For a generation of comic book fans, June Brigman’s name conjures a particular accolade that – while entirely deserved – undermines the impressive body of work that she’s built up across a career that’s lasted 39 years at the time of this article being written. But before we address that dubious honor, however, let’s appreciate her for the entirety of her portfolio.
After studying at both Georgia State University and the University of Georgia, 23-year-old Brigman broke into comics via black and white indie publisher AC Comics, with a sample story for its Astron series – also grabbing the attention of editors at DC, for whom she had illustrated a story for New Talent Showcase the following year. (Issue #4 that her story appeared in was clearly a lucky one – it also featured work by Steve Lightle, Karl Kesel, and Stan Woch, who worked on Swamp Thing years later.) Despite these early breaks, though, she wouldn’t come to most fans’ attention until she moved to Marvel Comics to co-create the series she’s most commonly associated with.
Even by the standards of the try-anything Marvel of the 1970s and ‘80s – a publisher that attempted both fumetti and the European-style oversized album format in the desire to attract new readers – Power Pack was unlike anything else at the company. Created by Brigman and writer Louise Simonson, it was the logical endpoint of both the soap operatic approach of the then-dominant X-Men books and the “superhero family” dynamic of Marvel’s first superhero title, Fantastic Four: a group of superheroes who all happen to be brothers and sisters. Welcomely sincere and purposefully fun, Power Pack felt as if it was a comic appealing to a readership that was becoming increasingly overlooked by publishers in the 1980s: children.
Brigman’s art style is obviously a significant reason for Power Pack’s success – lacking the self-conscious messiness of over-rendered figures whose every second expression is a grimace, her artwork is refreshingly delineated and easy for any reader to follow, whether a grizzled comics veteran or someone who’s picked up their very first issue.
It’s not simply that her line work is beautifully clean, as wonderful (and wonderfully rare) as that may be; she’s also that unusual artist whose layouts are expressly, immediately clear to the eye upon first glance. No matter what might be happening in any scene – and Power Pack regularly juggled pages where all four members of the team used their very visually different powers surrounded by either similarly uniquely designed villains or any number of welcome guest-star heroes from other Marvel titles – Brigman had the talent to ensure that pages never seemed cluttered or confusing. Every page was a masterclass in what a comic page should look like. But we’ll come back to Power Pack shortly.
Brigman also partnered with Bill Mantlo for a run on Alpha Flight, worked with Chris Claremont on a couple of X-Men-related projects (including an issue of the regular Uncanny X-Men title); she drew a couple of Daredevil Annuals – as well as a controversial She-Hulk miniseries written by the late, great Dwayne McDuffie – and even managed a feat few other artists could imagine: drawing both Conan and Barbie in each of the characters’ flagship books. (Savage Sword of Conan #100 and multiple issues of the monthly Barbie series, for those curious.) It was clear to any Marvel Zombie of the era that Brigman could do it all.
That’s a claim that, if anything, became even more true after she left Marvel in the early 1990s. Whether it was illustrating a Supergirl miniseries for DC or working on Star Wars projects – a miniseries for Dark Horse Comics and illustrations for Bantam’s prose novels – Brigman excelled at what she did. She kept looking for new challenges as she worked, creating Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego comics for National Geographic World magazine for six years starting in 1992, or shifting her primary focus to newspaper comics upon becoming the artist on Brenda Starr, Reporter in 1995 – a gig she maintained until the strip ended in 2011. She didn’t leave newspapers after that, though; five years later, she’d take on Mary Worth, a job she continues to this day.
In addition to all of this – and her return to the mainstream comics industry in 2010, with work for Marvel, DC, and new indie publisher AHOY Comics, where she co-created the feline space opera Captain Ginger alongside writer Stuart Moore – Brigman became an educator, having taught in the celebrated Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, Savannah College of Art and Design, and Kennesaw State University at various points across the past two decades.
Brigman, then, has a resume that any comic artist should aspire to, and a talent that’s kept her in work for close to four decades… but I haven’t explained quite what makes her as special and close to the heart of so many fans yet, have I? It’s one small detail that proved all-important to her 1984 breakthrough, Power Pack: June Brigman draws perhaps the most believable children in superhero comics, if not the entire American comic book industry. Neither reduced to cartoonish caricature nor looking like a shrunken dwarf in clothes several decades too young for them, Brigman’s children looked like kids, giving a necessary air of verisimilitude to a project like Power Pack that fans still talk fondly about all these years later.
Throughout her career, June Brigman has repeatedly demonstrated that she could do it all. Power Pack was proof of that, way back when, and she’s only gotten better since.