Comic Strip History, Lessons #137 – 141


Tillie the Toiler and Rosie the Robot

The era immediately following WWI is rightly known as the period of womean’s emancipation, so naturally a string of working girl strips met the apparent need. Somebody’s Stenog by Alfred Hayward led the way in 1918, followed by Wood Cowan’s Miss Information in 1919, and the big breakthrough in 1920 of Winnie Winkle the Breadwinner by Martin Branner.

There’s little doubt that Winnie was the inspiration for Tillie, who debuted just three months later on January 3, 1921.

Only a handful of comic strips ever ran a major series starring robots, and those were mostly in the male-oriented science fiction strips. Two rare exceptions occurred in Invisible Scarlet O’Neil and Ella Cinders, but both robots were drawn and referred to as males…Finding a strip with a female star going up against a female robot is the rarity of rarities.

Today’s unique find is Rosie the Robot in Tillie the Toiler.

Steve Carper shows us the 1933 Tillie episode.



Percy, the Mechanism Man

Percy, the “mechanism man,” entered the world on October 1, 1911, always smiling, serene, silent, eager-to please, and thereby doomed to wreak havoc on everyone nearby. His inventor was a 35-year-old veteran comic artist, Harry Cornell “H. C.” Greening.

Here is the story of Percy: Comics First Robot, with all 67 installments.



Feminine Qualities Became a Source of Strength

You won’t find June Tarpé Mills in huge superhero anthologies that aren’t focused explicitly on women. She’s missing from so many of them, which is shocking considering her contribution to comics: Mills was the first woman to create a female superhero. Her heroine, Miss Fury, made her debut in April 1941—eight months before Wonder Woman saw print. Together, Mills and Fury would set the bar for pop culture’s heroic women.

Kirsten Murray, a comics editor, celebrates 1940s illustrator June Tarpé Mills.



“Brenda is the glamorous girl I wished I was.”

At a glorious time when growing newspapers needed more comics, he told her about a Chicago Tribune-New York Daily News Syndicate contest for new strips, and she submitted one about a pirate with a striking resemblance to Rita Hayworth.

Syndicate owner and News founding publisher Captain Joseph Medill Patterson, hands-on with his funny pages and strictly opposed to women cartoonists, threw it in the trash. His top assistant, Mollie Slott, fished it out and suggested to the artist that she change the pirate to a reporter, and Dalia to Dale.

With those changes made, “Brenda Starr, Reporter” debuted in the Chicago Tribune in 1940. Its mix of fashion, action and romance was picked up by hundreds of papers and read by millions of men and women, as a generation of girls cut out the paper dolls printed with the Sunday comics.

[It’s] part of the story of the Daily News, which will celebrate 100 years on June 26, 2019.

Harry Siegel reports that story.



Betty Brown, Ph.G.

Women in comic strips began joining the labor force in the early 20th century, reflecting actual demographic changes in U.S. society. Secretaries, receptionists and nannies began pulling paychecks on the comics page, and 1940 saw Brenda Starr kick off her reporting career. Though these jobs required a range of skills, they didn’t require a college degree. But beginning in 1934, one woman in comics held a job that required a degree: Betty Brown, the pharmacist in the comic strip Betty Brown, Ph.G.

Betty Brown, Ph.G. appeared in Drug Topics, a tabloid circulated nationally to the pharmacy trade. Drug Topics began publication in 1886, and in the 1930s its publisher (the Topics Publishing Company) boosted its frequency from bimonthly to weekly and expanded its cartoon content.

Tom Heintjes gives us an excerpt of his Betty Brown feature from Hogan’s Alley #22.