The History of Comics, including Women, continues with the Era of Retrenchment. Here we see the rise of the television. The TV becomes the dominant mass media preferred by people, especially by kids. While the TV offered Superman’s adventures for free, comic books still cost 10 cents an issue. The Golden Age saw the birth of more publishers than the market could ever sustain later on. So, they had to change their preferred genres to survive. While Superhero comics were losing sales; romance, westerns, crime and horror saw a rise in their sales.
In 1955 the Comics Code was implemented. Some genres were banned with the code, like crime and horror. One publisher that was selling these in sheer amounts, EC, ended up leaving the business. EC tried to stay two more years in business with their “New Direction.” Other publishers found that publishing comics based on the TV was a great way for their sales. For example, Dell published Gunsmoke in 1956 and DC The Many Loves of Dobie in 1960. These comics easily qualified for the Comics Code Authority.
From 1954 there was less work for everyone, and if you found it, it paid much less. Comics began to be less and less attractive for working purposes.
While other publishers had problems with the Comics Code Authority (CCA), Dell Comics found its position within the industry solidified. Dell Comics, suddenly, were what comics were supposed to be. Because of this, Dell didn’t need to submit their comics to obtain the seal of approval. In fact, Dell’s standards were higher than those of the CCA.
Dell’s comics were based on cartoons (Lonely Toons), movie cowboys (Roy Rogers), funny animals and westerns (Gunsmoke, Maverick, etc.). However, this boom in comics thanks to the Western declined as soon as the Western movies and shows lost their popularity.
DC also saw their positition solidified. DC bought Quality Comics in 1956, and along with the publisher they also bought Plastic Man, Blackhawk and Uncle Sam. They also bought Crestwood’s romance titles.
DC also adapted TV and Radio successes, including adaptations of comedians like The Adventures of Bob Hope (1950), The Adventures of Dean Martin (1952), and The Adventures of Jerry Lewis (1957).
Because DC was secured, they didn’t feel a need to renew their talent. Thanks to this, DC gained a house style. However, this would have a cost from the 1960s when more fresh blood and ideas would be required to face the competition.
DC still published Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. However, they had very strange titles and new lives. Because the audience tastes had changed, DC continued to explore the Myth of Superman giving him incredible supporting cast members like Jimmy Olsen, his girlfriend Lois Lane (1958) and Superbly (1958). They also introduced Supergirl, Krypto (the super dog) and Red Kryptonite in 1959. However, little by little Superman started to look more a comedian than a real Superhero.
While Superman seemed silly, Batman saw a never-ending proliferating cast. For Batman to return to his roots, he had to wait until Julie Schwartz took over as an editor in DC from 1964.
By 1957 Atlas Comics was one of the largest comic book companies in the US. They used to distribute their comics through Atlas Magazines, Inc. However, in 1956, Martin Goodman’s publication managers Monroe Froehlich Jr. convinced him to use American News Company for distributing the comics. In only six months, ANC went out of business, and Atlas had to agree with a DC-owned distribution company, Independent News Company, to distribute their comics. However, they limited their distribution to eight comic book titles. Goodman was left with his sole full-time employee, editor Stan Lee, who opted to publish 16 bi-monthly titles. Most of these titles were Westerns and Romance comics.
As the 1960s approached, most publishers started to return to the Superhero genre as the other genres started to fall from consumer’s graces.
In a time where there were few jobs in the comic book industry, what happened to women? During the 1940s women were still drawing comics about children. Cute kids could be found every Sunday in many newspapers around the country. The problem was that most kids were now teenagers. So, strips had to adapt.
In 1949 Hilda sent a letter to the all-male National Cartoonists Society (NCS) asking for acceptance of women. She signed as “The Committee for Women Cartoonists,” Hilda Terry, Temporary Chairwoman.
The NCS was founded in 1946. It excluded women from it despite women being in comics since the very best beginning of the medium. The reason to exclude women was lame: men wouldn’t be able to curse if women were to be present!
Terry’s husband, Gregory D’Alesia, a magazine cartoonist, nominated her and another female cartoonist, Barbara Shermund, for the NCS membership. Both were blackballed in the vote in 1950 despite recommendations from the artist of Flash Gordon, Alex Raymond! What happened next was a tornado: the outrage within NCS was massive, so they had to vote again. It was with this second vote than both women were allowed in the NCS. After being allowed in, Terry submitted the name of her friends. Gladys Parker was among them.
After Terry had stopped being published, she decided to pioneer in another field: computer animation! She was so successful that she was given an award for the best animation cartoonist from the NCS in 1979.
Teen strips were fashionable, in fact, they accurately portrayed fashion. Many women working in comics had also worked in the world of fashion; like Gladys Parker, Linda Walker, and Hilda Terry.
When Stan Lee was forced to reduce the titles of Atlas Comics, later known as Marvel Comics, he had to choose. Among the titles was Ruth Atkinson‘s Millie the Model and Patsy Walker. These two titles became very successful and long lasting. They were edited by Stan Lee.
While many editors were against women working in action comics, many others had no problems with them working on teen and romance comics. Romance Comics saw the light in 1947 at the hands of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon with their Young Romance series. The main message was that women would find happiness through a man, having children and working at home.
We could find women also working in funny animals. However, many publishers wouldn’t hire women. Walk Disney Productions wouldn’t hire any women since their workforce consisted of all white men.
Jackie Ormes, the first black woman of color to have her own syndicated comic strip, sold Torchy Brown to a black-owned newspaper.
However, despite trying to work for the industry, women were not allowed to draw Superheroes or detective or any other strong women. Strips had to be about secretaries, fashionistas, teens and kids. When teen and romance comics sales dropped, many women in the industry left to take care of the family or to illustrate children books.
The Seduction of the Innocent by Dr. Fredric Wertham (1954) hit the comic book industry hard, specially women, since they were the first ones to be fired. [In 1967 Patsy Walker died and in 1974 Millie the Model hung. These comics haven’t seen women writing them for 20 years…]
Marvel and DC survived the comic book depression of the 1950s. However, this depression saw many women flee the industry for social pressure mainly, and for not being offered any job. In the end, there were only two female artists working for mainstream comic book publishers. [Yes, you read it correctly: only two!]
Marie Severin found a job in EC Comics as a colorist thanks to his brother John Severin. When The Seduction of the Innocent saw the light, she went to work for Stan-Lee. By 1966 she was able to create a five-pages special for Esquire Magazine featuring Dr. Strange (a hit at the time). And she got it because none of the men at Marvel found it important enough to waste their time drawing Dr. Strange for a magazine! She started actively drawing when Steve Ditko left, and she kept on drawing Dr. Strange.
DC had Ramona Fradon. She drew Aquaman, co-created Metamorpho, worked on Superman, Batman, and the Plastic Man. She left DC in 1980 to take over Dale Messick’s Brenda Starr upon the creator’s retirement.
During the Era of Retrenchment, comics ended up with only two women in mainstream comics: Fradon and Severin. Despite women being in the industry from the beginning, they were not welcomed anymore.
Next: we’ll discover that women didn’t give a damn about men telling them what they could draw or not! Let’s welcome Comix! (We’ll also take a look at what mainstream comics were doing).
What we’ve learned so far:
- The History of Comics, Including Women. The Era of Invention (part 1)
- The History of Comics, Including Women. The Era of Invention (part 2)
- The History of Comics, Including Women. The Era of Invention (part 3)
- The History of Comics, Including Women. The Era of Proliferation (Part 1)
- The History of Comics, Including Women. The Era of Proliferation (Part 2)
- The History of Comics, Including Women. The Era of Diversification
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.]