Messick, Dale 1906–2005

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Messick, Dale 1906–2005

PERSONAL: Born Dalia Messick, April 11, 1906, in South Bend, IN; died April 5, 2005, in Penngrove, CA; daughter of Cephas (a sign painter and vocational arts teacher) and Bertha (a milliner) Messick; married Everett George (divorced); married Oscar Strom (divorced); children: (first marriage) Starr (daughter). Education: Briefly attended Chicago Art Institute.

CAREER: Comic-strip writer and illustrator. Worked for greeting card companies in Indiana and New York, NY.

AWARDS, HONORS: U.S. Postal Service issued a "Brenda Starr" stamp in 1995; Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award, National Cartoonists Society, 1998.


Brenda Starr, Girl Reporter, Whitman (Racine, WI), 1943.

Author and illustrator of "Brenda Starr, Reporter" comic strip, Chicago Tribune/New York News Syndicate (became Tribune Media Services), 1940–83. Creator of comic strip "Granny Glamour" for Oakmont Gardens magazine.

ADAPTATIONS: The "Brenda Starr, Reporter" comic strip was adapted for film titled Suddenly Brenda, 1992.

SIDELIGHTS: Comic-strip creator Dalia Messick began working under the name Dale Messick after encountering gender bias from the male editors to whom she submitted her comic strips. As she once told Daedalus Howell in an interview for the Sonoma County Independent Web site, "If I sent in my stuff and they knew I was a woman, they wouldn't even look at it." Messick achieved success with her strip "Brenda Starr, Reporter," which was picked up by the Chicago Tribune/New York News syndicate. She was a pioneering woman in a man's profession, but she admitted to Howell, "I never was really accepted."

Messick's created her heroine, reporter Brenda Starr, as a likeness of the sexy, red-haired film star Rita Hay-worth, and the character appealed to both women and men. She often received letters from men who asked for a "daring" picture of Brenda. Messick once sent back a drawing of her character going over Niagara Falls in a barrel with the reply, "I hope this is daring enough." Brenda, whose life as a reporter was filled with excitement and who was pursued by wealthy, handsome men, became the white-collar counterpart to the blue-collar Rosie the Riveter, exemplifying the role of gutsy and independent working American women in wartime. Unlike Lois Lane, Brenda solved her own problems and became the heroine of women and girls alike. Brenda dated eye patch-wearing Basil St. John for decades before they married, an event of such note across the nation that then-U.S. President Gerald Ford sent a telegram of congratulations. Massick complemented her strip with paper dolls. She included a choice of wardrobes for Brenda and created a black paper doll named Lona Night.

Messick herself was very fashionable. Her mother had been a milliner, and the house was filled with hats Messick sometimes helped her mother design. Her father was a sign painter and vocational arts teacher who encouraged his only daughter to draw. Messick, who had four brothers, was a sickly child required to repeat both third and eighth grades. She briefly attended the Chicago Art Institute and began her career as a greeting-card artist in her home state of Indiana, a job that supported her entire family during the Depression. When her pay was cut, she quit and took a similar job in New York City, sending home half of the fifty dollars she earned each week. Her "Brenda Starr, Reporter" strip began running in 1940.

Patricia Sullivan wrote of Messick in a Washington Post obituary, "In her time, she could be controversial. Whenever Ms. Messick drew in cleavage or a navel, the syndicate would erase it. She was once banned in Boston after showing Brenda smoking a polka-dot cigar. Her outlandish plots included countless death-defying stunts on snow-covered slopes and desert islands, becoming a member of a girl gang and repeatedly escaping from kidnappers."

By the time World War II was over, the strip had a worldwide readership of sixty million. It was adapted as a film Messick once described as "awful." Messick stopped drawing Brenda in 1980, but she continued to write the story line until 1983.

Messick was married and divorced twice. She did not own the rights to "Brenda Starr, Reporter" and so enjoyed a modest retirement. Messick had one daughter, Starr, who was caring for her when she died at age ninety-eight in Sonoma County, California. The strip was continued by other cartoonists, including Mary Schmich and June Brigman, and as Messick told Howell: "Now it doesn't look like Brenda at all. She looks more like she works at a bank. No glamour, no curves, no fashion—but it's still going pretty good."



Horn, Maurice, The World Encyclopedia of Comics, Chelsea House (New York, NY), 1976.

Taft, William H., Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Journalists, Garland (New York, NY), 1986.

Women in World History, Yorkin Publications (Waterford, CT), 1999.


Sonoma County Independent, February 19, 1998, Daedalus Howell, "Starr Gazer".


Animation World, (September 21, 2005), Jackie Leger, "Dale Messick: A Comic Strip Life.", (September 21, 2005), profile of Messick.



Chicago Tribune, April 8, 2005, p. 11.

Los Angeles Times, April 8, 2005, p. B10.

New York Times, April 8, 2005, p. A25.

Washington Post, April 8, 2005, p. B6.