Shanna the She-Devil #1
Issue(s): Shanna the She-Devil #1
[Stan Lee] had the idea, and I think the names, for all three [Shanna the She-Devil, The Cat, and Night Nurse]. He wanted to do some books that would have special appeal to girls. We were always looking for ways to expand our franchise. My idea ... was to try to get women to write them. ... I thought of my friend Carole Seuling, who had done a bit of writing for her ex-husband Phil in conjunction with his comic cons.
So like Linda Fite (Herbe Trimpe's girlfriend and soon-to-be wife) on the Cat and Jeane Thomas (Roy's wife) on Night Nurse, no effort was made to actually find established female writers to write this book. That doesn't mean it's bad, though, by any means. (Also note that Steve Gerber, in one of his earliest jobs at Marvel, is co-writer.)
Shanna grew up in the African wilderness. Her father accidentally shot her mother while hunting, leading Shanna to hate guns. (I also think it's funny that at this time a telescopic sight was considered a 'cheat' for a hunting weapon. Today it'd be a laser guided automatic rifle.)
She later became Olympic athlete (swimming and track & field) and then a veterinarian, working in a zoo. When a zoo guard kills all the leopards except for two cubs...
...Shanna leaves the civilized world, returning to Africa to raise the cubs and help protect a reserve from poachers. Shanna makes a costume out of the cub's mother's pelt, supposedly to make the cubs feel attached to her, but really to get Shanna into a leopard-print bikini. Its pretty weird to have Shanna wearing the skin of an animal that she loved, actually.
With Shanna, we see the struggle begin between creating female characters that girls may identify with and depicting female leads in a cheesecake way that will attract boys. Shanna is a smart and capable woman; feminist and ecologically minded. But she's also a hot chick in a furry bikini. (And of course there's a little light bondage.)
In addition to Shanna's cats Biri and Ina, the other recurring character introduced in this issue is Patrick McShane, a game warden and a potential love interest for Shanna, although she prefers her jungle life to settling down with him.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showBiri, Ina, Patrick McShane, Shanna the She-Devil 1972 / Box 7 / EiC: Roy Thomas
1972 / Box 7 / EiC: Roy Thomas
fnord, regarding your "no effort was made to actually find established female writers to write this book" comment, were there actually ANY women established as writers within the comic book field back in 1972? Yes, there were certainly female creators working in the underground comix movement that had been going on for a few years by this point. But offhand I cannot recall any female writers creating a significant body of work at Marvel by this time. And this is looooong before it became a standard practice for Marvel to look at independent comics or outside the field altogether to recruit new creators. At least Roy Thomas did make an effort to attempt to bring women onto these titles, something I doubt would have occurred to most other editors at this time.
Posted by: Ben Herman | August 16, 2015 11:13 PM
Well, no, there weren't many established female creators on mainstream comic books already (maybe Liz Safian and Dorothy Woolfolk at DC, and Marie Severin at Marvel), but that's my point. That's the same excuse Marvel will use in the lettercol of issue #1 of Ms. Marvel in 1977, so it becomes a kind of self-perpetuating problem. If Marvel wanted to reach out to the female reader demographic, it might have made sense to look for established writers in other fields, whether it was underground comics or science fiction anthologies or, since one of these comics is Night Nurse, even romance novels.
It's also worth realizing that a lot of mainstream comics' male writers, starting with Roy Thomas, came from writing letters and fanzines. So the idea that Marvel could only recruit female writers that were already working in the mainstream industry doesn't really make sense. I mean there was literally a Wimmen’s Comix Collective at this time.
I do think it's admirable that Marvel thought to get female creators for these books. They could have just tried it with their usual stable of creators. So it's good that they did recruit women. But it still feels like a lazy attempt. There was no talent scouting; it was just "who do we know?". It's notable that none of the writers used in these books went on to do anything further; it makes the use of those writers feel like a gimmick*. If Marvel was serious about expanding their readership, they could have made more of an effort to recruit and nurture creators. It's a self-perpetuating feedback loop, and the cycle has to be broken somewhere in order to make a difference.
Posted by: fnord12 | August 17, 2015 8:20 AM
But the problem then would have become: would any female writers in the mainstream industry have even wanted to write for Marvel?
