Sally the Sleuth

Created by Adolphe Barreaux
Pseudonyms include Charles Barr

One of the oldest comic strip heroes ever, predating even the Man of Steel, SALLY THE SLEUTH first popped up in the November 1934 issue of Culture Publication’s Spicy Detective pulp mag, in a steamy little two-page comic back-up feature, nestled in there amongst all the other steamy little prose short stories and novellas of square-jawed, hard-boiled cops and private dicks, and trembling (and half-dressed) damsels in distress.

Sally, of course, was often depicted less than half-dressed, though she wasn’t much for trembling. She was nobody’s bimbo.

The basic scenario of most of her early adventures was pretty much set in concrete right in that debut. In two black and white pages (twelve panels in all), Sally, initially fully dressed in a business-like fashion, is dispatched by her private detective boss “The Chief” to investigate some nefarious criminal or another, often going undercover as a showgirl or some other role that required some rather suggestive attire and behaviour.

Thanks to her sharp (and often miraculously intuitive) detective skills (and the fact that men often think with their dicks, and never suspect someone as attractive as Sally could ever pose a threat to them), she soon gets the goods on the culprit, only to have the tables turned on her, whereupon she finds herself at the mercy of the villain and his henchmen, in some state of undress (usually bra and panties), fearing for her life… or worse. Bondage and the threat of rape are common scenarios, and dungeons and whips show up with alarming frequency.

Occasionally Sally has backup, in the form of Peanuts, a disturbing little kid who seems to be there mostly to leer at Sally’s predicament and/or run to get help. Fortunately, Sally doesn’t have to rely constantly on the pint-size perv — she’s actually quite resourceful and often has a gun hidden somewhere (don’t ask), and somehow usually manages to escape on her own.

Throughout her run in Spicy Detective (and its retitled, allegedly slightly toned down successor, Speed Detective), Sally’s adventures rarely strayed far from the formula. Her last appearance in Speed Detective, “Night Club Trail,” even featured a cameo by Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner (whose own comic adventures were drawn by Barreaux), but Culture wasn’t done with her yet.

Sally popped up in another of their pulps, Private Detective, in a handful of eight-page adventures, and those final stories were reprinted (and colourized) in the Crime Smashers comic book, under Culture’s Trojan imprint.

In those eight-page stories, the rigid six-panel layouts were gone, the sleaziness was turned down slightly (as in, Sally managed to solve crimes without stripping down to her undies, although she did seem to have an inordinate number of wardrobe malfunctions) and the plots became slightly more complex, but the basic “Sally investigates. Sally gets captured. Sally escapes” plotlines rarely changed, whether the villains were lecherous crimelords, sexual fiends or Nazis.

But two-page black and white or eight-pages of colour, Sally remained upbeat and resourceful, determined and cheerful, always ready to crack wise and go wherever “The Chief” sent her. In later strips, it’s hinted that The Chief and his plucky “girl assistant” were romantically involved, but that’s as far as that went.

The saving grace, for me at least, was that Sally was shown to be smart and inventive, and a pretty shrewd detective (increasingly so in the later stories, in fact), despite her at times reckless naivetée, and that she manages to save herself at least as often as she’s rescued, as Hope Nicholson’s The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen pointedly notes.

All in all, Sally’s adventures were hardly the good clean fun they were no doubt once intended as. The whiff of sleazy voyeurism and rape-as-entertainment haven’t aged well, although the original stories are still enjoyable as cheese; almost touching at times in their simplistic innocence.

Hardly a feminist role model, then, but in her own way, wide-eyed Sally paved the way for later, more empowered and enlightened female sleuths, and as The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen concludes, “Sally the Sleuth is one of the original female heroines in comics, and she should be celebrated accordingly… because of her roots as a fetish detective heroine, hers might be one part of history you don’t want your kids to read, even if it was your grandparents who created her.”


During his long career, Adolphe Barreaux worked as an artist, illustrator and writer, and ran his own advertising agency. By the early thirties, he had begun drawing illustrations for many of Harry Donenfeld’s Culture Publications, and he soon convinced Donenfeld to take a chance on featuring a Sally the Sleuth comic as a feature in his pulps. The first comic appeared in the November 1934 issue of Spicy Detective, and it was an immediate hit. Soon many of the Spicy titles were featuring similar comics, including the afore-mentioned Dan Turner, as well as Diana Daw, Marcia of the Movies, Polly of the Plains, The Astounding Adventures of Olga Messmer, The Girl with the X-Ray Eyes, and Vera Ray, most of them done by Barreaux or his agency. It was the start of a long relationship, with Barreaux eventually going on to serve as editor for many of Donenfeld’s pulp and comic publications, including Crime Fiction Stories, Hollywood Detective, Pocket Detective Magazine, Private Detective Stories, Super-Detective and Crime Smashers, which ran reprints and new stories featuring Sally.


