Lily Renée
Born Lily Renée Wilheim
1925 (age 94–95)
Vienna, Austria
Nationality Austrian-American
Area(s) Artist
Pseudonym(s) L. Renée
Lily Renée
Notable works Senorita Rio

Lily Renée Wilheim Peters Phillips, (born Lily Renée Wilheim, c. 1925, Vienna, Austria), often credited as L. Renée, Lily Renée, or Reney, is an Austrian-American artist, writer, and playwright. She escaped from Nazi-occupied Vienna to England and later New York, whereupon she found work as a penciler at Fiction House on such titles as The Werewolf Hunter, Jane Martin and Senorita Rio.

Early life

Wilheim came from a well-off Viennese Jewish family, and was surrounded by art and culture from an early age. At the age of six, she had her first exhibition of her art from her school art class. Around that time, her mother entered her photograph into a contest where first prize was a movie contract; she won, but her father would not allow her to go into show business.

When she was about 13, the Anschluss happened, and the majority of Viennese welcomed the Nazis. She was no longer allowed to attend school, and her parents started a nearly two year effort to get her out of the country. Having taken English in school, she had a British penpal named Molly Kealy, and the Wilheims appealed to the Kealys to send her a visitors permit. When it finally arrived, her family put her on the Kindertransport in late 1939. She landed in Leeds, England, and went to stay with the Kealys in nearby Horseforth. Mrs. Kealy, however, seemed to think that by bringing her over, they were getting an unpaid servant.

After war officially broke out, about a month later, Mrs. Kealy pointed out that she didn't even know if her parents were even alive anymore. That day, Phillips walked into Leeds and applied at an employment agency, quickly securing work as a mother's helper. She also worked as a servant, a caretaker, and a candy striper whose job it was to bring the newborns down the shelter whenever the air-raid sirens went off. She also attempted to find her parents work as servants, which was the easiest way to get anyone into England. Two families came close to agreeing, but backed out last minute because they were afraid her parents were too like their own peers and that the situation would be uncomfortable; "They did not see that it was a matter of life or death," she said later.[1]

About 18 months after she left Austria, her parents had managed to secure passage to the United States by trading two buildings they owned with the Nazis, and she soon received a letter from them. Unfortunately, her passage was hindered by their earlier attempt to retain their valuables: they had given her their expensive Leica camera to take out of the country, and she had once lied about it to a Scotland Yard agent. She was required to check in once a week and was not allowed to move. She sneaked away to London in the middle of the night, but she was again detained at the waterfront. However, a stranger negotiated her release and she secured passage to New York. She found out later, after the war, that two of her uncles and an aunt were killed by the Nazis.


Fight Comics 47 Renée

Renée's cover to Fight Comics #47 (Dec. 1946) depicting Senorita Rio.

In New York City, her family lived in one room under the roof in a building on 72nd Street on the West Side, along with other refugees. She took whatever odd jobs she could get to raise money, including painting boxes with Tyrolean designs, posing as a model for fashion illustrator Jane Turner, and illustrating the Woolworth's catalog for 50 cents an hour. She also took night classes at the Art Students League and the School of Visual Arts. One day in late 1942, her mother showed her an advertisement looking for comics artists. Knowing nothing of comics, she scoffed at first, but her mother suggested all she needed to do was "draw Tarzan and Jane." [2] The publisher, Fiction House's flagship character was Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, and Phillips secured the job.

Her first job was erasing the stray pencil lines of the other artists after they had been inked. The male artists frequently also scribbled obscene notes to her, and stared at her as she walked by "as if they were undressing me".[2] She hated the job and frequently cried herself to sleep. But her desire to prove herself and the good pay ($18 a week) trumped her urge to quit, and she soon started penciling her own work.

Her first penciling job was for a character called Jane Martin, a female pilot working in the all-male aviation industry. Later she was given The Werewolf Hunter, about a professor and monster hunter, a strip that she said that no one else wanted. She convinced the writer that it should be a general supernatural title, gave him story ideas (all of which he used) and infused it with the Viennese art nouveau and German fairy tales that she grew up with. Her art evoked German expressionist films and her women were dressed in the high fashion of the day. She later took over Senorita Rio in 1944 and became the artist most identified with the character. She received a lot of fan mail from soldiers overseas (who all referred to her as "Mr. Renée") and occasionally wrote back and sent sketches, as a token of her appreciation for them fighting Nazis.

