Mark Evanier, a writer and comics historian, had helped bring Kelly out from Florida to Comic-Con to receive the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing as presented by the Eisner Awards. She was the first woman to write scripts for the Wonder Woman comics, but because she had done so under the studio’s house pseudonym of “Charles Moulton” in the 1940s, her place had nearly been lost to comics history.
Kelly, who died Monday at age 97, left the comic-book business shortly after World War II, becoming a wife and mother and later a stockbroker. But when Harvard University professor Jill Lepore published “The Secret History of Wonder Woman” in 2014, the author shined a light on Kelly’s secret role as Golden Age shaper of the Amazonian character. And so here, a year after the film “Wonder Woman” was a zeitgeist hit with the masses, Kelly walked into the center San Diego spotlight — for a live panel alongside Evanier and Eisner Hall of Fame cartoonist and historian Trina Robbins.
“In all my years of Comic-Conning, I can’t recall another moment when the audience was so eager to give someone a long, loving ovation,” Evanier said Wednesday, “and the recipient was so delightfully surprised to be at an event like that receiving one.
“Joye told me it was the best weekend of her life, and I thought, ‘Imagine having the best weekend of your life when you’re 94!’”
Born Joye E. Hummel, Kelly was just 19 and a student at the Katharine Gibbs secretarial school in New York when she aced a psychology class taught by William Moulton Marston, co-creator of Wonder Woman. Impressed by her answers, he hired her as a studio assistant, and she graduated from typing scripts to writing them. A half-year later, when Marston was weakened by polio, she handled more and more writing. Her first story, “The Winged Maidens of Venus,” appeared in Wonder Woman No. 12, with a cover date of spring 1945, according to Lepore. She would work on Wonder Woman for a few years.
The author and comics editor Anina Bennett served as Kelly’s liaison for Comic-Con in 2018, accompanying her and her husband, Jack Kelly.
“Unsurprisingly, Joye turned out to be inspiring in many ways,” Bennett said. “She truly was a feminist writer, first of all, and her stories show it. Wonder Woman would’ve been a different series had she continued writing it.” Even during Marston’s lifetime, his Wonder Woman stories came under fire for how women were depicted, including frequent scenes of bondage.
“I was also inspired and charmed by the fact that Joye refused to discuss Marston’s personal life, which has been the subject of much speculation,” Bennett said. “She said it was nobody’s business. I loved her for that.” Marston lived with wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and partner Olive Byrne in a “nonconformist” way, according to Lepore’s book.
Bennett also fondly recalled Kelly’s live panel: “All the audience members in Wonder Woman costumes stood up, and it was beautiful. Everyone cheered, Joye beamed, and I cried.”
“It was pretty amazing. She was living history, a living connection to the original and, to me, the real Wonder Woman,” Robbins said. “I was so moved that I wound up giving her the Wonder Woman bracelet I was wearing.”
And when Kelly received her award to a standing ovation, she said, “I think I’m speechless,” according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I am so grateful to everyone here.”
Kelly briefly visited the cavernous Con floor, stopping by the DC Comics booth. “Joye liked commenting on all the different versions of Wonder Woman — I think [artist] Alex Ross’s was her favorite,” Bennett said. “She and I shared a love of the classic Wonder Woman who doesn’t carry a sword.”
And when Kelly liked the costume of one Wonder Woman cosplayer, Bennett was able to pose the fan next to the trailblazer.
“That photo, that moment — that is pure joy,” Bennett said. “That’s the magic of Comic-Con, when people give back love to those whose creative work has moved them.”