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Lily Renée Phillips[1] (born Lily Renée Willheim, May 12, 1921),[2][3] often credited as L. Renée, Lily Renée, or Reney, is an American artist best known as one of the earliest women in the comic-book industry, beginning in the 1940s periods known as the Golden Age of Comics. She escaped from Nazi-occupied Vienna to England and later New York, whereupon she found work as a penciller and inker at the comics publisher Fiction House, working on such features as "Jane Martin", "The Werewolf Hunter", "The Lost World" and "Senorita Rio".

Lily Renée
BornLily Renée Wilheim
(1921-05-12) May 12, 1921 (age 98)
Pseudonym(s)L. Renée
Lily Renée
Notable works
"Jane Martin"
"Señiorita Rio"
Abbott & Costello Comics
External image
Lily Renée, Books of Wonder, New York City, 2011. Archived from the original on December 6, 2017.


Early lifeEdit

Willheim was raised by well-to-do Jewish parents in Vienna, Austria, in the 1930s.[3] Her father, Rudolf Willheim, worked as a manager at the Holland America line, a transatlantic steamship company.[3] As a child, she frequented art museums and often drew as a hobby.[1]

In 1939[1] or 1938 at age 14,[3] Willheim was boarded onto the Kindertransport, leaving her parents behind in Nazi-occupied Austria. She arrived in Leeds, England, and lived there for two years, working as a servant, nanny and candy striper while waiting for her parents' escape.[1] When Willheim was 16, she received a letter from her parents saying they had emigrated to America.[1] After joining them, living in a rooming house on West 72nd Street on Manhattan's Upper West Side, she took up art again. In a 2006 interview, she explained,

At that time, I was painting Tyrolean designs on wooden boxes, and then I got a job on the 46th floor of Rockefeller Center at Reiss advertising agency. They paid me 50 cents an hour to draw catalogs for Woolworth's. And so I was making some money too and I was going to night school, and then I think I told you that my mother saw an ad in the paper for comic artists? I went to [the comic-book publisher] Fiction House and I was hired on a trial basis, and they kept me. And then after a year-and-a-half, I was doing covers and I got a big Christmas bonus....[4]

At some point, she studied at the Art Students League of New York and the School of Visual Arts.[4]


Fight Comics #47 (Dec. 1946), featuring Señiorita Rio. Cover art by Renée.

At Fiction House, which had sought women to replace its male artists who had been drafted into World War II, she worked as a penciler and inker alongside other female comic illustrators and writers including Nina Albright and Fran Hopper.[5]

By late 1942 or early 1943, by now using her first and middle names as a pen name, Renée was assigned the Fiction House feature "Jane Martin", starring a female pilot working in the male-dominated aviation industry. Her work on the feature, whose scripts are credited to the possibly pseudonymous "F.E. Lincoln", ran in Wings Comics #31-48 (March 1943 - Aug. 1944).[6]

She also illustrated the feature "The Werewolf Hunter", with scripts credited to "Armand Weygand" and "Armand Broussard", in Rangers Comics #14-38, 40 (Dec. 1943 - April 1948). She said in 2011 she had worked with the feature's writer to steer it from lycanthropy toward more general gothic horror, concerned that she could not properly draw wolves.[7] Other work included the science-fiction feature "The Lost World", with scripts credited to "Thornecliffe Herrick", in Planet Comics #32-49 (Sept. 1944 - July 1947); and "Señiorita Rio", about a South-of-the-border adventuress doing wartime espionage for the U.S. government, with scripts credited to "Morgan Hawkins" and appearing in Fight Comics #34-44, 47-51 (Oct. 1944 - Aug. 1947).[6] While Señiorita Rio, a.k.a. actress Rita Farrar, was designed by artist Nick Cardy in 1942, "Renée," writes historian Don Markstein, "was probably the one who became most strongly associated with the character."[8]

In 1948, after Fiction House moved out of New York,[citation needed] Renée and her artist husband, Eric Peters, began working at St. John Publications. They shared penciling and inking duties on Abbott & Costello Comics, illustrating the majority of issues from #2-34 (April 1948 - Dec. 1955), and Renée additionally drew romance stories in issues of St. John's Teen-Age Diary Secrets and Teen-Age Romances.[6] The two also drew comic books for the dairy company Borden, starring mascot Elsie the Cow.[4]

After she left comics, Renée said she "did some children's books and I also wrote some plays", with at least one, the black comedy Superman in Sleep's Embrace, produced at Hunter College in Manhattan. She designed textiles for Lanz of California, and jewelry for Willy Woo.[4]

In 2007, Renée attended Comic-Con International in San Diego, where Friends of Lulu nominated her to its Hall of Fame.[1]

Personal lifeEdit

Renée had an early first marriage that was annulled.[4] She later married Eric Peters, another Viennese refugee and a cartoonist whose work appeared in such glossy magazines as Collier's and The Saturday Evening Post.[4] That marriage ended, and, she said in 2006, "My only real marriage was to Randolph Phillips," a politically active financial consultant who in the 1940s directed the American Civil Liberties Union's national committee for conscientious objectors, and in 1972 chaired the National Committee for Impeachment.[9] The couple had a daughter, Nina, and a son, Rick.[4] As of 2010, Renée had lived 40 years in an apartment on Madison Avenue in New York City.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Adriane Quinlan (July 30, 2010). "A Real-Life Comic-Book Superhero". Newsweek. Archived from the original on May 17, 2016. Retrieved August 25, 2015.
  2. ^ 1939 Register England and Wales
  3. ^ a b c d Robbins, Trina (2011). Lily Renée, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer. Lerner Publishing Group / Graphic Universe. ISBN 978-0761381143. Retrieved August 25, 2015. In 1938, Lily Renée Willheim is a 14-year-old Jewish girl living in Vienna.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Renée in Robbins, Trina (November 29, 2006). "Lily Renée Interview". The Comics Journal. Archived from the original on February 28, 2007.
  5. ^ Gabillet, Jean-Paul (2009). Of Comics and Men: A Cultural History of American Comic Books. University Press of Mississippi. p. 114. ISBN 978-1604732672. Retrieved August 25, 2015.
  6. ^ a b c Lily Renée at the Grand Comics Database.
  7. ^ Dickman, Alexa (November 9, 2011). "Meeting Golden Age Art Goddess Lily Renée". Archived from the original on July 18, 2016. Retrieved December 6, 2017.
  8. ^ Señiorita Rio at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on September 29, 2015.
  9. ^ Waggoner, Walter H. (October 12, 1982). "Randolph G. Phillips, 71, Dies; Led Many Stockholder Fights". The New York Times. Retrieved December 6, 2017. survived by his wife, the former Lily Willheim [sic]...

Further readingEdit

  • Amash, Jim (May 2009). "'I'm Not Typical for Doing Comics, You Know!': The Life and Times of Golden Age Artist Lily Renée". Alter Ego. 3 (85).

External linksEdit