Golden Age comic book artist Lily Renée, one of the first women to draw mainstream American comics, has passed away. The news comes from her family, via a social media post from acclaimed cartoonist Trina Robbins. She was 101 years old. Renée's contributions to American comics went largely unnoticed for decades, until the 1980s, when she got a bit of a resurgence, largely as a result of fans and creators who wanted to celebrate underrepresented creators from the Golden and Silver Ages of comics.
"It's with great sadness that my sister and I regret to inform you of the passing of our mother," Rick Phillips said in his message. "She died peacefully at home, as was her wish, yesterday after living a full life of more than 101 years. There is a time for all of us and her death comes on the heels of the birth of her third great grandchild earlier this year. Thank you all for being part of her life in her twilight years. We plan on holding a Celebration of Life in September."
Renée was born Lily Renée Willheim in 1921,and grew up in Vienna, Austria. Renée, whose family was Jewish, was part of the Kindertransport, which was a campaign to transport thousands of Jewish children out of German-occupied parts of Europe and into the United Kingdom at the start of World War II. After spending some time in the UK, she moved to the United States in 1939 to follow her parents.
By late 1942 or early 1943, Renée had started to work in comics, an was drawing the adventures of aviatrix Jane Martin under a pseudonym. That work would eventually run in 1943 and 1944 in Wings Comics. Due to the spotty nature of credits in the Golden Age, and the fact that many women in comics had to use pseudonyms, it is not clear all of the projects that Renée drew. She is known to have illustrated "The Werewolf Hunter" feature in Rangers Comics throughout the 1940s, and told Bleeding Cool in 2011 that she had tried to move away from werewolves and into broader horror stories, since she didn't like how she drew wolves.
She also worked on the science-fiction feature "The Lost World" in Planet Comics and the espionage character Señorita Rio, also in Flight Comics. That character was reportedly designed by legendary artist nick Cardy, but it was Renée whose work would come to define the character.
In 1948, Fiction House left New York, leading Renée and her husband Eric Peters (also a comics artist, whom she married in 1947) to get work at St. John Publications. The couple shared penciling and inking duties on Abbott & Costello Comics for the better part of a decade, illustrating most issues from #2-34 in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Renée would go on to draw a number of romance comics in St. John's Teen-Age Diary Secrets and Teen-Age Romances.
Peters and Renée also drew comic books for the dairy company Borden, featuring Elsie the Cow. After leaving comics, Renée worked on children's books, plays, and designed textiles and jewelry.
After Renée and Peters split up, she married Randolph Phillips, with whom she had two children, Nina and Eric. In 2007, Renée attended Comic-Con International in San Diego, where Friends of Lulu nominated her to its Hall of Fame.
Our condolences go out to Renée's family, friends, fans, and collaborators.