Page 6: Post-Fiction House Sheena Comics

The 3D Sheena Jungle Queen comic produced by Fiction House in mid-1953 was the last appearance of the much-loved blonde heroine in a run that had begun in September 1938.  The final issue of Jumbo Comics, where Sheena was the lead feature, had appeared in April 1953 and Jerry Iger was desperately casting around for a gimmick to resuscitate the flagging interest in the jungle queen.  The 3D venture was not the miracle he had been praying for and Sheena disappeared from the map of the comic universe for many years.
She had a brief and illegal revival in 1958 when Israel Waldman's I. W. Publications produced one issue of Sheena, without the benefit of copyright.  Waldman had a short-lived career between 1958 and 1964 publishing unauthorised reprints of famous comics.  Many of his publications were Quality Comics titles, and their covers included the Quality logo.  Many of the titles they produced had been published by companies that were no longer in business, but some of them were.  In the latter years of Waldman's IW career his publications were called Super Comics.  Several years later Waldman would again revive Sheena, when he embarked on Skywald Publications.  Skywald had a brief career in the early 1970s publishing horror anthologies like Nightmare, Psycho and Scream.  One of their other titles, however, was Jungle Adventures, which only lasted three issues.  It reprinted several Taanda, the White Princess stories, and a good quality colour Jumbo Comics Sheena reprint with art by Bob Webb (Wikipedia).
Sheena did not appear again until 1984 when Marvel produced an adaptation of the Columbia Pictures Sheena film starring Tanya Roberts (follow the link to see a detailed analysis of that film).  A 66-page single issue was released in June 1984 (above left), and this was reprinted as a two-volume set in Dec 84 and Jan 85.  The art by Gray Morrow was a little course and disappointing, but the publication did contain a lot of additional information about the making of the film, including rare production photographs.
Fans of the jungle girl had not been deprived during this period.  Sheena had been seen only rarely, but a bevy of wild beauties had continued to stimulate the imaginations of young males during that period.  Bill Black's list of Sheena spin-offs in The Comic Book Jungle is exhaustive - Saari; Jungle Lil; Tanda; Jann of the Jungle; Zegra; Tegra; Nyoka; Tangi; Rulah; Tarinda; Vooda; Lorna - the list goes on.  Numerous publishers continued to produce these titles on into the 1960s.  In December 1972 Marvel launched Shanna The She-Devil, who continued to make appearances through the 80s and 90s, and was eventually revamped in 2005.  DC Comics embarked on a similar project at about the same time as Marvel and in October 1974, the first issue of Rima the Jungle Girl appeared.  Seven issues were published over the next six months, all with beautiful interior art by the talented Filipino artist Nestor Redondo and covers by the legendary Joe Kubert.  Rima even made several appearances in the animated Hanna Barbera series The All New Superfriends Hour (1977-78).
In the mid-1980s Blackthorne Publishing began publishing some reprints of Golden Age Sheena stories, and also published some new Sheena stories.  In their essay, Sheena of the Comics, Black and Feret commented, "The copyright owners of Sheena never gave permission, nor licensed any publisher to create new Sheena stories, therefore Blackthorne's subsequent publishing of a new Jungle Comics, which depicted the updated adventures of the Jungle Queen, would appear to be a violation of copyright."  As mentioned on Page 1: The Concept of the 1984 Sheena section, Paul Aratow acquired the rights to the Sheena property in negotiations with Thurman T Scott, the original publisher of Fiction House comics in 1975, and still holds the comic publishing rights to the present day.  Blackthorne had become involved with Jerry Iger during the 80s and published a book about his career, The Iger Comics Kingdom, that disseminated a lot of spurious accounts about the creation of Sheena.  It appears that Iger's audacious approach to business gave Blackthorne the confidence to violate copyright law.  They produced four issues of Jungle Comics in 1988 and they are disappointing dross.  The artwork in the first colour issue by Dragan Flaesc is very crude and contains a silly original story about an elderly urban Sheena being rejuvenated by a magic serum.  The artwork improves in subsequent issues.  The second issue credits Flaesc again, but this time he is assisted by Donnie Jupiter and Adrian Moro.  The latter obviously smoothed out the lines on the principal characters in the same manner that Good Girl Artists like Matt Baker provided slicker figures for the Sheena stories in Jumbo Comics (see page Page 4: Jumbo Comic Artists).  The saving grace was that Blackthorne's Jungle Comics No. 1 featured a gorgeous Sheena cover by Dave Stevens (left).
Another impressive achievement of Blackthorne was the publication of replicas of several hard-to-find Fiction House collectors' items, and the three issues they chose were were all landmark issues in the history of Fiction House.  They started with a replica of Sheena No. 1, first issue of the eighteen comics produced under Sheena's own name between 1942 and 1953.  It was released in April 1985 and contained six full Sheena stories and one Tiger Girl story.  It is a low grade print shot straight from the original with blotchy and uneven ink transfer and high contrast levels, but it is a real feast of Bob Powell Sheena stories.  The following month Blackthorne embarked on an ambitious project to recreate the 3D Sheena from 1953.  It is a black-and-white publication overlaid with red and blue distance separations that come alive through red and blue cellophane glasses.  The black base print is a little pale, which diminishes the power of the 3D effect a little, but works reasonably effectively.  It had a stunning new cover by Dave Stevens (top of page - bottom left ) and one of the stories featured Hawkina, a ruthless brunette queen with an interesting hair style.  And lastly, In June 1985 Blackthorne also produced a replica of the very first issue of Jumbo Comics, from September 1938.  This, of course, contained the first ever Sheena story with artwork by Mort Meskin (see examples on Page 2: The Origin of Sheena and Page 4: Jumbo Comics Artists). Again, the entire magazine was shot from the original comic and the result is a little disappointing, with poor definition and high contrast levels, but it is much better than nothing at all.

