The Lady from Paradise Island

I don’t get that many chances to draw iconic mainstream comic book characters without having to worry that some humorless industry lawyer may be lurking nearby looking to make a pinch for copyright infringement.
So when author and comics writer Andy Mangels asked me to contribute a drawing of durable superheroine Wonder Woman to the October charity auction Andy was then organizing in Portland (two local shelters for battered women and children — Raphael House of Portland and Bradley-Angle House — were the beneficiaries), I could hardly pass up the opportunity.

The event was a big success (like, $15,405.33 got raised!!) and lotsa artists drew Wonder Woman in lotsa different ways. I myself drew inspiration for my drawing from the Charles Moulton version of the character who zipped about in glass airplanes during my childhood. I’m out of touch, I confess, with more recent incarnations. Indeed, I jumped off the Wonder Woman train way back in the late-’60s, when someone at DC Comics decided to dress the crimefighter from Paradise Island in a power pantsuit. I never looked back.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being butch in a pantsuit. But that wasn’t the Wonder Woman with whom I bonded at a formative age. I wasn’t ready to go along with any slick fashion upgrades just because some editor at DC Comics had grown weary with pre-feminist retro. By that point I was preoccupied with underground comix anyway. Superheroics were no longer on my radar.

I was moved just now to check Wonder Woman’s present-day web site, by the way. (The comic; not the tv show.) I see that the pantsuit look is long gone and that WW’s patriotic stars and spangles have been restored. A positive nod to tradition, for sure, although the busty babe now carrying the banner, although stunningly drawn, doesn’t quite capture the old ambience for me. The Wonder Woman I grew up with would never have bothered to maximize her cleavage while striking fear in the hearts of evildoers.

Maybe if I hadn’t been a gay kid the presence or absence of cleavage would have carried more weight for me. But my head was in a different place. It was Batman who strummed my strings. Ah, to live the life Robin led and reside in a stately manor with a rich, buff, and handsome mentor like Bruce Wayne! Ah, to wear a yellow cape and textured green panties on the streets of Gotham City and not be embarrassed!

Still, Wonder Woman enjoyed a real if muted place in my gayboy heart. She wasn’t a scarily alluring sexpot who made me feel inadequate like the girls then reaching puberty among my junior high classmates. And I appreciated the slight stiffness of the ink lines with which her comics were drawn in those early days. They reminded me of the inelegant but earnest strokes I had begun learning to render with the Rapidograph technical pen my father purchased for me once he saw that I was getting serious about my cartooning.

I can’t claim that the rendition of Wonder Woman I contributed to Andy’s auction is free of sexpot iconography, of course. That’s my parodist side being compulsively impudent. But satire wasn’t on my mind when I read Wonder Woman comics in my youth. I was a willing receptacle for their fantasy; it was as simple and as indelible as that.

Postcript: I was happy to learn this week that the high bidder for my Wonder Woman drawing in the Portland fundraiser was my cartooning colleague David Kelly. David, besides being a great cartoonist and a friend of mine, is the longtime co-editor with Robert Kirby of the Boy Trouble comics ‘zine series. (Selections from that series have recently been collected in book form by Green Candy Press, I should mention in passing.)

David emailed me himself to tell me he had bought my drawing (as well as a second WW as imagined by Paige Braddock of Jane’s World fame) and to show me the photo he took of himself holding his two purchases.
I was momentarily disoriented when I looked closely. Why is Wonder Woman holding her rope in a different hand in David’s snapshot than in my artwork? Then it occurred to me that when you take a picture of yourself in a mirror, you tend to get a mirror-image. Duh.

About Howard

I'm a cartoonist and writer, best known for my graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, and my comic strip from the 1980s, Wendel.
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0 Responses to The Lady from Paradise Island

  1. mthomases says:

    Wonder Woman was always one of my faves. When I read the stories as a kid, I liked the way she could glide on the wind, and I liked how she used a computer to have adventures with herself as a teenager and child. But I never understood the high heels.