In 1947 she married artist Eric Peters, another Viennese refugee 22 years her senior. He had been a political cartoonist, and after drawing a caricature of Joseph Goebbels, the Gestapo showed up at his house to arrest him. However, he was not home at the time, and he was tipped off they were waiting for him, so he borrowed a pair of skis and escaped over the Alps. In 1948, after Fiction House moved out of New York, she and Peters went to work for St. John Publications. They worked on Abbott & Costello comics together, with him drawing the comedians and her drawing the women and inking. She also drew romance stories for St. John.

Like many creators in the Golden Age of Comic Books, she was embarrassed to be working in comics, but at the same time she also says that she had fun doing it and thrilled at seeing her covers on the newsstand. She approached her job as if she was a movie director, drawing all the sets, costumes, and actors.

Later life

By 1949, her marriage to Peters had ended and she married an American named Randolph Phillips, with whom she had a son and a daughter. She left comics for nearly 50 years until cartoonist/historian Trina Robbins tracked her down. Her children never knew she drew comics until she told her grandchildren. When her children were young, she wrote two children's books, Red is the Heart about "a boy [who] invents colors through his feelings" and Magic Next Door, a juvenile detective story.[1] She also illustrated a book called Battle of the Bees by Carl Ewald and a version of Aesop's Fables.

After her husband died in 1982, she started to take college classes in philosophy and English literature at Hunter College. After writing a dialogue for her Ancient Chinese Philosophy term paper, she became interested in playwriting. She has written five plays, one of which called Dial God, was produced and performed at Hunter.

In 2007, she attended her first comic book convention, Comic-Con International in San Diego, and Friends of Lulu nominated her to their Hall of Fame. She still lives in Manhattan, near Madison Avenue.

In 2011, Lerner Publishing Group's Graphic Universe line released a graphic biography of Phillips for young readers entitled Lily Renée: Escape Artist, scripted by Robbins with art by Anne Timmons[3]



  • Abbott and Costello [1948-1949]
  • Cinderella Love (1954) #28
    • "I Was A Campus Cutup"
  • Diary Secrets (1952) #10, 19, 30
    • "Was I Too Young for Love?"
    • "We Fought for Our Love"
    • "Remodeled for Romance"
  • Fight Comics (1940) #34-44, 47-51
    • Senorita Rio [1944-1948]
  • Jumbo Comics (1938) #154, 156, 160
  • Kaänga Comics (1949) #9
    • "Tabu" story
  • Kitty (1948) #1
  • Pictorial Romances (1950) #15
    • "For Nurses Only"
  • Planet Comics (1940) #28-49, 68, 70
    • Lost World [1944-1947]
    • Mysta of the Moon [1945]
    • Norge Benson [1944]
  • Rangers of Freedom/Ranger Comics (1941) #14-40
    • The Werewolf Hunter [1943-1948]
  • Teen-Age Diary Secrets (1949)
    • "Dishonest Kisses Were My Downfall"
  • Teen-Age Romances (1949) #1-2, 4
    • "Was I Too Young for Love?" (reprint)
    • "We Couldn't Be Kept Apart"
    • "They Called Me a Love Thief"
    • "I'll Not Date in August"
  • Toyland Comics (1947) #2-3
    • Fifi on the Farm [1947]
  • Wings Comics (1940) #31-48
    • Jane Martin [1943]


  • America's Greatest Comics (2002) #14
    • "Senorita Rio" story from Fight Comics #50
  • Good Girl Art Quarterly (1990) #5
    • "Senorita Rio" story from Fight Comics #35
  • Rio Rita (1994) one-shot
    • stories from Fight Comics (1940) #43, 47
  • Romance Without Tears TPB (2003)
    • "Was I Too Young for Love?"
    • "We Couldn't Be Kept Apart"


  1. 1.0 1.1 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). 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Quinlan, Adriane (9 August 2010). "A Real Life Comic Book Superhero". Newsweek. 
  3. Robbins, Trina (2011). Lily Renee, escape artist : from Holocaust survivor to comic book pioneer. London: Graphic Universe. ISBN 9780761381143. 

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