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Lily Rene Phillips, Pioneering Cartoonist, Dies at 101

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In the 1940s, few people read the adventure comics of Senorita Rio, a stylish spy working for the US Intelligence Service in South America. Few people knew that the artist was a woman.

“Señorita Rio got clothes that I couldn’t have,” artist Lily Renee Phillips told comic artist and historian Trina Robbins in 2006. She was adventurous and so bold, beautiful, sexy and charming. “

Senorita Rio’s comic book battles with the Nazis and their South American collaborators had a personal resonance for Ms. Phillips. Phillips, who was expelled from Austria by real-life Nazis with his once-thriving family, struggled to make ends meet in New York during World War II. city.

Her impassioned Senorita Rio image, she admitted, is “a form of revenge.”

Ms. Phillips was one of the few women to draw comic book covers in the 1940s and was largely respected in the male field. He died at home on May 24th. in Manhattan. She was 101 years old.

Her son, Richard Phillips, confirmed her death.

Ms. Phillips remained largely unrecognized until she was rediscovered over the past two decades, largely through the efforts of Ms. Robbins. Although she didn’t stay in the manga industry for long, her work became recognized for her inventive variations on the traditional grid format and for her strong women.

“She objected to being called a feminist,” daughter Nina Phillips told The Guardian in 2019. However, whether consciously or not, the majority of her output traditionally showed female characters in male roles.

Lily Rene Wilheim was born on May 12, 1921 in Vienna. Her father, Rudolph, was a cruise company executive, and her mother, Elsa (Goldstein) Wilheim, had an interest in drawing from an early age. However, when German forces entered and annexed Austria in March 1938, her Wilheim home and the lives of other Jewish families were thrown into turmoil.

Lily was studying English at school and had a British correspondent whose family agreed to sponsor Lilly’s transfer to England as part of an operation known as Kinder Transport. She arrived in Leeds in her 1939, but her patron’s family treated her like her servant and soon found herself on her own. She found her job as her mother’s helper, after which she worked as a nursing assistant in a hospital. Her job was to carry her infant to a bomb shelter when the air raid sirens sounded.

For many months she did not know whether her parents were dead or alive, but eventually they sent word that they had made it to the United States and arranged for Lily to join them there.

It was an exciting trip. The ships tended to travel in convoys for safety, but as Ms. Phillips later said, a sailor on her ship fell overboard trying to raise anchor, so he was rescued. Her ship passed alone and zigzagged to avoid the German U-boats.

In New York, he finds his parents struggling to make ends meet, having their money and property confiscated by the Nazis. Her father eventually became an accountant, while her mother had a sewing business, and Lily helped out with various jobs. She modeled for her fashion illustrator, and her head cast was used to make mannequins for retailer Peck & Peck.

“People used to tell me, ‘I know you,’ but they didn’t know me,” she told cartoonist and historian Jim Amash in the 2009 issue of Alter Ego magazine. “They knew the mannequins.”

In 1942, her mother found a job advertisement for the publisher Fiction House, looking for a cartoonist, and encouraged her to apply. When she hesitated, her mother told her to draw a sketch of Tarzan and Jane. The publisher agreed to give her a two-week trial and her work stalled.

She started painting backgrounds, cleaning up the work of more experienced artists, erasing pencil marks and such. The staff were almost all male and sexism was oppressive. She told Amash of the work, “I was so miserable because I erased other people’s pages, drew backgrounds, and the men were always thinking about sex, hinting at it all the time, just staring at me.” ‘ explained. Not comfortable. “

In some cases, she would pencil in obscene comments and images knowing it was her job to erase them. But she stuck with it, and was soon given work on a series about a female pilot named Jane Martin and a feature about The Werewolf Hunter, a dying feature no one else wanted. She said she took it herself to transform it.

“I didn’t want to draw wolves,” she said. “I spoke with the writer and convinced him that it should be about magic that turns people into other creatures, not werewolves. So we did it, and it was very popular. did.

“It was perfect for Phillips,” Newsweek said in her 2010 profile. immersed the scene in the magical realism of fairy tales.

Soon she started painting Senorita Rio. This was Nick Her Viscardi’s first painting of her, but it was handed over to her and became her most famous work. Many fans thought she was a man, she said, “L. Renée,” who signed many of her own works.Her soldiers, “Mr. pinup asking for her drawing.

Amash said in an email that Phillips has taken the stylistic touches introduced in the 1930s by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger’s comic book stores and added his own twist on both the panel grid and the physical appearance of the characters. said..

“MS. Rene added an elegance, glamour, and anatomical fluidity that many artisanal house artists have missed,” he said. “As her painterly approach to human anatomy has improved with her experience, so has the glamorous sheen that helps refine the ‘good girl’ style of the times, a more natural and feminine woman.” I was.

She left the fiction house by the end of the 1940s and began painting with her first husband, an artist named Eric Peters, working on Abbott and Costello comics, romances, and even Elsie the Borden Cow comics. did. After she and Mr. Peters divorced, she moved on to other occupations, including her design work in textiles and writing and illustrating children’s books. In 1953 she married Randolph Godfrey Phillips.

Phillips’ daughter said her mother didn’t talk about her career as a cartoonist when she was little.

Nina Phillips said, “When she was stripping in the ’40s, it was very embarrassing for an artist to lower her standards in such a way.” It seemed to be there.”

She only learned part of her mother’s past when she opened a drawer one day and found some sketches.

“When I was 12, I was stunned to see the drawings my mother did for Tarzan and Jane,” she said.

Randolph Phillips died in 1982. In addition to her two children, Ms. Phillips has her four grandchildren and her three great-grandchildren.

In 2011, Mr. Robbins published Mr. Phillips’ biography in the form of a graphic novel titled “Lily Renée: The Escape Artist.” In one panel, Ms. Phillips’ boss offers her the chance to draw a Senorita Rio.

“I love this!” Lily says. “Senorita Rio doesn’t fly like the other guys in the comics, but he’s also powerful.”