My Dream: To Write The Brenda Starr Comic Dashed
Learning When To Let Go
We love to see women writing about women, but for so long I didn’t realize that as a writer you should be writing for myself first and foremost—suffice it to say I was a lost female writer for far too long, but now that I’ve shuffled off the mortal coil of a heroine of mine, I want to share my story in the hopes it helps you know when to let go of something that’s holding you back from your full potential as a woman.
When to let go is one of the hardest lessons to learn, and I say that after 12 years carrying a torch. 12 years of running a Facebook page and 5 years concurrently the complimentary Twitter account…my hopes and dreams for the subject of the social media accounts didn’t come true despite my best efforts to prove myself. I was like a female version of Don Quixote—except Doña Stephanie. I even made an online petition campaign called Bring Back Brenda to no avail.
So here is my story…
Why Did I Try?
I started the creating content and running the social media for the comic strip Brenda Starr because:
- The Chicago Tribune Content Agency was retiring the strip after 71 years.
- I didn’t believe the character’s story should go forgotten.
- I wanted to help burn the public spotlight even brighter on that world.
- I thought I’d be a good person to carry the torch over to the next generation to find and fall in love with that world.
- I was young and had no track-record, so I wanted to prove what I could do first.
But as of today I will pause doing any free content creation or social media work for that character.
The woman behind Brenda Starr: Dalia Messick (April 11, 1906 – April 5, 2005) inspired me so much since I was a little girl, every Sunday reading the Funnies section. Even so, I’m not the one who can help her beacon for working women stay shining.
To give you background: Dale was an American comic strip artist and writer who used the pseudonym Dale to get past the glass ceiling and write, as well as illustrate, her comic strip creation: Brenda Starr, Reporter. The peak of popularity for the strip were the 1950s and 1960s, running in about 250 newspapers. Save for a recent appearance in Dick Tracy, which is still going strong, the Brenda Starr, Reporter comic strip’s last day was in January of 2011. There are still no plans to bring it back by the Tribune.
There was a glimmer of a next chapter for Brenda back in October of 2015, when a new graphic novel series was announced, but for unknown reasons it never came out.
Something similar happened when a Brenda Starr movie was made, starring Brooke Shields and Timothy Dalton. The film was supposed to come out in 1989 if I recall correctly, but its release was delayed due to litigation issues over distribution rights.
Around the time the graphic novel was being promoted I learned of the man who founded the original first ever Brenda Starr fan club, way back when. I asked if he wanted to join forces since he runs a Facebook fan group for Brenda Starr and has I think almost the entire Brenda Starr comic strip collection, which he shares in the group. Sadly, he doesn’t want to work together. I see now why he was so mad when I approached him to propose joining forces.
- He personally got Dale’s blessing to watch over the archives.
- He has worked tirelessly to protect the comic strip library.
- He probably thought I was trying to take something away from him.
…I wasn’t trying to take anything away from anyone though; I believe in credit where credit is due. I just wanted to help something that I believed was a good role model for girls and women.
Now it’s November 2020 and after having interviewed the granddaughter of Dale (Laura) who is a playwright, and learned that there might be interest in the play she wrote years ago to honor her grandmother (called Reporter Girl), it’s really time for me to take a bow.
Princess In A High Tower
I tried, I really tried to figure out why Brenda Starr wasn’t seen as worth brining back. I contacted the Chicago Tribune’s syndicate, the Chicago Tribune Content Agency and the last writer for the strip: Mary Schmich.
Mary e-mailed me stating:
I love your dedication to “Brenda” and wish I knew how to help you with this but I really don’t. I don’t know exactly where this would run in the Tribune, though you could always try our features department. It’s not the kind of thing they do these days–it doesn’t have enough timely edge, I regret to say. But if you want to try, you could email [REDACTED] Again. Apologies for not being more helpful. Good luck.
I spoke over the phone with the Tribune Content Agency’s Acquisitions Editor, Christina St. Joseph (an ironic name since the mysterious and elusive love interest of Brenda Starr has a similar sounding name – Basil St. John) and she told me:
“An outright copyright sale isn’t an option for Brenda Starr, but if you want to put together a proposal on what you would like to do, we can review that opportunity.”
— Christina St. Joseph
I had had a similar conversation with the former Vice President of Licensing, IP and Subsidiary Rights, Scott Cameron in 2015. He is retired now.
The legalities surrounding Brenda Starr feel like someone being held hostage, like a princess in a high tower. Gosh, it’s like one of the storylines from the strip! Brenda Starr could be as successful as Sabrina The Teenage Witch, The Peanuts, the Archies, and most recently Katy Keene and Wonder Woman. What about Lois Lane! Brenda Starr was Dale’s, but technically isn’t. But why? Can’t Starr be with her real family? It’s a moot point.
Contracts being what they were in the 1940s, it seems like we have a classic case of a woman being dooped during a different time— pre Me-Too, pre Womens-Lib. But I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve been passionate about Brenda Starr since I was little. And to prove that I genuinely cared, I created the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/TheBrendaStarr/) in 2008 and the Twitter in 2015) to help the next generation discover Brenda, and managed them on an as needed basis. But I can’t anymore. I just can’t.
In my heart of hearts I would love to write for the strip, but there are no plans to bring it back to light right now. I’ve done the best I can to help the granddaughter of the creator, but I can’t help her and her family get back control of the Brenda Starr property from the Tribune. They didn’t ask and I was never the right person to do it. I don’t have what you need to help in this case.
Why Did I Hold On For So Long?
