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ELLA CINDERS: THE 1920S WOMAN IN COMICS

Nathan Turner - December 7, 2016

Ella Cinders, image from Don Markstein’s Toonopedia

Ella Cinders, a long-running newspaper comic, was created in 1925 by writer Bill Conselman and illustrator Charlie Plumb. As the title suggests, the comic was conceived as an allusion to Cinderella, though the comparison only lasted for a few strips. Ella Cinders starts out doing endless housework for her stepmother and stepsisters, but early on moves to Los Angeles to work in Hollywood. While not quite a flapper, Ella is a noteworthy example of a “new woman” in 1920s pop culture.

The story in turn is a product of its time. Ella escapes her life of drudgery by winning a beauty contest advertised in a filmgoer’s magazine. This takes her to Hollywood, where she immediately discovers that the studio that hired her is no longer in operation. Seeking a similar job to maintain her newfound freedom, she eventually lands an interview with a studio executive who she discovers is actually her long-lost father. Finally making it, she explores her film career for the rest of the 1920s.

Poster for 1926 film, image fromMoving Image Archive News

Ella does not quite fit the image of the wild, hedonistic flapper that captures the modern imagination. She does not seem to drink, nor does she smoke, and she is far from promiscuous. Still, the comic depicts her doing many things outside of traditional expectations, like breaking an untamed horse, or directing and casting her own film. She eventually marries, but spends much time before that single and living alone. Her fashion choices also match the era, as she clearly wears lipstick and has her hair bobbed.

Ella Cinders quickly gained a strong place in popular culture. By 1926 the series gave birth to a film adaptation starring Colleen Moore as Ella. In this sense Ella Cinders represents early twentieth century entertainment, in which intellectual properties were found in many forms, from book to film to radio drama.

Ella Cinders, which continued past the Depression and finally ended in 1961, remains a fascinating relic of the Prohibition era. Besides the obvious influences of the budding movie industry, it represents shifts in American life such as the relocation of people from rural to urban areas and the increasing independence of women from traditional domestic life.


Sources

“25 U.S. Films Deemed Essential to Preserve,” Moving Image Archive News,  www.movingimagearchivenews.org, posted December 20, 2013.

“Ella Cinders,” Don Markstein’s Toonopedia, www.toonopedia.com, 2008.

Goulart, Ron, et al. The Encyclopedia of American Comics. New York: Facts on File, 1990.