Please note: The titles linked below display fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.
Perhaps the most well known early woman superhero, Wonder Woman, appeared in All Star Comics, no. 8, in December 1941 in a nine-page story of the Amazon princess Diana who nursed American Captain Steve Trevor back to health following an airplane crash. She debuted as the lead character in the inaugural issue of Sensation Comics, arriving in the United States with Captain Trevor. Her creator, Dr. William Moulton Marston, a psychologist, who took the pen name of Charles Moulton, wanted Wonder Woman to be a role model for young girls of the 1940s and created a strong, self-reliant, and confident female superhero. In contrast, Marge's Little Lulu, a comic book based on the Saturday Evening Post cartoon character, captured children's ingenuity and adult absurdity. Since Wonder Woman's appearance, women in comic books have been represented in various ways, reflecting women's actual, imaginary, and stereotypical roles over time. Strong villains and heroines, such as those in Planet Comics, appeared during World War II and represented women's contributions to the war effort. Such comic books existed side by side with Canteen Kate and Wartime Romances.
Comic books can be found on all subjects. They present beauty pageants and models, as in Miss America and Mille the Model, or real and imagined movie stars, such as Dale Evans and Katy Keene. Comics like Nyoka, the Jungle Girl and Sheena show fierce females in stereotypical exotic locales, while others like Miss Fury by Tarpe Mills and the Phantom Lady fought crime in a more urban landscape. Other titles reflect the comic book industry's affiliation with horror, fantasy, and computer games—from Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (aka Cassandra Peterson) to Buffy the Vampire Slayer; from Elfquest, created by husband and wife team Wendy and Richard Pini, to Anne Rice's Vampire Lestat. The female characters and creators in Love and Rockets and Wimmen's Comics represent early independent and underground comics, and more recent independent creators and characters such as Hot Comb by Ebony Flowers and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me reflect the growing diversity of stories by and about women. There are even comic books that satirize other comic books—just as Not Brand Echh, illustrated by Marie Severin, plays off other Marvel comics, there are many contemporary works in the Small Press Expo Collection that reflect on comic books and popular culture, and this history of women's roles in these areas.
Comic Books, graphic novels, and other comics materials can be found across the Library. Many of the resources listed below can be found in the General Collections, while serialized, individual comics can be requested by visiting the Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room to access the comic book collection. These comic books are held in secured, closed stacks and are available by request. Researchers are strongly encouraged to contact reference staff at least 3-5 days in advance in order to confirm the availability of materials.
We often recommend using the Grand Comics Database External in order to search for characters or topics of interest found in particular comic book series or issues; once you've identified a title and issue number, you can then search for it in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.
To find a comic book in the Library of Congress Online Catalog, select "Browse" from the Search Options menu, then "Titles beginning with." Select the "+ Add Limits" button, then choose "Periodical or Newspaper" under Type of Format. Additionally, the canned catalog searches linked below are a good starting point for finding comic books and related materials on certain subjects.
To find information about women in comic books, the following Library of Congress Subject Headings searches are useful and will provide immediate results in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Additional materials may be found through other more general subject headings such as:
You can also browse the online catalog using these more specific headings:
Finding women characters in comics is relatively easy using encyclopedias and histories of comic books such as the selected titles and indexes on this page. Much more difficult to research are the women illustrators and writers who worked on comic books, in particular male superhero issues. These women are often unidentified even in the fine print of the comic book.
The following list highlights just a few of the many comic book creators, both past and present, and includes both works by female creators and works about female creators. For additional materials, try searching for specific artist/author names by using the "Browse" search function in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.
Below you'll find only a few of the many series and stories that feature women characters. Included are both general resources on women characters, collected editions of stories featuring a specific character, as well as literature, criticism, and commentary about characters. For additional materials related to specific characters, search for headings using Browse (select "SUBJECTS containing") and include the character name and the phrase "Fictitious Character," such as "Wonder Woman (Fictitious character)". For non-fiction comics, it can be useful to search for subjects that include the phrase "comic books, strips, etc." such as "African American women--Biography--Comic books, strips, etc."
Some resources are freely available online, while the subscription-based resources, marked with a padlock , are available to researchers on-site at the Library of Congress. If you are unable to visit the Library, you may be able to access these resources through your local public or an academic library.