I’m celebrating Women’s History Month with a series of posts examining historically significant comic heroines, starting with the first female comic character to star in her own title.
Sheena first appeared in the pages of the UK magazine WAGS in 1937. The following year, Sheena would enjoy her first appearance in the U.S. market when Fiction House reprinted her first adventure in the pages of Jumbo Comics #1.
Her feature in Jumbo Comics became so popular that she was given her own title, Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, in the spring of 1942. Having beat Wonder Woman #1 (summer of 1942) to the newsstands by just a few months, Sheena became the first female heroine to star in her own comic.
As is often the case with early comic characters, there is some debate surrounding the identity of Sheena’s creators. Most commonly, her creation is attributed to comic legends Will Eisner and Jerry Iger (under the pen name of “W. Morgan Thomas”). However, in Iger’s Comic’s Kingdom, Iger dismisses Eisner’s claim of co-creation.
Regardless of the exact identity of her creators, Sheena was a (very successful) attempt to bring a “jungle girl” character to comics. Like many other “jungle girl” stories, which were already popular in pulps and movies of the time, Sheena’s are steeped in racism, imperialism, objectification, and sexism.
Sheena is orphaned in the jungle at a young age and grows up to become the “Queen” of a tribe of “savages.”
As Bradford Wright puts it in Comic Book Nation, in “Fiction House’s ubiquitous jungle comics… [characters like Sheena] ruled over jungles populated by childlike, superstitious, and mischievous brown people in need of paternalistic guidance.” But racism and colonialism aren’t the only problems in Sheena.
Sheena is often objectified in her own stories. In fact, her popularity is often attributed to her voluptuous form, skimpy outfit, and her artists’ propensity for placing her in titillating poses.
In addition to its cheesecake art, Sheena also contains its fair share of sexism as illustrated in this page from Jumbo Comics #10, depicting the first appearance of Sheena’s iconic leopard costume.
Standing in stark contrast to Sheena is her “mate” (not boyfriend), a white hunter named Bob Reynolds. Bob is largely inept and, in a surprising twist, serves as the comic’s “damsel in distress” whom Sheena must rescue time and time again.
Despite Sheena‘s inherent racism and sexism, this historic series paved the way for other female lead titles and proved that women in comics could be more than a just a love interest or a damsel in distress.
To learn more about the first heroine to star in her own comic, you can read issues of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle at Comic Book Plus.
I hope you’ll come back next Monday when I’ll examine the multiple characters with competing claims of being comics’ first superheroine.