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.]

5 COMMENTS

  1. Wow, this stuff is so distorted. Fradon is someone I’ve barely heard of and I’ve been steeped in this stuff for 30 years. Her stuff is so great! For my money Carla Speed McNeil is the best comic book creator working today (Well, either her or Stan Sakai). She’s been putting out Finder and other work for decades, and I bet only, what, 1 in 10 comics fans have heard of her?

  2. Ramona Fradon and Marie Severin are great. When I think of Aquaman, I think of Fradon’s version; when i think of the Hulk, I picture Severin’s rendition.

    I’m afraid their approach may be a bit too humorous for today’s dead-serious fanboys, who want Neal Adams-inspired photo-realism. “Cartoony” is a dirty word for a lot of these mostly male fans. This ignores the fact that Kirby, Eisner, Ditko and many other revered male artists were essentially cartoonists.

    People should also discover June “Tarpe” Mills, creator of Miss Fury, the first female action hero created by a woman. The character appeared in newspapers for over a decade (1941-52) and strips were reprinted by Timley/Marvel.

    According to Wikipedia: “During World War II, ‘Miss Fury’ was painted on the nose of three American warplanes in Europe and the South Pacific.”

    So why isn’t the character (and her creator) better known today?

  3. A major part of Fradon’s underrated status is thanks to how little DC has kept her work in print and capitalized on it in the decades since.

    The only time there has been any concerted attempt to reprint her incredibly lengthy and “continuity-important” Aquaman stretch in color was nearly 20 years ago in a now very hard to find expensive hardcover. Which only covered less than a quarter of her nearly 800 pages of Aquaman stories. Her tenure is also held back a bit by fans and the big two publisher’s obsessions with “Ages” and continuity. Her 1951-1964 contributions to the character straddle the Golden Age and Silver Age. The latter either starts with the widely accepted Adventure Comics #260 featuring a revamped origin story, or earlier in #229 with the first appearance of the adorable Topo the octopus. So even in DC’s also defunct black and white Showcase Presents line, they skip past anything she did before 1959. Warner grossed over a billion on Aquaman, yet DC hasn’t reprinted a lick of Ramona’s work before or after all that hype. They did put out a couple books for the synergy, but canceled hers.

    Her Metamorpho on the other hand has never been reprinted in color. Never got an Archive, though it did make it to a Showcase tome in its entirety. More broadly, what has the publisher done with the character that would motivate people to go back and check out the originals? His most prominent role was on the Outsiders, still decades ago, alongside fellow underused hero Black Lightning. Metamorpho has never received more than a miniseries to his own since the 1960s. DC usually uses him as a casualty in larger stories, having killed him off at least three times.

    I can say basically all the same things about her very underrated work with Plastic Man, but I’m already longwinded.

    They’ve finally reprinted Super Friends in its entirety in two nice volumes. Let’s hope it’s a start. But we all know other issues at DC recently make that doubtful to say the least…

    Dynamite has a half decent art book about her career, with an interview conducted by Howard Chaykin as the foundation. She has a very insightful outlook on being one of the rare women in the industry back then, and how her style both distinguished her and may have held her back in the eyes of fans and critics.

  4. I thought enough of Ramona’s work that in 2005 I commissioned commission the art you used back in 2005 to introduce the article.
    Here is my part of my original posting as to how the characters were selected.

    “Now that I had the image idea worked out it was time to choose which 9 characters. Having recently received the Ordway dream commission. I decided to not repeat all the characters I had just had Jerry do. Now I do have a couple of JSA favorites, Dr Mid-Nite is one, I knew she could nail Dr. Mid-Nite. So this was quickly turning into a game of elimination.
    I have been on a Blackhawk kick lately and I thought I it might be interesting to see her interpretation, so I added him to the good Doctor and had two. Aquaman was a given making it three and since I always wondered what a Green Arrow drawn by the other “World’s’ Finest” artist would look like, now it was up to four. At this point I was thinking I had a nice World’s Finest Commission going, so now it was just a matter of adding the other characters. I like Wildcat, but he was in the Ordway, so he got crossed off the list. Flash was a must do since it was another chance for Ramona to draw her distinctive faces. Green Lantern with a cape as my young nephew calls him was a good choice. That left me with just a couple of slots left. As much as I despise the Atom’s first costume, I love the second one, so in he goes. Now the cape on that Dr Mid-Nite image I mentioned was so strong that I decided to go for Dr. Fate and there you have it.
    I think this is a nice example of Ramona’s work and I am delighted with it.
    Enjoy!”

  5. If you’re not allergic to black and white, you can read Fradon’s Aquaman and Metamorpho stories in Showcase Presents volumes.

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