Women In Comics Wiki

History of Women in Comic Books

650pages on
this wiki
Add New Page
Add New Page Comments0

The first history of women comics creators, by Trina Robbins and Catherine Yronwode

See also: History of Women in Comic Strips and History of Women in Manga

Although traditionally women artists have long been a minority in the comics business, they have made notable impact since its very beginning, and more and more female artist gain recognition, along with the maturing of the medium.

Women creators have worked in every genre, from superheroes to romance, westerns to war, crime to horror. Their modes of expression and subjects of discussion have expanded as women's role in society has changed. The pressure of market forces may result in more stereotypical depictions of women and their concerns[1], or they may be shut out by male colleagues due to their frankness[2] and thus resort to alternative publishing routes. However, many still have found mainstream and/or underground success telling the stories they want to tell.

North AmericaEdit

Mainstream comic books Edit

Comic books have had a number of female artists from the beginning. One Golden Age publisher in particular, Fiction House, used many female cartoonists, both on staff and through the Eisner & Iger studio, one of the era's comics "packagers" that would supply comic books on demand to publishers testing the emerging medium. Action and adventure-oriented genres were popular at this time, and Fiction House's forte was capable and beautiful female protagonists, working as pilots, detectives, or jungle adventuresses. Women working for the publisher include Lily Renée, Fran Hopper and future romance artists Ruth Atkinson and Ann Brewster. These stories were frequently written by a female writer, as well: Ruth Roche, later an editor. Before finding fame as a crime novelist, Patricia Highsmith wrote for Black Terror and other comic books.

In the 1950s Marie Severin, sister of artist John Severin, was a frequent EC and Atlas/Marvel colorist, later drawing her own stories as well. Her cartoon style made her a frequent contributor to Marvel's Not Brand Echh satirical title of the late 1960s. Another prolific artist was Ramona Fradon, who drew Aquaman and was co-creator of Metamorpho.

Later artists and writers include Ann Nocenti (creator of Typhoid Mary and Longshot), Louise Simonson (Power Pack writer), June Brigman (Power Pack artist), Gail Simone (Birds of Prey) and Devin Grayson (Batman writer).

As of 2015, many women have found substantial success working for the "Big Two" of Marvel and DC. Kelly Sue DeConnick breathed new life into the character of Carol Danvers in the 2012 Captain Marvel series. The success of that series lead to Marvel launching a new Ms. Marvel series, starring a teenage Pakistani-American Muslim girl named Kamala Khan, written by G. Willow Wilson. Smaller companies, such as BOOM! Studios and IDW Publishing, regularly recruit prominent webcartoonists and independent creators, the majority of which are women, to work on media tie-in titles such as Adventure Time (Shelli Paroline, Danielle Corsetto, Meredith Gran), Regular Show (Allison Strejlau), and My Little Pony (Katie Cook, Heather Nuhfer, Amy Mebberson, Agnes Garbowska).

Underground, alternative and independentEdit

See also: List of notable women's underground comix

The underground comix movement did eventually attract female artists, being a venue that allowed more mature themes and personal work than the commercial newspaper and comic book industry of the time. A pioneer in this market was Trina Robbins, a driving force in the creation of the early all-female comix books It Ain't Me Babe and All Girl Thrills, and later founder of the anthology series Wimmen's Comix. Robbins has continued on to a long career in comics, and has written several books about female cartoonists and their comics.

Another all-female comix book series was Tits & Clits Comix, founded by Lyn Chevely and Joyce Farmer, who were inspired by the honesty in the underground comix, but appalled by the frequent macho attitude. With the conviction that sex was political, the series was created with the focus of sex and sexuality from a female perspective. Artists who grew out of this movement include Lee Marrs (Pudge, Girl Blimp about an overweight self-obsessed wannabe hippie girl), Shary Flenniken (Trots and Bonnie about two precocious girls trying to make sense of their suburban life), Aline Kominsky (The Bunch, autobiographical depiction of her least flattering sides) and Dori Seda (autobiographical stories). However, not all underground work was so down to earth; Sharon Rudahl produced two science fiction stories, The Adventures of Crystal Night and "Tales of Satvia" for Wimmen's Comix, issue 1.

