A Century of Women Cartoonists

A Century of Women Cartoonists cover

A Century of Women Cartoonists, from Kitchen Sink Press in 1993, seems like a revision of Women and the Comics, with a few major changes: 1) Trina Robbins has no co-writer this time, 2) the emphasis is on history, not present-day creators, and 3) a stated intent to focus only on cartoonists, not women who only write comics.

On a flip-through, this volume seems to have more illustrations as well, which makes for a breezy read and gives more of an idea of the art of the period. Chapters are arranged roughly by era, focusing on a representative theme of each time period as selected by Robbins. So, after cute Kewpies come flappers and then the family strips of the Depression. Other chapters cover wartime action heroes (including Brenda Starr), teen and family characters of the late 40s and 50s, and the undergrounds. (Oddly, the coverage of Marie Severin and Ramona Fradon now appears in this chapter.)

The last chapter, covering the then-modern era, is the most superficial, of note mostly for its many visual examples of work by different female artists. It begins with an attack on the comic store direct market and continues wandering afield. To be fair, there’s a lot to talk about and not much room to do it. Also covered are a list of various anthologies, a sampling of independent publishers, criticism of DC and Marvel, and comic strips. When discussing the books she worked on, Meet Misty and California Girls, grouped with books by Barbara Slate and Barb Rausch, the statement is made

A Century of Women Cartoonists cover

Although all of these titles received excellent reader response, they were not carried in enough numbers by the comic book stores, and so did not survive. All three women are currently working on Barbie.

This fits with Robbins’ blame of retailers for leaving out women and girls, but it seems to omit the questions of how the books sold to readers or whether alternative methods of reaching female customers were tried. (Were the books carried on newsstands, for example?) Which highlights a problem in covering the treatment of women in comics. Most females have experienced situations that open their eyes to the sexism of the industry, and that gives them motive to make others aware of the problems, but it’s tricky to avoid letting personal grudges color historical overview. (This is not exclusively a woman’s problem; Gerard Jones fell into the same trap with his revised edition of The Comic Book Heroes.)

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