Wonder Woman by HG Peter
'Wonder Woman' #7.

Harry G. Peter was an American comic artist, who enjoyed a long career, yet created his most famous work when he was already over 60. He was the first artist to draw the iconic superheroine 'Wonder Woman' (1941-   ), created and scripted by psychologist William Moulton Marston. Peter designed both Wonder Woman's iconic look as well as several other major protagonists and antagonists in the franchise. He drew in a slightly naïve and stiff style, but was a kindred spirit to Marston's feminist ideals. He brought Marston's theories to a wider audience and laid the foundations of Wonder Woman's universe. Peter also illustrated 'Wonder Woman' scripts by Marston's co-writer Joye Hummel and Robert Kanigher. His comics have additionally gained infamy for their unintentionally hilarious and bizarre sexual innuendo.

Wonder Woman by HG Peter
'Wonder Woman' #29.

Early life
Harry George Peter was born in 1880 in San Rafael, California, as the son of a tailor. He made his first newspaper cartoons for the San Francisco Chronicle at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. Two of his possible early features could be 'Alkali Bill' (also known as 'Slippery Ike', August-December 1902) and 'Animal Circus (November 1902), which were both distributed by the San Francisco Bulletin and credited to a certain "Peter". During this period he met a female cartoonist, Adonica Fulton, who worked for the San Francisco Bulletin. They married in 1912 and also underwent a professional relationship. The couple made several illustrations for The New York American and Judge, influenced by the elegant linework of Charles Dana Gibson. Peter was notable for supporting women's rights in a time when this was still contested. He made various illustrations for 'The Modern Woman' (1912-1917), an editorial of Judge magazine which supported the suffragette movement. He also assisted on Bud Fisher's 'Mutt and Jeff'.

Diamond Smugglers by HG Peter
'Diamond Smugglers', from Hyper Mystery Comics #2.

Comics career
He began working in the comic book industry in the early 1940s. His earliest credits were the features 'Commodore Ambord' and 'Diamond Smugglers' in the two sole issues of Hyper Mystery Comics, published in 1940 by the obscure label Hyper Publications. Through the packager Funnies, Inc., he drew stories with superheroes like 'Fearless Flint' and 'Man O'Metal' for Famous Funnies, Heroic Comics and Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics, titles published by Eastern Color Printing in the 1941-1943 period. He returned to this company in 1949-1950 with several "Heroic True Life Stories" for New Heroic Comics. In 1941 he also adapted U.S. general George C. Marshall's life into a comic book story, published in the fourth issue of True Comics (September 1941).

Fearless Flint by HG Peter
'Fearless Flint', from Famous Funnies #92.

Wonder Woman
Harry G. Peter's role in the creation of 'Wonder Woman' is often overlooked or downplayed since Marston was such a colourful personality who basically created the franchise's entire mythos. Peter followed his strict orders, particularly regarding the feminist messages and bondage scenes he needed to portray. As such some have dismissed him as a mere potboiler artist. Yet he played an equally significant part in the character's succes. Peter designed Wonder Woman and gave her her iconic outfit. Marston had no hand in this and only instructed that she had to look "as powerful as Superman, as sexy as Miss Fury, as scantily clad as Sheena the Jungle Queen, and as patriotic as Captain America." When Peter presented his preliminary sketches, Marston only suggested changing her shoes. Peter furthermore designed Wonder Woman's mother Queen Hippolyta (1941) and Wonder Woman's best friends Mala (1941), Etta Candy (1942) and romantic interest Steve Trevor (1941). He also came up with recurring villains like the Nazi baroness Paula von Gunther (1942), the god of war Ares (1942), the misogynistic Doctor Psycho (1943), jealous philanthropist Cheetah (1943) and the teleportation expert Angle Man (1953, co-created with Robert Kanigher).

Wonder Woman by HG Peter
'Wonder Woman' #2. This comic panel depicts Hitler chewing the carpet in anger, a common image in many Allied war-time propaganda comics and cartoons. It stemmed from a misinterpretation of the word 'Teppichfresser', used by William Shirer who claimed Hitler once started "eating the carpet in anger". The English translator at the time took this term literally, while it actually ought to be understood as a proverbial way of saying he started walking up and down over the carpet in a restless mode.

Odd and zany style
Peter was the series' prime illustrator for 17 years, and is credited with nearly every early story in All Star Comics, Sensation Comics and the character's own comic book. He furthermore drew every 'Wonder Woman' book cover from 1941 to 1949, as well as the daily newspaper spin-off (1944-1945), for whom he sometimes redrew panels he created for the earliest 'Wonder Woman' comic books, but with more eye for detail and dynamism. Compared with the original the newspaper version had less emphasis on zany imagery, particularly regarding scenes with bondage. This latter aspect has become the most notorious and controversial element of the original 'Wonder Woman' comics. Numerous scenes feature (female) characters being tied up, bound down, gagged or featured in other submissive poses. These were literal illustrations of Marston's actual theories regarding women. He felt women were superior to men and destined to one day rule the world. Yet since they were "submissive by nature" the best way to reach empowerment would by "acting submissive". Peter obediently drew everything as it pleased his task master. He had an eye for detail, but drew in a rather naïve style. The proportions of certain characters' heads and limbs don't always match up. Facial expressions are often dead-eyed and action scenes have a stiff look. It gave his drawings a slightly odd, unintentionally hilarious atmosphere, particularly the scenes were Wonder Woman and other characters engage in bondage, erotic role play or spanking. Under the pencil of actual BDSM artists this imagery would look more disturbing. Peter's illustrations, however, have a more happy and innocent feel to them. Something has to be said about the fact that he and Marston managed to create a commercially succesful comic series with such erotic innuendo and make it available to a young audience.

Wonder Woman by HG Peter
From the 'Wonder Woman' newspaper strip.

Final years and death
In 1947 Moulton passed away from cancer. Peter survived him by 10 years and continued the franchise until he was fired in 1957. 'Wonder Woman' was then handed over to Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. Harry G. Peter died a few months later in early 1958.

A Harry G. Peter panel from 'Wonder Woman' inspired Roy Lichtenstein's 'Reflections: Wonder Woman' (1989). In the wake of the success of the first 'Wonder Woman' movie by Patty Jenkins in 2017 Peter was posthumously inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame that same year. Peter's comics were an influence on Peter & Maria Hoey

Books about Peter
For those interested in Marston and Wonder Woman Jill Lepore's book 'The Secret History of Wonder Woman' (2014) is a must-read. Another recommendation is Noah Berlatsky's 'Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948' (2014). 

Wonder Woman by HG Peter
'Wonder Woman' #5.

Series and books by Harry G. Peter you can order today:


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