All by Adolphe Barreaux, unless otherwise noted

  • “A Narrow Escape” (November 1934, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Dart of Death” (December 1934, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The White Slave Peril” (January 1935, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Underground Peril” (February 1935, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Crimson Menace” (March 1935, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Murder Mania” (April 1935, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Kidnap Trail” (May 1935, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Tiger’s Lair” (June 1935, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Smuggler’s Snare” (July 1935, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Counterfeit Trail” (August 1935, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Love Nest Loot” (September 1935, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Jeweled Clue” (November 1935, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Opium Trail” (December 1935, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Rough and Racy” (January 1936, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Maid to Order” (February 1936, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Midnight Ransom” (March 1936, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Murder in Wax” (April 1936, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Spy Trail” (May 1936, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Spider” (June 1936, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Amateur Moll” (July 1936, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Scarab Murder” (August 1936, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Avenging Corpse” (September 1936, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Sin Ship” (October 1936, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “‘She Won’t Talk'” (November 1936, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Toy of Fate” (January 1937, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Matinee Murder” (February 1937, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Trail of Terror” (March 1937, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Missing-Models Mystery” (April 1937, Saucy Detective Stories; by Paul Jason)
  • “Fallen Star” (May 1937, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Murder with Music” (August 1937, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Murder Trust” (September 1937, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Hot Cargo” (October 1937, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Sewer Horror” (December 1937, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Coke for Co-eds” (January 1938, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Hidden Corpse” (February 1938, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Hidden Corpse — conclusion” (March 1938, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Tourist Trade” (June 1938, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Waterfront Trail” (August 1938, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Rogues in Rags” (September 1938, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Crime in Color” (October 1938, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Scarab of Death” (November 1938, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Murder Mystery” (February 1939, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Secret Formula” (February 1939, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “???” (May 1939, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “A Tale of Heads” (July 1939, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Murder in Focus” (August 1939, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Torso Murders” (September 1939, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “???” (October 1939, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Human Contraband” (November 1939, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Stand-In” (December 1939, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “???” (January 1940, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Locked Room Mystery” (March 1940, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “???” (April 1940, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Perfume of Danger” (June 1940, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Doll in Danger” (July 1940, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Spider Web” (August 1940, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “???” (September 1940, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “A Dangerous Mission” (October 1940, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Fifth Column Case” (November 1940, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Peril in Panama” (December 1940, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “House of Horror” (March 1941, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Hawaiian Spy Hunt” (April 1941, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Trail of Lost Girls” (June 1941, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Unwelcome Visitor” (December 1941, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “???” (January 1942, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “???” (April 1942, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Winning Her Stripes” (June 1942, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “???” (July 1942, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “The Yellow Spider” (August 1942, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Caribbean Conspiracy” (October 1942, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Sabotaging the Saboteurs” (December 1942, Spicy Detective Stories)
  • “Dictator of the Zombies” (January 1943, Speed Detective Stories)
  • “Nazi Rats in the Beer Vats” (February 1943, Speed Detective Stories)
  • “Terror in the Swamp” (March 1943, Speed Detective Stories)
  • “Peril in the Deep” (April 1943, Speed Detective Stories)
  • “A Sweet Racket” (May 1943, Speed Detective Stories)
  • “Night Club Trail” (June 1943, Speed Detective Stories)
    Sally’s last appearance in Speed Detective features a cameo by… Dan Turner.
  • “Tumbling Corpse” (February 1949, Private Detective Stories)
  • “Death at the Ball” (April 1949, Private Detective Stories)
  • “Death Bait” (June 1949, Private Detective Stories; by Charles Barr)
  • “Dirty Politics” (September 1949, Private Detective; by Charles Barr)
  • “Film of Murder” (December 1949, Private Detective; by Charles Barr)
  • “Ghostly Quest” (January 1950, Private Detective; by Charles Barr)
  • “Death from the Jungle” (February 1950, Spicy Detective; by Jerry Altman & Charles Barr)
  • “Murder at the Carnival” (March 1950, Private Detective; by Charles Barr)
  • “Death Rolls a Strike” (April 1950, Private Detective; by Charles Barr)
  • “Sally the Sleuth” (May 1950, Private Detective; by Charles Barr)
  • “Peril in the Flames” (June 1950, Private Detective; by Charles Barr)
  • “Blonde Decoy” (August 1950, Private Detective; by Keats Petree)
  • “Secret Formula” (???, Spicy Detective Stories)


    (1950-53, Trojan Magazines)
    Writers: Adolphe Barreaux (also as Charles Barr)
    Artists: Adolphe Barreaux (also as Charles Barr), Joe Kubert, Jerry Altman, Wally Wood, Pierre Charpentier, Keats Petree, Max Plaisted
    Editor: Adolphe Barreaux

    • “Death Bait” (October 1950; #1)
    • “Sally the Sleuth” (December 1950; #2; by Joe Kubert [art])
    • “Death from the Jungle” (December 1950; #2; by Jerry Altman [art])
    • “Dirty Politics” (February 1951; #3; by Charles Barr)
    • “The Carnival Murder” (April 1951; #4; by Jerry Altman [art])
    • “Murder Wears a Mask” (July 1951; #5; Wally Wood [art])
    • “Peril in the Flames” (September 1951; #6)
    • “Death Rolls a Strike” (November 1951; #7; Max Plaised [art])
    • “Death by Appointment” (June 1952; #8; by Keats Petree)
    • “Blonde Decoy” (March 1952; #9; Keats Petree [art])
    • “Death Watch” (May 1952; #10)
    • “Ghostly Quest” (July 1952; #11; Charles Barr)
    • “Tumbling Corpses” (September 1952; #12)
    • “Film of Murder” (November 1952;s #13; Pierre Charpentier [art])
    • “The Prowling Cat” (January 1953; #14)
    • “Back from the Dead” (March 1953; #15; Ray McClelland, Pierre Charpentier [art])



  • June 9, 2021
    This early (1934) comic heroine predated Superman, and specialized in two things: always getting her man & wardrobe malfunctions. Definitely not woke, but important.


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith, with boatloads of gratitude to Hope Nicholson, author of The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen, for her help here.

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