To celebrate International Women’s Day, I thought I’d talk about one of my favorite comic artists of all time: the incomparable Ramona Fradon. Fradon got her start in comics back in 1950 working on the “Shining Knight” feature. She often felt like a fish out of water in the male dominated field. Part of it was her stylistic choice: Fradon’s compositions were more open and less shaded than the work of her male counterparts. “When I read that this seemed to be a characteristic of women cartoonists, it made me feel a bit better about it,” she recounted in a 1988 interview. It sorta made her the rebel, too, ditching the “traditional” comic methods codified by decades of male artists and blazing her own visual path.
A short time later, Fradon landed the art gig at Adventure Comics working on a sea-based superhero some of you may know as Aquaman. Laugh all you want, but drawing Aquaman presents a unique set of challenges: being able to render aquatic scenes (e.g., depicting liquid creatively in the waves, bubbles, and sea currents), the fluid motion of the human body in the act of swimming, and unique and strange sea creatures. With the latter, Fradon was especially adept, giving all sorts of undersea beasties their scaly or slick textures and imparting personalities that shine through their fishy faces. Perhaps my favorite is how she drew mostly forgotten Aquaman sidekick, Topo the octopus. Look how much emotion she conveys through body language (tentacle language?) and eyes alone.
Her most significant contribution, though, is the co-creation of Metamorpho with the Silver Agey-est writer of them all: Bob Haney. “It was like our minds were in perfect synch,” Fradon would recall. “It was one of those wonderful collaborations that doesn’t happen very often.” Haney’s whacked-out storylines gave Fradon the excuse to totally cut loose in the art department, using Metamorpho’s shape-shifting powers in new and creative ways.
And, if you were a young kid like me who liked to read every single strip in the funny pages… even the ones ostensibly aimed at adults… you are very familiar with Fradon’s work. In 1980, Fradon started work on Brenda Starr, Reporter, taking over for fellow legendary female comic strip artist Dale Messick (who had created the strip in 1940). She would remain the artist for the strip until Fradon’s retirement in 1995. I freaking loved Brenda Starr, and Fradon’s work is the Brenda I remember.
Fradon was inducted into the Women Cartoonists Hall of Fame (1999) — the third ever inductee behind Marie Severin and the aforementioned Messick — and the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame (2006).