Hidden women of history: Tarpe Mills, 1940s comic writer, and her feisty superhero Miss Fury



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Miss Fury had cat claws, stiletto heels and a killer make-up compact.
Author provided

Camilla Nelson, University of Notre Dame Australia

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

In April 1941, just a few short years after Superman came swooping out of the Manhattan skies, Miss Fury – originally known as Black Fury – became the first major female superhero to go to print. She beat Charles Moulton Marsden’s Wonder Woman to the page by more than six months. More significantly, Miss Fury was the first female superhero to be written and drawn by a woman, Tarpé Mills.

Miss Fury’s creator – whose real name was June – shared much of the gritty ingenuity of her superheroine. Like other female artists of the Golden Age, Mills was obliged to make her name in comics by disguising her gender. As she later told the New York Post, “It would have been a major let-down to the kids if they found out that the author of such virile and awesome characters was a gal.”

Yet, this trailblazing illustrator, squeezed out of the comic world amid a post-WW2 backlash against unconventional images of femininity and a 1950s climate of heightened censorship, has been largely excluded from the pantheon of comic greats – until now.

Comics then and now tend to feature weak-kneed female characters who seem to exist for the sole purpose of being saved by a male hero – or, worse still, are “fridged”, a contemporary comic book colloquialism that refers to the gruesome slaying of an undeveloped female character to deepen the hero’s motivation and propel him on his journey.

But Mills believed there was room in comics for a different kind of female character, one who was able, level-headed and capable, mingling tough-minded complexity with Mills’ own taste for risqué behaviour and haute couture gowns.

Tarpe Mills was obliged to make her name in comics during the 1940s by disguising her gender.
Author provided

Where Wonder Woman’s powers are “marvellous” – that is, not real or attainable – Miss Fury and her alter ego Marla Drake use their collective brains, resourcefulness and the odd stiletto heel in the face to bring the villains to justice.

A WW2 plane featuring an image of Miss Fury.
http://www.tarpemills.com

And for a time they were wildly successful.

Miss Fury ran a full decade from April 1941 to December 1951, was syndicated in 100 different newspapers at the height of her wartime fame, and sold a million copies an issue in reprints released by Timely (now Marvel) comics.

Pilots flew bomber planes with Miss Fury painted on the fuselage. Young girls played with paper doll cut outs featuring her extensive high fashion wardrobe.

An anarchic, ‘gender flipped’ universe

Miss Fury’s “origin story” offers its own coolly ironic commentary on the masculine conventions of the comic genre.

One night a girl called Marla Drake finds out that her friend Carol is wearing an identical gown to a masquerade party. So, at the behest of her maid Francine, she dons a skin tight black cat suit that – in an imperial twist, typical of the period – was once worn as a ceremonial robe by a witch doctor in Africa.

On the way to the ball, Marla takes on a gun-toting killer, using her cat claws, stiletto heels, and – hilariously – a puff of powder blown from her makeup compact to disarm the villain. She leaves him trussed up with a hapless and unconscious police detective by the side of the road.

Tarpe Mills with her beloved Persian cat.
Author provided

Miss Fury could fly a fighter plane when she had to, jumping out in a parachute dressed in a red satin ball gown and matching shoes. She was also a crack shot.

This was an anarchic, gender flipped, comic book universe in which the protagonist and principle antagonists were women, and in which the supposed tools of patriarchy – high heels, makeup and mermaid bottom ball gowns – were turned against the system. Arch nemesis Erica Von Kampf – a sultry vamp who hides a swastika-branded forehead behind a v-shaped blond fringe – also displayed amazing enterprise in her criminal antics.


Author provided

Invariably the male characters required saving from the crime gangs, the Nazis or merely from themselves. Among the most ingenious panels in the strip were the ones devoted to hapless lovelorn men, endowed with the kind of “thought bubbles” commonly found hovering above the heads of angsty heroines in romance comics.

By contrast, the female characters possessed a gritty ingenuity inspired by Noir as much as by the changed reality of women’s wartime lives. Half way through the series, Marla got a job, and – astonishingly, for a Sunday comic supplement – became a single mother, adopting the son of her arch nemesis, wrestling with snarling dogs and chains to save the toddler from a deadly experiment.

Mills claims to have modelled Miss Fury on herself. She even named Marla’s cat Peri-Purr after her own beloved Persian pet. Born in Brooklyn in 1918, Mills grew up in a house headed by a single widowed mother, who supported the family by working in a beauty parlour. Mills worked her way through New York’s Pratt Institute by working as a model and fashion illustrator.