Comics paid a lot less than novels and magazine fiction back then, and there were no royalty plans anywhere. A female Romance or SF novelist, for example, would have had to accept a severe pay cut to work for Marvel(a huge chunk of those Romance novelists were actually men writing under pseudonyms anyway--all those Dark Shadows paperbacks were written by one guy). And unlike today, a mainstream prose writer turning to comics wouldn't have gotten anything but funny looks from their former publishers(yes, Harlan Ellison wrote a few Marvel issues, but Harlan was already a longtime comics fan and those issues didn't get him any traction outside of the comics universe anyway).
Nobody in the Wimmen's Comix Collective would have gone to Marvel either--no royalties, not enough creative control, and most importantly: no copyright ownership. When Marvel did decide to lure underground comix creators to their 1974 Comix Book title, they had to offer copyright ownership just to get anyone to look at it(and some folks like Robert Crumb and S. Clay Wilson still refused them).
Headhunting at DC wouldn't have worked either. DC Publisher Carmine Infantino, putting it mildly, frowned upon anyone there moonlighting at Marvel. Longtime DC artist Ramona Fradon was at Marvel briefly, but that was because she had no current DC assignments then. Dorothy Woolfolk was coming to the end of her career anyway(she had written some Wonder Woman in the Golden Age, I believe).
Pretty much the only field Marvel could have successfully searched for female writing talent would have been the fanzines, but even then the men outnumbered the women. And of the women, some of the more talented ones had already gone to higher-paying fields(Wendy Pini, for example, was doing covers for monthly SF books before she started Elfquest). Other female fans like Irene Vartanoff and Naomi Basner did go on to Marvel(and eventually left bearing horror stories of their experiences), but I don't know if they had demonstrated any writing talent by 1972.
There almost certainly was sexism involved in the process, but I think a big chunk of Marvel's mindset may have been "We don't know any established female writers who would accept our conditions, searching fanzines would take a while---let's just go with who we know and see what happens". That's not a terribly long-term-consideration method of doing things, I agree, but taking into account how quickly Marvel would slap books onto the schedule, expediency might have been the most practical way to go.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | August 17, 2015 11:47 AM
I think Steve Gerber, who debuts here, had a similar mindset to those in the Wimmen's Comix Collective but (at the time) he accepted the tradeoffs involved in working for Marvel and it elevated his career while also getting Marvel one of their better writers of the period. I think Marvel could have found writers in or around the Wimmen's Comix Collective that would have been willing to give it a try.
As for scifi writers, Octavia Butler was trying to get published in anthologies around this time. She did get one story published in a Harlan Ellison anthology but then started getting rejection slips. Samuel Delany did write a couple issues of Wonder Woman around this time (it was part of her "relevant" era, which didn't go over well, and yes he's male - although black and gay, two other categories that could have used more representation in comics - but the point is that scifi writers were willing to crossover to comics). Marvel had a relationship with Ellison and maybe could have asked him to steer writers their way.
This is all, of course, if Marvel was actively interested in developing a stable of female writers. The goal of these three series was to attract female readers, and they understood at some level that that meant attracting female creators. But as you say, they did it in the short term expedient way and the books failed* and 5 years later they found themselves saying the same thing while launching Ms. Marvel. And really the same thing for decades after that, until as Ben notes Marvel did start recruiting from the indie scene.
*As always, the books would have failed for a lot of reasons, but in terms of developing a committed fanbase of readers of an age comparable to their current male fanbase, i think the creator situation was a part of it.
Posted by: fnord12 | August 17, 2015 12:21 PM
Gerber did share a lot of beliefs with the Collective, but there's one sharp distinction that made all the difference: he was a Silver Age comics fan. He put out his own fanzines, and he certainly was predisposed to work for Marvel in the early 1970s. Outside of Trina Robbins, the other Collective members weren't really comic fans--they started their art careers in fields where royalties and copyrights were a given. Trina wasn't a Silver Age comics fan either--she was of the Golden Age comics fan group, and got into SF fandom in the 1950s. Again, her art career started with copyright ownership to begin with(and she owned her own East Village boutique before that). I just find it extremely unlikely that any of them would go to a company that wouldn't grant them copyrights/royalties at all after that; especially since they weren't Marvel fans to begin with.
Delany did write Wonder Woman for a very short while--but he, Ellison, George Alec Effinger, and John Jakes were the exceptions, not the rule. There simply weren't any SF writers willing to stay in comics for any sizable length of time back then--no royalties, no ownership, no copyright; all of which they had in SF. Joanna Russ, Zenna Henderson, Marion Zimmer Bradley, etc. had their share of rejection slips as well but at no point did they ever consider going to comics. The prose world just plain didn't have respect for comics back then--any mainstream writer jumping into comics then would have heard a lot less "Hey! Cool!" and much more "Are you out of your mind?"
