Ink-Slinger Profiles: Tarpé Mills

June Tarpé Mills was born in New York City on February 25, 1912. Her birth year was determined by examining the 1930 United States Federal Census, which was enumerated in April and recorded her age as 18. Trina Robbins used the same year in her profile of Mills for the book, Womanthology. The birth month and day was on a 1947 passenger list at, although the birth year was recorded as 1918. She has not been found in the 1920 census.

In the 1930 census, Mills was the youngest, at age 18, of three children born to Margaret, a widow who was a hairdresser at a beauty salon. The census recorded her occupation as artist model in the artist industry. Her older siblings, Thomas, 23, and Margaret, 19, had the Tarpey surname. They lived in Brooklyn, New York at 970 St. Marks Avenue. At age fifteen, their mother married John J. Tarpey around 1907. Some time after daughter Margaret’s birth, they divorced. The father, who remarried, had custody of the children, according to the 1910 and 1920 censuses. Some time between 1920 and 1930, Margaret’s children from her first marriage joined her household. 

The elder Margaret remarried to Mills, whose first name is not known, and they had June. His fate is not known. In the 1930 census, the name recorded was “June T. Mills”, so it appeared she used the Tarpey name but changed the spelling to Tarpé.

In The World Encyclopedia of Comics (1976), Maurice Horn wrote: “One of the few female cartoonists successful in the action genre, Tarpe Mills started Black Fury (soon to be changed to Miss Fury) on April 6, 1941, as a Sunday feature for the Bell Syndicate.”

The New York Post, April 6, 1942, profiled Mills in the article, “Meet the Real Miss Fury—It’s All Done With Mirrors” by James Aronson.

…Tarpe Mills, Erasmus Hall High graduate, said that she literally stumbled into cartooning. She posed for portrait painters, photographers and sculptors to pay her way through Pratt Institute. She studied sculpture and was told that she showed promise; but the market for birdbaths was pretty dry, so she went into animated cartooning.

Among other things she created a few cat characters which were used in a series of pictures, and finally, she said, “I was carried out of the joint with a nervous breakdown.” It was back to posing and free-lance drawing.

“Then,” she said, “a foot injury kept me out of circulation and I started a serial called “Daredevil Barry Finn” for one of the children’s comic books. I hated to drop Barry, so I went into the business whole hog and turned out such hair-raising thrillers as “The Purple Zombie,” “Devil’s Dust” and “The Cat Man.”

Miss Mills dropped her first name (she won’t say what it was) because it was too feminine.

“It would have been a major let-down to the kids if they found out that the author of such virile and awesome characters was a gal.” she said.

Miss Mills said she writes “Miss Fury” to provide amusement for kids and grownups alike. “Fashions, a hint of romance and human interest for the adults. Fantasy and action for the youngsters.”

She admitted she doesn’t know where she got her inspiration except that she was one of the imaginative kids “who hang around the house reading books instead of running around outside playing hop-scotch.”

Who poses for the girl characters in “Miss Fury,” she was asked.

“It’s all done with mirrors,” she said. “I find it simpler to sketch from a mirror than to have a model and explain just what the character should be doing.”

According to the Catalog of Copyright Entries, Periodicals, Part 2, Periodicals, 1943, New Series, Volume 38, Number 3, Mills owned the copyright to the Miss Fury comic book.

Mills passed away in December 1988, according to an issue of Witty World. Her obituary has not been found and she is not in the Social Security Death Index. Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1918–1999 has an overview of her career. Her comic book credits are at the Grand Comics DatabaseHeritage Auctions has the original art for strips of Black Fury and Miss Fury [Allan’s note: which appear to be dailies, though the strip was Sunday only!]. Trina Robbins has written extensively about Mills in A Century of Women Cartoonists (1993), The Great Women Superheroes (1996) and Miss Fury: Sensational Sundays 1944-1949 (2011).

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