Comics THORsday: the History of Comic Books (II) Women in Comics

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Welcome to comics THORsday! Today we’re going to take a global look at the history of comic books in the US, but taking a look at women in comics. Women started to draw comic strips as soon as 1896! However, they’re always left out as if their contribution to comics has been minimal. Let’s re-discover their history!

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During the Platinum Age we find names like Rose O’Neill, Grace Drayton, Cate Carew and Nell Brinkley among others. Many of these women were linked to women’s suffrage movement, asking for the right to vote.

During the Golden Age we find women like Martha Orr, Jackie Ormes (the first African American cartoonist), Tarpe Mills (creator of the first action hero by a woman), Dale Messick (creator of Brenda Starr) among others. But, after WWII ended, and men returned to their jobs, many women lost theirs, or had to start drawing romance comics, or cute comics, since women ‘were not supposed to draw superheroes.’ Here we find Linda Walter (creator of Susie Q.Smith), Ruth Atkinson (who drew for Fiction House but ended up drawing ‘Millie the Model’ and ‘Patsy Waker’), among others. Fortunately, Dale Messick’s ‘Brenda Starr’ kept on with her adventures and Jackie Ormes kept on with ‘Torchi Brown’s Heartbeats’ (tackling topics around race, segregation and the environment).

When the National Cartoonist Society was formed in 1946, women were excluded from joining it under the grounds that men felt that they wouldn’t be able to swear in the presence of ladies. In 1949, ‘Teena,’ the creator of Hilda Terry, sent a letter asking for women to be admitted or to change the name to National Men Cartoonist Society. In 1950 her husband, nominated her and Barbara Shermund, and they were blackballed. After that a great debate broke, and thanks to some fellow men-cartoonist, they were approved when the re-vote was held. (Women who conquered the comics World)

During the Bronze Age we find women into the Comix and hippie counterculture and feminist movements. Here we find Trina Robbins (force, among other women, Wimmen’s Comix), Joyce Farmer and Lyn Chevely (creators of Tits & Clits), among others.

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As the hippie counter culture faded, and direct-sales stores appeared, less women had access to sell their comics (and buy them). Owners of these shops were usually men, uninterested on what women were drawing. Plus, most of the clients were male, and the environment was very unwelcoming for women. The results in the ’80s for women creating comics were really sad: there was a huge drought! Some exceptions did stood out though, like Ramona Frandon (working for DC and Marvel), Cathy Guisewite, Lynn Johnston and Alison Bechdel, among others.

During the Modern Age, we find a boom, mainly thanks to Sailor Moon in the ’90s, and internet. In 1994 Friends of Lulu was created, and continued to exist till 2011. It was created to promote readership of comic books by women, and also promoting their participation in the industry. Graphic novels also get more credit (Art Spiegelman‘s Maus wins the Pulitzer Prize in 1992), and with it women find a new medium by which they can express themselves. Here we find: Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), Alison Bechdel (Fun Home), Esther Pearl Watson (Unlovable). In mainstream media we find Gail Simone. I was the Word Wide Web what made it possible for many women to self-publish their comics and web-comics. Recently, we can find more women in mainstream comics. For example, G.Willow Wilson writes the character of Ms.Marvel (drawn by a man, Adrian Alphona).

We must remember that comic books are children of the ages in which they are born. When we take a look at women in comics, not only we have to remember the times in which they were created (the Great Depression, WWI, WWII, the 9/11), we have to take in mind the status of women during these times.

With all these into mind, please take a look at the Documentary above. Though it focuses on Wonder Woman, it does explain and present many of the aspects resumed above.

From next week, we’ll take a closer look at creators and their creations.

Recommended readings and sources:

Copyright: Image on top of this post (C) / Others found on Wikipedia

About pepi

A Geek Girl interested in Geek Anthropology, comic books, books, Superheroes and discovering all about pop culture.

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