After the underground scene turned into the alternative scene, female artists have continued doing personal work. The scene's unapologetic attitude also inspired artists outside the US, such as Canadian Julie Doucet, whose surrealist semi-autobiographical series Dirty Plotte became a worldwide cult favorite in the 90's.

The underground/alternative market allowed for a more open depiction of sexuality, and in the 70's and 80's, open lesbian and bisexual artists started telling their stories in comic book form, such as Mary Wings (artist of the first all-lesbian comix book Come Out Comix (1973)), Roberta Gregory (Bitchy Bitch, and frequent contributor to Gay Comix) and Alison Bechdel (Dykes to Watch Out For and graphic memoir Fun Home, 2006).

In the independent market, that began to appear from the 70's, Wendy Pini, together with her husband Richard Pini, started the manga-inspired series ElfQuest, which soon became a major sleeper hit. In the 1980's, Colleen Doran's space opera series A Distant Soil was originally published in fanzines, and then published at the Pinis' company WaRP Graphics, although Doran left due to copyright disagreements. Other popular artists include Donna Barr (Desert Peach, about Erwin Rommel's fictional gay brother), Jill Thompson (Scary Godmother, a friendly witch in a Halloween environment) and Linda Medley (Castle Waiting, daily lives of fairytale characters)

In 1993, DC Comics editor Karen Berger was given her own imprint to manage, soon called Vertigo, following her success with such "mature reader" titles as The Sandman (which featured art by Doran and Jill Thompson). Vertigo evolved from a "darker" corner of the DC Universe to a largely creator-owned imprint, and has featured work by women such as Becky Cloonan (American Virgin), Pia Guerra (Y: The Last Man), G. Willow Wilson (Air), and Amy Reeder (Madame Xanadu). DC/Vertigo also opened the door for the first openly transgender women to work for a mainstream publisher, with Rachel Pollack's run on Doom Patrol, and Caitlín R. Kiernan's Sandman spin-off, The Dreaming. (Other trans women had worked for Marvel and DC previously, such as Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Lana Wachowski, and Maddie Blaustein, before they were out.)

Since 2009, Marvel and DC have increasingly consolidated their output around their company-owned superhero characters, marked by Marvel's acquisition by Disney in 2009 and DC Comics reorganization as DC Entertainment under parent company Warner Brothers in 2010, which among other things resulted in the departure of Karen Berger. At the same time, the mainstream success of the television adaptation of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead in 2010 revitalized publisher Image Comics and reaffirmed their creator-owned ethos. Since then, Image has published dozens of new series with fresh voices, many of them created or co-created by women, such as Saga (art by Fiona Staples), Bitch Planet (written by Kelly Sue DeConnick), Shutter (art by Leila del Duca), Alex + Ada (written by Sarah Vaughn), and Southern Cross (by Becky Cloonan).

Graphic Novels & Memoirs Edit

Creators experimented with long-form narratives in comic book form since as early as the 1920s. The term "graphic novel" was coined in 1964 by Richard Kyle in the fanzine CAPA-ALPHA #2[3], and popularized by Will Eisner with A Contract with God, published in 1978. Since then, women have not only taken part in the growth of the format, they have often found greater success with it than they would have found had they pursued "traditional" comics publishing.

Many early female-created graphic novels were actually memoirs, such as Debbie Drechsler's Daddy's Girl (1996), about incest and sexual abuse during childhood, and Phoebe Gloeckner's Diary of a Teenage Girl (2002). In 2004, the English translation of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis was published and also met with great critical and financial success. In 2006, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home was named Time Magazine's Book of the Year, and in 2015, it was adapted into a Tony Award-winning musical.

In 2007, DC/Vertigo senior editor Shelly Bond launched the Minx imprint, a line of digest-sized graphic novels aimed at the teenage girl audience, inspired by the success of both manga and Persepolis with that demographic. Young adult novelists Cecil Castellucci and Rebecca Donner, independent cartoonists Mariko Tamaki, Joëlle Jones, and Sophie Campbell (as Ross Campbell), and former Vertigo editor Alisa Kwitney all created or co-created books for the line before it folded in 2008. Journalist Deborah Vankin (with artist Rick Mays) had completed her book Poseurs before the line was cancelled; it was published by Image Comics in 2011.

