Before the 1940s, male characters were the masters of the world of comics. Women were usually relegated to one of three minor roles: the damsel in distress, the romantic interest, or the villain.
Female characters in comic books have long been a reflection of how society regarded women. It didn’t help that men dominated the comic book industry, both as creators and consumers.
The 20th century saw a rising number of women and girls reading comic books, leading to questions about the inaccurate portrayal of women and raising the need to rewrite comic book stories.
Finally, in 1940, the comic book world introduced its first female superheroes.
Fantomah, created by Fletcher Hanks for Jungle Comics, was the first comic book heroine with superhuman powers to appear in print. But Richard Hughes and George Mandel designed the first masked and costumed superheroine, whom they named Woman in Red.
Soon, other superwomen emerged in comic books, including Wonder Woman who was introduced by William Moulton Marston in 1941. Supergirl, drawn by Otto Binder and Al Plastino, followed in 1959.
In Belgian comics, it wasn’t until the late 1960s that women became the stars of their own universe. Let’s get to know some of the first heroines created by Belgians comic book writers.
Not to be mistaken for the Marvel villain by the same name, Comanche is a young, courageous, and independent female landowner living in Wyoming during the time of the American Old West. She started out as a guest character in the Tintin comic books in 1969. Three years later, the heroine created by Belgian cartoonists Hermann Huppen and Michel Regnier gained her own comic book series.
She may have no superpowers, but Yoko Tsuno is no ordinary human being. She’s an electrical engineer, a pilot, scuba diver, and aikido black belter. The Japanese heroine imagined by Roger Leloup was first introduced in 1970 in the Franco-Belgian comics magazine, Spirou.
This feisty flight attendant seems to have a penchant for getting into trouble. But she’s also clever and resourceful enough to get herself out of it. Created by François Walthéry and Gos, Natacha was first featured in a 1970 edition of Spirou. She went solo in 1971.
Kriss of Valnor
Young, beautiful, and fierce, Kriss of Valnor is one of the major characters in Thorgal, a fantasy comic book series by Belgian writer Jean Van Hamme and Polish artist Grzegorz Rosiński. Thorgal was first published in 1980 and became a video game in 2002.
Aria is the heroine of a fantasy comic book series created by Michel Weyland and released in 1982. Alluring yet ferocious, Aria is a medieval warrior who defends the poor and the oppressed.
She looks young, but she’s actually 119 years old. François Gilson’s Mélusine is a charming yet formidable witch working as an au pair in a haunted castle in Transylvania. She made her debut in 1992 as a feature in the Spirou magazine and got her own comic book franchise in 1995.
The Djinn comic books tell the story of Kim Nelson, a young Englishwoman who travels to Istanbul in search of her grandmother, a woman named Jade who is rumoured to possess the supernatural powers of a djinn. The characters were created by Belgian comic book writer Jean Dufaux and illustrated by Spanish artist Ana Miralles. The comic book series first came out in 2001 and ended publication in 2016.