Newspaper as interactive medium: Journalistic stars as paper dolls!

TV image shows Brenda Starr in three costumes

Always the fashion plate, Brenda Starr was retired last year after 70 years in newspapers. Click for an ABC feature interviewing author Mary Schmich and others.

When I started looking into the portrayal of journalists in popular culture, I never thought I’d wind up writing about paper dolls.

But that’s what my “Newspaper Films” post about the 1989 “Brenda Starr” movie led to… a discovery that long before blogs, readers had a unique way of interacting with their Sunday newspapers.

A Web search inadvertently turned up the fact that both “Brenda Star, Reporter” and the even earlier “Jane Arden” comic strips included a reader-participation gimmick: Fans were invited to send in suggestions for the reporters’ wardrobes, and the designs were published as cut-out paper doll costumes with the Sunday color comics, sometimes reprinted as separate comic books or paper-doll books.

A Chicago teenager — male — was reported to have designed 1,500 dresses for Brenda Star, according to a retrospective in the Chicago Tribune when the strip was cancelled — after 70 years.

A quick search of eBay or the Web will find an active hobby of collecting the comic strips and dolls. Who knew?

I can’t help but wonder whether Brenda and Jane inspired more future journalists, or more future fashion designers (or cartoonists).

Jane Arden was created in 1927 by writer Monte Barrett and artist Frank Ellis for the Iowa-based Register and Tribune Syndicate.

Brenda Starr was created in 1940 by Dale Messick for the larger Chicago Tribune Syndicate.

mild-mannered reporter who found computers & the Web in grad school in the 1980s (Wesleyan) and '90s (UNC); taught journalism, media studies, Web production; retired to write, make music, photograph sunsets & walks in the woods.

Posted in comics, jheroes, movies, Newspapers, popular culture

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