Moira Bertram: Queen of the Comics by Kevin Patrick

I made up my mind to draw and write comics...

Back in late 2003, a copy of an old Australian comic dating from the mid-1940s sold for nearly AU$350 on eBay Australia.11In September 2007, a copy of the full-colour Moira Bertram comic, Pirates Gold, sold on eBay Australia for AU$610....  

There's nothing unusual about this in itself – the last five years or so have seen dozens of vintage Australian comics being auctioned online for similar amounts.

What set this particular comic apart from comparable eBay auctions was that it was an extremely rare copy of Flameman. The adventures of this super-powered ‘genie of the sun’ were written and drawn by a woman considered by many as being amongst the best comic artists of her generation – Moira Bertram.

Born in Sydney in 1931, Moira Bertram was studying portrait painting under the noted Australian painter Anthony Dattillo Rubbo (1870-1955) when she began writing and drawing comic books for her own amusement.

"When I was at school…I made up my mind to draw and write them [comics]. I was always very successful." 22All quotes attributed to Moira Bertram (unless otherwise indicated) are taken from a 1983 questionnaire completed by Bertram for American...  

 

Still in her teens, Bertram's first published work was the fantasy-styled adventure strip, Jo, which debuted in Sydney's Daily Mirror newspaper in January 1945.

“[I have been drawing/writing comics] since I was fourteen – I told the publishers I was sixteen for fear they wouldn’t publish them.”

 

Jo was a beautiful dancer who, with the aid of her magic cape, fought off Japanese soldiers and other wartime villains alongside her American fighter pilot boyfriend. The strip quickly established Bertram’s reputation as a vivid and imaginative cartoonist, her work characterized by her granite-jawed heroes and voluptuous, glamorous women.

Unlike many of her male counterparts of the time, Bertram from the outset grasped the dynamic storytelling possibilities of the comic book page. Huge panels, inventive compositions and dizzying perspectives dominate her page layouts (many of which were prepared by her sister, Kathleen), while her use of over-the-top sound effects anticipates the comic book paintings of 1960s ‘Pop’ artists like Roy Lichtenstein.

References

  • 1In September 2007, a copy of the full-colour Moira Bertram comic, Pirates Gold, sold on eBay Australia for AU$610.
  • 2All quotes attributed to Moira Bertram (unless otherwise indicated) are taken from a 1983 questionnaire completed by Bertram for American cartoonist and comics historian, Trina Robbins, for the following book: Robbins, Trina & Yronwode, Catherine (1985), Women and the Comics; California; Eclipse Books.