The Golden Age of comic books, between the late 1930s into the early 1950s, introduced readers to iconic characters such as Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, Captain America, and Wonder Woman. But Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman weren’t the only female powerhouses to come out of the Golden Age. Lily Renée Phillips is considered one of the earliest female artists in the comic book industry during this time.
Born Lily Renée Wilheim in 1924, she is often credited as L. Renée, Lily Renée, or Reney. Growing up in Vienna, Austria, Lily Renée frequently visited art museums and often drew as a hobby. During the 1930s, she escaped Nazi-occupied Austria and headed to Leeds, England. While there, Lily Renée worked as a servant, nanny, and candy striper while waiting to hear from her parents. Eventually, she reunited with her parents in New York, where she resumed her passion for art. She later got a job drawing catalogs for Woolworth’s at Reiss advertising agency. Around the same time, she studied at the Art Students League of New York and the School of Visual Arts.
As many male artists at Fiction House were drafted into World War II, the comic book publisher sought women to replace the artists. Lily Renée was hired on as a penciler and inker alongside other female comic illustrators and writers including Nina Albright (Miss Victory) and Fran Hopper (Mysta of the Moon). By the early 1940s, Lily Renée was assigned to the Fiction House feature Jane Martin, which followed a female pilot working in the male-dominated aviation industry. Additional work included the feature “The Werewolf Hunter” in Rangers Comics, the sci-fi feature “The Lost World” in Planet Comics, as well as “Señiorita Rio” in Fight Comics.
During the 1950s, Lily Renée and then-husband cartoonist Eric Peters began working at St. John Publications. The pair shared penciling and inking duties on Abbott & Costello Comics, illustrating the majority of issues 2-34. At the same time, Lily Renée drew romance stories in issues of St. John’s Teen-Age Diary Secrets and Teen-Age Romances. After leaving the comic industry, Lily Renée dabbled in working on children’s books and writing plays. Her black comedy play, Superman in Sleep’s Embrace, was later produced at Hunter College in Manhattan.
More recently, non-profit organization Friends of Lulu nominated Lily Renée into its Women Cartoonists Hall of Fame. To this day, Lily Renée continues to serve as an inspiration for the female creators working in an often male-dominated industry. “Some people are just illustrators and some people are storytellers. She was actually both,” expressed Golden Age historian Jim Amash.