Who was Barbara Hall?

By | Friday, October 16, 2020 5 comments
Barbara Hall
Isabelle Calhoun passed away on April 29, 2014 at age 94. In 1946, she had 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. After studying painting at an art school in Los Angeles, she moved to New York City and was hired by Harvey Comics in 1941. As "B. Hall" she drew the adventures of the Girl Commandos, the Black Cat and Pat Parker in a variety of titles. In 1942, she created the character the Blonde Bomber, who mostly appeared in Green Hornet. She only worked in comics a few years before her marriage took her out of comics and more into the realm of painting, which she did at the aforementioned commune.

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 previous year. Although she didn't work in comics for a long time, she never completely left the field behind, and it is somewhat comforting to note that that nursing home where she spent her final days is only a few miles up the road from the Center for Cartoon Studies.
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This is a great article on my mother, Barbara Hall. Just a few clarifications for the sake of posterity--
Art's name is spelled Spiegelman. This spelling error often happens.
My mother's name was Isabelle Daniel Hall at birth. It's a family name-- one woman in each generation has this name. My legal name is Isabella (Joachim Fiske). My nickname from childhood is Ladybelle, a name used by friends and family. Art thought that if he put the name "Ladybelle" in Prisoner on the Hell Planet" it would be too difficult for the readership to grasp. So he used Isabella, my real name, with my permission.
My mother's name was "Babbie " or "Babs" among her family,the Scottish word for "Baby, as she was the baby of the family. My father, Irving Fiske, WPA writer and playwright, suggested "Barbara" would be more dignified for her work as an artist. He also convinced her to give up cartooning for fine art only-- a great loss to the world of comics. Trina Robbins, whom we met when she had a clothing store down the street (East 4th St in NYC) from our Gallery Gwen in 1965=68 (ca ), recognized Barbara's importance as a cartoonist and put a spotlight on her reputation in two of her books on women cartoonists. I am forever grateful. I met Art, I believe, through his college friends (my first boyfriend was a friend of his) and then through Trina,, or was surprised to discover that they knew one another. Art and I were friends from 1966 on. We became a couple in 1968 and broke up for a while before reuniting in the mid 70s. I met Françoise Mouly through Art. Her sister lived with us in Vermont for several years and is a beloved friend of many QH people and ex-QH people. Art was very much in love with Françoise. She and I were good friends too for quite a while, especially while our children (Her daughter Nadja is one year older than my son Andrew) were little. Our efforts to create Top-Drawer Stamps were one of the most interesting times I can remember. Barbara did some remarkable work for Top Drawer. The stamps we created are now collector's items.
Barbara and Art got along very well.
Barbara became a Quaker before she married her 2nd husband, Dr. Donald W. Calhoun, a Quaker sociology professor. They were happy together and were friendly with my father I would be glad to answer questions if you have any. Many thanks!

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Photo by Kieran Bamman.

I manried Brion McFarlin in 1984, hence the name change.

Brilliant! Thanks for sharing all that, Isabella! I think those few paragraphs about double the information about your mother there is online! :) Is there an email or something that might be easier to ask you a few questions?

Thank you very much Sean. I didn’t see this till now. I don’t quite know how to leave my email here without it becoming a public piece of information. Well to heck with it, it’s ladybellefiske@gmail.com. if you have some questions please do send an email, and put the name of your blog in the subject line. ⭐️