Trina Robbins has pushed for recognition, understanding, and appreciation of comics by women since the early 70s.
As a young girl, Trina Robbins knew she wanted to draw for a living, at a time when most girls dreamt of being nurses or secretaries, or doing other traditional female jobs. Not only did Robbins make her dream a reality, but she is also considered by many to be the first significant female underground comics artist of the 1960s. Additionally, Robbins is a founder of the first ongoing all-woman comic book, Wimmen’s Comix, and has written books that showcase female comic book writers as well as her own graphic novels for the past 40 years. While Robbins is pleased with the attention comic book writers are getting today, she misses the Wonder Woman of her youth.
Does your Jewish identity affect your writing in any way? If so, how?
Only mildly. Probably, if I were not Jewish, I would not know all about Hersch Glick, and even have a crush on him, and so want to adapt his wonderful song, “Zog Nit Keynmol,” into comic form with Sharon Rudahl, so more people would know about him. Possibly, being Jewish also affected my need to write a graphic novel about Lily Renee.
What inspired you to start creating comics? What about it has kept your interest/enthusiasm all these years?
In my early years, I was always writing and drawing (still writing!). When the other girls of my age would talk about what they wanted to do when they grew up (not many choices in those days: secretary, nurse, teacher, stewardess), I knew that I wanted to write and draw, so I decided I would write books and illustrate them. Of course, that’s what comics and graphic novels are.
You were interviewed for the recent documentary Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines, a critique of gender and heroism in pop culture. What were your feelings about Wonder Woman, in particular, and how have they evolved over the last 60 years?
As a girl I adored Wonder Woman – the original Golden Age Wonder Woman – but she has gone through so many changes through the years that she is no longer the iconic Amazon princess that she once was. Because she is only a comic character, she is a slave to whoever writes and draws her, so she at various times has been rendered in a hypersexual way, falling out of the top of her tiny top, and her bottom wedged into a thong bikini; she has been depowered, dressed in a white catsuit, lost her mother and the other Amazons when they wound up in another dimension, and become owner of a boutique. None of these are the Wonder Woman who inspired me as a girl.
Were you encouraged or discouraged by your parents/siblings to create comic books?
My parents neither discouraged me nor encouraged me. They left me alone to read whatever I wanted, because they knew that all the comics in the world would not stop me from also reading books.
Of all your projects – including your comic books AND the books you’ve written about the industry – is there one that is most dear to your heart today, and why?
I’m always proudest of the most recent of my books, and I am very proud of my latest history of women cartoonists, Pretty in Ink. However, two books that I’ll always hold dear to my heart are Choices, a pro-choice benefit book for NOW that I edited and co-published, and Strip AIDS USA, a book to benefit AIDS causes that I co-edited. Both were nonprofits that made some good money for good causes. I suppose I’m also pretty proud of It Ain’t Me, Babe comics, the very first ever all-woman comic book, produced by me in 1970.
As a comics “herstorian,” do you feel female comic book writers are finally getting the credit they deserve? If so, how and why? If not, what remains to be done?
Yes, they actually are, writers and artists both! This is because of the advent and popularity of graphic novels. The majority of women do not tend to draw or read comics about big-jawed, overly muscled guys in ugly costumes beating each other up, and for years, the industry was dominated by superhero comics that mostly appealed to and were aimed at young men. But since the late 1990s, graphic novels have been steadily growing, and they don’t have to be about superheroes (and mostly they are not!), so many women are now writing and drawing graphic novels. Last July, at the San Diego Comic-Con, the largest pop culture con in America, when it came time to give out the Eisner awards, which are the Oscars of the comic industry, there were more women on that stage receiving awards than ever before.
What would you like your legacy to be in the world of comic books?
Well, I’ve pushed for recognition, understanding, and appreciation of comics by women since the early 70s, so maybe that’s my legacy.
About the Author
Award-winning herstorian and writer Trina Robbins has been writing books, comics, and graphic novels for over 40 years. Her 2009 book, The Brinkley Girls: the Best of Nell Brinkley’s Cartoons from 1913-1940 (Fantagraphics), and her 2011 book, Tarpe Mills and Miss Fury, were nominated for Eisner awards and Harvey awards. Her all-ages graphic novel, Chicagoland Detective Agency: The Drained Brains Caper, the first in a six-book series, was a Junior Library Guild Selection. Her graphic novel, Lily Renee, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer, was awarded a gold medal from Moonbeam Children’s Books and a silver medal from Sydney Taylor Jewish Library Awards. Trina’s most recent book is Pretty in Ink: American Women Cartoonists 1896–2013, her final and definitive history of women cartoonists. In 2013, Trina was voted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame.
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