Between the Panels: Empowered Women in Comics By Lance Victor Eaton (February 2008)
The history of women and comics is unfortunately marked by failure to represent women fairly both in comics and in the industry. Presentation of women in comics has been inconsistent at best while women working in the field of comics have often been denied the same status as men. That has changed in recent years and comic readers have been blessed to see women adding to both mainstream and independent series. Creators such as Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) and Allison Bechdel (Fun Home) as well as authors such as Jodi Picoult (Wonder Woman) have made the association of quality comics with women much more accepted and expected. However, women as both serious contributors and characters are to be found all the way back in the 1940s during the heyday of comic sales. While many women were delegated to the humor and romance genres, Tarpe Mills managed to break into the action/adventure arena with her title character, Miss Fury. A wealthy socialite turned vigilante, Miss Fury fought her share of bad guys, hommes fatales and Nazi'esque villains.
Pure Imagination Publishing's Miss Fury collection includes the first three issues of the series that began in 1942 under Timely Comics. Mills published her heroine's adventures in several other serials, but Miss Fury's own series allowed Mills to exhibit her character in much lengthier pieces. For the most part, Miss Fury meets the conventions of masked heroes of the time, but unlike her male counterparts, she seems to always be dealing with an unspoken issue of sexuality, especially with many of her opponents being men. Trina Robbins' introductory essay helps readers understand the context of Mills' work and position it within the world of comics.
On the other hand, Sharon Rudahl's Dangerous Woman: A Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman provides insights into comics' contemporary scene where female authors forge new territory. Ironically, Goldman's life ends just as Miss Fury's began in 1940. Rudahl's graphic biography guides readers through Emma Goldman's beginnings as a Jew in Russia to her immigration to the United States and development into an outspoken feminism activist from the end of the nineteenth to the early twentieth century. Dangerous Woman delves into the deeper corners of her public and private life and emotion - which some may find surprising for a comic book. The research is derived from Alice Wexler's two-volume biography of Goldman - Wexler also provides an encouraging foreword to the graphic novel. The art stresses curvature, and panel layouts prove dynamic throughout. Though the pages can feel a bid overladen with text, the art draws readers in and compels them to continue reading.
It's interesting to see how sixty years ago a woman creating a female comic character for action stories was out of the norm whereas today, a female creating a comic based on the life of an early feminist icon finds that her book is welcomed on the shelf. Both volumes add to a growing collection of work by women that has been gaining attention and interest by fans and researchers alike. As the medium becomes more legitimized, it will be interesting to see how the demographics and access to publication continue to grow for women and for minorities.
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