In the last couple of weeks there has been a slew of articles about the subject of "women in comics" that range from calling out "hot" women that supposedly pretend to be into "geek culture", to telling us that the phrase "women in comics" is passée because the battle has been won, and to other articles taking the depressing line that superhero comics will never change.
The first takes a line on policing just how geeky an attractive women has to be to count as a geek, while ignoring the inherent sexism of industries that pay women to dress in provocative clothes and strut their stuff. The second, makes the mistake of thinking that the experiences of some of the women who have had success in comics are universal, and the third is a tad confusing as I know the author is not against giving up on working towards better representation and portrayals of women at DC and Marvel, yet takes the angle that we should focus on indie comics instead where women are more welcome.
"For a bulky segment of a century, I have been an avid follower of comic strips - all comic strips; this is a statement made with approximately the same amount of pride with which one would say, 'I've been shooting cocaine into my arm for the past twenty-five years.' I cannot remember how the habit started, and I am presently unable to explain why it persists. I only know that I'm hooked, by now, that's all." - Dorothy Parker, 1943
History has not been kind to the early US cartoonists, with only a few names regularly remembered - even then, details are patchy. Women cartoonists are mostly forgotten and what research has been done is often contradictory – from differing dates to whether certain individuals were male or female! Yet the contribution from women was immense, particularly in how often their work included gender politics, and in comparison to the contemporary gender disparity within the industry.
It is also a period of Women in Comics history that I hold close to my heart.
Rose O'Neill is regarded as the first woman cartoonist (1874-1944). Self taught, and from a poor family, her parents ensured she was never without paper to draw on, and her father in particular was keen to support her love of books and art as best he could. In 1888, at the age of 13, Rose won an art contest held in the local paper (the Omaha World Herald) and the judges were so doubtful that her entry, "Temptation Leading to an Abyss", could have been drawn by a 13 year old, that they summoned her to prove her skills in person. Proving her skills, from then on Rose was able to supplement the family income with regular work in the periodicals.