In 1997 A-List Comics began publishing reprints of Fiction House titles.  They published six issues of Planet Comics, five of Wings Comics, and six of Jungle Comics, which contained Sheena stories.  Steven J Schanes, who is listed as President of Blackthorne in their publications, appears again as the publisher of this series and obviously provided some of the Blackthorne material to use.  Their first issue of Jungle Comics, which was released in May 1988, was a gem.  It contained two reprinted Sheena stories from Jumbo Comics, both with impressive revitalised artwork with rich colouration and enhanced shading effects.  They used the same artwork from the 3D Hawkina, but gave it a nice makeover (right).  Mickey Clausen is credited with colouration, but Dave Stevens and Hank Mayo's retouching skills are also acknowledged.  Like many low-budget publishers who invest heavily in the premiere issue to generate interest in their product, subsequent copies were unable to maintain the same level of quality.  Issue No. 5, for example, is the first two black-and-white stories from the Blackthorne Sheena No. 1 reprint, with identical printing defects.  A-List also produced a slim version of Jumbo Comics No. 1 using the Blackthorne plates of Sheena and several other stories from that historic publication.  Many of the publications include self-aggrandising quotes from Jerry Iger printed on the inside of the covers.
Sheena-inspired jungle girls had continued to pop up like mushrooms.  Paul Aratow held the copyright to the character so artistically-gifted fans were forced to fabricate their own wild, well-endowed fantasy women.  In 1990 Butch Bercham created a one-off from his studio in Granite City, Illinois - Fana the Jungle Girl.  Fana was well-stacked, attired in the obligatory brief leopard-skin bikini and hailed from "a hidden and forgotten valley in the recesses of darkest Africa".  The colour artwork was heavily inspired by Frank Frazetta and is reasonably impressive, as is the tale of crooked safaris and marauding natives.  Burcham is obviously fond of his creation because he provides four colour pinups of Fana in alluring poses (and with variable faces) inside the magazine and there is also a double-page black-and-white pin-up inside the firm cardboard cover.  The curious thing is that Burcham had obviously designed Fana to be topless for the whole story, but had a change of heart at the last minute.  He has overlaid on every panel and pin-up, not too convincingly, a brief leopard-skin bra.  However, Fana's pink skin shows through the fabric of her top and when I first saw it I wondered why the leopard spots on the very tips of her breasts were deep pink.  I suspect Burcham must have reconsidered his original idea of pitching Fana at the adults-only market.
In 1998 Paul Aratow eventually decided that the time had finally arrived for another licensed Sheena comic.  He negotiated a deal with London Night Studios, whose offices were in Hickory, North Carolina.  Discussions around the conference table obviously decided that the public was tired of the classic Sheena and what was needed was a major makeover. In a paroxysm of inspired creative indulgence these guys decided to: (1) switched Sheena from Africa to South America; (2) change her hair colour from blonde to redhead; (3) discard her abbreviated leopard-skin outfit in favour of a skintight, black-leather zippered jumpsuit and stiletto boots; (4) make Sheena "as at home in the corporate boardroom as she is in the jungle"; (5) abandon her admirable self-reliance in favour of inclusion in a team of nerdish academics and teen hangers-on; (6) and lastly, to enhance her traditional role as protector of he jungle and it's animals by making her an environmental warrior resisting the encroachments of big business in the form of Trevor Enterprises, led by the evil and acquisitive, Deborah Trevor. Strangely, the masterminds behind this enterprise did decide that the classic Sheena had enough sales potential to feature her on the cover (top of page - bottom right). On top of that they embarked on a marketing ploy that was morally questionable and an insult to public intelligence, by releasing the same comic with several different covers.  The first issue, inexplicably called Sheena Queen of the Jungle No. 0, appeared in Feb 98, in what would be a 4-issue run.  Predictably, only the first was in colour.  The competent, but unexceptional, artwork was by Art Wetherell.  Paul Aratow was credited as Executive Producer.  The Holloway Pages Sheena page reports he is also listed as Story Consultant for the series (not surprisingly, I don't own them all).

