Portia. Artist: Richard Howell.=


Original medium: Comic books
Published by: Desperado-Eastern Press
First Appeared: 1977
Creator: Richard Howell
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Reasonably well-known "cult classics" of comics include Herbie, Barnaby and Sam's Strip. Not so well-known, especially at first, was Portia Prinz of the Glamazons. The series was later picked up by Eclipse Enterprises, but when Portia first came out (1977), she was distributed privately, mostly through an amateur press association (similar to Vootie, where Omaha the Cat Dancer later started) called The United Fanzine Organization, tho a few stray copies found their way local readers in the Boston area. Her creator, cartoonist Richard Howell (Deadbeats) wasn't yet the …

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… comics industry insider he later became, but insiders who became fans of it during the UFO period include Wendy & Richard Pini (Elfquest), Cat Yronwode (John Law) and Dean Mullaney (Naive Inter-Dimensional Commando Koalas).

One factor driving Portia's popularity was that it abounded in popular culture references. This contributed to making her comics heavy on text. Looking at a page of one of her comic books, one is struck by how word-intensive they look, overwhelmed with captions and word balloons, largely crowding out the artwork, which many creators consider to carry the primary narrative burden in good comics. In contrast, most modern syndicated comics, from Andy Capp to Zits, contain a maximum of approximately 35-40 words per daily episode.

Or it may have been simple inexperience on Howell's part. It takes time to develop the skills necessary to tell stories with very great brevity. and Portia Prinz came early in his career. Whatever the reason, her stories were unusually text-heavy, and readers praised them because they were also unusually heavy on intellectual content, with discussion of the nuances and implications of its many allusions forming a major portion of the verbiage.

So when Eclipse Enterprises (Sabre, Zot!), one of the less convention-bound independent comic book publishers of the 1980s, rose to prominence, there was some expectation that it would resurrect Portia Prinz from obscurity — especially since Mullaney and Yronwode, two of its vocal supporters, were involved with the company as publisher and editor, respectively.

When Eclipse did resurrect the work, in a bimonthly six-issue mini-series starting with a December, 1986 cover date, the Pinis wrote the introduction. A major selling was that this was said to be the comics' foremost "pseudo-intellectual" superhero.

But intellectuality, "pseudo" or otherwise, isn't the sort of thing that finds much success as the basis for a comic book. "Geek" and "nerd" are only a couple of the insults levied against such people — and let's not forget how the early Spider-Man was treated by his peers. After Portia's six issues were done, she didn't exactly go on to fame and fortune.

In fact, her post-series career consisted entirely of a couple of appearances in other Howell comics, which tend to be published by Claypool Comics, where Howell is art director. One time, she turned up with a licensed character, Elvira, Mystress of the Dark. Another time, she guest-starred with Soulserchers & Company.

What works for a small cult doesn't always work for an open audience. She's not likely to turn up in her own title again.


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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Richard Howell.