Comics/Graphic Novels

24 Trailblazing Women in Comics for Women’s History Month 2024

Jessica Plummer

Contributing Editor

Jessica Plummer has lived her whole life in New York City, but she prefers to think of it as Metropolis. Her day job is in books, her side hustle is in books, and she writes books on the side (including a short story in Sword Stone Table from Vintage). She loves running, knitting, and thinking about superheroes, and knows an unnecessary amount of things about Donald Duck. Follow her on Twitter at @jess_plummer.

The comic book industry is infamously male-dominated, especially on the superhero side of things. Even today, when comics are more mainstream than they have been in half a century, the industry itself skews male: male editors, male writers, male artists. Still, the ratio has been gradually shifting over the past couple of decades, with names like Raina Telgemeier and Ngozi Ukazu topping the bestseller lists and Marie Liu and Mariko Tamaki cleaning up at awards seasons.

But as heartening as these recent changes are, it’s important to remember that women in comics are not a new phenomenon. On the contrary, women have been there from the very beginning as writers, as artists, and as editors. Some were uncredited; some were driven out of the industry. Some broke away from the constraints of superheroes and newspaper strips to the less rigid world of independent comics; some did the work quietly for decades as the world changed around them; and some created beloved, multimillion-dollar properties.

So for Women’s History Month 2024, I’m rounding up 24 trailblazing women in comics, from superheroes to newspaper strips to independent to manga. This list is not comprehensive – there are plenty more women in comics history who deserve their time in the spotlight! But let’s start here.

Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne

I’m starting off this list by flagrantly cheating with two women in one entry. Elizabeth Marston was a lawyer, psychologist, and co-inventor of the polygraph – not bad for a woman born in 1893! She was also married to William Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman. Elizabeth was highly involved in the creation of and early years of Wonder Woman. She, along with Olive Byrne, who lived with the Marstons and was in a polyamorous relationship with at least William and possibly Elizabeth too, has long been credited as the inspiration for comics’ greatest heroine.

Jackie Ormes

Jackie Ormes was the first nationally syndicated Black woman cartoonist and the creator of the strips Torchy Brown and Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger. Her work starred Black women and girls who were confident, intelligent, and non-stereotypical. Patty-Jo ran for 11 years and led to a popular line of dolls that remain prized collectors’ items today.

Alice Marble

Alice Marble is best known for being one of the best tennis players of all time – she won 18 Grand Slams and was ranked World No. 1 in 1939. But she was also on DC’s editorial advisory board and created the “Wonder Women of History” feature for Wonder Woman, profiling notable historical women. She fought to desegregate tennis and, oh, spied for the U.S. during World War II, even surviving being shot by a Nazi during a car chase. Where’s her movie, Hollywood?

Dorothy Woolfolk

Dorothy Woolfolk was one of the first female editors in the industry in the 1940s, working at DC, Marvel, and EC Comics. It was her idea to give Superman a weakness, which of course, led to kryptonite. She also wrote Wonder Woman stories (uncredited), making her the character’s first female writer. She returned to DC in the early ’70s but left after a few years, probably due to the relentless misogyny she faced. (Like her fellow editor Robert Kanigher depicting her being murdered in his own books. You know. Cool stuff like that.)

Machiko Hasegawa

Machiko Hasegawa was one of the first female mangaka; her comic strip Sazae-san began in 1946 and ran until her retirement in 1974, selling over 60 million books in Japan alone. The anime adaptation began in 1969 and is still running today, making it the longest-running animated series of all time.

Ramona Fradon

Ramona Fradon started drawing comics professionally in 1949 and came to DC in 1951. Her first regular gig on Aquaman included revamping the character for the Silver Age and co-creating his sidekick, Aqualad, but she’s best known for co-creating the wildly unusual hero Metamorpho. She passed away during the writing of this article at age 97, having only retired a month prior, with a truly legendary three-quarters-of-a-century career under her belt.

Marie Severin

Marie Severin drew and inked countless comics from 1949 to the mid-2000s, mostly at Marvel, where she co-created Spider-Woman. She was the first inductee into the Friends of Lulu Women Cartoonists Hall of Fame and, alongside Dale Messick (creator of Brenda Starr), the first woman inducted into the Will Eisner Comics Hall of Fame in the shamefully late year of 2001.

Trina Robbins

Trina Robbins was one of the first female artists involved in the underground comix movement. An outspoken critic of the misogyny pervading the underground scene, she created a number of outlets to publish and promote female creators, most notably the anthology Wimmen’s Comix and the nonprofit Friends of Lulu. She was also friends with Jim Morrison, which is just, like, incredibly cool.

Flo Steinberg

“Fabulous Flo” became the secretary to Stan Lee in 1963, making her literally the only other staffer at the then-tiny Marvel Comics. For much of the ’60s, she kept Marvel running by keeping creators on deadline, answering fan letters, submitting comics to the Comics Code, and even physically stopping kids from sneaking into the office to gawk. In 1968 she quit after not receiving a $5 raise (seriously, Stan?) and got into underground comics, including publishing Big Apple Comix, a major landmark in the alternate comics scene.

Rachel Pollack

Rachel Pollack was one of DC’s first trans writers, starting with Doom Patrol, where she created the trans heroine Coagula. She also wrote a number of New Gods comics. Outside of comics, she wrote both fiction and nonfiction and was an expert on tarot. She passed away in 2023, and DC included a tribute to her life and work in their 2023 Pride anthology.

