The author and artist of hundreds of comic books published by Marvel and DC Comics, Lee Marrs has had a colorful career bringing to life Batman, Wonder Woman, and Indiana Jones.
“The thread I’ve followed my whole life is as a storyteller,” says Marrs, multimedia department chair at Berkeley City College in California, where she teaches storytelling in digital art, animation, storyboarding, and scriptwriting.
From producing mainstream tales of superheroes to underground comix to running a consulting company as president of Lee Marrs Artwork, her 30-year career spans the media spectrum—video games, graphics animation, digital media, and interactive design. “It mostly came out of economic necessity. I had to move from one medium to another to make money, to survive,” she says.
Her comic break came while she was an AU student. Here Marrs met her best friend, Barbara Blaisdell, CAS/BA ’68, whose father, comic book artist Tex Blaisdell, was known for his accurate copying of Little Orphan Annie, Prince Valiant, and other comic characters. He invited her to spend her summers in New York assisting him on comic strip background work (filling in the area surrounding characters).
In the late ’60s there were no female comic artists, and it didn’t occur to Marrs to pursue a career creating comics. So, she cast a wider net, taking Amtrak from Washington to New York for long weekends to hunt down freelance gigs with publishers. “Once I discovered [the prevalence of] sexism, I started using my middle name, ‘Lee.’”
She would mail samples of her artwork and then arrange a face-to-face meeting with a publisher. She saw many faces fall when she walked through an office door—most publishers assumed Lee Marrs was male. “Some laughed, some didn’t believe that I did the work.” Few took her talent seriously.
Trying to break into television as a graphic artist, she met with the same sexism that darkened the comics world. But Marrs persevered, finally landing a job at the CBS affiliate in Washington, where she worked on an Emmy Award–winning piece about the 1968 riots in D.C.
Meanwhile, Marrs developed her own style, creating the underground comix series The Further Fattening Adventures of Pudge, Girl Blimp (1973–77). “If you have such a hard time even getting your toe in the door, you’re going to get angry. The feminist angle is a natural one.” She is working on a Pudge book, due out in 2011.
But initially, Marrs hoped to be a political cartoonist. “My mom wrote my great uncle who awarded Carnegie grants, asking what college he thought would be a good match for my interests—politics and art. AU was the best choice for me [he said] since it is well known for the School of International Service and was one of the only schools in D.C. with a substantial art department,” says Marrs.
The AU art department’s connection to the Washington Color School movement proved important to Marrs’s artistic development. “The teachers had their own careers,” she says, “they weren’t concerned whether or not you emulated them. At other art schools, you had to learn their styles—at AU you could develop your own style.”