The overlooked female cartoonist

Sep 2, 2022

Women are often out of the picture when it comes to comics.  An exhibition online did take place in 2020 which showed the work of 50 women comics illustrators from the late 19th century until today.

Comic books are on the whole dominated by men but there is a whole wealth of female talent that is generally overlooked or hidden. In the same way that it is usually men who are thought to be more interested in playing poker with their Grande Vegas no deposit bonus codes.

A history of women cartoonists

The Exhibition was called “Looking Forward and Back” and it featured more than 50 female cartoonists covering all kinds of subjects, superheroes, wartime romances, graphic novels and flapper era cartoons. All of them go beyond the stereotypical superhero pattern.  The exhibition’s co-curator, Kim Munson, expressed it thus: “I think there are a great number of voices out there, and people want to hear this diverse range.  I hope this will continue.”

There were two sections to the exhibition. Women cartoonists that go back to the early 1900s, and a more contemporary section representing comics from the 1970s until today.  The Exhibition was on show for some time in 2020 and attracted large numbers of people, albeit online as this was during the pandemic and it was closed to the public.

In the first section of the exhibition, it looks at the collection of Trina Robbins, a cartoonist based in California.    This collection includes amongst others, cartoons produced by women in the flapper era, the period of World War II and romance comics of the 1950s.   Robins has made a huge effort to uncover many of these female artists who are only now being recognized for their work.

Unrecognized (until now) artists

An example of this would be, Nell Brinkley who is a 20th century cartoonist.  The Brinkley Girl comic was part of the exhibition and was included in the Will Eisner Hall of Fame award, about a 100 years after she created the artwork.

Robbins’ collection also includes artwork by the American cartoonist, Rose O’Neill, who is known for the Kewpie cartoons.  These appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal in the beginning of the 1900s.  Following this, Kewpie dolls were produced.  This was before 1928 when Mickey Mouse was produced by Walt Disney.

Robbins says “The first comic I found was by Rose O’Neill from 1896. I have the magazine it appeared in, not the original art.  Until anyone finds anything earlier, it’s the first published woman comic.”    Robbins began her career in comics in San Francisco in 1966.  She states that she “didn’t know about the women who preceded me.” In the 1980s she and Catherine Yronwode, a fellow artist worked together on a project. Robbins says “I decided we needed to produce a history of women cartoonists. We made a book in 1985.”

Many romance comics were exhibited that were created by women during the war while the men were away fighting.  These women lost the jobs they took for adventure cartoons only to lose them when the men returned from the war and took these jobs.

At this point these women were basically erased from the history of comics.  Robins says “That’s why I’ve written my books and collected my collection.  They were forgotten.  My big epiphany when writing these books, is that if you’re not written about, you’re forgotten. They’re not forgotten any more, they’re not.  So many more people know who these women are.”

Lily Renee, has produced works.  She was a Jewish refugee from Vienna during the 1940’s when the Nazis occupied her city.  Following this she wrote a book “Lily Renee, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer.  She has spent her life in New York.

Things begin to change

The 1960s and the women’s liberation movement changed things quite significantly.  Kim Munson says “Graphic novels have exploded as a big genre, and a lot of it is autobiographical.  The 1960s and 1970s were when women could be successful under their own name.”

The first comic book made entirely by women was organized by Robbins in 1970. It was called “It Ain’t Me Babe” co-produced with Barbara “Willey” Mendes. This was also part of the exhibition.  Work produced by Lee Marrs was also included in the Exhibition. This work, created in the 1970s, the body-positive comic “The Further Fattening Adventures of Pudge, Girl Blimp” which was about a teenager who was plus size on her journey to losing her virginity. According to Munson “The book has been published and is doing well. It explores characters that were not your traditional fashion models.”

Afua Richardson, is an African American cartoonist and is probably best known for her work on Marvel’s Black Panther World of Wakanda. It was not the norm to find women working for top comic companies such as Marvel.  According to Munson “A lot of freelancers, in and out, uncredited. Now they’re working all over.” Munson goes onto say “There can always be more women in comics, but there’s a lot better representation than it used to be.”

However, there is the issue of money. Munson says “Mostly there’s the pay gap now.  Women are getting the jobs but not getting paid as much. That’s common with almost every industry.”

Some of those women who took part in the exhibition had been involved in the Wonder Woman series. In the 1980s Robbins was the first woman to draw Wonder Woman. But it is not limited to this particular line of comics history developed by William Mouton Marston. Munson says, “I think it will keep growing, it’s like putting the genie back in the bottle, now that women have stronger voices and have really successful books.  Some artists have been working in comics since the 1970s, and have only been shown regionally, or this was their first exhibition ever.”

The artist, Fiona Smyth was part of the exhibition.  Smyth, based in Toronto has been involved in penning cartoons and novels from a woman’s perspective for the past 30 years. She collaborated on a book with Cory Silverberg about sex education in 2015 and this has received some negative attention because it discusses gender identity. “There’s a history of sexism in comics just like every other arts scene or industry” says Smyth.  “The history of comics has slowly been rewritten to include women, LGBTQ2S creators, trans folks, folks with disabilities, people of color and indigenous cartoonists who weren’t previously included but created work along the way.”


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