Louise Simonson

Louise Simonson started out as an assistant at Warren Comics in 1974. She eventually became an editor at Marvel and then a full-time writer, where she’s best known for her work on various X-books and for co-creating Power Pack, Cable, Rictor, and Apocalypse. In the ’90s, she headed to DC, where she was one of the architects of the “Death of Superman” story and co-created Doomsday and Steel. She’s still going strong now, with DC publishing a Superman book by her last year.

Jenette Kahn

Jenette Kahn basically saved DC Comics. She became publisher in 1976 and was instrumental in convincing parent company WB not to simply shut down the publication of new comics and maintain DC solely as licensed characters. Everyone say “Thank you, Jenette!” She became president in 1981 — the youngest person to become a division president at Warner Bros., and the first woman — and in that role, oversaw the creation of the Vertigo and Milestone imprints, the recruitment of a number of legendary creators from Marvel, and the diversification of DC’s staff.

Year 24 Group

Okay, this one is cheating again. The Year 24 Group was a supergroup of female mangaka, so named because most of them were born in 1949 — the 24th year of the Showa Era. They are credited with inventing the modern shoujo, or girls’ manga, with stories that were more complex and appealing to female readers. Members associated with the group include Moto Hagio, Keiko Takemiya, Yumiko Oshima, Riyoko Ikeda, Minori Kimura, and others.

Lynda Barry

Lynda Barry is best known for her long-running independent comic strip, Ernie Pook’s Comeek, which was first published by her friend Matt Groening in their college newspaper. She’s won a number of accolades, including induction into the Eisner Hall of Fame, and has published multiple nonfiction books about the creative process.

Rumiko Takahashi

Creating just one majorly successful manga would be impressive for anyone, but Rumiko Takahashi, “the princess of manga,” has created several. Her bestselling works, with a circulation of over 50 million each in Japan, are Ranma ½ and Inuyasha, both of which have been adapted as animes and video games.

Karen Berger

Karen Berger created DC’s Vertigo imprint in 1993. Vertigo was intended as a home for more adult comics that included things like nudity, drug use, profanity, and more graphic violence, and wound up being a place for quirky, creator-driven books to flourish like Sandman, Hellblazer, and Y: The Last Man. Berger headed up Vertigo for 20 years, leaving in 2013 and creating Berger Books at Dark Horse.

Alison Bechdel

Alison Bechdel prooobably needs no introduction, but just in case: her long-running independent comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, gave us the Bechdel-Wallace test, and her graphic memoir Fun Home was adapted into a Tony Award-winning musical. She’s said that “the secret subversive goal of my work is to show that women, not just lesbians, are regular human beings.”

Barbara Kesel

Barbara Kesel was in college when she wrote a 10-page letter to DC editor Dick Giordano about the poor portrayal of female characters in comics. He offered her a job. Over the next several decades, she wrote for DC, Marvel, Image, Tokyopop, and others and worked as an editor at Dark Horse and CrossGen.

Naoko Takeuchi

Naoko Takeuchi is best known as the creator of Sailor Moon, one of the most popular manga of all time. It spawned a resurgence of “magical girl” manga and anime, as well as two anime, a live-action TV show, stage musicals, video games, and even an idol pop group. Say what you want about Batman, but he doesn’t have a band.

Bobbie Chase

Barbara “Bobbie” Chase was an editor at Marvel in the ’80s and ’90s, rising to editor-in-chief from 1994-1995, the highest editorial position a woman has ever achieved at the company. After stepping away from comics during the 2000s, she switched over to working at DC as a senior editor in 2011, eventually becoming VP of Talent Development before leaving DC in 2020.

Hiromu Arakawa

Hiromu Arakawa is best known for creating Fullmetal Alchemist, one of the most popular shonen manga of all time. It ran for nine years and 108 chapters and has been adapted into two animated series, a live-action film, and numerous video games and light novels.

Gail Simone

Gail Simone left her mark on comics — and media criticism at large — before she even entered the industry professionally when she posted a list on her website called “Women in Refrigerators”: a list of female comic book characters who had been murdered, sexually assaulted, or otherwise brutalized, a trope that we now call “fridging.” She’s best known for her work at DC, particularly her lengthy run on Wonder Woman and her fan-favorite run on Birds of Prey, DC’s all-female team of superheroes.

Kelly Sue DeConnick

Kelly Sue DeConnick is best known for her revamp of Carol Danvers in her fan-favorite Captain Marvel series, as well as the creator-owned comics Bitch Planet and Pretty Deadly. She created the #VisibleWomen hashtag on Twitter in 2016, which is now transitioning to a nonprofit dedicated to elevating women working in comics, and coined the Sexy Lamp Test, riffing on the Bechdel Test: “If you can take out a female character and replace her with a sexy lamp, YOU’RE A FUCKING HACK.”

Sana Amanat

Sana Amanat is a Marvel editor who is best known for co-creating 2014’s Ms. Marvel starring Kamala Khan, the first mainstream comic to star a Muslim or Pakistani-American heroine. Her work at Marvel has emphasized female creators and characters, including running the Women of Marvel panel at SDCC and co-hosting the Women of Marvel podcast.

As I said at the start, this is by no means a comprehensive list of women in comics. But they are all women who have left their mark on the industry and paved the way for more trailblazers to come — and I, for one, can’t wait to see who comes next.