A 1955 Brenda Starr comic book cover. Artist: Dale Messick.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Chicago Tribune Syndicate
First Appeared: 1940
Creator: Dale Messick
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Brenda Starr had the working woman theme of Winnie Winkle, the soap opera style of The Gumps, the exotic adventure of Terry & the Pirates … all of which were …

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… highly successful strips for The Chicago Tribune Syndicate. Plus, it had sex. Yet, it was initially rejected by Tribune editor Joseph Medill Patterson; and when the syndicate did accept it, was relegated to an experimental comic book supplement (similar to The Spirit, which appeared two months later, but with smaller individual segments). When it did move into regular syndication, it was the only Tribune Syndicate strip not carried in the Trib itself. From all reports, the main thing Patterson had against it was that its creator, Dale Messick, was a woman.

It was Patterson's assistant, Mollie Slott, who saw potential in the strip, and worked with Messick to get the editor's approval on it. It turned out to be a good deal both ways, as it gave Patterson's syndicate a lucrative property, made Messick the premier female cartoonist of her generation, and launched a strip that has been running continuously since June 30, 1940.

Brenda Starr was a newspaper woman who had both fabulous adventures and fabulous love affairs. When she wasn't in danger of her life, she was in the middle of a steamy romance — except, of course, when she was doing both at once. Her steadiest beau was the alluringly mysterious Basil St. John — whom she eventually married, but not before getting 36 years of storylines out of him.

Messick had assistants to draw action scenes and technical things such as cars and buildings, but she herself always handled the fashions, the faces, the gestures — all the details that give the strip a feminine air. Since she retired, in 1980, only women have written and drawn Brenda Starr. They include June Brigman, whose credits include Power Pack for Marvel Comics and Supergirl for DC, and Ramona Fradon, who drew DC's Aquaman and Metamorpho for years.

Brenda started out starring in just a Sunday strip, but added a daily in 1945. That same year, January 26 to be exact, Columbia Pictures released a serial, Brenda Starr, Reporter, with Joan Woodbury in the title role. Jill St. John played her in a TV movie that aired May 8, 1976. Most recently, a feature-length film was released April 15, 1992 in the U.S. (tho it had come out in 1989 in parts of Europe), with Brooke Shields playing Brenda. There were a few minor comic book series — 1947 from Four Star Publications (The Black Cobra), 1948-49 from Superior Comics (Aggie Mack), 1955 from Charlton (Snuffy Smith) and 1963 from Dell (Friday Foster). That, plus a single Big Little Book and a set of paper doll books in 1998, was it for Brenda's media penetration.

Unless you count being on a stamp. In 1995, her strip was one of 20, including Toonerville Folks, Prince Valiant and Krazy Kat, included in the "Comic Strip Classics" series of U.S. postage stamps.

Today, Brenda is still having wildly improbable escapades all around the world — unlike her colleagues over in Winnie Winkle, The Gumps and Terry & the Pirates, all of which bit the dust years ago.


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Text ©2000-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Tribune Media Services.