Censorship

In the end, ironically, it was Miss Fury’s high fashion wardrobe that became a major source of controversy.

In 1947, no less than 37 newspapers declined to run a panel that featured one of Mills’ tough-minded heroines, Era – a South American Nazi-Fighter who became a post-war nightclub entertainer – dressed as Eve, replete with snake and apple, in a spangled, two-piece costume.

This was not the only time the comic strip was censored. Earlier in the decade, Timely comics had refused to run a picture of the villainess Erica resplendent in her bath – surrounded by pink flamingo wallpaper.

Erica in the bath, surrounded by pink flamingo wallpaper.
Author provided.

But so many frilly negligées, cat fights, and shower scenes had escaped the censor’s eye. It’s not a leap to speculate that behind the ban lay the post-war backlash against powerful and unconventional women.

In wartime, nations had relied on women to fill the production jobs that men had left behind. Just as “Rosie the Riveter” encouraged women to get to work with the slogan “We Can Do It!”, so too the comparative absence of men opened up room for less conventional images of women in the comics.

A Miss Fury paper doll cut out.
Author provided

Once the war was over, women lost their jobs to returning servicemen. Comic creators were no longer encouraged to show women as independent or decisive. Politicians and psychologists attributed juvenile delinquency to the rise of unconventional comic book heroines and by 1954 the Comics Code Authority was policing the representation of women in comics, in line with increasingly conservative ideologies. In the 1950s, female action comics gave way to romance ones, featuring heroines who once again placed men at the centre of their existence.

Miss Fury was dropped from circulation in December 1951, and despite a handful of attempted comebacks, Mills and her anarchic creation slipped from public view.

Mills continued to work as a commercial illustrator on the fringes of a booming advertising industry. In 1971, she turned a hand to romance comics, penning a seven-page story that was published by Marvel, but it wasn’t her forte. In 1979, she began work on a graphic novel Albino Jo, which remains unfinished.

Despite her chronic asthma, Mills – like the reckless Noir heroine she so resembled – chain-smoked to the bitter end. She died of emphysema on December 12, 1988, and is buried in New Jersey under the simple inscription, “Creator of Miss Fury”.

This year Mills’ work will be belatedly recognised. As a recipient of the 2019 Eisner Award, she will finally take her place in the Comics Hall of Fame, alongside the male creators of the Golden Age who have too long dominated the history of the genre. Hopefully this will bring her comic creation the kind of notoriety, readership and big screen adventures she thoroughly deserves.The Conversation

Camilla Nelson, Associate Professor in Media, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Crime of culture: American Animals and the history of rare book heists



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STX Entertainment

Leah Henrickson, Loughborough University

American Animals, a film recounting the true story of a 2004 rare book theft, was recently released in cinemas across the UK. The film is a dramatic retelling of events based on director Bart Layton’s interviews and written correspondence with the convicted book thieves – interactions which began while the thieves were serving seven-year prison sentences following their guilty pleas.

In 2004, four friends in their early 20s – Charles Allen, Eric Borsuk, Warren Lipka, and Spencer Reinhard – attempted to execute an elaborate plan to steal more than US$12m worth of textual treasures from Lexington, Kentucky’s Transylvania University (Transy) Special Collections.

After a year in the planning, the heist involved the men disguising themselves as elderly, shooting librarian Betty Jean Gooch with a stun gun and simply shoving valuables into backpacks. When the day came, the men managed to escape with approximately US$750,000 worth of books in their backpacks, including a first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, an illuminated medieval manuscript, and a copy of John James Audubon’s A Synopsis of Birds of North America.

Rushing from Lexington to New York, the men attempted to appraise their loot at Christie’s, but never managed to sell their ill-gotten gains. They returned home with the books and were tracked down by the FBI within a matter of months. The entire ordeal was so poorly organised that Vanity Fair deemed it “one part Oceans 11, one part Harold & Kumar”.

Light fingers

But this was by no means the only notable rare book heist in living memory. Earlier in 2018, an audit of the special collections of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh uncovered a series of thefts of rare books and book pages with a total value of around US$8m over a period of more than 20 years. It turned out that the former manager of the Carnegie Library’s rare book room, Gregory Priore, and bookseller John Schulman had been working together to sell the stolen goods through the rare book trade and auction houses.

