The Eisner Awards are the comic book industry’s highest honours, and the judges for his year’s awards announced yesterday that H.G. Peter, the co-creator and original artist of Wonder Woman, will be inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame. Peter is joined by cartoonist Milt Gross, creator of Spy vs. Spy Antontio Prohias, and underground cartoonist Dori Seda. All four will be automatically inducted, while four more will be chosen by voters based on a list compiled by this year’s judging panel.
William Moulton Marston typically gets most of the credit for the creation of Wonder Woman. Tellingly, he was inducted into the same Hall of Fame in 2006, well before Peter. Between his unique feminist theories, his fascinating personal life, and his boisterous personality, Marston left a lot for folks to talk about while Peter mostly stayed in the background. But while it’s true that Marston’s vision defined the character, Peter played a huge part in Wonder Woman’s creation.
Peter was Marston’s hand-picked artist for his new character, and a very unique choice. In the early 1940s, the new superhero genre was a young man’s game; most of the artists drawing superheroes were in their twenties, while Peter was 61 when Wonder Woman debuted in All Star Comics #8. Superheroes were a new game for Peter, who’d largely done political cartoons and editorial work throughout his career. Many of his political cartoons from the 1910s supported women’s rights and suffrage, and Peter’s feminist leanings may have been why Marston thought he would be a good fit for his new female superhero.
Once hired by Marston, Peter threw himself into his work wholeheartedly. After working with Marston to establish Wonder Woman’s iconic look, Peter was soon drawing stories for three different series: the monthly Sensation Comics, the bi-monthly Wonder Woman, and the quarterly Comic Cavalcade. He also drew a daily Wonder Woman newspaper comic strip from 1943-1944. Peter had an entire team around him at his New York studio to help with inking, lettering, and backgrounds, but the vast majority of the myriad stories featuring Wonder Woman in the 1940s were drawn by him.
Peter’s style was distinctive, and ensured that Wonder Woman’s outings stood out from all of the other superhero comic books on the newsstand. Many artists at the time brought a somewhat realistic approach to their work while often emphasizing the sexuality of their female characters. Peter was a cartoonist at heart, and he gave Wonder Woman and her world a cohesively stylized look. His Wonder Woman was strong and powerful, a solidly built heroine rather than a wasp-waisted waif. The sexuality of the stories was indirect; Wonder Woman’s own attributes were never emphasized, but Peter ended up drawing innumerable bondage scenarios owing to Marston’s fascination therein. Peter’s work was lush and creative, and a quick glance at any Golden Age issue of Wonder Woman clearly shows the enthusiasm and creativity he put into every page. Marston came up with some outlandish storylines over his years, and Peter hit them out of the park each time.
Marston died in 1947 and the tone of Wonder Woman began to change under new writer Robert Kanigher, but Peter stayed with the series for another decade until he passed away in 1958. His work helped establish the most famous female superhero of all time, and his design for the character has stood the test of time; Wonder Woman’s outfit is regularly tweaked, but each incarnation of the character is simply building on what Peter established. Moreover, the spirit that Peter imbued in Wonder Woman continues as well. He always captured the joy of the character, along with the fun she had on her adventures and the goodness at her core. At a time when other superheroes were grim and violent, Wonder Woman loved being a superhero and helping those who needed it, and Peter’s art communicated that feeling in spades.
Recently we’ve seen more appreciation for Golden Age Wonder Woman stories, with a variety of collections and several books addressing the era (including my own), and it’s lovely to see H.G. Peter finally getting his due. His induction into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame is well-deserved, and perfectly timed given that his heroine will soon be hitting the big screen in her first solo film. Peter is key to everything we love about Wonder Woman, and I’m very glad that his fantastic work is being recognized.