How Brenda Got Her Stamp

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Many obituaries of Dale Messick have mentioned that Brenda Starr, her long-lived creation, was one of twenty classic strip characters who appeared on postage stamps in 1995. (In these overcommercialized days when even the cotton-pickin’ Lion King has his own stamp, it’s easy to forget how big a deal those stamps were at the time–it was remarkable to see the post office acknowledge comic art with such fanfare.)

What I haven’t seen discussed is how Brenda Starr ended up on a stamp in the first place. The other 19 characters had two things in common: They were created before 1950, and their creators were deceased as of the time the stamps were conceived. That was a sort of counterpart to the rule that only dead people can appear on stamps, and it explains why Peanuts, for instance, didn’t make the cut. But Dale Messick was alive and well. So why did Brenda rate a stamp?

Well, late in the planning stage, it occurred to someone that all the cartoonists whose characters were being honored were…men. So it was decided that one stamp should feature a character devised by a woman. Now, there were certainly some wonderful female cartoonists who were no longer with us in 1995. (Edwina and Marge come to mind; I would have been delighted to see the post office pay tribute to either or both of them.) But if you narrowed the field to deceased female cartoonists who created enduringly popular characters who appeared primarily in newspaper comics, the pickings became slim. Maybe nonexistent.

So the post office broke its own rule and gave a stamp to Brenda Starr, even though Dale was still very much with us. And I certainly don’t begrudge Brenda her stamp, since she is, inarguably, a classic comic-strip character.

Oh, one other thing–this decision came so late in the process that a stamp that had already been picked (and honored with a handsome stamp design) had to be bumped from the lineup. I’m sure it was a difficult decision. If I’d made it, I might have canceled the Toonerville Folks stamp, even though I’m a big Fontaine Fox fan. Or maybe the Flash Gordon one, though that strip was undeniably a classic.

But the post office kept the Toonerville and Flash Gordon stamps. Instead, it nixed one devoted to a strip that many consider the best work of comic art there ever was.

That’s why our country managed to honor twenty classic comic strips without honoring Pogo.

Now you know…the rest of the story. And hey, wouldn’t it be nice if the post office made amends by commemorating Walt Kelly and his immortal possum with a stamp now? They surely deserve one just as much as Tweety and Donald Duck.

Postscript: The stamp at the top of this entry isn’t the Brenda Starr stamp we all bought in 1995. It’s an alternative design, and I have to say I like it better, although I understand why they chose something a bit more cheery. This excellent article by Rick Marschall, written before the stamps appeared, shows the Brenda design that got picked, the other stamps, and some additional discarded ideas. (I particularly like the unused Nancy art.) It also mentions the possibility of a Pogo stamp…but doesn’t, unfortunately, show it.

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