On History: Barbara Hall

By | Tuesday, May 13, 2014 Leave a Comment
This seems to have gone under-reported in the comics press, but Isabelle Calhoun passed away on April 29 at age 94. In 1946, she married Irving Fiske, and the two used the money they received as wedding gifts to buy a 140-acre farm in Rochester. It became known as the Quarry Hill Creative Center, and was a locus for what was, in effect, the first hippie commune. At its height, there were around 90 people living there full-time with hundreds passing through more irregularly, although it's dwindled down to about 25 residents in recent years.

How is this relevant to comics? Although Isabelle was her given name, she preferred to go by Barbara. And her maiden name was Hall. As "B. Hall" she drew the adventures of the Girl Commandos, the Black Cat and Pat Parker in a variety of Harvey comics. She only worked in comics a few years before her marriage took her out of comics and more into the realm of painting.

But she also had a daughter in 1950 that went by the name Isabella, also known as Ladybelle. She became friends with Trina Robbins, who in turn introduced her to Art Spiegleman. This is indeed the same Isabella that Spiegleman references as his girlfriend in "Prisoner on the Hell Planet." The two stayed together up until the mid-to-late 1970s, and parted amicably before Spiegleman married their mutal friend, Françoise Mouly.

In fact, Spiegleman, Mouly and Ladybelle formed the Top-Drawer Rubber Stamp Company a year later at Quarry Hill. Hall contributed art to the project, and it served as a solid means of employment for many other Quarry Hill residents.

Hall and Fiske eventually divorced, and several years later Hall re-married. Ladybelle has noted that, while her mother was proud of the comics work she did, she was embarrassed later in life at the blatant anti-Japanese rethoric her comics often espoused. She passed away peacefully in a nursing home in White River Junction, VT where she'd been living for the past year. Although she didn't work in comics for a long time, she never completely leaving the field behind, and it is somewhat comforting to note that that nursing home is only a few miles up the road from the Center for Cartoon Studies.
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