On Page 1: The Concept of the Sheena (2000) section. I expressed my concern about Paul Aratow's control of the rights to Sheena.  The London Night comics venture, combined with the lame Tanya Roberts film of 1984, convinced me Aratow had absolutely no idea when it came to Sheena.  He had never read a Jumbo Comic and had never seen an episode of the Irish McCalla Sheena TV series when he acquired the rights.  He approached it as a convenient cash-cow that had fortuitously fallen into his lap, without any appreciation of, or affection for, the character itself.  I suspect the folks at London Night were more interested in producing a contemporary "bad girl" style comic like Shi, Lady Death, or Witchblade, and Aratow, having no real conceptual handle on Sheena, went along for the ride.  Frank Bonilla, however, informed me that Aratow had very little idea of what London Night were doing with Sheena until after the comic had been published, so he may be less culpable than I have accused him of being.  This story, however, makes one wonder about his level of concern about the final outcome of projects featuring his creative property vehicle and which carryied his name as name as a collaborator.
Bill Black's AC Comics have kept contact with Aratow over the years and were granted approval to publish reprints of the Golden Age Sheena stories from Fiction House publications like Jumbo Comics, Jungle Comics and Sheena.  In his essay, Sheena Queen of the Jungle, Black mentions that in the 1990s AC comics devised a method of "dropping out" the colour from comic book pages so that only the black lines remained.  "This was my goal", he said, "to eliminate the original color, restore the black lines and then to add new color separations."  The technique was finally mastered and AC began publishing reprints which Black felt were of a quality to match that of the originals, and in same cases exceeded it.  Most AC comics reprints in publications like Jungle Girls, Amazon Warriors, Ki-Gorr, Nyoka, and Thunda are published in black-and-white.  However, two full colour Sheena stories, one by Bob Powell and another by Bob Webb, were presented in Black and Feret's Irish McCalla biography.  Both had beautiful crisp reproductions (example at left).  For many years AC Comics, always keen to keep aflame the torch of jungle girl fandom, has published stories that included their homegrown jungle girl, Tara, in publications like Femforce.  Additionally, for the McCalla biography Black and Feret created an original comic strip named Irish, Queen of the Jungle as a tribute to her, recasting the actress as a genuine Sheena-like jungle hero.
Finally, in March 2007 Devil's Due Publishing, a small Chicago-based comic publishing company founded in 1999 by Joshua Blaylock, began producing a new series of Sheena comics.  The first issue released, Sheena Queen of the Jungle #0, came with two different covers, both by Tim Seely, and was billed as a "99¢ preview" (right).  The competent artwork was by Steven Cummings (line artist) and Julie Collins-Rousseau (colour artist).  Strangely, the pre-production promotional material had featured the involvement of Paul Aratow quite heavily, and suggested that he might get equal billing as co-author of co-designer, or something.  Mysteriously, his name is nowhere to be found anywhere within the publication.  The "24-page" publication contained a slim 10-page Sheena story, several pages of concept art, and a 3-page history of the character, which erroneously claimed that Gena Lee Nolin donned a leopard-skin outfit in the 2000 Sheena TV series (see the Costume section of Page 2: The Star for more details).  The tale begins with a lengthy exposition about the myth of the "Maytenda", a vengeful spirit of the jungle that protects the local people and the native forest from the rapacious practices of the greedy conglomerates.  Finally, Sheena bursts onto the scene riding a black panther and assassinates the foreman of the unidentified envoronmentally-unfriendly operation in cold blood with her bow and arrow.  She appears for four brief, action-filled pages, to both satisfy our curiosity about her and to tantalise us into wanting more.  The fact that she is a buxom, but somewhat gangly, adolescent with slightly mangaesque features left me scratching my head.  Why dilute the principal attraction of Sheena - her primal sexuality?  A preview I saw of Issue No. 1, due out in June 2007, indicated that the character design had changed significantly.  I am unaware whether this change was due to criticism from the reading public or whether the creators were merely covering a few different bases.  One of the four available covers for Issue No. 1 is by the talented Joe Jusko.  I will review the entire series later in the year once all six issues have been published (May 2007).

