ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 5.04 - JULY 2000
Dale Messick: A Comic Strip Life
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Enter Brenda Starr
Finding a syndicate to publish Brenda Starr, Reporterwas extremely difficult. Armed with her new name and strongest portfolio yet, Dale Messick approached Joseph M. Patterson, publisher of the New York Daily Newsand head of the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate. According to some, Patterson was considered the epitome of male chauvinism and wanted nothing to do with women cartoonists, having tried one once! Due to the grace of another woman, Mollie Slott who worked as a "Girl Friday" for Patterson, Dale had a fighting chance to show her work. While it wasn't accepted for the Daily News, Brenda Starrfirst appeared in the Sunday comics beginning in June 1940. It wasn't until after Patterson's death that the strip was actually featured in the Daily News.
Messick's Brenda Starr was progressive for her day. Courtesy of Jackie Leger. © Dale Messick
Brenda Starr became one of the most successful comic strips ever and for Dale, Brenda Starr's life, adventures and clothes were a successful formula; they were all things that the average housewife wanted to have. Dale remained true to the soap opera value of her heroine, keeping the adventure well balanced with fashion and romance. Over the years, Dale has taken harsh criticism from hard-core female reporters for making Brenda Starr too well dressed or too focused on "capturing" the handsome Mystery Man to be serious about her job. Dale defends her character with passion. To this day, she firmly believes that Brenda is a perfect balance of an ideal reporter and says that, "Authenticity is something I always try to avoid." Dale, a product of her era, knew that the '40s were a depressing time and she wanted to create a character to capture the imagination of women everywhere.
Brenda even helped sell stamps. Courtesy of Jackie Leger © Dale Messick.
A Cultural Icon
By 1942 America was steeped in war and with men of draft age joining the service, women took their place in the work force. During this drab and uncertain time, the need for female-based comic strips tripled and for one brief moment in time, women blonde bombers to girl commandos battled enemies and lived a high flying life of adventure and daring. By putting Brenda Starr parachuting from planes or nearly freezing at high altitudes in exotic places, she was changing the dreary life of the American working girl. And, what good is adventure without romance? World War II saw American men volunteering to fight Fascism overseas and movies, pulp fiction and comic books reflected the action-oriented theme of war. As early as 1937, an issue of Adventure Comicshad illustrator Cecelia Paddock Munson signing The Monastery of the Blue God,a spy story with intrigue. A few years later, Tarpe Mills was drawing one of her best action strips Daredevil Barry Finn,later Miss Fury.Best of all, almost from the beginning, comic books were employing women.
Dale Messick was in the right place at the right time, as red-haired Brenda Starr emerged as an eager female reporter for the Flash,with its first "team" of colleagues to include Tom Taylor (crack cameraman in love with Brenda), Pesky Miller (copy boy), Daphe Dimples (boss's niece) and Muggs Walters (boss and editor of the Flash,later changed to Mr. Livwright). Brenda Starr had spunk and wanted to escape social tea journalism for the quest of exciting stories in out of the ordinary places.
When the war ended, women were encouraged to return to the kitchen and family life. As the 1950s arrived, a new period of security brought with it wit, humor and a new generation of sassy, gum chewing teenagers, a far cry from the working girls preceding them. While Dale Messick produced several strips, only Brenda Starr reached international acclaim. Her themes of independence, daring and quirkiness always reflected the issues of her day and her own personality. She remains the last living witness to the Golden Era of Comics.
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