Nothing ventured, nothing gained right? I did say goodbye once in 2016, but then I rescinded the post. Here is what it said:
The main reason I held on for so long was I have a soft spot…I really feel that the character of Brenda Starr is a diamond in the rough…I always thought that if you cared an awful lot, and tried really hard, that you could make anything possible; that you could salvage anything..…that you could change something’s fortune with faith, perseverance, and quality work…I should’ve let go earlier. Looking back I see the signs were there, I just was too young and naive to see them. I had stars in my eyes.
There’s a famous line from a Bette Davis picture called, Now, Voyager (title taken from a Walt Witman poem called The Untold Want). Her character, Charlotte Vale, tells her star-crossed love (whom she can never be with):
“Oh, Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.” I mention this line because one way to take its meaning applies to the lesson I learned from my time devoting energy to Brenda Starr, and that lesson is:
And I think those things that need your attention are the little things we take for granted… the simple pleasures… the things that the very rich yearn for in their isolation, those which they can’t seem to reach. I’ve read it time and again—true peace and happiness comes from doing what lights you. The things you do that light you up can’t be bought with money, though money can help it along. You find out what these things are by trial and error. And if something isn’t lighting you up or giving as much as you’re giving to it, let it go. Don’t be starry eyed on things that aren’t right for you, or weren’t meant to be.
In Now, Voyager, Charlotte and Jerry find a kind of peace: she will take care of his daughter and he will return to his mean wife who almost destroyed her daughter the way Charlotte was almost destroyed by her mother. Charlotte triumphed from her hen-pecking mother. She got her stars back in her eyes and found the strength to pick herself up and shine again. So how the hell does this relate to Brenda Starr? Well, I was focusing on the wrong stars, or Starr. I was not paying attention to what I could create. I wasted time trying to help someone else’s star shine (trying to keep the metaphor here going) when it was not working.
I learned a lot from wasting time too long, being a dreamer. I almost lost my shine like we all do at some point in our lives when a dream doesn’t come true. In dreams you will lose your heartache, Cinderella sings, but in waking up from a dream you can also learn a lesson. I learned that putting my energy in a a dream that wasn’t even mine to help didn’t make sense after a while. My kindness, my childlike altruism almost did me in. I finally got the lesson after 12 years after really thinking through why I started the Brenda Starr social media accounts in the first place and what it was taking away from my life.
I think I went back on my original dream for myself, to be a journalist like Christianne Amanpour (who I met once at the Belgrade Airport in 1997). Being a ghost writer of sorts for the Brenda Starr accounts was not what I should’ve been spending my time on. I realize that now. I was scared to pursue journalism full time, I was also afraid of getting hurt; journalist sometimes die for doing what they do. The time you need to put in to be the kind of intrepid reporter like Brenda is also is in stark contrast of what’s right for me and what I love more: being a mom, wife, daughter, friend, and contributor to my family. And I need as much time as possible not to miss a thing.
Someone I want to tell you about before I finish this blog post is someone who tried to be a comic strip star in his own right, like Charles Schultz or Jon Arbuckle, who really went for his dream. His name was John Orlowski, my husband’s uncle.
His comic didn’t make the big time, but he tried…he got published in local newspapers and he dared to dream and went for his dream. Sadly he passed away due to COVID 9/22/20 but his memory will live on in our family.
And some lessons I take from John’s life are:
- Try to be a hero, let your star twinkle.
- Focus on being a star in your family 1st because in the big picture, trying for that immortality in memory that only a few achieve can burn you like Icarus. The people in your life who love you need you deep down in a way that the world can’t love and take care of you. In the words of Sade (a rarity in her field the way Dale was) love is stronger than pride.
- If it’s meant to be, it will come. The cream always rises to the top. If you love what you do, then keep at it. Dale famously said “when you quit and just sit, that’s it.” That is very true when you get older. 6. Everything has its day. Don’t fight the wave (what’s “in”).
- Don’t ever let the important things in your life suffer from your work. Find the balance.
- Make sure the thing you’re doing makes your heart sing but doesn’t extinguish your orchestra, your feedback, the people in your life who’ve got your back and you theirs.
- Know when to quit.
- Things always come back into vogue eventually, but don’t let the past hinder your present or your future will get you no where. Don’t make your obstacle bigger than you are or else it will get the best of you.
What I’ve been truly seeking has been in sight, in the eye of this beholder all these years…My husband said to me recently, as we were searching for one of my daughter’s toys behind our sofa, “we think we can’t see it, but when we move things around, sometimes what we’re searching for can be found;” something like that. Reminds me of that saying about things being right in front of your nose.
What I see now is that Brenda Starr wasn’t my dream to help bring back to shoot across the sky of the public’s consciousness. What I’m doing now is the dream that matters most for me and demands my full attention, that really makes my heart sing: mother, wife, daughter, friend, entrepreneur, and wannabe momfluencer.
It takes time but I’ve got my stars in my eyes again, I reached them again, and they were there all along in my head, heart, and soul. I was blind-sighted by a paper moon I suppose. I’m seeing the right stars now, the stars right before my eyes, within my eyes. My hopes and dreams, not someone else’s. Poetic notion, but there’s a grain of truth in all that I’ve written here. And I’ll take better care of my stars this time around the sun on this third rock from the sun. I think Charlotte Vale would be proud of me, Dale and Brenda maybe too. Above all I’m learning to be proud of me. I’ll keep writing for myself and for anyone who get’s help or pleasure from reading me.
In the words of Walt Witman, this lady has not told her untold want “by life and land ne’er granted, Now voyager sail thou forth to seek and find.”
Goodbye Brenda Starr,