BBC Radio Looks at Female Comic Characters
Drawn to be Wild discussed the changing image of women comic characters on the BBC’s Radio 4.
BBC News previewed the piece by providing a look at how females have changed through the years in animation, comic strips and comic books, both in the UK and America. They first begin with Betty Boop, the reining queen of animated vamps up to Jessica Rabbit.
Boop, popularized in a series of cartoon shorts from the Fleischer Brothers Studios, “was the first character in animation history to fully represent a sexual woman. She regularly wore short dresses, high heels and a garter belt and was an object of affection for many men.”
“Frequently topping the polls as the greatest female cartoon character and celebrating her 20th anniversary this year is Jessica Rabbit, the animated femme fatale of the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, who risks all to help her man. Rabbit was about as sexy as a cartoon character could be, but a look at some of her predecessors and their trademark devices shows that every creation had their own unique appeal.”
As the world moved towards war, the British press boosted morale through the daily escapades of a woman known simply as Jane. Her adventures in the Daily Mirror “saw her accidentally lose most of her clothes much of the time, and when she wasn’t on a mission she would often strip off for a swim or a bath.” Created and drawn by Norman Pett, Jane ran from December 5, 1932 to October 10, 1959.
American male morale was boosted by the 1941 arrival of Wonder Woman. Created to appeal to female readers, she became the most enduring female super-heroine for the next 65 years.
“This female riposte to the triumph of Superman was designed purposely with girls in mind and embodied feminist politics in a way that was unprecedented,’ the article stated.
There wasn’t another significant female adventure hero created in the UK until Peter O’Donnell created Modesty Blaise. The long-running strip was found in the London Evening Standard and was the basis of several prose novels and two not-very-good film adaptations. She was gorgeous and deadly and an equal to men in every way.
She was succeeded in 1988 by the arrival of Tank Girl. “Tank Girl is not your average heroine. She is a tough, no-nonsense, hard-drinking, chain-smoking, shaven-headed feisty character. However her attitude is all part of her appeal and charm and today she is recognized as a lesbian icon.” Created by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, the character appealed to the growing punk sensibility around the world.
As video games rose in popularity, there were many recurring male heroes but there was just one woman to top them all. “Similar in style to Indiana Jones, Lara Croft frequently ventures into ancient, and often very dangerous, tombs and ruins,” the article noted. “In addition to traps and puzzles, Lara encounters a variety of enemies including gangsters, legendary creatures and supernatural beings.”
The article concludes that the next major feminist icon from the field may well be Fiona from the Shrek films, and now the Broadway musical. “Although she belches, is a bit bolshie, and can handle herself in a fight, she exerts a certain sex appeal which continues even after she changes into an ogre – perfectly underlining how attitudes have changed towards women in the 21st Century.”