March is Women’s History Month and a time to reflect on the contributions women have made in several fields. The comic book industry, one that has been rightly accused of being an “all boys club” for most of its existence, has finally begun pulling itself out of its own equality dark ages and into a brighter and more diverse future.
Although there is still further to go, both the field and fans alike are now embracing talented female creators and holding them up to a higher strata once only reserved for male comic writers and artists. Creators such as Gail Simone and Kelly Sue DeConnick are leading the charge toward equality and helping to shape geek culture into an all-inclusive world.
Like with any movement, those who make it into the limelight do so with the help of others who toiled away in the darkness laying the foundation for others to build on. This in no way diminishes the hard work of those women in the comics industry who are now enjoying a level of success, but instead gives us a chance to highlight others who helped push the struggle further without ever receiving the acclaim they deserve. This is the story of two such women.
Marie Severin is an artist who began her career in the comic book industry working for EC Comics in the 1950s. Her break came courtesy of her brother, artist John Severin, who needed a colorist for his pencils and inks. Her immense talent soon led to her contributing her color skills across all of the company’s titles. She left comics when EC folded under pressure from the U.S. Senate hearings leading to the Comics Code Authority. She returned to work for Marvel Comics in 1959 and quickly became Marvel’s head colorist. During the 1960s, she impressed Stan Lee with her illustration skills and began penciling the backup Doctor Strange stories in the title “Strange Tales.” She enjoyed two more decades as a penciller for Marvel, drawing many of the company’s biggest characters such as The Hulk, Iron Man and also co-created Spider-Woman in the late 1970s. She retired from art completely in the mid 2000s.
Similar to Severin, Ramona Fradon began her career in the comics industry in the 1950s. Her first long term assignment was illustrating Aquaman for DC Comics in the pages of Adventure Comics and even co-created Aqualad in the title. After a short break to have her daughter, she returned to DC to co-create the character Metamorpho in the pages of “The Brave and the Bold.” She continued to pencil titles for DC through the 1970s, including almost the entire run of “Super Friends.” In 1980, she became the illustrator of the syndicated comic strip “Brenda Starr” until her retirement in 1995.
Both of these women had careers that spanned decades, yet are still unknown by many comic book fans simply because of their gender. The quality of their work deserves to stand toe to toe with any artist of their era, but it remains in the shadows of their male counterparts. While their names may not be as recognizable as the likes of Jack Kirby or Stan Lee, they helped pave the way toward the female creators of today. If those that see farther do so because they stand on the shoulders of giants, then the body of work from Marie Severin and Ramona Fradon are sturdy pillars elevating the art of comics to a height that demands the best from others to match it.
– By Eddie deAngelini