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Heroines of the Comics for Drew Friedman’s perusal

I was recently made aware of Drew Friedman’s upcoming Heroes of the Comics, coming out in August, featuring full-color portraits and profiles of important comic book creators from the 1930s through the 1950s. My initial reaction was some delight, because Fantagraphics put up a picture of Lily Renée’s profile, and that’s always good when people remember her. But of course my delight was tempered the more I read on. The table of contents in the preview lists only two other women in addition to Renée, Marie Severin and Ramona Fradon (misspelled ‘Fraden’), out of 84 people. The summary on the back of the book says, “Featuring subjects popular and obscure, men and women, as well as several pioneering African-American artists.” When women make up 3.5% of your list, (and “several” African-Americans = 2 of them), you’re almost better off not trying to pass them off as a selling point of the book.

What makes this list all the more disappointing is that Friedman himself stated at MoCCA Fest that he felt it was important to profile creators overlooked by both fans and people in the industry, specifically citing Bill Finger. Of course, lists like this are always going to cause some kind of debate over inclusions and omissions, and I understand this book isn’t just about introducing people to forgotten creators, but the people who know Bill Finger was the real creator of Batman still vastly outnumber the people who have even heard of Lily Renée.

Bearing all that in mind, here is my list of women who could have been in this book.

Elizabeth Holloway Marston

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Friedman features the team of Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, as a single entity (#8), so why is Wonder Woman co-creator William Moulton Marston (#24) all on his own? Elizabeth’s contributions to the creation of Wonder Woman are well-documented. And if you wanted to be thorough, you could include the Marstons’ third partner, Olive Byrne, as the inspiration for Wondy’s metal bracelets!

Virginia Hubbell

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No Golden Age comics history is complete without mentioning #22 on Friedman’s list, Charles Biro and his lurid Crime Does Not Pay. Until recently (with David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague) however, no one mentioned that most of “Biro’s” stories were actually by a young woman known as “Ginny”. Her colleagues Pete Morisi and Rudy Palais praised her as a superior creator to Biro. Palais even said that “Charlie couldn’t do what she did in a million years.”

Ray Hermann

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Hermann (aka Rae or Ruth) was a publisher, editor, writer, (and possibly penciller and inker) whose career spanned fron 1940 to 1955. Her company, Orbit Publications, was a founding member of the Association of Comic Magazine Publishers, for which she served as Secretary and Board Director. The ACMP was founded in response to the rising anti-comics sentiment in the United States, creating the first Publication Code for policing the content in comics, but comics were not subject to formal review to use their seal of approval, and it was largely ignored, but its Publication Code formed the backbone of the later Comics Code. She was also one of the few “advice columnists” in romance comics who was actually a woman

Helen Meyer

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Whenever comics history discusses Dr. Frederic Wertham and the Kefauver hearings on “juvenile delinquency”, EC publisher Bill Gaines is lionized as the only person in the comics industry who stood up to and demanded to be heard. That, my friends, is what we call a damn lie. Helen Meyer was the publisher of Dell Publications and was instrumental in securing the Disney, Warner Brothers, Little Lulu, and Popeye licenses for Dell’s comics line. What follows is from Meyer’s testimony:

We must give our American children proper credit for their good taste in their support of good comics. What better evidence can we give than facts and figures…Dell’s average comic sale is 800,000 copies per issue. Most crime and horror comic sales are under 250,000 copies. Of the first 25 largest selling magazines on newsstands - this includes Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post, Life, and so forth ─ 11 titles are Dell comics…With the least amount of titles, or 15 percent of all titles published by the entire industry; Dell can account for a sale of approximately 32 percent, and we don’t publish a crime or horror comic.

Dr. Wertham, for some strange reason, is intent on condemning the entire industry. He refuses to acknowledge that other types of comics are not only published, but are better supported by children than crime and horror comics. I hope that his motivation is not a selfish one in his crusade against comics. Yet, in the extensive research he tells us he has made on comics, why does he ignore the good comics? Dell isn’t alone in publishing good comics. There are numerous outstanding titles published by other publishers, such as Blondie, Archie, Dennis the Menace, and so forth. Why does he feel that he must condemn the entire industry? Could it be that he feels he has a better case against comics by recognizing the bad and ignoring the good?

Meyer was made CEO of Dell Publications in the early 1950s and remained so until its sale to Doubleday in 1976.

Ruth Atkinson

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Either created or co-created the long-running Marvel Comics characters Millie the Model and Patsy Walker. Comics history is cruel to the pioneers of genres that have fallen out of favor, but both Patsy and Millie kept Marvel afloat in the 1950s. Even amid the Marvel superhero revival of the 1960s, Millie the Model comics were still among the top 100 series circulated each year, bringing in almost $220k at its peak that decade in 1965—equal to almost $1.7 million today.

Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht

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Feuerlicht was the Editor-in-Chief of Classics Illustrated as well as an acclaimed historian. She began working at Gilberton, the publishers of Classics Illustrated, as an assistant editor in 1953. By then end of her tenure in 1961, she had been made Editor-in-Chief and created spin-off titles like Classics Illustrated Junior and other non-fiction comics like The World Around Us. She was known around the Gilberton offices as “Roberta the Conqueror”.

Honorable Mentions

  • Ruth Roche: Friedman lists Jerry Iger (#6), who with Will Eisner (#7) founded the Eisner-Iger shop. He leaves out Ruth Roche, his later business partner. Roche started as a writer at the Eisner-Iger studio in 1940. She soon became Iger’s associate editor; later they became business partners, and the studio became the Roche-Iger studio. She stayed with the Roche-Iger studio until it ceased publication in 1961.
  • Marion McDermott was an editor for St. John publications, including one of the first graphic novels ever produced, It Rhymes With Lust. She also edited such titles as Teen-Age Temptations, Teen-Age Romances, Authentic Police Cases, and Fightin’ Marines. Artist Ric Estrada credits her encouragement for helping him develop his style
  • Joan Bacchus. Though her first attributable published comics were in 1966 as part of the Black history series Golden Legacy, it is very likely she contributed, under her maiden name “Cooper”, to 1947’s All-Negro Comics, making her the first African-American woman published in a comic book.
  • Patricia Highsmith. Though best known as a thriller novelist, Highsmith’s only “honest” job her whole life was writing comics for various companies including Timely (Marvel) Comics!
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