The books stolen from Carnegie included Isaac Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, a first edition of The Journal of Major George Washington, and a first edition of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. Unaware of where these books came from, booksellers from across the globe bought and sold them on to their own private and institutional customers.

Sir Isaac Newton’s own first edition copy of his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica with his handwritten corrections for the 20th edition.
Andrew Dunn via Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge, CC BY-SA

These sales can be difficult to track on such a large scale and, while some works have been recovered (often at the booksellers’ own expense), hundreds of the stolen items remain missing. An up-to-date list of those items believed to have been stolen is provided by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America.

Library thefts are nothing new. Throughout the 1840s, Italian count Guglielmo Libri Carucci dalla Sommaja stole approximately 30,000 items in his job as chief inspector of French Libraries (he later made a comfortable living selling this loot in England).

More recently, in 1990, American bibiomaniac Stephen Blumberg was arrested for stealing more than 20,000 books valued at more than US$5m from more than 200 universities and museums across North America.

The Great Library of Alexandria, O. Von Corven, 19th century.
Wikimedia commons, CC BY-NC

He served four years in prison and became known as the “Book Bandit”.

But on a more systemic and institutional level one could go as far back as the ancient Library of Alexandria, which supposedly seized any books found on ships arriving at the port. These books were copied by professional scribes who then deposited the original works into the library and gave the copies to the books’ owners.

Book ‘em

While library thefts are commonplace, the release of American Animals and the news of the recent Carnegie Library thefts have made this crime front page news. After all, the sheer value of some of these books makes them a very attractive proposition for thieves. But it’s not always just about money – the young men in American Animals fantasise about getting their hands on culturally revered items, while Guglielmo Libri and Blumberg were bibliomaniacs with a recognised condition. And the Library of Alexandria had a larcenous ambition to become a “universal library”, gathering all of the known world’s knowledge under a single roof.

The rare book trade is lucrative, certainly. Individuals and institutions are willing to spend healthy amounts to enhance their collections. But books represent more than just profit. They are cultural artefacts that span space and time to carry the voices of those who have meaningfully contributed to the world’s knowledge. As the primary means of communication for thousands of years, books reflect and perpetuate cultural heritage and – ultimately – help us understand what it means to be human.

Whether someone is stealing books for financial gain, the thrill of the game, or the overwhelming love of these objects, library theft is always underpinned by an understanding of books as valuable cultural artefacts. The young men in the American Animals heists are animals because they tried to plunder these relics of human development.The Conversation

Leah Henrickson, PhD Candidate, Loughborough University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The History and Future of ‘Westerns’


The link below is to an article that looks at the history and future of ‘Westerns’ in 10 books.

For more visit:
https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/tip-sheet/article/77727-the-history-and-future-of-the-western-in-10-books.html

Humphrey Llwyd: the Renaissance scholar who drew Wales into the atlas, and wrote it into history books



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Abraham Ortelius’s 1570 world map.
The Library of Congress/Wikimedia

Huw Pryce, Bangor University

As a small country with less than 5% of the UK population, Wales faces major challenges in making its presence felt in the wider world – but this is something that scholars, politicians and the people themselves have been concerned about for centuries.

August 2018 marks the 450th anniversary of the death of Humphrey Llwyd, a remarkable Renaissance scholar who believed that Wales was fundamental to the history and identity of Britain. Llwyd not only drafted the first published map of Wales – which literally set the country on a global stage – but was the first person to write a history of Wales and a topographical account of Britain.

Born to a gentry family in Denbigh in 1527 and educated at Oxford, Llwyd went on to make his career in England, being employed in the household of the cultured and book-loving Henry Fitzalan, the 12th Earl of Arundel. This gave Llwyd the opportunity to develop his interest in learning. It also led to his marriage to Barbara, sister of the earl’s son-in-law, Lord Lumley (who himself was another enthusiastic book collector).

Humphrey Llwyd, as depicted in the 1799 book The Royal Tribes of Wales.
Philip Yorke/Wikimedia

By 1563 Llwyd had set up home back in Denbigh, within the walls of the town’s medieval castle. As MP for the borough, he reportedly facilitated the passage, through the parliament of 1563, of the bill authorising the translation of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer into Welsh.

In 1566–7 Llwyd joined Arundel on a journey to Italy. However, a little over a year after his return to Denbigh, he fell seriously ill, and died on August 21 1568. He was buried just outside the town at the church of Llanfarchell, where the fine monument erected to his memory can still be seen.

