the same career is a rarity for the time the Jean Simek became a pioneering letterer.
Both of these disciplines in comics are becoming more populated with women professionals, but we can look back on these women and admire their talent as some of the most important in the beginning of their profession.
Don’t forget to check out the other articles in this series. Part 1 was Artists and Cartoonists, and Part 2 was Writers. Come back later this week as we explore the women trailblazers in other areas of comics. Next up: Editors and Contributors.
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.