Posted by: Mark Drummond | August 17, 2015 1:05 PM
All good points, Mark. I still think there's an alternate universe out there where we're saying, "Chris Claremont?! A great science fiction writer like him would never have stooped to writing comic books." The opportunities that are available when you are getting started have an impact.
Posted by: fnord12 | August 17, 2015 1:39 PM
I don't know, fnord. Have you read the Shadow books?
Posted by: Erik Beck | August 17, 2015 2:25 PM
I think Mark basically nails it. Most of the women interested in working for Marvel wouldn't have been capable of meeting even the very low bar set by superhero comics in the early 1970s. Most of the women who could have met that low bar weren't interested, whether because they didn't care about superheroes or because they could also work in fields which would give royalties, ownership of their work, or at least higher paychecks in work-for-hire. Women with actual talent would have been even less interested, for all the reasons listed above.
In addition, it seems that Marvel would prefer to keep things in-house as much as possible. Carole Seuling was married to legendary distributor/retailer Phil Seuling, the man who built the direct market around this time. Linda Fite married Herb Trimpe around the time "The Cat" was released. Mary Skrenes was Steve Gerber's girlfriend. "Night Nurse" was written by Roy Thomas' wife. Even Marie Severin, who definitely had the talent for the job, only entered the comics field in the first place because of her brother John.
And at DC, Ramona Fradon was married to a cartoonist for the "New Yorker" when she entered the field. She is justly celebrated and he doesn't even have a Wikipedia page, but at the time there would have been no doubt who was working higher up. At least you could get Harlan Ellison to do a few scripts because he's a die-hard comics fan (and kinda nuts) but even he withdraws immediately when he sees the amount of money he's getting for work that he has no control over, compared to what he can make everywhere else. No, it's not surprising that women with any talent had no interest in doing Marvel Superheroes. Did Wendy Pini ever dress up as the Scarlet Witch at conventions?
Posted by: ChrisW | August 18, 2015 4:21 PM
This is what I get for joining a conversation where I haven't actually read the comic being discussed. Fnord covered Linda Fite, Jean Thomas and Carole Seuling at the top of the page. My bad.
Posted by: ChrisW | August 18, 2015 4:23 PM
Well, before Elfquest, Wendy Pini was known for dressing up like Red Sonja. But then again, Marvel's barbarian books did reach a larger audience that normally wouldn't touch superhero comics.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | August 19, 2015 10:31 AM
Exactly. As the attention to non-superhero genres dwindled through the 70s, there was so much less for women (or girls) to even be interested in as readers, much less any desire to participate or create. Yes, there are certainly exceptions [like Wendy herself] but can we agree that superheroes are one of the least-likely genres to actually attract females as readers much less aspiring creators? Especially from the early 70s? Honestly, if Wendy Pini had sent in art submissions, I doubt they'd have been accepted. [Note, I only know Wendy through reputation and have no idea if she ever submitted anything to any company before "Elfquest," but if she did, it obviously didn't get her very far.]
Posted by: ChrisW | August 19, 2015 6:23 PM
Centering the conversation around whether superhero comics were appealing seems to exactly miss the point, as the "female initiative" involved primarily non-superhero characters: Night Nurse is romance/suspense and Shanna is fantasy/adventure. Marvel was interested in transcending superheroes in that era (as well as the standard comic format), so there's no reason why a genuine attempt at outreach to women creators couldn't align with Marvel's aspirations.
Posted by: cullen | August 20, 2015 1:36 AM
As Wendy Fletcher, Pini did covers and illustrations for Galileo magazine before launching Elfquest in 1978. Around then, she did draw a few assignments for Marvel, too.
Posted by: Cecil | August 20, 2015 8:34 AM
It's the tentacles, right? Chicks dig the tentacles.
I don't think it's missing the point to cite the brief interest on non-superheroes in regards to attracting female readers. Yes, fantasy/adventure [Shanna] and working girl/soap opera [Night Nurse] were clearly intended to find an audience that superheroes weren't reaching. They all lasted as long as The Cat, a concept which even Linda Fite thought was stupid, and she was the writer. Did female creators turn Greer into Tigra? Otherwise, who else is there? Ms. Marvel? She-Hulk?
