Friday Female Comics Creator: Ruth Atkinson

Back in the day, and I don’t know if y’all can believe this, but back in the day, there used to be magazines for girls that included comics.  Crazy, right?  But it’s totally true.  One of them was Miss America, which started life as Miss America Comics, published first by Timely Comics and then by Marvel.  Both featured the superhero Miss America, a “socially aware teenage heiress” with superhuman strength and the ability to fly.

Sadly, superheroes were on their way out of fashion in the mid-1940s, and Miss America quickly took a backseat in her own magazine to teen romance comics.  But luckily for us, Miss America #2 introduced a romance character who would soon become a lasting superhero in her own right — the sassy, seriously wonderful Patsy Walker.

Patsy was written by Stan Lee but was created by female comics artist Ruth Atkinson.  She began life as a romance-comedy heroine and was quite popular, appearing in at least 7 titles.  But she soon grew beyond her own comics and became a lasting part of the Marvel Universe proper.

Patsy and Hedy made a cameo appearance in Fantastic Four Annual #3 (1965), establishing them in the Marvel Universe. The superhero-team comic The Defenders #89 (Nov. 1980) further established that the earlier stories were fictional works published within the fictional Marvel Universe itself, and written by Patsy’s mother Dorothy Walker though based upon Patsy’s own life and friends. The Patsy Walker profile in Marvel Legacy: The 1960s Handbook #1 (2006) establishes that Walker indeed experienced many of the events from these stories.

Patsy Walker #95 and the science-fiction anthology Journey into Mystery #69 (both June 1961) are the first modern comic books labeled “Marvel Comics”, with each showing an “MC” box on its cover. (from Wikipedia)

By the 70s, Patsy was angling to get herself a superpower.  She became Hellcat, the feisty redheaded crimefighter who teamed up with the Avengers and the Defenders.  Hellcat would later have adorably weird adventures as the superhero assigned to Alaska (as part of the 50 State Initiative), written by the incomparable Kathryn Immonen.

Atkinson didn’t just make her mark on the Marvel Universe with Patsy, though.  She also created Millie the Model, yet another character who was still seen living it up in the first decade of the 21st century.

Sadly, Atkinson retired from comics when she married.  Even sadder, though, is the fact that her work doesn’t seem to be available in reprint anywhere.  You can find some information about the comics she worked on at atlastales.com.  A handful of issues are available on ebay, but they mostly appear to date from after Atkinson’s departure on the titles.  If you have a hot tip on where to find some original or reprinted Atkinson work, please let me know!

Millie and Patsy are both worthy of their own Style Friday post.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to get a suitably vintage-amazing outfit together.  In lieu, stop by my tumblr today, where I’ll be posting style-inspiring images of Atkinson’s work all day long!

Social networks in the media and the erasure of women

I’ve seen mentions of Diaspora* popping up all over my feeds this week.  It seems like a great project, but I have a few issues with the media attention it’s getting.  The New York Times piece I quote below is only one example out of many.

Working with Mr. Salzberg and Mr. Grippi are Raphael Sofaer, 19, and Ilya Zhitomirskiy, 20 — “four talented young nerds,” Mr. Salzberg says — all of whom met at New York University’s Courant Institute. They have called their project Diaspora* and intend to distribute the software free, and to make the code openly available so that other programmers can build on it. As they describe it, the Diaspora* software will let users set up their own personal servers, called seeds, create their own hubs and fully control the information they share. Mr. Sofaer says that centralized networks like Facebook are not necessary. “In our real lives, we talk to each other,” he said. “We don’t need to hand our messages to a hub. What Facebook gives you as a user isn’t all that hard to do. All the little games, the little walls, the little chat, aren’t really rare things. The technology already exists.”

A teacher and digital media researcher at N.Y.U., Finn Brunton, said that their project — which does not involve giant rounds of venture capital financing before anyone writes a line of code — reflected “a return of the classic geek means of production: pizza and ramen and guys sleeping under the desks because it is something that it is really exciting and challenging.”

I’m really excited to see Diaspora* in action, especially in light of this missive on why gender is a text field on the service.

That being said, I think we should be clear about some things.  These 4 boys are not the only ones creating open source, non-hierarchical social networks.  Dreamwidth has been offering an alternative to Livejournal for quite a while now.  The Organization for Transformative Works, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of fan culture, is doing the same thing around a very different type of interaction with the Archive of Our Own (and other projects still in the works).  Both of these are run and coded primarily by women, many of whom are invested in teaching other women how to code.

An open source alternative to Facebook is likely destined to get more media attention in our present moment, with The Social Network still on the radar.  But that doesn’t mean that what women do is less deserving of press time.

Let’s not lose sight of these immense achievements made by women in light of 4 cute computer boys from New York.