In celebration of Woman’s History month, What’cha Reading presents a brief history and biography of the pioneering women who made great breakthroughs in the field of comic book illustration and creation, and first made steps into a world dominated by men, carving a path for those who followed after.
Executive Editor/ Senior Vice President
After graduating from Brooklyn College with an English Lit. and Art History degree, Karen received her first job in the comics field as an assistant editor to Paul Levitz at DC comics. After earning her editor position, she ended up becoming Levitz’s editor when he took on the Legion of Super-Heroes. Expanding her editorial field to include more fantasy/horror books, she took over House of Mystery, and then Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld.
She is considered the driving force behind Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, after she replaced Len Wein; the co-creator and then editor of the book, and allowed Alan Moore to push the envelope when it came to writing his classic run. She was also the editor who hired Neil Gaiman to write Sandman, a book that would put both Gaiman an DC on a literary map.
It was her success on these titles and her creator-friendly attitude that led to her co-creating the Vertigo line, a mature reader line that took in existing DC books under it’s umbrella (Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Hellblazer, etc.) as well as being the birthplace of future classic titles such as Preacher, Invisibles, 100 Bullets, Fables and Y the Last Man.
In 2007 Karen was named supervising editor of Minx, a short lived imprint of DC comics aimed at a younger female audience, with books such as. The P.L.A.I.N. Janes, Token, and Emiko Superstar. Berger remained Executive Editor and Senior Vice President of Vertigo until December 3, 2012 when she stated she would be stepping down from her post, staying on until March of 2013 to ease the transition.
A graduate from Harvard, Jenette Khan created three educational magazines geared towards young adults. Kids, written by kids for kids, and published in the early ’70’s, it broached taboo subjects such as drug abuse, racism, environmental consciousness and other touchy topics.
She then went on to create Dynamite, a magazine filled with pop culture news (pre-cable and internet days folks), games, recipes and write-in contests for kids, for Scholastic Inc. It was such a success it saved the company from financial ruin and became its all time bestseller. In 1976 she became publisher of DC comics and in 1981 after Sol Harrison’s retirement, Jenette Kahn shattered the boys club that was DC’s executive editorial wing, by becoming President of DC comics. The first woman and youngest person ever to hold the position.
It was her uncanny ability to work with new up-and-coming talent, while placating the old guard at DC, that led to the company’s success throughout the 80’s and 90’s. She worked with Frank Miller and the higher-ups at DC to get them to change the type of paper they were using to try a heavier more artist-friendly paper, which led to Miller doing Ronin at DC instead of another company and paved the way for The Dark Knight Returns and Batman Year One.
Kahn, along with Karen Berger and Dick Giordano, went overseas to London searching for talent leading to the British Invasion of the 80’s which gave us such books as Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Camelot 3000 and The Killing Joke and creators like Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland and John Higgins.
She over saw most of DC’s multi-media projects, such as Superman vs Muhammad Ali and the Swamp Thing Movie from 1982, which paved the way for the Burton/Keaton Batman movies. The Flash T.V. series and Lois & Clark: The New Adventure of Superman also came about as the result of her leadership. Kahn shepherded DC through its worst times, invigorating it by progressively seeking talent and giving the the creative leeway to push the boundaries in comic storytelling. Crisis, Wolfman and Perez’s Titans and Wonder Woman, Byrne’s Superman, the Death of Superman and countless other classic stories were the results of her hard work and business acumen in the comic field.
As both a champion of creative and equal rites, Jenette Khan not only fostered the creations of Vertigo and Milestone Universe and worked with creators for fair pay and rights, she changed the face of DC staff from a bunch of stuffy old men to a diverse work environment with the once exclusively male staff being turned into a more well rounded mix, almost half of the staff being female.
Jenette Kahn left the company after 26 years in 2002.
She began a career as a film producer, forming Double Nickel Entertainment with Adam Richman. The company has produced Andrew Lau’s The Flock and Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino.
Jenette Khan is a founding member of the Committee of 200, an influential woman’s business group, and created the Wonder Woman Foundation, which gave out more than $350,000 in grants to women in three years. Jenette has been honored by Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, the United Nations and The FBI for work in fields of drug awareness, gun control, and land mines.
June got her start working at AC Comics in the early 80’s with a sample story that took three years to see publication. After a quick stint at DC she moved on to Marvel and created Power Pack with Louise Simonson. She pencilled the first 17 issues of the title then stayed at Marvel to draw arcs and single issues here and there in New Mutants and Solo Avengers.
She returned to DC in 1994 to draw a Supergirl mini-series and then re-teamed with Simonson on Dark Horse’s Star Wars: River of Chaos mini-series.
She shifted her career to comic strips by taking over Brenda Starr in the newspapers until the strip ended in 2011. She also illustrated the “Where in the World is Carmen SanDiego?” comic for National Geographic and a series of “Choose your Own Adventures” and Young Adult Star Wars novels for Bantam Doubleday.
June is now a teacher of Sequential Art, working at times at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art and the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta.
Louise Simonson has the distinction of starting her career in comics as a model for Bernie Wrightson’s cover to House of Secrets #92 (first app. of Swamp Thing) in 1971. This led to a short career in magazine publishing for McFadden-Bartell.