Click on the image below to view a complete set of Jumbo and Jungle Comics covers, and examples of other Fiction House titles:

Wikipedia online encyclopedia
Marvel Super Special No. 34, Sheena, Marvel Comics Group, 1984
The Comic Book Jungle, by Bill Black, Paragon Publications, Mar 99
• Essay, Sheena of the Comic Books, by Bill Black & Bill Feret, in TV's Original Sheena - Irish McCalla, by Bill Black and Bill Feret, Paragon Publications, 1992
Several Blackthorne Comics publications - Jungle Comics No. 1, May 1988; Jungle Comics No. 2, Sep 1988; Sheena No. 1 reprint Apr 85; Jerry Iger's Sheena Queen of the Jungle 3-D, 1985; Jumbo Comics No. 1 reprint Jun 85 - all in my private collection
A-List Comics Jungle Comics No. 1, United Players, 1997
Fana the Jungle Girl No. 1, Burcham Studio, 1990
London Night Sheena comic, London Night Studios, 1998
AC Comics website
Devils Due Comics website

• Main image (clockwise from top left): Gray Morrow cover of Marvel Super Special No. 34 - Sheena, Marvel Comics Group, 1984; reworked Bob Webb art on cover of A-List Comics Jungle Comics No. 1, United Players, 1997; Steven Sandoval cover for London Night Sheena comic, London Night Studios, 1998; and Dave Stevens cover of Jerry Iger's Sheena Queen of the Jungle 3-D, Blackthorne Publishing, 1985, are all from my private collection
• Dave Stevens cover of Jungle Comics No. 1, Blackthorne Publishing, May 1988 is from my private collection
• Example of 3D Sheena story is from Jerry Iger's Sheena Queen of the Jungle 3-D, Blackthorne Publishing, 1985
• Example of reworked Bob Webb Sheena art is from A-List Comics Jungle Comics No. 1, United Players, 1997 - private collection
• Butch Burcham cover of Fana the Jungle Girl No. 1, Burcham Studio, 1990 is from my private collection
• Art Wetherill comic art from London Night Sheena comic, London Night Studios, 1998 is from my private collection
• Revamped Bob Powell Sheena art from unidentified Jumbo Comic Sheena story reprinted in
TV's Original Sheena - Irish McCalla, by Bill Black and Bill Feret, Paragon Publications, 1992
• Promotional art for Devils Due Sheena comic in development - pilfered from Devils Due Comics website
• The montage of Fiction House covers below was also created from the CD-ROM of comic covers

SHEENA © is the property of Sony Pictures Corporation
This independent, fan-based analysis of the Sheena material is copyright © 2006 Paul Wickham