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June Tarpe Mills was born in February 25, 1918 in Brooklyn, into a home headed by a widowed mother, and filled with June’s sister’s orphaned children. She worked as a model to support her family, and to help pay her way into Brooklyn’s prestigious art school, the Pratt Institute. She would work as a fashion illustrator before turning her hand in 1938 to the burgeoning world of comic books, with work on such titles as Daredevil Barry Finn, Catman, and The Purple Zombie, using the sexually-ambiguous nom de plume Tarpe Mills as “It would have been a major let-down to the kids if they found out that the author of such virile and awesome characters was a gal”. This anonymity would cease with the April 6, 1941 debut of The Black Fury, as the strip was initially known. Utilizing an art style that was equal parts high fashion and high adventure, Ms. Mills would introduce readers to socialite Marla Drake, who upon discovering that she’d be wearing the same outfit as a rival to a masquerade, instead donned an African witch doctor’s ceremonial panther skin catsuit quipping “At least no one else will be wearing the same thing”! En route, she encounters two seeming ne’er-do-wells whom she subdues with a stylish combinations of punches, kicks, and the whip-like tail of her costume.
During this time, Miss Fury’s writer/artist Tarpe Mills would become as well-known as her creation, with newspaper and magazine articles highlighting the beautious Ms. Mills as the model for her own four-color avatar (not to mention the inclusion in the strip of her own cat, Perri-Purr, and his often vital role in sniffing out trouble!). Polls taken at the time showed newspaper readers across the gender lines were fans of the exploits of Miss Fury, and at the strip’s height, it was published in over 100 newspapers, and the Timely Comics reprints of them sold well over a million copies an issue!
Quickly adopting the name “Miss Fury” (with the strip soon following), Marla Drake would come into contact with criminals, spies & terrorists, Nazis, and her main antagonist, the Countess Erica Von Kampf, who would turn up like a bad penny again and again over the strip’s 10-year run. Marla would also have romantic interests in the forms of on-again/off-again fiance Gary Hale and Detective Dan Carey, and as a single woman would even adopt a toddler whom she rescued from the clutches of an evil scientist and his nefarious experiments!
Eventually, serious health problems would overtake Ms. Mills, which would force her contributions to be lessened, with the work augmented by substitue writers and artists, and the diminished quality would lead to Miss Fury’s cancellation in December of 1951. Tarpe Mills would be out of the limelight, working in commercial art for the rest of her professional life, resurfacing only briefly in 1971 with a short tale for Marvel’s Our Love Story, and some new paintings of Miss Fury for some mid-70s reprints of the old strips. Near the end of her life, Ms. Mills began work on a graphic novel featuring one of Miss Fury’s supporting cast entitled “Albino Jo, the Man With the Tigre Eyes”.It was unfinished at the time of Ms. Mills’ death.
Tarpe Mills suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and was homebound and oxygen dependent, but continued to chain smoke. Tarpe died on December 12, 1988, and is buried at Forest Green Park Cemetery in Morganville, New Jersey.