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Who's the Queen of Comics? (Hint: Not Wonder Woman)

Cristen Conger

Queen of Comics, Nell Brinkley in 1908.
Queen of Comics, Nell Brinkley in 1908.
Image courtesy: Tumblr

While Wonder Woman is a great superhero and all, she isn't all that impressive stacked up next to Nell Brinkley, Queen of Comics. Not only was Brinkley a flesh-and-blood lady who invented the spunky Brinkley Girl characters in the early 1900s, she was also an early feminist and renaissance woman. Arriving in New York in 1907 to draw for the Hearst syndicate, Brinkley's illustrations and trademark two-dimensional ladies were all the rage by 1908.

I originally learned about Brinkley in a A+ post on women in comics before Wonder Woman at ComicbookGrrrl. Nicknamed the "Queen of Comics" during her successful comic career, Brinkley kept herself busy away from the drawing table as well. "Incidentally, Brinkley was also a roving reporter, covering murder trials and World War I, as well as promoting working women and the suffrage movement." Brinkley biographer Trina Robbins also describes the illustrator as "a chronicler, a feminist, a blood-and-thunder storyteller." Or more succinctly: a "romantically earnest feminist."

The Brinkley Girls were eventually overshadowed by Gibson Girls.
The Brinkley Girls were eventually overshadowed by Gibson Girls.

Oh, and her Brinkley girl characters weren't too shabby, either. Her iconic female characters were lively, independent, vivacious -- and incredibly popular. The Brinkley Girls were New Women with working class ambitions and wild hair like their creator. Fans would copy Brinkley girl hairstyles; Ziegfeld follies featured a Brinkley girl theme and girls would collect cards of Brinkley's drawings.

While Americans went bonkers for Brinkley girls, their legacy has been overshadowed by similar work of a guy named Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the Gibson Girl. Comic blogger Paul Gravett suspects that Gibson Girls won out because society just wasn't ready for the Brinkley girls. "And yet, the 'Gibson girl' is still well-known today, whereas the 'Brinkley girl' is all but forgotten, probably because she was too independent and disturbing a sex symbol for the stay-at-home Fifties."

Learn more about Brinkley and her comic counterparts in Women in Comics, Part 1 and 2.

Post originally published in 2011 and updated in 2016.


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