I’ve been thinking about Ramona Fradon. The other day,I was link-surfing and found this CBR piece referencing the “Top 10 Comics Artists” which led me in turn to this list of the top 100 comic artists, as chosen by Atlas Comics, a Chicago-area comics shop. I’ve seen this list floating around over the years, and every time I return to it, I get mad in exactly the same way.
The top artist, in case you haven’t guessed, is Jack Kirby. And #2 is Will Eisner. That isn’t what makes me mad. After that come 98 of the well known names in the Pap-pap history of comics…. from Action #1 on through EC and the Silver Age to the Bronze Age — it goes all the way to Alex Ross and Jim Lee but that’s as far as it goes. Catering to art collectors, it’s an understandable area.
The list, we’re told is determined by four factors: technique, storytelling, accomplishments and longevity. And if you’ll look at the cheat sheet of names, you’ll see that neither Ramona Fradon nor Marie Severin is on the list. They should be. They were among the best artists of their generation and indisputably great cartoonists.
Marie has left us, although we’ve talked at length about how amazing she was — a singular talent who could draw superheroes and comedy equally well. In a world without sexism, she would have been one of the most famous cartoonists of her era.
However, I think it needs to be stated, boldly and repeatedly, that Ramona is still with us, and at age 94, still making relevant and humorous art.
Fradon’s career hits all four categories, in fact shames them all, especially longevity. From her DC work in the ’60s to Brenda Starr to her current busy career with commissions. And she drew in an unmistakable style all her own.
If a man had drawn the definitive Aquaman, co-created Metamorpho and defined the Super Friends for all times — all while drawing at a level few could match — he would be on that list. But the “why have there been no great women comics artists?” mindset rules entire generations of comics commenters and fans. And it’s just such bullshit.
If you hadn’t noticed by now, inspired by Trina Robbins, this is perhaps the thread of my life’s work, exposing the lost and forgotten women of comics history and why they were lost and forgotten. It’s not that Severin and Fradon are lost and forgotten, but that they were always left off bullshit lists like this.
And you know why it makes me so mad? Because it’s stealing. It is stealing my heroes from me and many other little girls who wanted to be cartoonists or write comics. It is stealing from the acclaim, fame and financial success that these women’s hard work and talent should have earned.
Whenever I read a history of comics, Fradon was never just included among the best artists of her time, as she should have been; instead, she was always in a separate paragraph: “Oh and some women drew comics too, Ramona Fradon and Marie Severin; isn’t that cool?” They were never allowed to be among the “normal” artists, always off to the side.
That is stealing from people who need role models, who want to be included, who want to know their work matters.
And if it was this bad for privileged white women, imagine the hurdles that women of color and queer women and trans women had to face. Robbery.
Fradon was and is an amazing, no-nonsense woman who just gets on with her work, and rolls her eyes at the discrimination she faced. She silenced all doubts with her pencil, over and over.
While looking for art to go along with this, I found two pages from The Cat #5, which was never published. The book was written by Linda Fite, another pioneer who must have faced incredible odds. The fact that issue #5 never even saw print speaks for itself…and that no one ever thought to put these beautiful pages out there is another robbery.
Anyway, we’d never make a list as single-minded as Atlas Comics in this day and age, when women dominate comics, aside from a few outliers like Dav Pilkey. Or at least…I hope we wouldn’t.
And above all, treasure Ramona Fradon. She’s one of the best of all time.
And PS: if you’re into octopi, Fradon is your woman!
[An earlier version of this ran in the Beat newsletter.]