Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bye Bye Brenda Star

One of my youthful crushes is retiring from the business. No more late nights or looming deadlines for globetrotting reporter Brenda Starr. Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich and artist June Brigman said they've decided it was time to end their work on the seven-day-a-week strip which appears in about three dozen newspapers. The final episode of the soap opera cartoon created by the late Dale Messick will be published Jan. 2. 

 The loss of Brenda Starr marks the second starring a strong female — and redheaded — character for Tribune Media Services. The Chicago-based company announced in June that Annie, which debuted in 1924, would be no more. Let's hope that is not portent for the way that women's rights, in or out of the workplace, may be headed. Out with the strong, intelligent woman and in with the scantly dressed, bubble headed bimbo?

Brenda Starr was a rarity in the world of comics, with a strong female lead role and a female-dominated creative team, originating in a time when the workplace wasn't as friendly to women (and just how friendly is it now?)

The redheaded comic heroine, whose first appearance came in a June 1940 Chicago Tribune insert, is putting the notebook away for good next month. Tribune Media Services, which owns Brenda Starr, announced Thursday that it's ending the feature's newspaper syndication.

"It's been an incredible privilege to be able to live life through this medium all these years," said Schmich, who has written the comic for 25 years. "I'm a reporter, above all, so I always use Brenda in a funny way to report things."

When Brenda, who works for The Flash, went to India or Mount Everest on an adventure, Schmich studied as much as she could about those places. The strip was also a way to comment on the changing industry — like with the Internet star character of Rat Sludge, a thinly-veiled caricature of Matt Drudge — and the roles of working women.

Dale Messick, creator of the redheaded comic heroine "Brenda Starr"

Brenda Starr "girl reporter" has evolved from what Schmich describes as a "weepier, girlier ditzier" character where most plot lines revolved around her love life to a (slightly) more serious character, closer to what a reporter would be today.

"Brenda was always aware it could be difficult in the world and the newsroom to be a woman, but she always made it work," Schmich said.

The change in character has also been reflected in the way Brenda has been drawn, from accessorized and brightly-colored fitted skirt suits in the early decades to more functional slacks and jackets in more recent years.

"She's a little more down to earth, probably dresses more for function," said Brigman, who began drawing the strip in 1995 after a illustrating comic books for DC, Dark Horse and Marvel, including the latter's critically lauded "Power Pack" series. "She has style and she just doesn't look as flamboyant."

But that doesn't mean the strip has been completely tame.

Both Brigman and Schmich say their favorite character was The Flash's gossip columnist, Gabby VanSlander, a smart, gossipy and bold woman who's often depicted with a cigarette.

"She was a lot fun. She was so outrageous," Brigman said. "We also got mail complaining about this character smoking. But she was so stubborn. Despite all the anti-smoking (campaign) out there, she was never going give it up."

The strip's reach — spanning seven decades of global adventures — is obvious.

But Brenda fans rest assured, she won't be gone for good. The comic strip may be gone but the merchandizing - and probably dilution of the strip's strong feminist message - will continue.

Images & Information: AP Wire Services.


Zoomie said...

I remember reading that strip for years when I was a young girl. Haven't thought about Brenda in a long time. Nostalgic.

namastenancy said...

I loved that comic strip and I probably imprinted on it with a desire to become a red-headed journalist myself. What I find sad is that this is the last cartoon with a strong woman character that got national play. There's a show of women cartoonists in the Cartoon Museum here but their work is more transgressive, personal and uber quirky. It will be a very rare girl that would take one of those characters as an example. What's left is often crude, macho, sadistic and misogynist.