Mapping Wales

Like other Welsh Renaissance scholars, Llwyd welcomed the so-called “union” of Wales and England under Henry VIII. Yet precisely because the future of Wales lay in the wider orbit of Britain Llwyd was determined to promote its history and culture as integral parts of the island’s heritage.

That determination was sharpened by his experiences outside Wales. It is no coincidence that the first work conceived of as a history of Wales – Llwyd’s Cronica Walliae (“The Chronicle of Wales”) of 1559 – was written in England, very probably at Arundel’s palace of Nonsuch near London for antiquarian-minded members of the earl’s circle. (Despite its Latin title, the work was written in English.)

The chronicle struck a defiant tone:

I was the first that tocke the province [Wales] in hande to put thees thinges into the Englishe tonge. For that I wolde not have the inhabitantes of this Ile ignorant of the histories and cronicles of the same, wherein I am sure to offende manye because I have oppenede ther ignorance and blindenes thereby …

Llwyd’s final works resulted from commissions by the great Flemish cartographer and “inventor” of the atlas, Abraham Ortelius, whom Llwyd met at Antwerp on his way home from Italy in 1567. These included two maps, one of Wales, the other of England and Wales, which were eventually published in a supplement to Ortelius’s atlas, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (“Theatre of the World”), in 1573.

The map of Wales printed as part of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.
National Library of Wales

Llwyd sent drafts of these from his deathbed in Denbigh, along with notes on the topography of Britain – Commentarioli Britannicae descriptionis fragmentum (“A Fragment of a Little Commentary on the Description of Britain”) – written in Latin and published in Cologne in 1572. This was soon followed by Thomas Twyne’s English translation, The Breviary of Britayne (1573). Significantly, about half of the work was devoted to Wales.

Defending history

One aim of the Breviary was to defend the traditional British history popularised by Geoffrey of Monmouth – which traced the earliest kings of Britain to the Trojan exile Brutus – against the Italian humanist historian Polydore Vergil, “who sought not only to obscure the glory of the British name, but also to defame the Britons themselves with slanderous lies”. Like his compatriot Sir John Prise of Brecon, Llwyd not only cited numerous classical sources but stressed the importance of sources in Welsh, which Vergil could not read.

The Cronica Walliae also took the truth of British history for granted. The work drew heavily on the medieval Welsh chronicles known as Brut y Tywysogyon (“The Chronicle of the Princes”), which were designed as continuations of Geoffrey’s history, though Llwyd also used other sources and imposed his own shape on the whole. In particular, he divided the history by the reigns of the kings and princes whose deeds he related, from Cadwaladr the Blessed in the late seventh century to the failed revolt of Madog ap Llywelyn in 1294–5. This allowed Llwyd to present the history of medieval Wales as an unbroken succession of legitimate rulers. It also allowed him to insert the first account of Prince Madog’s alleged discovery of America in the 12th century.

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The Conversation

His final sentence made clear, however, that a separate Welsh history was long over: after 1295 “there was nothinge done in Wales worthy memory, but that is to bee redde in the Englishe Chronicle”. Nevertheless, by commemorating their ancient and medieval history, Llwyd insisted that the Welsh could boast a unique pedigree and status as “the genuine Britons” in the Tudor realm.

Huw Pryce, Professor of Welsh History, Bangor University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Acquiring Books for the World’s Libraries


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the history of book acquisition for the world’s libraries throughout history.

For more visit:
https://lithub.com/acquiring-books-for-the-greatest-libraries-in-the-world/

#MeToo, Sleeping Beauty and the often controversial history of fairy tales



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Henry Meynell Rheam

Pete Newbon, Northumbria University, Newcastle

It’s one of the more bizarre episodes to have seen the light of day since the #MeToo movement got going late last year. In November 2017, the British newspaper The Telegraph reported that the mother of a schoolboy who had brought home a copy of the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty was calling for the text to be banned. The reason she gave was that the heroine could not have consented to the kiss that released her from her enchanted sleep.

This news story emerged in the aftermath of the revelations of serial sexual harassment allegations against numerous Hollywood stars, generating the #MeToo hashtag, with which millions of women worldwide shared their experiences of sexual molestation and objectification.

Yet despite the headline – “Mother calls for Sleeping Beauty to be banned” – when you actually read the piece it turns out that, in fact, the mother had suggested that rather than ban the story, the tale might be used as a starting point for discussing personal consent and bodily autonomy with children.

