The History of Comics, including Women, continues with the Era of Intention part 2. In part 1 we discovered the origins of comics and great artists. Today we keep up with our list discovering some badass women who made their living out of comic strips.
Kate Carew (aka Mary Williams Chambers Reed, 1869-1961) was a famous woman caricaturist who lived a bohemians lifestyle and married three times. She was billed as ‘the only women caricaturist’and she too adventures her ink in strips with ‘The Angel Child’ (1902). This strip narrates the adventures of a baby-talking little girl who gets in trouble every single day. By 1911 she was writing and illustrating satire for the New York American and made fun of the anti-suffrage movement.
Marjorie Organ (1886-1930) worked drawing the strips of ‘Reggie and the Heavenly Twins’ for William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal. In 1908 she created a scandal: she married painter Robert Henri, who was twice her age.
Nell Brinkley (1886-1944) was already drawing patriotic cartoons one year before US would enter WWI. She created the glamorous ‘Brinkley Girls’ with exuberant and floating masses of curls. Women were inspired by these girls during the 1920s, and also inspired future cartoonists like Valerie Barclay, Hilda Terry, Marty Links and especially Dale Messic (she created Brenda Starr in 1941).
Women like Kate Carew, Rose O’Neill (Kewpies), Edwina Dumm (Cap Stubbs and Tippie) and Nell Brinkley (Brinkley Girls) were feminists. They used their power to promote the right for women to vote, using cartoons but also campaigning in the streets. Some had very colorful lives, although we would say that they were pretty standard for our nowadays standards. They challenged the status quo and worked in comics like many other men. The strip was a new medium that was allowing them to express and expand their views. However, there were some conventions.
Women tended to draw cute stuff or that related to women affairs. They would draw children with the fashion of the previous century, and adorable children that would get in trouble every day.
Fred Crane was the editor of the Philadelphia North American Comic Syndicate and he published many female authors’ strips, including Mary Hays and Grace Drayton. He probably published more female cartoonists than anyone else at that moment.
Embee Distributing Company of New York decided to publish reprints, ‘Comic Monthly,’ during one year as an experiment, back in 1922. The format was similar to Cuples and Leon, 8 1/2 x 10 inches, for only 10 cents. This was the first monthly newsstand comic publication.
However, it would be Pulp Magazines, aka the Pulps, that would light the engines for the appearance of Superheroes! They were cheap entertainment that was beginning to replace dim novels for the lower educated class. Some of the pioneers of comic books were related to the Pulps in one way or another. When Pupls began to falter, publishers shifted to publish comics.
Among the Pulp heroes we find:
- Tarzan (1912) by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
- Zorro (1919) by Johnston McCulley.
- The Shadow (1931) developed by Walter B. Gibson. This was the first character to appear in a magazine that was created solely for his adventures: “The Shadow, a Detective Magazine”.
- Doc Savage (1933) created by publisher Henry W. Ralston and editor John L. Nanovic.
- The Spider (1933) created by by Harry Steeger.
All these Pulp heroes had:
- Secret identities
- Abilities beyond mere mortals
These Pulp heroes had a direct influence on the Superheroes from comics that would appear in the 1930s and 1940s. However, this was bad news for the Pulps. As Superman and Batman would become great hits, they also become one of the reasons why the Pulp magazine industry declined.
In 1929 the comic book industry was born at the Eastern Color Printing Company in New York when they printed the Funnies (1929-1955). The Funnies were a 16-page tabloid collection of strips. It came on Saturdays and cost 10 cents at the beginning, lowering the price to 5 cents later on. The first run lasted one year and a half, and it had 36 issues. What’s important here is that it contained original material. These weren’t reprints, but original strips for the public to enjoy.
So, did anything else happen? Harry I. Wildenberg, the sales manager at Easter Color Printing, sold the idea of using comics as gas station giveaway with a fill-up to the Gulf Oil Company in 1933. It had, Dell Publishing‘s The Funnies format and it was named Gulf Comic Weekly. After this, Maxwell Charles Gaines, one of Wilderberg’s salesmen, joined him. Together, they produced the Funnies on Parade as an advertising premium given away by Procter and Gamble. It had 7 1/2 x 10 1/2 inches, and it looked very much like a modern comic book.
Gaines produced thre other books with the name of Famous Funnies:
- Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics (1933). It was all reprints, and it was given away by Kinney Shoe Store, Milk-O-Malt and others.
- Famous Funnies, Series One #1 (1934). It was published by the Easter Color Printing in partnership with Delacorte. It was a set of reprints of Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics. They printed 40,000 copies, and each cost 10 cents. It was sold at chain stores.
- Famous Funnies #1 (May 1934). With this publication, Printing established itself as a major comic book publisher. When #2 came out, it was the first product that looked like modern comic books: they were sold mostly on newsstands, and they had the proper format.
The Famous Funnies was a super hit. It had a total of 218 issues and lasted till 1955! With the Famous Funnies, Gaines and Wildenberg had created the foundations of the comic book industry. And they wouldn’t be alone for much longer.
In 1934 Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson founded the National Allied Publications, later known as DC Comics. Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was forced into retirement. He made a living writing military adventures for the Pulps, but he decided to jump into the comic book industry that was being born with new contents. This had already been tested back in 1929 with The Funnies, and the experiment was a failure: it only lasted a year and a half. So, he started publishing:
- New Fun Comics (1935). This was a regular comic with original material. But it wasn’t a great success.
- New Comics (late 1935) edited by Vincent Sullivan and Whitney Ellsworth.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two young guys from Cleveland, who later would sell to DC Comics Superman, used to be published by the Major’s comics: Dr. Occult, Slam Bradley, Federal Men. However, the Major wasn’t sure about their favorite Superman.
The Major’s comics were distributed by Independent News, a company formed by Harry Donenfeld and Jack Leibowitz in 1932. When the Major tried to publish the third volume of his comics, because things weren’t going so well, he was forced to do it in partnership with Independent News. And so, in 1937 Detective Comics was published by a new company: Detective Comics Inc., DC.
Next: the Depression shakes the comics! We’ll explore the world of Flappiness and we’ll greet the arrival of the first Superhero: Superman!
What we’ve learned so far:
Want to read more about this? Try:
- The Power of Comics : History, Form and Culture
- Pretty in Ink : American Women Cartoonists 1896-2013
- Dreamers of a New Day : Women Who Invented the Twentieth Century
[These are affiliate links. I only recommend things that I love.]