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Good Girl Art


Action Girl Cover Image

Men of Mystery Spotlight Special #1 © 2001 AC Comics. COVER ART BY ALEX SCHOMBURG AND BILL BLACK

Good Girl art is a genre that dates back to comics' Golden Age (1938–1954), during which a range of comic-book heroines were rendered in the Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth pin-up tradition of World War II. Good Girls were a departure from the popular femme fatales of the era, such as the seductive villainess the Dragon Lady. Sporting a spunky attitude and dressed in the provocative sexiness of the 1940s, Good Girls were adventurers, heroines, sidekicks, or girls who stumbled into, and then escaped from, danger. While many of the Good Girls were early superheroines, others came from a range of genres. Classic Good Girls include Sheena, Queen of the Jungle; Se?orita Rio, Queen of Spies; Flamingo, the Gypsy Gal; pilots like Flying Jenny and Sky Girl; and heroines such as Mysta of the Moon, Miss Victory, the Phantom Lady, and Lady Luck. Regardless of origin, all these women share the qualities of beauty, strength, and independence—albeit fighting crime in a scanty evening gown and high heels (or, in Sheena's case, a leopard-skin miniskirt and bikini top with leopard-skin slippers).

Early comics publishers like Fiction House (1938–1954) specialized in Good Girl art within the pages of their Wings Comics, Rangers Comics, and Fight Comics. Sheena came alive in 1937 when the Jerry Iger/Will Eisner art studio invented the jungle heroine for Fiction House publisher T. T. Scott. Beautiful, strong, smart, knife-wielding Sheena was a heroine who could think on her feet, rescue men, even carry a male sidekick—a novel role reversal for the time. Sheena starred in Fiction House's Jumbo Comics, which also featured the zany exploits of Ginger McGuire, whose strip was titled Sky Girl. Drawn by popular Good Girl artist Matt Baker, in every story would-be fly-girl McGuire took to the air, revealing a long-leggedness second only to her determination. For the same publisher, Lily Renee and Bob Lubbers drew Senorita Rio, a sexy American spy who operated in Central and South America. Said comic-book historian Ron Goulart in his Great History of Comic Books (1986), In [Fiction House] stories, you encountered amply constructed and sparsely clad young women on the land, on the sea, and in the air. Deep into the jungles, you ran into beautiful blondes wearing leopardskin undies; off on some remote planet there would be a lovely readhead sporting a chrome-plated bra. Interestingly, many of these pin-up strips were rendered by women, at least one of whom (Ruth Atkinson) used a male pseudonym (Ace Atkins).

After World War II, girly strips continued in comics, with added attention to plunging necklines and high-slitted hemlines, often revealing a fuller, more curvaceous figure than in issues past. Fox Features Syndicate premiered notable Good Girls Phantom Lady and Rulah of the Jungle together in All Top Comics in November 1947. The Baker-rendered Phantom Lady embodied the Good Girl tradition—glamorous debutante Sandra Knight fought crime in a halter top, trunks, and cape, touting her blackout ray as secret weapon. Women's physical attributes were amplified in Fox's comics, with Rulah's legs often hanging over the panels of the page. Soon the late 1940s Good Girl gave way to the romance heroine, with titles like My Desire and My Love Secret (both published by Fox) flooding the market. Though it is largely a product of a bygone era, certain artists, such as Rocketeer creator Dave Stevens, pay homage to Good Girl art in their work. Stevens' use of the iconic 1950s model Betty Page as inspiration for The Rocketeer's leading lady created a resurgence of general interest in the Good Girl art period during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. Even contemporary titles like AC Comics' Femforce, still going strong after one-hundred-plus issues, often show the inspiration of the Good Girl tradition.

Although the early decades of the twentieth century were an unenlightened era for women both in and out of the comics pages, some social historians have argued that the introduction of Good Girl art allowed for the emergence of feminism—albeit a stunted version—in print form. Others have maintained that such portrayals of women trivialized feminism and impeded its growth. Despite these conflicting conclusions, early female heroes who possessed superhuman strength, powerful weapons, an independent spirit, and exotic back stories can be found by those social archeologists willing to dig. —GM

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