This didn’t deter plenty of media outlets from jumping aboard the bandwagon – whether in support of the proposition that the fairy tale be banned or updated, or scoffing at the notion as needless censorship. And, of course, there was a follow up on the problems with other fairy tales.

Small minds

While fairy tales have existed for millennia as oral folktales, they first entered print in their recognisable form in the 17th century – and initially among the aristocracy. Over the subsequent 300 years or so, fairy tales have frequently been a source of controversy and ideological battle.

A cursory glance at only a few examples illustrates the variety of ways in which they have caused anxiety and consternation. The Neapolitan courtier, Giambattista Basile first produced his collection of fairy tales (including Rapunzel and Cinderella) in 1634. A little later, the French académicien Charles Perrault published his Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé (1797), containing such prized tales as Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, Blue Beard – and Sleeping Beauty. Written for an educated and urbane courtly readership, Perrault’s tales smuggle in risqué innuendo under the veil of moralism.

Little Red Riding Hood.
Gustav Dore (1864)

In Britain, one of the first and most influential critics of fairy tales was the philosopher John Locke. In his seminal treatise Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), Locke cautioned parents against allowing servants to frighten their children with tales of “Raw-Head and Bloody Bones”.

As a Rationalist, Locke feared that peasant superstition would damage the healthy development of children. In this period, fairy tales in Britain were circulated in the rude tradition of “chapbooks” (rough almanac prints sold by itinerant “chapmen”) and made little distinction between children and adult readers.

It was the pioneering publisher John Newbery (among others) who fused Locke’s respectable suspicion of rude chapbooks with an entrepreneurial appreciation of the potential market for children’s books. His A Pretty Little Pocket-Book (1744) cleverly replicated entertaining aspects of chapbooks – but shorn of their cruder elements in order to appease middle-class parents. This trend continued into the 19th century, when such celebrated authors and adaptors of fairy tales as Hans Christian Andersen and the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, all tailored and censored their writings to avoid causing upset.

Culture police

The Romantic generation of artists and writers venerated fairy tales for inspiring childhood fantasy and wonder and as texts that opposed the rationalism of the Enlightenment. But, in the wake of the French Revolution, political and literary culture came under immense scrutiny in Britain from a newly energised Conservative government and press.

With the increased policing of culture for signs of dangerous Jacobins and Democrats, conservative evangelical educationalists including Hannah More and Sarah Trimmer undertook the role of castigating children’s writers deemed politically and religiously seditious. One of their main targets was the anarchist philosopher – turned children’s publisher – William Godwin (the widower of the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the father of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein). In order to escape censure, Godwin often published anonymously, or under a series of comical pseudonyms, such as Theophilus Marcliffe.

Godwin was involved with many Romantic-era writers now considered illustrious, but who at the time were often obscure figures. Two of these friends – the poet William Wordsworth and the essayist Charles Lamb – Godwin endeavoured to involve in his publishing, with revealing controversies.

A 19th-century depiction of Beauty and the Beast.
Walter Crane via Wikimedia Commons

Charles Lamb and his sister Mary are best-known for their highly popular Tales from Shakespeare (1807), which was published by Godwin. But when Godwin commissioned Charles to write an adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey for children, the two got into an argument over Lamb’s initial refusal to tone down the gory scene in which the cyclops Polyphemus vomits the remains of Odysseus’ crewmen whom he had consumed. Godwin feared losing custom from a squeamish middle-class readership.

In 1811, Godwin wrote to Wordsworth – who had in youth briefly been his protégé – asking him to translate Beauty and the Beast from the French. Wordsworth’s cantankerous response is extraordinary (in part, he was irate for having to pay the postal fees). The poet responded to the philosopher that he could not bring himself to the task as:

I confess there is to me something disgusting to me in the notion of a human Being consenting to mate with a Beast, however amiable his qualities of heart.

Wordsworth was, in middle age, moving increasingly towards Toryism, and his astonishing response may be interpreted as underlining his rejection of Godwin’s radicalism. It also seems to indicate Wordsworth’s growing religious conservatism, as he justifies his statement by quoting from the poet John Milton’s Paradise Lost – describing Adam as set apart by God from animals: “Among the Beasts no mate for thee was found”.

The ConversationThroughout their history, fairy tales have caused consternation and outrage among the religious and the secular, the progressive and the conservative, wrestling over what goes on in the minds of growing children.

Pete Newbon, Lecturer in Romantic and Victorian Literature, Northumbria University, Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.