I love browsing in the Arts and Music section of my library. I don’t do it often, only on Saturdays where I have to work. I’m a cranky Saturday worker and farting around in A+M usually lifts my spirits. I never go up there with a specific kind of book in mind, but I always end up back in the Youth Wing with several titles under my arm.

Recently, I discovered From Girls to Grrlz: A History of [Female] Comics from Teens to Zines. It’s a pretty comprehensive look at women’s and girls’ comics that were made in 1941 all the way up to the 1990s. Did you know that Stan Lee (whom I mostly associate with Spider-Man) also created women’s comics in his earlier days? You did? Well, look at you. I didn’t know that.

This is a perfect book for reading on the reference desk, where you constantly have to put down your reading to help those pesky patrons (I kid. I love the patrons). It’s so visually stimulating and fascinating. Even if you know lots about the history of comics (which I don’t), I bet you’d find a good portion of new information.

Anyway, let’s once again venture into the world of re-blogged half-naked co-eds in Hot Topic clothing that is Tumblr to track down something a lot better. All of the following pictures link to their sources:

As a kiddo, I loved the Archie series, but when I could track down Katy Keene, Betty and Veronica could take a hike. She was a movie star and super glamorous.

Katy Keene, drawn by Bill Woggon, got her own comic book in 1949. “In those pre-computer days, Katy Keene comics were as close as one could get to an interactive comic book. Woggon cheerfully credited fans’ designs for Katy’s poses…” p. 15

“Bill Woggon drew her (Katy Keene) in a different style from the other comics in the Archie line, bestowing her with enormous eyes framed by thick, long lashes. Katy’s comic books included puzzles, games, coloring pages, and even rebuses, along with short, simple, pleasant stories. But what endeared Katy to her many fans–and there *was* an active Katy Keene fan club–were the paper dolls in each issue.” p. 15

There were a number of girls magazines in the 1940s that included comics. “Calling All Girls, started in 1941…within three years its circulation surpassed half a million.” p. 24

“Polly Pigtails, a magazine for the kid sisters of Calling All Girls, came along in 1946.” p. 24

“Calling All Girls…and Polly Pigtails were…published by Parents Magazine, and their comics tended to be uplifting tales of real-life role models like Madame Chiang Kai-shek and Louisa May Alcott, or stories about girl reporters.” p. 24

The 1940s and 50s brought in many “career girl” comics, including Tessie the Typist, Nellie the Nurse, and the very popular Millie the Model, who had “acquired a respectable number of spin-off titles, including Life with Millie, Mad about Millie, and A Date with Millie….staying in print for twenty-eight years.” p. 30

“The stories in Millie the Model were generally lightweight, revolving around…modeling jobs and over Millie’s longtime boyfriend, a photographer named Clicker. But in a 1955 issue, Millie was forced to confront the then-accepted tradition of women leaving their careers for marriage.” pgs. 30-21

“Simon and Kirby had produced America’s first romance comic book, aptly titled Young Romance. While the age of teen comics readers had ranged from teen to teen, Young Romance’s cover bore a banner declaring, ‘Designed for the more adult readers of comics.’” p. 50

In his 1990 autobiographical book, The Comic Book Makers…Joe Simon remembers he and Jack Kirby seeing “a group of at least a dozen teenage girls in bobby sox, gathered around the newsstand rifling through the pages of the newly arrived Young Romance Comics (Number 1), giggling and squealing with delight.
‘I hope they make more of these,’ one of the girls exclaimed. The other agreed in shrill sounds. Jack and I were as excited as the girls. p. 50

The banner may have said “adult,” but stories with torrid titles like “I Was a Pickup,” “Back Door Love,” and “You’re Not the First” promised more than they delivered. In “Back Door Love,” the heroine secretly dates a man her parents disapprove of. The protagonist of “You’re Not the First” simply went out of with a lot of guys before marrying, and her husband gets jealous. There was no mention of sex; girls got back reputations from *kissing* too many men.” pgs. 50-51

Sometimes the personality of a particular romance title reflected the publisher’s or editor’s personal tastes. In love comics published by Fawcett Publications during the late 1940s and early 1950s, the woman was always at fault, and needed a man to lead her from the error of her ways…In the last panel, with the requisite tear rolling down her cheek, the heroine sobs out a variation on this rather confusing sentence from Romantic Secrets, September 1952: “…sob…if somehow, others could learn by this heartbreak that is mine…without waiting to discover their wrongs, too late!” We will never know if the editor was simply a misogynist or if, like the characters in his comics, he had suffered terribly in some love affair gone wrong. p. 58

In 1966, DC Comics came up with own take on mod, scooter-riding British rock stars with Swing with Scooter, a comic about a mod, scooter-riding British rock star. The art by Joe Orlando was clever and innovative, the writing (“Go, go, go! Frug, baby! Swing!”) was dismal. p. 72

One perfect comic did emerge in 1961, and it lasted an entire decade. Thirteen, Going on Eighteen was the creation of John Stanley, Little Lulu’s brilliant writer and artist. Drawing in a different style than he used for Lulu (where he was, of course, really copying Marge Henderson’s style), Stanley chronicled the hilarious adventures of thirteen-year-old, ponytailed Val, her best friend Judy, and the boy next door, Val’s sort-of boyfriend, Billy. John Stanley never embarrassed himself or his readers by trying to sound “hip”: instead, he wrote and drew stories that were every bit as clever as Lulu’s had been. pgs. 73-74

OK, kiddos, that’s all for now. I’m about to delve into the Womyn’s Comix, 1970-1989 portion of From Girls to Grrrlz. Maybe I’ll tell you what I find there.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

About magpielibrarian

Children's Librarian, Library Advocate, Mediocre Crafter, Urban Magpie, Vegetarian, Glitter Addict, Thrifter, and Worshiper of Ridiculous Outfits

7 responses »

  1. sarah says:

    Most of this stuff is sadlly (ok, sometimes fortunately) out of print, but have you seen the gorgeous edition of Thirteen that Drawn & Quarterly did? It’s only the first half, but hopefully volume 2 will be on the way soon.

  2. dearwatsonblog says:

    whenever i have a chance to pick up old comics or illustration books on the cheap (what? i’m broke) i devour them with my eyes. i love comparing and choosing my favorite styles of illustration and colour. sometimes the stories are horrible with the slang and subject matter laughably out of date but then every once in a while you will come across a nugget of genious, a little glimpse of what was to come in the women’s movement hidden in the text or plot. i like to think that maybe a clever secretary or a wily wife had some input into that. ;)

  3. Interesting enough, I had some Katy Keene stuff when I was younger and this reminded me. I don’t know where I would have gotten it though. My favorite “Grrrl” comic from the 1980s was Dakota North was a private eye and her dad was a spy. She had a really cool new wave haircut. I wanted to be her. It was a mini-series by Marvel. Only lasted about 4 issues. I really, really, really liked it. Was very influential for me. http://marvel.com/universe/North,_Dakota

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