ProFile Friday: In Memorium
Isabelle Daniel “Barbara” Hall Fiske Calhoun, best known for her work (as Barbara Hall) on “Girl Commandos” and “Pat Parker, War Nurse” during the Golden Age of Comics, died this past Monday, April 28, 2014 at age 94 in a nursing home in White River Junction, Vermont, not far from the Center for Cartoon Studies. Her daughter Ladybelle and son in law Brion were with her for the last days of her life. She died peacefully and without struggle. Drawing and painting remained her main interest in her final days. “Art is prayer,” she frequently said
Hall was born in 1919 into an old Southern family. Her ancestors had fought the British during the Revolutionary War, and later fought on the Southern side in the American Civil War. She studied painting in Los Angeles, moving to New York City in 1940. She showed her portfolio to Harvey Comics in 1941, and was hired to draw the comic “Black Cat”. Her next strip was “Girl Commandos”, about an international team of Nazi-fighting women. This comic was developed from “Pat Parker, War Nurse”, about a “freelance fighter for freedom.” When stationed in India, this nurse recruited a British nurse, an American radio operator, a Soviet photographer, and a Chinese patriot. Hall continued this strip until 1943. Girl Commandos was taken over by Jill Elgin. On January 8, 1946, she married writer and playwright Irving Fiske and became Barbara Hall Fiske.
Hall continued her art career as a tempera and pastel painter. Together with her husband, she began an alternative living group/artists and writers’ colony in Rochester, Vermont, called Quarry Hill. (Later it became known as the Quarry Hill Creative Center.) She and Irving Fiske had two children, Isabella (Ladybelle) and William.
In the Sixties, through her daughter, Ladybelle, she met and became friends with many well-known underground cartoonists, including R. Crumb, Trina Robbins, Kim Deitch, Spain Rodriguez, and others. Ladybelle met Art Spiegelman in 1966 through Trina Robbins and also, concurrently, through a group of Spiegelman’s fellow-students at the State University of New York at Binghamton. In 1978, Ladybelle, Spiegelman, Françoise Mouly, and some other Quarry Hill residents created Top-Drawer Rubber Stamp Company, which featured art by Crumb, Spiegelman and many other cartoonists and artists. This hand-made art rubber stamp company provided employment for several Quarry Hill residents for a time.
Barbara Hall Fiske designed several images for Top-Drawer including angels, an image of William Blake (Quarry Hill’s favorite poet and artist), and more.
Hall divorced Fiske in the 1970s, created Lyman Hall, Inc. (after a collateral ancestor who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence) to run the Quarry Hill property, and took the name Barbara Fiske Calhoun after her second marriage in the 1990s.
One of her “Pat Parker, War Nurse” stories was reprinted recently in Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Lost Heroines of Golden Age Comics edited by Mike Madrid.