Culture Trips

Remembering Miss Fury – the world’s first great superheroine

As beloved as the strip was, though – at one point it was syndicated in 100 newspapers – it was cancelled in 1951, exactly 10 years after it was first published. Partly this was because Mills had been missing deadlines: she was a chain-smoker with lung problems, and her dedication to her meticulous artwork took its toll. But partly, argue some commentators, it was because the exploits of a go-getting, self-reliant woman no longer suited the sensibilities of conservative post-war America. Mills survived as a commercial artist, but she never made a comeback in comics. “Those were difficult times for a woman who wanted to be a cartoonist,” says Sanapo, “and Mills needed more support than she got. She was so far ahead of her time, but she was so underestimated”. She lived her last years as a recluse in a rundown Brooklyn apartment, labouring over an unfinished graphic novel. And when she died in 1988, Miss Fury was all but forgotten – a cruel fate for such an iconic superheroine. “Honestly, I think it’s because she’s not part of a large, well-known universe [like Marvel and DC’s superheroes],” says Bechko. “And also because she kind of gets swamped by Catwoman, who is a very different character even though she sometimes has a similar look.”

Still, Miss Fury has proven to be a leopard / panther with nine lives. Other writers and artists have revived her: Bechko has written a series of Miss Fury comics for Dynamite Entertainment, and Sanapo has illustrated one. Mills’s own work has recently been reprinted in lavish hardback collections, with introductions by Trina Robbins, a fellow Brooklyn-born comics innovator. And in 2019 Mills herself was inducted into the American comics industry’s Eisner Award Hall Of Fame – a mere 13 years after William Moulton Marson, the creator of Wonder Woman, and 23 years after Bob Kane, the co-creator of Batman. To be fair, it’s unlikely that Miss Fury will ever be as famous as they are, but in some ways she is just as significant. “There’s been so much discussion in the last couple of decades about new interpretations of female characters in comics,” says Madrid, “and about female creators getting their view out into the world. Tarpé Mills was already doing all that in the 1940s”.

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