Dale Messick .com


Comic strip artist Dale (Dalia) Messick was born in South Bend, Indiana on April 11, 1906, to a seamstress and commercial artist. She created the popular feature Brenda Starr, which at its peak during the 1950s ran in 250 newspapers.

Having an early interest in writing and drawing, Messick eventually studied briefly at the Ray Commercial Art School in Chicago but left to begin a career as a professional artist.

She began working for a Chicago greeting card company and was successful. However she quit when her boss lowered her pay during the Great Depression.

Messick moved to New York City where she found work with another greeting card company, this time at a higher salary. She also began assembling a portfolio of comic strip samples.

While she was not actually the first female comic strip creator, she became the most famous during her era. Others included Nell Brinkley, Edwina Dumm and Gladys Parker, who all achieved success in the field, which at that time was very biased against female artists.

In fact, Messick decided to use her nickname Dale, knowing that her work would be seen and seriously considered by editors. She created a variety of comic strips (Weegee, Mimi the Mermaid, Peg and Pudy, the Struglettes, and Streamline Babies), but none were given the green light for publication.

But then in 1940 Messick created the character of Brenda Starr, naming her after a debutante she'd heard of from the 1930s, and basing her appearance on fiery redhead actress Rita Hayworth.

Since Messick wanted to produce her strip with plots revolving around Starr as the protagonist, she decided a career as a reporter would allow her character to travel and have adventures. Of course she embellished those adventures to make them far more glamorous than those actually experienced by most reporters in real life.

Many years later, in 1986, Messick commented on that fact in an article about her in the San Francisco Chronicle: “I used to get letters from girl reporters saying that their lives were nowhere near as exciting as Brenda's. I told them that if I made Brenda's life like theirs, nobody would read it."

Her big break came when her work came to the attention of Mollie Slott, who worked as a "girl Friday" to New York Daily News publisher (and syndicate head) Joseph Medill Patterson.

Patterson, who was reputedly biased against women cartoonists (and what man wasn't, back then?), would not sign her up for daily publication in the News, but he accepted Brenda Starr, Reporter for syndication as a Sunday comic.

It made its debut on June 30, 1940. Its mixture of adventure and romance very quickly became the rage with both female and male readers.

Messick went on to create a number of other comic strips, but none achieved the outstanding success of Brenda Starr. The only other strip which she drew that is generally remembered by comic strip buffs was Perry Mason.

Brenda Starr 10
(Click pic to enlarge.)

Copyright © Superior Comics

On April 24, 1955, she appeared on the TV game show What's My Line? After the panel correctly identified her as a comic strip artist, they were given a full description of her real name, professional name and job as "illustrator" of Brenda Starr.

Messick retired from producing Brenda Starr in 1980. Ramona Fradon (artist) and Linda Sutter (writer) took over the strip that same year and produced it until 1995. June Brigman (artist) and Mary Schmich (writer) have done the strip from 1995 to the present. However, Messick was not impressed all that much with her successors' different versions of Starr.

As proof of that, here is a 1998 quote from the Sonoma County Independent: “Now it doesn't look like Brenda at all. She looks more like she works at a bank. No glamour, no curves, no fashion - but it's still going pretty good.”

Following her retirement from the Brenda Starr strip, Messick moved to Oakmont, California to be near her daughter and grandchildren. She continued to work on her art, though, and even created a new strip, Granny Glamour, which ran in Oakmont Gardens Magazine, a local weekly publication. She kept it going until she had a stroke in 1998, and couldn't draw any more.

Award-wise, in 1995 Brenda Starr was one of a top 20 comic strips honored by a series of United States postage stamps; Messick was the only living creator.

She also received the National Cartoonists Society's Story Comic Book Award for 1975, as well as their Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 for her work on Brenda Starr work.

Messick passed away on April 5, 2005, less than a week from her 99th birthday. Now that is staying power, folks!

Relevant Reading:

Brenda Starr Repoter:
Her First Year

By Dale Messick
Malibu Graphics (1989)


Starr Gazer by Daedalus Howell
Dale Messick: A Comic Strip Life by Jackie Leger
Dale Messick at the Encyclopedia of World Biography by Ashyia N. Henderson

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