This is very, very cool. Two of the most important women in the early history of Wonder Woman are going to receive the Bill Finger Award at San Diego Comic-Con this summer. Joye Murchison Kelly was a ghost writer for William Moulton Marston in the early 1940s, while Dorothy Roubicek Woolfolk was an assistant editor on the original Wonder Woman comics and later returned to DC for a fascinating run editing Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane. Heidi MacDonald has a full report at The Beat, and you can read more on the official Comic-Con page.
The Bill Finger Awards honour comic book creators who have not received proper credit for their work and contributions to the industry. Bill Finger was famously screwed over by Bob Kane and DC. He did most of the work creating Batman, but Kane took all the credit. The awards were created by Finger’s friend Jerry Robinson in 2005, and 28 creators have won it since. Kelly and Woolfolk are the first women to do so.
I’ve written about both of these women in my books Wonder Woman Unbound and Investigating Lois Lane, and I’m absolutely delighted that they’re sharing this award. Both women are compelling and important figures in the history of the genre, and their work has been overlooked for decades.
In Kelly’s case, it’s because she was never credited. Marston hired her as a writing assistant in 1944, and she was soon writing full issues by herself as Marston’s health began to fail. Everything was still credited to “Charles Moulton,” Marston’s penname, in the comics, and Kelly’s contributions were long forgotten until DC’s Wonder Woman Archives line gave her due credit many decades later.
Kelly wrote several classic Wonder Woman stories featuring some of her most well known villains, including Dr. Psycho, the Cheetah, Dr. Poison, and more. She also continued Marston’s themes of female strength and power extremely faithfully, including Marston’s preoccupation with bondage imagery (it was a metaphor, but it had its limits). Perhaps most notably, Kelly coined Wonder Woman’s famous catchphrase “Suffering Sappho!” It had ancient Greek roots, of course, but was also a subtle nod to what the Amazons were actually getting up to on Paradise Island.
Woolfolk was an assistant editor on Kelly’s comics back when she was just Dorothy Roubicek. She worked for All-American publisher Max Gaines and was the first female editor at DC Comics, making sure that all the books came out on time. And when critics objected to Marston’s bondage fixation, Woolfolk was tasked with coming up with ways to tone things down. Marston didn’t listen to any of them, but it speaks to Gaines’ high opinion of her that she was his go-to gal on matters concerning his bestselling comic.
(Some sources suggest that Woolfolk wrote a few early Wonder Woman stories, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. She’s not credited as a writer in any of the Archives collections, which are painstakingly thorough).
Woolfolk worked for other publishers for a while, then married writer Bill Woolfolk and took a break from publishing when she had her kids. She returned to DC in the early 1970s as a full editor and revitalized the publisher’s romance line with fresh, relevant stories. Because of her success there, she was given control over Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane, and she brought the same modern, feminist sensibility to everyone’s favourite reporter. In her first issue, Lois dumped Superman and quit her job at the Daily Planet because she was sick of men telling her what to do. This feminist revolution was short-lived, though. The men in DC’s offices didn’t take kindly to having a woman around, and Woolfolk was unceremoniously ousted a few months later. You can read more about that in an excerpt from Investigating Lois Lane over at The Atlantic.
Both women are absolutely fascinating figures in comic book history, and this award is very much deserved. Kelly is 90 years old now, and will be in San Diego to accept the award. Woolfolk passed away in 2000, but her daughter will be there to accept the award on her behalf. This recognition is long overdue, but I’m so happy it’s here. Wonder Woman wouldn’t be the same without Kelly or Woolfolk, and I hope the award encourages fans and comic book historians alike to dig into their great work.