BRINGING BACK AMERICA’S FAVORITE COMIC STRIP HEROINE
Brenda Starr®, Reporter, the smart and glamorous heroine of the legendary comic strip that ran from 1940-2011 is returning to the scene with a fierce 21st century makeover. That, by the way, was a fun sentence to type! This project has been in the planning stages for more than a year, and now I can finally share it with everyone.
The idea first struck me in December 2010 when news of the strip’s cancellation hit the entertainment wire. Like many Brenda Starr fans, I had lost track of the feisty redhead over the years but still felt saddened by her exit. She was Wonder Woman without the superpowers. Instead of an invisible plane and golden lasso, Brenda fought villains with her spiral reporter’s notebook and pen.
Growing up, Brenda Starr was my first introduction to over-the-top soap opera. Her brilliant creator, Dale Messick (1906-2005), imagined the most outlandish plots and over-the-top characters and whipped them into a frenzy with adventure, mystery, intrigue, humor and romance. I was mesmerized. And it was not lost on me that an intelligent, courageous, highly capable woman stood at the center of the stories. Things did not happen to Brenda Starr. She made things happen.
Brenda Starr is one of the earliest and most significant influences on my writing career. I’ve published more than 20 commercial fiction novels in a wide array of genres, and take charge female protagonists have been at the helm of almost all of them. So even though my awareness of the comic strip had long since faded when I learned of its demise, the news hit me with real resonance.
And clearly I was not the only one affected. For a property that had peaked many years before, the significance of Brenda Starr saying goodbye to the world made headlines everywhere. Even MTV News covered it. My first instinct was to mollify my disappointment with a shopping binge, so I hit eBay with a vengeance, bidding for Brenda collectibles, both the essential (tear sheets from full-color Sunday strips) and the obscure (a silver coin etched with the likeness of Brenda).
As my collection expanded (dolls, original art, an early screenplay draft of the 1976 ABC TV-movie and backdoor pilot starring Jill St. John), an idea began to percolate. Brenda Starr®, Reporter was a property of real pop culture significance with a unique canon of colorful characters and rich backstory. It seemed criminal for America’s favorite comic strip heroine to fade into obscurity. Old fans still loved Brenda Starr. And new ones deserved to get to know her.
At its peak, the comic strip was syndicated in 250+ newspapers and followed by 60 million readers. Brenda Starr was not just a character in the funny pages. Brenda Starr was real. So real she inspired scores of female journalists to go into the profession. So real she prompted President Gerald Ford to send a congratulatory telegram when she finally married longtime love Basil St. John, the mysterious rogue who did for black eye patches what vintage Marlon Brando did for white undershirts.
Last year I attended Dragon Con in Atlanta and ran into June Brigman, the superb artist who illustrated the Brenda Starr strip from 1995-2011. Right there in front of her table at the Comics & Pop Artists Alley, I gave voice to my idea for the first time: “I think Brenda Starr would make for a great mystery novel series. Can you point me in the right direction for licensing?”
June passed along the email of a colleague, who ended up forwarding my inquiry to J. Scott Cameron, Director of Tribune Content Agency, which owns the right to Brenda Starr, as well as other Sunday strip legends like Annie and Dick Tracy. He was open to discussing the idea. That’s all I needed to hear. I spent the next few months immersing myself in all things Brenda Starr and brainstorming what a reboot of the character might look like. I commissioned an illustrator to create the 21st century Brenda and a lettering artist to fashion a statement-making new logo.
I was at an odd place in my writing career, finding myself without a publishing contract for the first time since 1997 and still adjusting to life after the sudden death of my father, who was like a best friend and business coach rolled into one. I needed to hit the reset button. Brenda Starr became my creative renewal.
Getting the yes from Tribune to resurrect Brenda Starr was one of those rare feel-good professional moments, the kind so uplifting you might as well be orbiting the moon. I was being entrusted with an iconic property that has 70 years of pop culture history behind it.
#BrendaIsBack! To get an instant complimentary gift (Go Red: Girl Power Secrets from America’s Favorite Comic Strip Heroine) and free subscription to my monthly e-newsletter (The Starr Report), click the tab below to join The Starr List.