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), 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
Peter's earliest comic book 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 also designed several recurring characters, including 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 prime illustrator of 'Wonder Woman' for 17 years, and is credited with nearly every early story in All Star Comics, Sensation Comics and the character's own comic book. Between 1941 and 1949 he drew every book cover of the series. 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. This controversial element of the early 'Wonder Woman' stories nevertheless has an unintentionally odd and hilarious look in Peter's drawings. Although he had an eye for detail, he drew in a naïve style. Facial expressions are often dead-eyed. Anatomic proportions don't always match up. And action scenes have a stiff look. Under the pen of actual BDSM artists, scenes where Wonder Woman engages in bondage might have looked lewd and disturbing. But in Peter's drawings, these scenes have a more happy and innocent feel. It gave his work an ironic cult following among fans of unintentional comedy.

Still, not all of Peter's 'Wonder Woman' stories look silly. He also drew the daily 'Wonder Woman' newspaper comic (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. And even taking the BSDM imagery in consideration, it's still impressive how Marston and Peter managed to create a commercially succesful comic series geared towards young audiences, despite all the erotic innuendo. 

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

Final years and death
In 1947 William Moulton Marston 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. His 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' (Knopf, New York, 2014) is a must-read. Another recommendation is Noah Berlatsky's 'Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948' (Rutgers University Press, 2014). 

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

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


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