In 1974 she started at Warren Publishing as an assistant editor and worked her way up to Senior Editor of their comics line (Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella ) before joining Marvel Comics as an editor. She was editor of Uncanny X-Men during most of Claremont and Byrne’s run ( #137-182) as well as New Mutants and the Star wars and Indiana Jones lines at Marvel Comics. In 1983 she quit her job as editor to pursue a full time writing career.
She co-created the award winning Power Pack with June Brigman and would write the majority of the first 40 issues. She bounced around Marvel writing arcs in Starriors, Web of Spider-Man, Red Sonja, and Marvel Team-Up before making her big impact on the X-Universe. After writing a fill in issue for X-Factor that never saw print, Chris Claremont and Ann Nocenti pushed to have her take over the book after Bob Layton left. She took over writing chores with issue #6 and continued to write it until issue #64. During her run she co-created Apocalypse, and the blue-skinned Archangel.
Simonson was instrumental in the creation of the first X-Crossover: the Mutant Massacre, as well as the X-Factor chapters of Fall of the Mutants, Inferno and X-Tinction Agenda. She also took over writing the New Mutants after Claremont with issue #55 to #97, co-creating such characters as Deadpool, Domino and Cable with Rob Liefeld.
Louise left Marvel in 1991 and began writing for DC and, under Mike Carlin’s editorship, launched Superman: Man Of Steel with artist John Bogdanove. She would go on to write the title for eight years and co-create a host of characters with Bogdanove, most notably Steel, the African-American armored Superman replacement during Reign of the Supermen.
She brought her love of crossovers over to the Superman universe, taking part in the Panic in the Sky crossover event, as well as being a key architect of the Death and Return of Superman.
She returned to Marvel in 1999 to write a few mini-series starring characters such as Galactus, The New Mutant’s characters Warlock and Magik and then various World of Warcraft projects for Wildstorm. She left the comics writing field but didn’t stray too far, working on a series of Young Adult novels based on the Justice League and other DC characters.
A true art prodigy, Colleen Doran won a Walt Disney art contest at the tender age of 5 and created her own comic book series, A Distant Soil, at the age of 12. Her first paid work was for an advertising agency at the age of 15 and used her professional work for school credits.
She was hired to draw the 40’s pulp character Miss Fury for the fanzine graphic Showcase, but underage Doran quit due to the adult content of the assignment. Doran became one of the most prolific female artists in the industry.
She also did work for Marvel on Power Pack, Excalibur, Spider-Man, Marvel Fanfare and the Handbook of the Marvel Universe. She drew the critically acclaimed Gone to Amerikay, a tale of Irish immigrants told over the course of a century. Despite her amazing output, her one true love and magnum opus is A Distant Soil. Written and penciled by Colleen it is a sweeping tale of two teenage siblings coming to terms with their inherited vast psionic powers and their sudden embroilment in intergalactic politics.
First self-published in fanzines by the teenage Doran, A Distant Soil caught the attention of WaRP Graphics and she began publishing it there. She left after 9 issues over a tempestuous legal battle, claiming WaRP was trying to Copyright and Trademark her characters. She scrapped all her previous work from WaRP and started over, taking A Distant Soil to Starblaze Graphics, the company that originally courted her before WaRP. Once again Doran found herself in legal battle with Starblaze Graphics and their parent corporation, the Donning Company, over the rights to her creations. She became a champion for creative rights for artists and began self-publishing A Distant Soil under Aria-Press.
Collen continues to put out A Distant Soil, with an occasional hiatus, now through Image Comics’ Shadowline Imprint and has had her A Distant Soil works remastered into trades under the Image banner.
After a contribution to Heavy Metal in 1979, Jan Duursema received her first steady job drawing issues of Sgt. Rock. She went on to create Arion, Lord of Atlantis with Paul Kupperberg in an issue of Warlord (#55) which led to his own ongoing series of which Jan drew most of the 35 issue run.
She worked on the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons comic for 3 years straight, while continuing to do work here and there for Marvel and DC. She worked with John Ostrander on Hawkman and Hawkworld and again with Ostrander on the Nightwing chapters of DC Tangent Universe. She pencilled a few issues of the Hulk and had work on various X-Projects, including a few arcs on X-Factor.
Her most notable work however, was over at Dark Horse. Jan Duursema became the go-to Star Wars artist for Dark Horse after drawing issue #2 of Chewbacca. She re-teamed with past collaborator John Ostrander, drawing close to 100 issues of Star Wars comics for the company, including two very popular Darth Maul mini series with Ron Marz. As she was working on Episode I prequels before the movie came out, aspects of her work were used in the film, especially the wildly popular Aayla Secura and her sometimes partner Quinlan Vos.
Lucasfilm entrusted both Ostrander and Duursema to create the expanded Legacy timeline of the Star Wars Universe, taking place 130 years after Episode IV. She also inspired a Star Wars character based on her appearance and personality, a Jedi named Ur-Sema Du.
Duursema is a graduate of the Kubert School, where she met her husband and fellow comic artist Tom Mandrake.
