More Moxie: The Rise, Fall, and Riotous Return of an American Icon — Part 5
The turbulent history and enduring legacy of one of the most popular superheroes ever created and the fascinating lives of the talented people who brought her to life. Start with Part 1
To Riot Against the Darkness
In the summer of 1990, Ellen Goldman turned 73 years old. She was retired, and, since Marla Covington’s death from cervical cancer in 1982, effectively widowed. She had more money than she knew what to do with, thanks to a lucrative publishing career and a series of shrewd investments, and she was finding a solitary retirement rather boring. Since losing Marla, travel no longer held the allure it once did, and she felt she’d accomplished everything she wanted in the world of publishing.
Then the MC bankruptcy came along and challenged that notion.
Ed Wilkins, who’d had his own falling out with MC over royalties for “The Rampaging Id”, had reached out to Goldman following his exit from the company in the late 50s and the two had remained friends. He alerted her to the auction of MC’s intellectual property and thought she’d enjoy the opportunity to have the last word.
As it happened, he was right. Goldman bid anonymously through an agent on the entirety of MC’s property, including the trademarks for the names ‘MC’, ‘Moxie Comics’, and ‘More Moxie Comics’ along with the rights to all MC characters. Almost 40 years after she believed she’d lost them for good, Ellen Goldman’s company, and everything she’d created for it, belonged exclusively to her.
Before doing anything with her acquisition, Goldman familiarized herself with the modern state of comic book publishing, finding the industry in the midst of a huge explosion of independent publishers. She saw that the time was right to throw her hat back in the ring, but was shrewd enough to realize she had to be careful. The stench of “The Society” still clung to the MC brand and characters, so if she was going to launch something, it would have to be something very different. Unfortunately, she wasn’t sure what that was.
Ellen Goldman had been out of the business for a long time. It had been many years since she’d done more than the occasional doodle, and she was certain she’d lost her hand for the kind of drawing a monthly comic book required. She also knew that her own storytelling sensibilities, so fresh and new all those decades ago, would be outdated to modern audiences or, at best, hold a retro-nostalgia appeal for a dwindling faction of the fanbase. She was certain that if she was going to do this properly, the project was going to need young blood.
She placed an ad in the popular trade publications, seeking pitches for a new approach to the Moxie Gal and Ms. Moxie characters. After wading through some rather dreadful submissions, with an abundance of leering pinups drawn from only a passing familiarity with human anatomy, a pitch from a young woman caught her eye.
The woman’s name was Charlotte Kaiser, though she used the name Kai in her work as a cartoonist, as well as onstage as lead singer and bass guitarist for the riot grrrl punk band ‘Bitchcake’. The name of the book she was pitching, as well as that of the lead character, was ‘Moxiegrrrl’.
The pitch was incredibly inventive, steeped in the lore of Ms. Moxie and Moxie Gal, while also serving as a fresh start. The lead character was a young woman named Delilah Delaford, adopted daughter of Iris. Delilah had been given up by Mary Lockheart’s roommate Sheryl following Steve McNeal’s abortion allegory storyline, at which point Iris Delaford took her in and raised her as her own. When the story opens, Delilah is an art student at Goldman College by day and frontwoman (stage name Lila D) for the band ‘Moxiegrrrl’ by night.
During her set one night, a rowdy group of fratboys throw pitchers of spoiled beer at the stage just as Delilah’s amplifier shorts out. The resulting electrochemical shock renders Delilah unconscious and when she comes to, she discovers that she’s acquired incredible yet vaguely defined powers. After a series of standalone adventures that establish some understanding of Delilah’s powers and set up her supporting cast, the stories become more serialized as she begins to explore the source of her powers and the legacy connected to them.
Goldman accepted the pitch and, thanks to her reputation and connections in publishing, soon had sufficient investment and support to begin production. The first issue of “Moxiegrrrl”, written and drawn by Kai, was released by the new Moxie Comics in May of 1992. Early reactions were strong, especially among women, and sales grew steadily throughout the year. Though encouraged to expand the roster of titles and build a superhero ‘universe’, the way other companies were doing, Goldman and Kaiser were cautious. They released only one other title that first year, a miniseries called “The Falcon Goddess”, which was a reimagining of the Miss Falcon character.
The final issue of “The Falcon Goddess” arrived in comic shops in July of 1993, in the middle of what came to be known as ‘the summer of glut’. It was the year when every overextended independent comic company folded under the weight of their own debts and expenses at the same time the rampant speculator market, fueled by variant covers and a plethora of new titles, imploded. Moxie Comics had shied away from variant covers, in all their hologram chromium glory, and other such gimmicks, focusing instead on releasing comic books with good stories and strong artwork that shipped on time. As such, they weathered the glut and emerged as one of the only independent publishers remaining when the dust settled.
Moxie Comics continued to publish “Moxiegrrrl”, along with another Falcon Goddess miniseries, and expanded into limited merchandising. Moxiegrrrl t-shirts were incredibly popular, and December of 1994 saw the release of a holiday themed EP titled “A Very Moxie Christmas” written and recorded by Kai and her Bitchcake bandmates but credited to Lila D and Moxiegrrrl. The album sold far better than Kaiser or Goldman anticipated, and by year end they were making enough from comics and merchandise to buy out their investors. Things were looking up for Moxie Comics.
Then, in 1995, two things happened that would change the company forever: Hollywood came calling, and Ellen Goldman suffered a debilitating stroke.