Thursday, April 07, 2005

Brenda's Starr dims at last

Dale Messick, creator of the venerable newspaper comic strip Brenda Starr, Reporter, has passed away at age 98.

Ms. Messick, whose real first name was Dalia but signed her work with the ambiguously asexual "Dale" just so uptight and chauvinistic editors would deign to look at her stuff, was a genuine groundbreaker: one of the first successful female cartoonists. Her lead character, a globe-trotting investigative reporter, was also one of the first self-sufficient career women in comics.

More than just a talented artist, Ms. Messick was one of the sharpest scripters in the business. Brenda and company were always an interesting, entertaining read, even for the lunkheaded male members of the audience.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Dale Messick, but she was a neighbor of mine — a resident of Penngrove, the little unincorporated community where our church meetinghouse is located. Given that the late Charles Schulz was also one of our county's leading citizens, we've done all right for ourselves in the comic strip industry.

Incidentally, Brenda Starr is still around. If you haven't seen the strip lately, you can check out the latest edition here. Although Dale Messick retired from the strip in 1980, it has continued under the guidance of remarkable female creative teams. Comic book legend Ramona Fradon (best known for her DC Comics work on Aquaman, Metal Men, and Metamorpho the Element Man) succeeded Messick as artist for five years. (Linda Sutter was the strip's writer during Fradon's tenure.) Brenda's current artist, June Brigman (creator of Marvel Comics' Power Pack), is one of the unheralded greats of the comics world — a tremendously talented visual storyteller. Brigman's scripting partner is veteran journalist Mary Schmich.

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