Comics Herstory: Barbara Hall

black_cat_-1Barbara Hall became a prominent cartoonist during World War II before becoming a “hippie commune co-founder.”  Her family was Southern and had strict rules against befriending Northerners, but Hall eventually attended art school in California and moved to New York.

In New York, she would begin a career that contributed many notable female characters to comics. Hall was hired by Harvey Comics to draw the comic Black Cat, about stuntwoman-turned-lead-actress-turned-hero Linda Turner. After Black Cat, she worked on the strip Girl Commandos, about an all-women team that was based on Pat Parker, also known as War Nurse. The team, consisting of Pat Parker, Pat Parker’s friend Ellen, a Soviet photographer named Tanya, a Chinese woman named Mei-Ling, and radio reporter Penelope Kirk, fought Nazis as a team. None of them had superpowers. Hall worked on Girl Commandos until 1943.

Hall was also responsible for creating Blonde Bomber, also known as Honey Blake. Blake was a broadcast news camera woman and an expert chemist. She worked with cameraman Jimmy Slapso and appeared in several issues of Green Hornet. During this time, she signed most of her work “B. Hall,” because it wasn’t commonplace or widely accepted for women to be in comics. After Hall left Harvey Comics, artist Jill Elgin took over much of Hall’s drawing responsibility.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 8.38.52 AMAfter her marriage to Irving Fiske in 1946, Hall and Fiske bought property in Vermont that would become the Quarry Hill Creative Center. Quarry Hill is the oldest alternative living community in the United States, and was created with the intent of becoming a creative retreat for writers and artists. Cartoonist Art Spiegelman and his wife Françoise Mouly maintained a friendship with many of the residents. Quarry Hill is still open as an alternative living community, run by Hall and Fiske’s daughter.

Hall continued with art and opened a gallery called The Gallery Gwen in East Village in the 1960s. She and Fiske eventually divorced. Hall remarried at the age of seventy, and would remain married to Dr. Donald Calhoun until his death. Hall died in 2014 at the age of ninety-four.