Sally the Sleuth, in a typical situation. Artist: Adolphe Barreaux.


Medium: Pulp magazine comic strip
Appearing in: Spicy Detective Stories
First Appeared: 1934
Creator: Adolphe Barreaux
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Despite myriads of examples to the contrary, the U.S. public has always regarded comics as kid stuff. For that reason, American …

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… newspaper editors, who have no qualms about plastering sleazy sex scandals all over the rest of the paper, have generally shied away from allowing so-called "suggestive" material on the comics page. When an occasional overseas strip, such as Modesty Blaise, breaks their taboos, they slather ink all over it in an attempt to keep readers from finding out what human bodies look like.

It took the pulp magazines, which never were anything but lurid and vulgar in the public mind, to field a female hero who specialized in having most of her clothes torn off. Spicy Detective Stories, part of a 1930s line that featured sexed-up (by standards of the time) stories in various genres, was one of several pulps to experiment with comics even before the now-standard comic book format came into use. Sally the Sleuth, by cartoonist Adolphe Barreaux, debuted in that magazine's November, 1934 issue.

Barreaux wasn't one of the cartoon field's most famous stars, but he did have scattered credits in newspaper comics (such as Patty O'Day and The Enchanted Stone of Times, both short-lived strips of the mid-'30s, from very minor syndicates) and comic books (his work appeared in the first several issues of DC's New Comics, later known as Adventure Comics, and he also worked for Fox and Harvey). He illustrated a few children's books in the '40s and did some non-comics editing in the '50s. He died in 1985, and is best remembered for Sally.

The Sleuth herself was a police detective, plainclothes when she managed to keep any on at all. Her boss, known only as "The Chief", usually showed up to rescue her shortly after she was tied up, by that time down to bra and panties (which is about as naked as she usually got, tho she did flash an occasional breast). Tho a pioneer in America, she was not without precedent — Jane, by Norman Pett, had been having her clothes torn off in front of readers of Britain's Daily Mirror (where Andy Capp later got his start) for a couple of years by the time Sally came along. Apparently, The Mirror's editors were less hoity-toity than their American counterparts. Jane may have provided partial inspiration for Sally — to the extent that attracting male readers by displaying scantily-clad women requires inspiration.

Neither the stories nor the art in Sally's series were very memorable. In fact, other than salaciousness it didn't have much going for it at all, and sank after a few years. Barreaux didn't return to the character, but she was revived in the mid-1940s by Keats Petree (who later did a little work for Charlton Comics) and early '50s by Charles Barr (who had minor earlier credits at Marvel). But she was gone for good by 1953.

Sally turns up in occasional pulp nostalgia reprints; and in 1986, even had a book devoted to her reprinted adventures (What a Gal: Sally the Sleuth, part of Winds of the World Press's "Odd Books for Odd Moments" series). But in the age of Little Annie Fanny, Oh, Wicked Wanda! and Sally Forth, she's generally presented as a once-naughty bit of memorabilia, now scarcely able to raise so much as an eyebrow.


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Text ©2003-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art: Sally the Sleuth is in the public domain This image has been modified. Modified version © Donald D. Markstein.I>