Trina Robbins: Valerie Barclay 1922 – 2010

Posted by on March 11th, 2010 at 10:01 AM

In 1947, readers could mail in one dollar bill to Timely Comics and receive back in the mail a wonderful (and today priceless) little book called “Secrets Behind the Comics,” by Stan Lee.  Along with such brief articles as “Who is Stan Lee? And why did he write this book?” and “Startling Facts About the Comics!” are snippets about pencilers, inkers and letterers like Ed Winiarski, Ken Bald, Morris Weiss, Syd Shores and George Sekowsky.  There is exactly one woman mentioned in this little book: Violet Barclay, “Glamorous Girl Inker.”

Born in Manhattan Nov. 5, 1922, Barclay attended the School of Industrial Arts, after which she went to work as a restaurant hostess for $18 a month to help support her mother and two younger brothers. In an interview with Jim Amash, from Alter Ego #33, she describes how Mike Sekowsky, who had gone to school with her, found her working at the restaurant in 1941, and “decided to save (her) from this life of degradation as a restaurant hostess” by finding her work as an inker at Timely comics for $35 a month.

Barclay described the relaxed atmosphere at Timely, when editor Lee would give the artists two hours in the morning to go through magazines and cut out pictures for their swipe files.  In interviews, she tended to downgrade her skills because she used swipes, and indeed, in the story included here, “Spurned,” the man’s face in the splash panel is definitely Gregory Peck.  But rare is the artist who didn’t, and who still doesn’t, use swipes, and the story, though hideously word-heavy, shows off Ms Barclay’s obvious drawing talent.

After leaving Marvel comics in 1949, Barclay changed her name, which she had always considered too girly, to Valerie, and it was as Valerie Barclay (and sometimes Valerie Smith) that she drew love comics and later, commercial art.

Barclay never stopped honing her talents, attending the School of Visual Arts and, for most of the rest of her life, the Art Students League.  In later life, Ms Barclay suffered from osteoporosis, and broke many bones in 2001, when she tripped over an easel at the Art Students League.

She loved the paintings of John Singer Sargent and, because she couldn’t afford to buy one, she painted excellent copies of them for her own enjoyment, always carefully signing her own name to them so that she couldn’t be accused of forgery.

Golden Age cartoonists Valerie Barclay and Hilda Terry in 2006, at a "She Draws Comics," woman cartoonists exhibit in Manhattan. Click to view larger image

Ms. Barclay died in New York Hospital Feb. 26, 2010.  She is buried in a crypt along with her mother and sister, in Pine Lawn cemetery in Massapequa, N.Y.  She is survived by her longtime companion and love, Joe Murnane.

For a gallery of her work, click here.

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.