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Posted at 1:05 PM ET, 12/ 9/2010

Farewell, BRENDA STARR: 70-year-old reporter faces her final deadline Jan. 2 [UPDATED]

By Michael Cavna

brendastarr.jpg (courtesy of Tribune Media Services)

Yet another veteran reporter has been forced from the print business.

Brenda Starr, the flame-haired, jet-setting journalist who devotedly split her passions between men and the pen, will leave the funny pages next month after a 70-year run, Tribune Media Services tells Comic Riffs.

The comic's writer, Tribune columnist Mary Schmich, and artist June Brigman chose to bow out from continuing their longtime stewardship of the strip, the syndicate tells us. Instead of seeking a new writer and artist, Tribune Media Services opted not to continue "Brenda Starr, Reporter."

"Mary and June have been instrumental in shaping Brenda's current character and have provided readers with sophisticated, adventurous, witty storylines and brilliant artwork," TMS managing editor Mary Elson said in a statement. The news was first reported by Schmich's Tribune colleague, Phil Rosenthal.

TMS executive Jan Guszynski tells Comic Riffs that she asked Schmich: Why quit now?

"Everything comes to an end," Schmich replied. "It's really that simple.

"I had a great time doing Brenda," the writer continues. "Through her I got to think about journalism, relationships, politics, society - life big and small - in a way unique to comic strips. When she traveled to exotic places - Belize, Mount Everest, the inner realms of TV talk shows -- I traveled with her.

"But I'm ready to spend my time doing something new now. And Brenda, who has a life of her own, tells me so is she."

Featuring the then-rarity of a strong female lead as a professional, the Chicago-set soap-opera adventure strip debuted in 1940 as the creation of pioneering Dale Messick, a former greeting-card writer who faced initial resistance as one of the very few women working in the field of syndicated comics.


The Indiana-born Dalia Messick [pictured, right] changed her pen name to "Dale" to battle gender bias from editors. After Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate honcho Joseph Medill Patterson gave "Brenda Starr" a trial run in a newspaper supplement -- this despite his own gender bias -- the strip caught on with readers, eventually appearing in hundreds of newspapers as a daily feature by the 1950s.

One of the strip's notable aspects is that its creative teams have consisted entirely of women. Messick produced the strip till 1982, the final two years working with Ramona Fradon; the comic then changed hands to Fradon and Linda Sutter (1982-85); Fradon and Schmich (1985-95); with Brigman coming aboard in 1995.

Throughout its run, "Brenda Starr" flaunted the fact that journalistic realism wasn't the point -- Maureen Dowd's persona aside -- as the redheaded crack reporter favored high glamour and heightened romance, as well as highly unlikely journalistic scenarios. Brenda Starr's circle included Hank O'Hair (her city room "reporter pal who helps keep our gal's feet on the pavement"); Flash managing editor Atwell Livwright ("a tough boss with a heart of gold, reinforced with steel"); and her eye-patched longtime beau, Basil St. John ("Brenda's mystery man" whom she married in 1976).

"Brenda Starr" was honored with the National Cartoonist Society's "best story strip" award in 1976 and received its own postage stamp as part of the "100 Years in Comics" series. Messick herself received the NCS's Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.

(I encountered Messick in person just once, at the NCS Reubens Awards in the '90s. Brenda Starr may have worked her Rita Hayworth-modeled looks for seven decades, but Messick -- who for years dyed her hair red to match Brenda's mane -- had her own presence and bearing and charisma that was quite beguiling.)

Tribune Media Services says Brenda Starr won't retire entirely. Working with Hermes Press, the syndicate says that it will publish a series of books titled "Brenda Starr, Reporter by Dale Messick: The Collected Daily and Sunday Newspaper Strips" and that the first volume will appear in June.

Hollywood attempted several times to do justice to Brenda Starr, with little luck. The 1989 film -- starring Brooke Shields as the sleuthing ace reporter -- especially did little to either embellish or tarnish the comic's place in popular culture; Messick reportedly even warned friends away from the movie.

Brenda Starr is the second redhead at Tribune Media Services whose retirement has been announced this year. In May, the syndicate announced that Little Orphan Annie would sing her final "tomorrow" on June 13 -- 86 years after its launch. "Brenda Starr" reportedly is still appearing in 35 newspapers, the syndicate tells Comic Riffs.

"What makes this impactful is what Brenda Starr stood for," Guszynski tells us. " ... She really became a symbol for successful women worldwide. Not to mention, she was created by a woman who had a hard time getting her work noticed with a name like Dalia Messick."

Brenda Starr meets Batgirl: Artist gives MAUREEN DOWD her own bio-comic book

TODAY'S FAREWELL: 7 Reasons why 'Little Orphan Annie' will never see another tomorrow


By Michael Cavna  | December 9, 2010; 1:05 PM ET
Categories:  The Comic Strip  | Tags:  Brenda Starr, Dale Messick, June Brigman, Mary Schmich, Tribune Media Services  
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Didn't Brenda Starr date one of the Katzenjammer Kids?

Posted by: jslaff | December 9, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Didn't Brenda Starr date one of the Katzenjammer Kids?

Posted by: jslaff | December 9, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

YAWN ... Huh ... Brenda who? ... Starr ... yada yada ... YAWN ... ok RIP

Posted by: pejochum | December 9, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

I was born in 47. I started reading the comics during the mid 50's and Brenda Starr was one of them because being a little girl I thought she was just beautiful. We had great comics in the papers back then. I liked Lil'Abner and so many more. I wish I had never stopped now that she is going away. I have missed so much because anything that brings a smile to your face is worth taking a few minutes of your time which has become so busy, that you fail to renew things like smiles that you need.

Posted by: egw7777 | December 9, 2010 9:03 PM | Report abuse

Although the premise of the Brenda Starr strip has always been unrealistic - a nation- and globe-trotting investigative reporter who seems to run up an incredible expense account for the meager number of by-lines she files - in these days when most papers have closed their major news bureaus and rely primarily on wire-service fodder for stories both domestic and foreign, that premise has become practically science fiction. To the strip's credit, it has in fact shown some of this happening at its fictitious newspaper, with the cutbacks in the newsroom and the rise of blogging as a primary news source, but even so it was clear that the time had come for Brenda to accept a well-deserved buy-out. Perhaps she can now get back together with her ex-husband Basil and they can retire to raise orchids together. I wish her, and her current creators, good luck with their future endeavors.

Posted by: seismic-2 | December 10, 2010 8:30 AM | Report abuse

I remember Brenda Starr but I never really cared that much. Also it has long since disappeared from the newspapers in this area. So this is much ado about nothing.

Posted by: MARKHAGNER | December 10, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for honoring the pioneering women, real and fictional, who made newspapers shine. Let us hope their successors on the Web will carry on the noble tradition of honesty, fairness, and derring-do, glamorous or not.

Posted by: progan01 | December 10, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

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