Comics Herstory: Dale Messick

brendamessickDale Messick was born Dalia Messick in South Bend, Indiana. She grew up with a love of art and after moving to New York City to pursue a career, was hired to draw greeting cards.

After some time, Messick decided to pursue a career in drawing comics. She assembled a portfolio of short comic strips and created a number of characters such as Mimi the Mermaid, Peg and Pudy, Streamline Babies, Struglettes, and Weegee, but none were picked up for publication. Messick then determined that she would be better served if people thought she was a male writer, and started going by her nickname, Dale.

After a strip about female pirates was rejected, Messick created her most famous strip, Brenda Starr, Reporter in 1940. As a character, Brenda Starr became representative of what many women couldn’t have: an exciting job that allowed Starr to support herself and travel to all corners of the world. Her name came from a 1930s debutante and her appearance from Rita Hayworth. She was fully a modern woman, dressing in the latest fashions and engaging in torrid romances. Messick gave particular focus to keeping Starr’s appearance and wardrobe updated to suit popular fashion.

Brenda Starr was picked up by the Chicago Tribune Syndicate and, at the height of its publication, appeared in around 250 newspapers nationally. It was published as a daily strip. Messick retired from drawing in 1980, when artist Ramona Fradon took over. Messick continued to write and illustrate other strips. None reached the critical success of Brenda Starr, which was revolutionary in its depiction of women as career driven and adventure loving people. Despite its popularity, film and television adaptations of the comic have been unsuccessful.

In 1995, Brenda Starr was one of 20 comics honored on a series of stamps called Comic Strip Classics. Messick was awarded the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Cartoonists Society in 1997. In 2001, Dale Messick and Marie Severin the first two women to be inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame, and are two of only five women to be awarded this honor.

Messick continued to draw cartoons into her nineties before her death at the age of 98 in 2005.