Wartime Wednesday: Miss Fury
As with many industries in the 1930s and 1940s, women struggled to be considered serious contenders. In the magazine and newspaper business, if it was difficult to get articles published, it was even harder to have illustrations and photographs accepted. The Saturday Evening Post seems to be the front-runner in using female illustrators, many of whom created covers as far back as the early 1900s. Over the next several months, I’ll be spotlighting the various women who managed to successfully break into the field by creating many of the well-remembered covers during WWII.
June Tarpé Mills was born in Brooklyn, New York on February 25, 1918. Her childhood was challenging in that her mother was widowed early and her sister died, leaving several children to care for. As a way to help support the family and save money for art school tuition, June worked as a model, but her first love was painting. She initially worked as a fashion illustrator (where most women were stuck), but moved on to the fast-growing comic book industry in 1938.
In an effort to hide her gender, June used the pseudonym Tarpé Mills and worked with titles such as Catman and the Purple Zombie. In 1941, she created a strip called The Black Fury (later changed to Miss Fury). Described as equal parts high-fashion and high-adventure, the strip introduced readers to socialite Marla Drake who when she discovered her masquerade party costume was the same as a rival’s, changed to a witch doctor’s ceremonial cat suit. On the way to the event, Marla runs into to a couple of bad guys who she handles with panache, flair, and stylish kicks.
A star was born!
At its height, the strip was published in over 100 newspapers. Miss Fury ran for ten years, and during the war, Marla/Miss Fury comes into contact with criminals, spies, and Nazis. She had romantic entanglements and an on-again/off-again fiancé. In addition, she rescues and adopts a toddler as a single woman – unheard of in the day. The image of the super-feminine hero, Miss Fury was painted on the nose of three B17 and B24 bombers. In addition, her cat Perri-Purr became the unofficial mascot of the Allied troops.