skip to Main Content

IKnown as the “Grand Dame of the Funnies,” Dale Messick is America’s first syndicated female cartoonist for creating the popular adventure comic strip Brenda Starr, Reporter. Debuting in June of 1940, it was an immediate hit. Each week for the next 40 years Messick created imaginative and often gripping story-lines that sent Brenda Starr on assignments to exotic places that only male reporters were given, which ironically mimicked real-life journalism. At its peak, Brenda Starr, Reporter was included in 250 newspapers and read by more than 60 million readers. Getting to this point was far from an easy journey for Messick. Born in South Bend, Indiana, Messick was the only girl to four younger brothers. Messick studied art at The Art Institute of Chicago and soon got a job creating greeting cards. Despite being the family’s sole provider during The Depression, she quit her job when her boss threatened to lower her salary so he could hire another “pretty” girl. Eventually, she landed a job at another greeting card company, this time in New York City. Though she had drawn comic strips during her school years, around this time she began several cartoons with women as the lead characters. By 1940 she had already tried in vain to sell four comic strips. After hearing about a contest searching for new comics in The Chicago Tribune’s New York Daily News, Messick submitted a strip with a beautiful girl bandit who was a dead ringer for Brenda Starr. The head of the New York Daily News, Joseph Patterson, swore he would never publish a woman cartoonist—and went so far as to throw away anything sent in by a woman. But his female assistant, Mollie Slott, saw things differently and pulled Messick’s work out of the trash. She encouraged her to make a few tweaks; she thought her female bandit should be a reporter and, according to lore, she also suggested Messick change her name from Dalia to Dale to sound more like a man. Messick took Slott’s advice and resubmitted Brenda Starr as a red-headed reporter who worked for a newspaper called “The Flash.” She also signed it Dale Messick. In recognition of her work, Brenda Starr, Reporter was one of 20 comic strip characters—and the only female character—chosen to be on a postage stamp during the U.S. Postal Service’s 100th anniversary. The strip had also been turned into a movie serial in 1945, a made-for-television movie in 1976, and a film that starred Brooke Shields in 1992. In honor of her groundbreaking work, the National Cartoonists Society awarded Messick with the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.

< Back to Hall of Fame

Back To Top