A childhood fan of comic books, Mindy Newell sent submissions into DC in 1983, catching the attention of Editor Karen Berger who hired her immediately. Her professional debut was New Talent Showcase #9, featuring her own creation Jenesis.
Continuing to write fill-ins for Legion of Superheroes, she eventually teamed with Gray Morrow to write the classic 1986 Lois Lane miniseries, acclaimed for its serious subject matter of missing children. She then wrote Catwoman: Her Sister’s Keeper, a four issue miniseries that ties directly into Batman Year one and is considered as important to the character of Catwoman as Year One was to Batman.
Sadly for the Comic industry, but a boon for sick people everywhere; Mindy Newell was always a registered nurse, even during her writing career, and has left comics completely to excel at her medical work.
Wendy Fletcher was born in 1951 in San Francisco. A long time fan of comic, she developed artistic skills at an early age, trending more towards fantasy art due to influences of Victorian artists and her love of Shakespeare and Kipling.
In 1968 she responded to a letter from Richard Pini, who contacted her after reading her fan letter in Silver Surfer #5. A pen-pal relationship began until the two met, started dating, and then married in 1972. The husband and wife duo created WaRP (Wendy and Richard Pini) Graphics and began publishing Elfquest #2, Elfquest #1 had been published by Fantasy Quarterly, a company which folded right after the first issue’s release.
Wendy was co-writer, illustrator and editor of the Elfquest title as well as handling most of the business end of WaRp Graphics. Elfquest continues to run until this day with the title jumping through various companies; Marvel reprinting the original stories in its Epic line, DC getting publishing but not the creative rights, to e-comic releases on boingboing.com. Elfquest finally ended up at Dark Horse which is now publishing The Final Quest.
Wendy has dabbled outside of Elfquest, attempting to get an animated movie made, as well as a web-comic and graphic novel adaption of Edgar Allan Poe’s the Masque of the Red Death.
Wendy was also well-known for her Red Sonja cosplay around conventions.
An avid letter writer to Marvel Comics, Jo Duffy’s first appearance in the comics medium was being drawn into Iron Man #103 by George Tuska as an autograph seeker getting Iron Man’s signature while at an airport. After graduating from Wellesley College, Duffy got her first job editing comics, working on Incredible Hulk and Spectacular Spider-Man. She was the first editor on Rom, the toy tie in series, and then started to pursue her writing career. She wrote 30 issues of Power Man & Iron Fist, over 70 issues of Star Wars, and worked on two Marvel Graphic Novels, including the movie adaption of George Lucas’ Willow, as well as various one shots and fill-ins throughout the Marvel Universe.
In the 1990’s she moved over to DC where she wrote the first 14 issues of Catwoman with Jim Balent providing the art.
She then moved on to Extreme Studios where she wrote 22 straight issues of Rob Liefeld’s Glory. She returned briefly to Marvel to write The Order, a Defenders mini-series.
She has since moved out of the publishing field and now works at the NY State Immigration office.
Ann Nocenti grew up in a household that discouraged comic book reading, though she still managed to get her hands on some Archie and Dick Tracy collected digests, however no superhero titles.
When she was studying in Suny New Paltz she became enamored with Robert Crumb’s work. Her first run-in with superhero comics was answering an ad in the Village Voice and being hired by Dennis O’Neil to write for Marvel.
Her first work was in Bizzare Adventures #32 in 1982. Nocenti was then given the already failing Spider-Woman title and wrote the last four issues, killing off Jessica Drew in the process, and even posed in a Tigra costume for the painted photo cover of issue 50.
She always regretted killing off the character and was soon involved in her resurrection, getting consulting credits in Avengers 240 and 241. She continued writing, but did double duty as Carl Pott’s assistant editor on titles like The Hulk, The Defenders, Doctor Strange and The Thing.
She created Longshot with Arthur Adams with the character Ricochet Rita being drawn to resemble her by Adams, and wrote the 8 issue Fallen Angels mini-series which expanded the New Mutants universe.
Then, after doing a fill-in issue of Daredevil with Barry Windsor Smith, Nocenti began a 4-year, 51-issue run on Daredevil. Her run was noted for its realism and grittiness, dealing with real world problems like domestic abuse, child abuse, mental illness, nuclear war, and women’s rights all within the backdrop of superhero adventures. Noted artist John Romita, Jr. joined Nocenti for 30 issues of Daredevil, famously co-creating Typhoid Mary and Blackheart, Mephisto’s demon son. She briefly moved over to DC’s Vertigo line to write a 16-issue Kid Eternity Run before returning to Marvel to write a Typhoid mini-series and a mini-series starring Nightmare, the Doctor Strange villain.
Nocenti then left the field of comics to pursue a career in journalism. She edited High Times Magazine for a year and had her writing published in numerous publications.
She returned to comics after DC’s New 52 re-launch, taking over writing chores on Green Arrow from Dan Jurgens, and followed up scribing Catwoman after Judd Winnick left and is the current writer on the series. She also launched the Katana series tied into Justice League America and Green Arrow.
Stay tuned for the final install of Woman’s History Month in Comics:
Part4: Mavens of the Modern Age