HUMBLE MAN VERSUS THE DIVA: The Story of Cartoonist, Bill Woggon, and Retro Comic Book Diva, Katy Keene, as Told by Members of the Woggon Family

by Maureen Foley

In 1945, a relatively unknown cartoonist named Bill Woggon first drew Katy Keene, the character that would launch his extensive career as a comic book artist and change the course of his family’s life forever. At the time, neither the Woggon family nor Bill could have predicted that this raven-haired vixen would eventually inspire the family to move from Ohio to California and would provide a steady paycheck for the next ten years. In the beginning, Katy Keene was just a minor character in the back of Wilbur Comics, Issue #5. Soon, though, the model and aspiring actress gained such popularity that she was awarded her own comic book, published by Archie from 1949 to 1961. For over a decade, Katy (through Bill Woggon’s drawings and stories) delighted her fans with her killer curves, to-die-for fashion, and sassy personality. But, unlike any comics before or since, Woggon relied on drawings sent in by fans as inspiration for many of Katy’s outfits. Woggon then credited the young artist and listed their address beneath the image, instantly creating a hugely loyal fan base and Katy Keene community.

But this is not simply the story of Bill Woggon’s success with Katy Keene. This is the story of a loyal father and supportive grandfather who happened to draw comics. Just as he nurtured Katy, and her community of fans, Woggon won the hearts of his own family by showing a level of engagement in their their daily lives unusual for many fathers of that era. This is the story of the super-dad, capable of being both a career man and engaged father, long before sensitive new age guys, working mothers, and gender politics became part of the everyday lexicon. And now, as Katy Keene celebrates her 60th birthday, it is time to ask: how did Bill Woggon do it? Unfortunately, Bill Woggon cannot answer the question himself; he passed away in 2003. But according to Woggon’s daughter, Susie Bothke, it was her dad’s personality that helped him blossom as a cartoonist and father, “I think he had an artist’s temperment: mellow and creative. [I am impressed] by how he affirmed each one of us. He treated us well, with discipline. In that era when men didn’t always relate to kids, he would talk to you like you’re a big person. He was a good dad.” But before delving into Bill Woggon, take a minute to meet the woman who started it all, the incomparable Katy Keene.


Introducing comic book diva Katy Keene. She’s hot. She’s glamorous. And she’s 60. But before you offer her a glass of prune juice and some retirement advice, rememeber that, unlike their human counterparts, comic book characters can defy age wtihout the assistance of Botox or face-lifts. Instead, Katy Keene lives eternally youthful through the magical immortality potion of ink recorded on paper. Aside from her age-defying secret, the real mystery surrounding Katy is the question of her orgins. Who was the inspiration for Katy Keene? Unfortunately, the answer to that question may never be known. As Bill Woggon, Jr. said, “No one could ever get a definitive answer [from Dad] about who [Katy Keene] was, although other characters were patterned or taken over by [real people].”

Though her orgins remain murky, the fact remains that Katy Keene and Bill Woggon touched thousands of fans. A few even took Woggon’s artistic support to heart, after he published their drawing designs, and pursued careers in the arts. The Woggons met and stayed in touch with some of those enthusiastic fans, over the years, including John Lucas, Barbara Rausch and Floyd Norman, a fan from Santa Barbara who eventually worked for Woggon as an assistant when he young, before moving on to work at tk:Hanna Barbera. As Bill Woggon, Jr. recalled, “One of the highlights of my dad’s career was the kids that went into art because of his encouragement they got from my father and the comic books.” Besides the exceptional fans, many more typical fans became pen pals (Woggon published each artist’s address when he credited their designs).
Katy’s adventures as a model and aspiring actress captured the wholesome, playful, fashion-filled reality of a boy-obsessed 1950s girl. A typical issue included hundreds of different outfits, puns, numerous paper doll cut-outs, a scene with Katy’s annoying little sister (Sis the Candy Kid), a catty argument between Katy and her enemy Gloria, and Katy fawning over her boyfriend, the boxer K.O. Kelly. For her adventures, she traveled the world, and her fashions changed accordingly. But where did Woggon, who both drew and wrote the stories, get the hundreds of ideas, for the monthly comic and the semi-annual fashion specials? Besides using his fans’ drawings for outfits, Bothke said that her father gathered inspiration “from real life, his sense of humor, situation comedy, movie stuff. I really don’t know how he kept that going. I remember the strip he did about people and their dogs. He drew all these people on the street looking like their animals. I don’t know where it all came from. It came out of him.” And unlike Katy, who seems to have been conjured from thin air, Bill Woggon, Jr. said that Gloria was based on his mom, Susie Bothke inspired Sis the Candy Kid and K.O. Kelly was based on Bill Woggon’s father, also a boxer.

During Katy Keene’s run, Woggon created over 120 different full comic books, each with hundreds of drawings, clothing designs, scenes and narrative arcs. Woggon’s achievement, with Katy Keene alone is staggering. But when added to his other projects, including other comics and comic books, his total contribution to the comic book world is enormous.Still, Katy remained the queen of his castle and his only truly commercial success. After her decline in the late 1950s due to television’s rising popularity with the teen market, Archie cancelled Katy Keene in 1961. Though she enjoyed a brief resurgence in popularity in the 1970s after Saks Fifth Avenue used Katy covers as window dressing, Katy has mostly gone underground, with a cult following.

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