Portrayals of women with dragons continued to rise throughout the 1970s, boosted by the rising genre of adult comics, forerunners to today’s graphic novels. The French magazine Metal Hurlant (Howling Metal) showcased many of these new artists like Caza, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Moebius, who later went on to design book covers and movie and TV production design. Two years later an American version was licensed and renamed Heavy Metal. Adult comics, in the Metal magazine family, meant more artistic sophistication as well as more gore, sex, nudity, and a kind of dumb, counterculture cynicism. A common subject matter for the American cover was an over endowed woman posing with or riding some fantastic beast.
Let’s be frank, “adult” in this context meant plenty of female objectification as well (The editors of America’s National Lampoon magazine were the ones who shipped Heavy Metal over the Atlantic.) Yet it also showed women as singular, powerful warriors. Perhaps male titillation for domination fantasies?
This Heavy Metal image, adapted later for promo campaign for the animated movie of the same name, by artist Chris Achilleos shows the popular character Taarna on her dragon, which is a pterosaur-like creature originally created by Moebius. It’s a pose that harkens back to the hippie black light poster I posted earlier, but this time the woman wields a sword and wears leather armor, not flowing robes. She’s out for business. In the movie this image advertises, she doesn’t even speak. She’s a solitary avenger, unlike Pern’s Lessa who is embedded within a social matrix of dragonriders. Though a leader and organizer, Lessa was not a fighter, and she became who she was only by virtue of being bonded to a fertile female dragon, Ramoth. Taarna exists by herself. I can’t help but feel this speaks to the rising status of women in the seventies.
Luis Royo’s version of Taarna, who is posing somewhat lacklusterly. Royo also did artwork for Heavy Metal, as did many SFF and comics artists like William Stout, Jim Burns, Chris Achilleos, Angus McKie, Sanjulian, Greg Hildebrandt and Charles Burns.
The dragon-riding female warrior had entered the 1980s with a bang, and she was later followed in the mid-1980s by Kitiara and her Blue Dragon, Skie. Kitiara was a character in the Dragonlance series of novels written by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman, the first books carrying the TSR novel imprint using AD&D themes and monsters. The books were generated from a massive roleplaying session of the Dragonlance gaming modules, which author Tracy Hickman had developed together with his wife Laura Hickman. The purpose of the Dragonlance modules was to highlight the ten dragon types as the core monsters of the game, which TSR felt the game was moving away from.
Kitiara was a human who was the childhood friend, and sweetheart, of Tanis, the half-elf hero and perhaps main character of the books. The passionate yet unprincipled daughter of a mercenary, she rose through the ranks to became an evil-aligned dragon Highlord, riding a Blue Dragon (second only to the Red in the AD&D universe) named Skie. One of the original series’ highlights was her seducing Tanis in enemy territory near the huge, churning whirlpool known as the Blood Sea.
Kitiara was the only female dragon Highlord in the books. Though evil by her company, her most heinous acts were against Laurana, her rival for Tanis’s affections. As such she served as the typically jealous ex-girlfriend, a trope that was problematic for me. But then, the books are not known for being high literature, or even good examples of fantasy literature. They were very popular however.
At the end of the series and its many sequels, it was revealed that Kitiara was yanked down into Hell by Lord Soth, a rather ignoble end for such a strong female character. I can’t help feel that authorially it was a kind of punishment for a woman reaching beyond her station. The other notable female characters in Dragonlance, in contrast, did not ride dragons, although one WAS a dragon. But that’s different.