I have been reading comics for more years than I care to mention, but one thing I have always enjoyed is finding strong female characters.
The first one to grab my attention was Ebony Jones. Ebony was a secret agent story that ran in The Crunch from issue 39 until it was merged with Hotspur after issue 54. This was originally commissioned to be part of a new action style comic for girls but when that fell through, Bill Graham was canny enough to find a good fit for it in The Crunch.
To the best of my knowledge she is the only black female character to lead her own series in a boys’ comic. Thanks to the encyclopedic knowledge of Paul Gravett, I am now aware that the artist is the talented Carlos Magallanes who also illustrated Who Killed Cassidy which also ran in The Crunch.
As I read more and more comics, other strong characters grabbed my attention such as Penny Laine (later Penny Race, wife of Roy) giving Roy grief over any decision that was outside the family home was stunning. In case anyone is wondering why this is unusual, the mindset of man goes out and earns, the wife stays home and looks after the kids was still writ large on society up to the mid 1980s and still holds sway today. So for anything to go against this model in the 1980s was a revelation for most of us comic readers.
The example here is not something we would be surprised at today, but back in 1979, this was a pretty big thing. And the lush art by David Sque never hurt the storyline either.
However, there was one female character that I was fascinated by and she made her bloody debut back in 1987 in the Johnny Alpha story Bitch and that is Durham Red. I don’t know why I liked her so much as one could argue that Vampirella was prettier and wore more revealing outfits, but as much as I love the character of Durham Red, I am indifferent to Vampirella and any Vampirella around the house belongs to herself with no argument from me.
Now some of you will be wondering why I am talking about these three characters and it’s quite simple. Last year I was chatting with one of our really talented friends Janine Van Moosel as she has a series called Jessica Cosplays which is a loving homage to Jessica Rabbit from the 1988 movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The example here is Jessica as four of the great horror queens.
Janine is also the long standing artist who has illustrated the small press comic series City of Lost Souls and the final issue will be coming out soon, so watch out for that. And Janine is also highly talented in what many people would consider proper art as evidenced by her portrait of a young Jack Nicholson.
However, I digress. As I said, I was chatting with Janine and due to her love of creepy clowns, I have promised to give her my 2000AD monthly that features Clown, a character that is pushed over the edge when his horse is brutally murdered and he goes on a revenge murder spree. So in return, Janine asked what I would like and I said that I would really enjoy her take on Jessica as Durham Red. And this has been bubbling away between us for a good year or so and Janine wasn’t really sure if it would be popular.
Well a few weeks ago (the 25th May 2018 if you want to be precise), Janine sent me her pencils and asked what I thought. I was quite blown away and Janine was nervous of going to the next stage of doing the inks and then the painting. I assured her that I had faith in her work as this was what she had sent me.
While the eyes are not exactly Durham Red, they do fit exactly with Janine’s series so it looks damn good to me. And if I am honest, I was quite excited to be involved in the commission process and see what would happen next. Well, what happened next was that Janine sent me the full coloured piece and I was just blown away by it. I expected it to be good, but I never expected stunning.
While Jessica is more overtly sexual than Durham Red, there is no denying that this version of Jessica is bad, but don’t blame her too much for being bad. She’s just drawn that way.