Although they have never been exclusively male, comics have long been considered a male-dominated field. However, since the very beginning, female creators have had a hand in comics working as writers, artists, and editors. Today, women are continually growing in prominence in the comic industry and much of that is thanks to the pioneering spirt of early female creators. One such creator is American cartoonist and writer-artist, Ruth Atkinson.
Born on June 2, 1918, Atkinson was raised in upstate New York. She initially entered the world of comics working as a freelancer for Fiction House. Atkinson penciled and inked such features as “Clipper Kirk,” “Skull Squad,” and “Suicide Smith.” She later worked on the single-page, airplane feature “Wing Tips” in Wings Comics, centered around an airplane called the Hellcat – ironically this name would later play a larger role in her career. Additional credits at this time included “Tabu” in Jungle Comics and “Sea Devil’” in Rangers Comics. Eventually, she became the company’s art director, but quit when the managerial hours did not leave her enough time to draw.
A few months after leaving Fiction House, Atkinson began working as a freelancer for Marvel’s predecessor, Timely Comics. Alongside writer Otto Binder, the pair created the red-headed teen idol Patsy Walker for Miss America Magazine in 1944. The teen humor series originally centered around the characters adventures in high school before transitioning into a young career gal romantic adventure following her graduation. The wildly popular series even spawned several spinoff titles. Years later, Steve Englehart and George Pérez would revamp the character of Patsy into the superheroine Hellcat in The Avengers #144 in 1976. This character has since been affiliated with The Defenders, Lady Liberators, and even Legion of the Unliving.
Around the same time, Atkinson also created the smash hit series Millie the Model. This humor magazine followed aspiring model Millie Collins as she made the big move from Kansas to New York to pursue a career as a fashion model. As a testament to Atkinson’s talent, both Patsy Walker and Millie the Model were among the few titles published continuously by Marvel from the 1940s Golden Age through Marvel’s 1950s iteration as Atlas Comics, and into the 1960s Silver Age. Interestingly enough, the first time the banner of Marvel was used was on an issue of Millie the Model.
Prior to her retirement, Atkinson drew true life adventures for Eastern Color Comics’ Heroic Comics, as well for some of the first romance comics, including Lev Gleason Publications’ Boy Meets Girl and Boy Loves Girl. She eventually left the comics field to get married and have children. In 1997, Atkinson sadly passed away following a long battle with cancer. She may be gone, but the lasting impact Atkinson made on Marvel and across the comics industry has cemented her status as one of comics most influential creators.