Hilda Terry (June 15, 1914 – October 13, 2006) was an American cartoonist best known as the creator of the comic strip Teena, which ran in newspapers from 1944 to 1966. In 1950, she became the first woman allowed to join the National Cartoonists Society.
Life and CareerEdit
Born Theresa Hilda Fellman in Newburyport, Massachusetts, as she was fond of pointing out, on the day of the "Great Salem Fire" of 1914 — interpreted by some as the revenge of witches executed there more than two centuries earlier. Fascinated with the Salem witch trials (and despite the fact that she was Jewish), Terry expressed her belief that she was the reincarnation of Dorcas Good, a four-year-old child who was imprisoned with her accused mother, Sarah Good, who was later executed. Terry studied art at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League, where one of her teachers was Gregory D'Alessio. They were married in 1938. It was alleged that Terry's first major break into professional cartooning was when she sold a cartoon to the New Yorker that her husband had thought too frivolous to draw himself.
That first cartoon never ran, but Terry sold others and worked as a fashion illustrator. In 1941, she was signed to produce a feature initially titled "It's a Girl's Life" for King Features — summoned on orders of a telegram from that most cartoon-aware magnate, William Randolph Hearst. Later titled "Teena," the strip was syndicated from 1941-1966, a healthy run that spanned the mid-20th Century heyday of teen comics.
As World War II progressed, Terry and her husband both drew for patriotic war bond campaigns ostensibly scripted by celebrity entertainers like Fibber McGee and Molly. In 1943, she won a contest sponsored by the Office of Wartime Information for the best cartoon on wartime conservation. It showed a sprightly housewife (resembling Terry) spinning around to whack the refrigerator shut with her foot while carrying an armload of plates laden with food. The caption: "Lunch! Everybody come eat what you left on your plates yesterday!!!" Terry toured with USO shows and was also a national official of the Campfire Girls.
In 1949, D'Alessio nominated Terry to the then-all-male National Cartoonists Society. After much debate (including the excuse that "men wouldn't be able to curse" if women were present), she sent a letter asking the organization to either change its name to National Men Cartoonists Society or allow women to become members. They relented and she became the first female member of the NCS in 1950. She then submitted the names of all her women cartoonist friends, thus thoroughly breaking the society's gender barrier.
After the demise of "Teena" in 1966 — Terry blamed a wave of newspaper strikes — she supported herself with architectural drafting and sketching patent applications. She also taught at the Art Students League.
To supplement the giant portraits of ballplayers she created for stadium scoreboards in the early 1970s, Terry got involved in and pioneered early computer animation. The National Cartoonists Society gave her its Best Animation Cartoonist award in 1979. Also in the 1970s, Terry collaborated with the controversial ex-Communist artist, actor and producer Harvey Matusow on Matusow's self-published book, The Babysitter's Magic Mouse Storybook.Terry more or less retired in the early 1980s but continued to write and teach at the Art Students League, and when the Web came along, her computer experience made her a rare senior citizen Web master. Among her several Web sites were ones devoted to her husband's art (he died in 1994), a "cemetery in cyberspace" devoted to deceased notables, and a personal Web site where she poured out her theories about reincarnation and the best ways to solve problems in the Middle East. As she grew progressively deaf, electronic communication became a favorite method of socializing. Even into her eighties and nineties, Terry continued her teaching at the Art Students League.
Terry wrote about her life and approach to art in her self-published autobiography, Strange Bod Fellows (1992).
She was elected to the Friends of Lulu Women Cartoonists Hall of Fame in 2001. At the "She Draws Comics" event in Manhattan in 2006, she gave the following advice to aspiring cartoonists: “If you do a comic strip, you don’t want it to be forgotten.”
View Hilda Terry's memorial at Find-A-Grave.
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