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Nell's women.

Nell Brinkley was a newspaper illustrator and comic artist from the early 1900s to the thirties.

She dropped out of high school to pursue her artistic career.

She never received formal arts training, which is surprising, considering how adept she was. She clearly changed the style and writing of her work according to what was popular at the time, but her art always had plenty of that Brinkley charm.

The gig that really catapulted her career involved illustrating a murder trial. Luckily for her, the killer's wife, Evelyn Nesbitt. an ex-Floradora chorus girl and Gibson Girl model, was also the perfect model for Brinkley's pen.

All it took was a few stunning portraits, and her career was set.

The Ziegfeld Follies even created a sketch in homage to her art. It consisted of women dressed in black and white, like a newspaper, and was accompanied by a song, "The Nell Brinkley Girl."

Her women were waif-thin and stylish, with cascading tresses and youthful energy. Many of her stories dealt with romance. My favorite is "Betty and Billy" a story of two lovers who are able to see their past incarnations through a crystal ball.

However, some of these stories have a feminist bent, especially in her late career. This isn't readily apparent in her ornate drawings.

She began a "Heroines of Today" series, in which she tell the true stories of women in daring rescues.

What appeals to me the most is that the women she portrayed, even in her "fluff" work, felt real. She ushered in the first wave of feminists as we know them today ...

... but did so under the guise of flowing hair and voluminous drapery.

Marguerite Dabaie is a Palestinian-American raised in San Francisco on dolmas and hummous but also on manga and cheesy movies. She attended the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and while there won two grants to create The Hookah Girl, a series of graphic novels about her experiences growing up as an Arab American.

She currently lives in Brooklyn. Visit her website, For more information about Nell Brinkley, check out The Brinkley Girls: The Best of Nell Brinkley's Cartoons from 1913-1940, by Trina Robbins (2009).

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Title Annotation:works of cartoonist Nell Brinkley
Author:Dabaie, Margueritte
Publication:The Women's Review of Books
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2010
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