Today we honor and celebrate a pioneer in women’s history whose legacy includes the creation of another feminist icon. Dalia Messick was born in Indiana in 1906. She had a passion for drawing and briefly attended art school, leaving to pursue a paying job in the field. She worked for greeting card companies, sending money home to help support her family during the Great Depression. She was interested in writing and drawing a comic strip, but there was a strong industry bias against female cartoonists. She assembled a mighty portfolio but had little success.
Frustrated, she changed her working name to the more gender-neutral “Dale” and began promoting a new strip. With the help of another woman, Mollie Slott, who was an influential assistant at the New York Daily News, she managed to get her creation into Sunday publication. That strip, eventually the longest-running female created syndicated comic, was Brenda Starr.
Brenda was a feisty, fashionable reporter. Gaining prominence in the early 40s as many women were entering the workforce for the first time, she became one of a handful of icons for the burgeoning working women movement. While certainly interested in her romantic pursuits and pursuers, Brenda was an independent woman proud of her career.
Messick worked on other strips (including a stint on Perry Mason) but nothing matched the success of Brenda Starr, Reporter. At its height (in the late 50s), the strip was syndicated in over 250 newspapers, making it one of the most widely-distributed strips of the day. Messick wrote and drew the strip for forty years, retiring in 1980. Interestingly, she handed it over to another comics pioneer, DC artist Ramona Fradon, who helped create two long-standing characters, Aqualad and Metamorpho. The strip continued for decades with a handful of artists and writers until ending in January 2011 with Brenda’s retirement from the paper.
Dale Messick remained active in retirement. She attended comic conventions and other events and was always happy to talk about her role (and Brenda’s) in the women’s movement. She created Granny Glamour, a strip about senior citizens, for a local magazine and continued to draw a variety of projects until she suffered a stroke in 1998. She died in 2005 at age 98, leaving behind an impressive legacy including numerous industry awards.