In 2010, Raina Telgemeier published Smile through children's publisher Scholastic Press's Graphix imprint. It was awarded the Eisner Award for the Best Publication for Teens. As of June 2015, it has been on the New York Times's Paperback Graphic Novel Bestseller list for three years straight.[4]


Although a minority, there have been female artists working in the medium even since its earliest days. One of the earliest female artists was Marie Duval, who, together with her husband Charles Henry Ross, was co-creator and artist of one of the earliest recurring characters in modern cartoons and comics, Ally Sloper.

Tove Jansson is best known as a prose writer, but she did also write and draw comics featuring her characters, "The Moomins" in the 50's, containing the same poetical qualities as her books.

In the UK, Posy Simmonds started her career in 1979 with the weekly comic strip The Silent Three of St. Botolph's for The Guardian about the daily life of three former schoolfriends, which lasted for a decade. She had also written children's books, often in comic form, such as Fred (where later a successful animated special) and Lulu and The Flying Babies. For the 90's and 00's, she has done more serious works, inspired by literary classics, such as Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe.


An early veteran on the Franco-Belgian market was Liliane Funcken (née Schorils), who, after meeting her husband Fred Funcken (himself a comics veteran), teamed up with him to embark on a long-lasting career for the magazine Tintin from the 50's up until the 80's, where the couple collaborated on comics and illustration. They have adopted a realistic style, and mostly specialise in historic works.

One of the earliest successful female artists was Claire Bretécher, who started her career in the 60's and is famed for her humor series Les Frustrés and the co-creation of the magazine L'Écho des savanes along with Gotlib and Mandryka.

In 1976, the French magazine Ah ! Nana was launched. It was inspired by the feminist underground comix from the USA, published by Humanoïdes Associés and was an attempt to branch out of Metal Hurlant by the same editor with a majority of female artists. It tried to adhere to the rock'n'roll attitude of the former magazine, and sometimes featured male artists from the magazine, such as Jacques Tardi and Moebius. Every issue was built around a theme, such as nazism or homo- and transsexuality. Issue 7, 1978, about sadomasochism was deemed pornography and was forbidden to sell to minors below 18 years of age, a rule which by extension forbade kiosks to advertise the magazine, thus cutting off many of the magazine's market outlets. In the end, this forced the cancellation of the magazine due to bad sales, through means considered by the authors as censorship of a feminist voice. The last issue was issue 9, themed around incest. No similar comics magazine has since appeared in the Franco-Belgian market, but it helped launch or consolidate the careers of Chantal Montellier (gritty, feminist, political sci-fi), Nicole Claveloux (surreal fantasy) and Florence Cestac (funny cartoons).

Another author that appeared during this time was Annie Goetzinger, who worked in a realistic art nouveau style and drew adventures with female protagonists. She frequently collaborated with Pierre Christin, and has won two awards at the Angoulême festival.

In the beginning of the 21st century, Iranian expat Marjane Satrapi released the critically acclaimed Persepolis about her childhood and coming-of-age in a politically turbulent Iran, and in Europe. The Ivorian-French writer, Marguerite Abouet, wrote the acclaimed Aya series about an Ivorian girl growing up in the 1970s.


  1. Paley, Nina. "Nina Gives Up", Nina's Adventures. Reprinted in Robbins, Trina. A Century of Women Cartoonists, Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink Press, 1993. pp. 172
  2. "Women would submit things to the underground publishers and they'd be rejected because men were grossed out by what women had to say." Flenniken, Shary, as quoted in the DVD insert of Comic Book Confidential (dir. Ron Mann, 1989)
  3. Kyle, Richard, "The Future of Comics" (PDF)
  4. MacDonald, Heidi, "Congrats to Raina Telgemeier for three straight years on the NYT Bestseller list", Comics Beat. Published 22 June 2015.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).

Also on Fandom

Random Wiki