Marvel was not capable of a genuine outreach to female creators, because any female creators with talent would have known that Marvel wasn't good for any more than a steady paycheck if they were lucky, and any female creators without talent wouldn't have been able to turn in quality pages on a regular basis to feed the monthly publishing machine. They were getting further and further away from publishing anything except straightforward superheroes too. I think "Conan" was the only real exception until Epic and the licensed properties got going.
"G.I.Joe," of all books, had most of Marvel's female readers. Deservedly, because it was a great series. As opposed to "Dazzler" which tried really hard to include the soap opera, and the continuity and to not be a superhero series even though the superheroine who despises the idea of being a superhero is always doing superhero stuff. In continuity. And she's assigned to soap opera plots that no one cares about. Yeah, that'll attract female readers.
Marvel could 'read the notes' but they couldn't 'sing the music,' and it's only through luck that they could earn a female audience with the talent they had. Claremont, Byrne, Miller, and a few other exceptions, maybe. If, top of my head example, Colleen Doran had been seduced [!] into drawing a Marvel title in the 80s, it wouldn't have attracted any readers.
Posted by: ChrisW | August 22, 2015 10:30 PM
Why wasn't Steranko allowed to set an offbeat storyline for Shanna that gives her a tragic flaw within her existential humanitarianism? He could have easily handed the keys over to an up and coming Female writer that could build the intrigue of the She-Devil character
Posted by: RocknRollguitarplayer | May 30, 2016 1:24 AM
In addition to sharing a surname, I wonder if Shanna's look and demeanor was at all influenced by Maureen O'Hara, the Irish-born Hollywood star who was John Wayne's favorite leading lady and real-life close friend (she did 5 films with "the Duke"). O'Hara was known for her feisty nature and willingness to do her own stunts, unheard of amongst starlets of the '40's and '50's (she had grown up a tomboy in Ireland playing boys' sports). Both Shanna and Maureen were tall (Shanna lists at 5'10", Maureen at 5'8"), and according to the New York Times, Maureen was "the Queen of Technicolor" due to her "rich red hair, bright green eyes and flawless peaches-and-cream complexion". Granted, the "She-Devil" much more embraced her sexuality, whereas the actress was notoriously prudish on such matters. Still, at least to this observer, the other comparable aspects look to check out.
Posted by: Brian Coffey | October 30, 2017 9:08 PM
Any half hearted attempts to expand their comics line to attract female readers would also match similar half hearted attempts to expand beyond superhero genres. Marvel used to have war, western, horror, and humor genres in the early Marvel Age, but they were eventually abandoned. I know Chuck Dixon has wrote that the non-superhero genres were effectively abandoned as superhero fandom rose and fans-turned-pros entered the business and took over. They weren't interested in other genres, and the quality declined.
Now obviously both Marvel and DC made some efforts, and both had certain successes (Tomb of Dracula, Conan, and Star Wars for Marvel, while DC had Swamp Thing and many anthology titles for a while). However, they clearly did not put talent and resources into these genres as they did the superhero books. Neverthless, for Marvel Rawhide Kid and Kid Colt wouldn't be cancelled until 1979 despite six years worth of reprints and before that using writers like Larry Lieber and Two GUn Kid lasted until 1977; Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandoes lasted until 1981 with the last eight years being reprint issues and the four years before that to lesser writing talents like Gary Friedrich. So clearly there was a market for these other genres, yet creative interest wasn't there and eventually they declined.
Posted by: Chris | October 30, 2017 10:45 PM
Besides Maureen O'Hara, another redheaded Irish Maureen who might have provided some inspiration for Shanna is Maureen O'Sullivan, who played Jane in six popular Johnny Weissmueller Tarzan movies of the 1930s, wearing costumes similar to those worn by Shanna in these scans.
Jungle comics, like western comics and war comics, lost sales partly because the target demographic lost interest in the genres overall. You can see a lot of the same trends in television, movies, books, etc. Westerns for instance were a very big item on TV in the 50s and early 60s, but they fell off in the mid 60s, in favor of what? Star Trek, Batman, Lost In Space... shows that would have never been even piloted a few years earlier, before audiences started losing interest in westerns. By the time the 70s rolled around the target audience had changed a lot, and arguably the tastes of women and girls had changed most of all, largely because of the rising women's movements. High school girls might have openly giggled at 50s-style romance comics and Archie-type humor comics in the early 60s, but by the 70s? Not so much.
Posted by: Holt | January 20, 2018 10:03 AM
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