So the Mighty Thor—at least on the printed page—is now a woman. Rarely has a gender-bend made as many headlines as this one, with both fans and non-fans alike weighing in with thoughts and opinions on the new Goddess of Thunder.

But as a new heroine picks up Thor’s hammer and assumes his powers and duties and Comic-Con comes to New York City, so are more and more women picking up pens and brushes and making their return to the world of comic books—a medium in which they once flourished.

Colleen Doran1

Colleen Doran

“There have always been women in comics,” said Colleen Doran, a writer, artist and cartoonist who has drawn some of the medium’s most famous characters. “It’s very popular to say that there weren’t, but it’s just not true. There weren’t that many girl comic book fans when I was growing up. But 50 years ago, girls were a major part of the comic scene.

“A lot of romance comics were being sold in the 1940s and 1950s, and they were very popular,” Doran said. “And one of the most prominent cartoonists of all time was Rose O’Neill, who was born in the 1800s. She created the Kewpies, which were a world-wide phenomenon and made her a millionaire. She was one of the highest paid illustrators in the world.

“There were a couple of decades here in the United States when they women were marginalized (in the industry),” Doran said, “but that’s becoming less of a problem.  There are a lot more women nowadays in comics then there were.”

Like many of today’s fans—both male and female—Doran was first drawn to comics via stories about superheroes.

“I was a big fan of Superfriends,” she said. “I was a huge fan of Aquaman. I always thought he was really cool; I couldn’t figure out why people didn’t think he was super-powerful. He runs three-quarters of the planet, he has this rapport with the most powerful animals in the world and he can survive deep-sea depths. I thought, ‘this guy must be pretty awesome.’”

Doran’s love of comics and superheroes have led to her to become one of the top artists in the field. She’s worked on such popular titles as Sandman, Amazing Spider-Man, The Legion of Super Heroes, Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, and The Vampire Diaries, as well as her own epic space opera series, A Distant Soil. Currently, she is working on projects with industry heavyweights including Neil Gaiman (Stardust, Coraline), Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta) and J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5, The Amazing Spider-Man).

A similar love of superheroes shaped the career of Jen Mercer, a trading card artist and illustrator who is working her way into the comic book business.

“It’s definitely a male-dominated business, but there are a lot of breakthroughs being made,” she said, citing an increase in the number of women writing and illustrating comics. “Women are getting through.

“I’ve always been into comics ever since I was a little girl,” Mercer said. “My dad was the one who kept me inspired. I was a DC person; my dad had me on Batman and Superman early on.”

Mercer has sold work to major card companies including Topps and Upper Deck, drawing such characters as Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man, Batman, and characters from the Star Wars universe.

What’s next for Mercer? “I want to do comic book covers,” she said, “and eventually even color interiors.”

She said she knows what it takes for a woman to make it in the world of comics, and she has one piece of advice for women trying to break into the field: “Don’t give up. Keep fighting. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it. If you really want to do it, you can’t give up.”