If Wonder Man is arguably Will Eisner’s least inspired creation, his collaboration with Jerry Iger on “Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle” proves that a clever rip-off can be enduring enough to kick-start an entire genre of comics and become an icon of sorts in pop culture.
Although predated in literature by H. Rider Haggard’s She (the inspiration for Sheena’s distinctive moniker) and William H. Hudson’s Rima, the character was conceived as a female version of Tarzan. The orphaned child of a famous explorer – or a pair of missionaries; her origins grew more fluid as time passed – the Jungle Queen first appeared in 1937 in a British tabloid called Wags.
Eisner and Iger brought the Sheena feature to America a year later after their studio was contracted to create a new title for Fiction House.
Sheena proved popular and by 1942 the jungle queen became the first female character to star in her own title. The Eisner/Iger creation was so successful that it gave birth to an entire comics genre: “The Jungle Girl.” Such Sheena imitators as Rulah, Tiger Girl and the unfortunately titled White Princess Of The Jungle flooded the marketplace with varying degrees of success.
While many young boys were doubtlessly drawn to the genre by the cheesecake – jungle girl comics were illustrated by numerous masters of good girl art, including Matt Baker, Jack Kamen and Werner Roth – the characters themselves were generally portrayed as strong, independent women who needed no help from men to defeat whatever insidious threat arose. In fact, Sheena and her kin usually had to rescue their male paramours.
The following story, which originally appeared in Jumbo Comics #115 (Fiction House), is a good example of just how effectively comics’ original jungle queen took care of business. “Svengali Of The Apes” – great title, huh? – was drawn by Robert Webb, who illustrated just about every Sheena tale from 1941 to 1953.