Nell Brinkley was an American illustrator/ comic artist whose work reached prominence during the early part of the 20th century. Born in Colorado in 1886, Brinkley dropped out of high school to pursue a career in art. She produced illustrations for newspapers like The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News, as well as book covers and illustrations. Around 1907 her skills were noticed by media mogul William Randolph Hearst and his editor Arthur Brisbane, who convinced her to move to New York and work for The New York American, creating illustrations and one-panel comics that appeared almost daily.
During her career she also worked as a journalist, interviewing luminaries of her day and producing illustrations to accompany them. In an era before photojournalism and before photography saw widespread use in news publications, Brinkley's illustrations made her a household name. She used her art and her popularity to support the cause of women's suffrage, American involvement in World War I, and to promote the expansion of women's rights.
Brinkley is perhaps most famous for "the Brinkley girl," a stylish female character archetype that supplanted Charles Dana Gibson's "Gibson girl" of the Edwardian era as the idealized illustration of feminine beauty. Feisty, fearless, glamorous and a bit of a trouble-maker, the "Brinkley girl" was the celebrated subject of songs, films, and theatrical reviews of the day. Additionally, Brinkley was one of the first female "comic" artists, whose single-panel illustrations (accompanied by short snippets of text) evolved into full-page covers that recounted narrative tales to her eager audience of magazine and newspaper readers. She was referred to as the "Queen of Comics" during her nearly four decade career.
Brinkley's oeuvre includes:
- "Golden Eyes" and Her Hero "Bill"
- The Fortunes Of Flossie
- The Adventures Of Prudence Prim
- Kathleen And The Great Secret
- Betty And Billy And Their Love Through The Ages
- Heroines Of Today
Brinkley's work contains examples of:
- Costume Porn: Much of the appeal of Brinkley's illustrations were the stylish, contemporary fashions she dressed her female characters in.
- Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Many of Brinkley's heroines were blondes who — though playful, independent, and mischievous compared to other female characters of the day — were at heart sweet, kind-hearted girls.
- Noodle People: Brinkley's characters are drawn with a certain resemblance to fashion plate illustrations of the time. Hallmarks of the style include wide eyes with spidery lashes; long, spindly limbs; delicate hands; and dainty feet. The men are all tall and slim, while the women have figures that tended to echo the beauty trends of the decade. Brinkley's illustrations from the nineteen-teens through the twenties showcased girls with tomboyish figures.