JUST BECAUSE Trina Robbins is a recent inductee into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame, don’t encase her career under glass and entomb her future aspirations so hastily.
“I ain’t dead yet. I still write and do write and want to write,” Robbins tells The Post’s Comic Riffs, ahead of her National Book Festival appearance on Saturday night. “Please don’t think I’m carved in marble.”
And the Bay Area-based cartoonist continues to champion women creators as an author, and she remains an ever-vital voice at conventions and in the media. Comic Riffs caught up with Robbins to talk about both the scope of her past and the shape of her industry’s present:
MICHAEL CAVNA: For so long, so many women comics creators and talents have been not only underappreciated, but also essentially invisible to history — going at least as far back as Rose O’Neill’s day [with an 1890s comic]. Judging from your years of devoted work and scholarship, what do you think are the most effective ways to train a new light and appreciation on so many of these women? For you, is it about a full-court press, as it were, of your authorship and profiles of these figures, and convention panels, and media interviews — anything to raise awareness?
TRINA ROBBINS: Not just my authorship, but everyone’s — Nancy Goldstein wrote a wonderful book about Jackie Ormes, the major African American woman cartoonist, for instance. Every time another book about early women cartoonists comes out, more young women read the books and get inspired, not to mention all the teachers who introduce their students to the books.
I just came back from a conference in Brazil, where I met with scores of beautiful and talented young women who had read my books, and when I delivered the keynote speech, I got a standing ovation. My big epiphany when researching my books was: If you’re not written about, you’re forgotten. And of course, all those comics histories by men — they just want to write about Jack Kirby, so until I started writing my histories nobody knew about these wonderful women and they were forgotten. But no more!
MC: In writing and editing “Babes in Arms” [subtitled: “Women in the Comics During World War Two"], what did you yourself discover … in doing your research that most surprised, engaged or pleaded you?
TR: Actually, I was not surprised to see that when women draw comics, they draw beautiful, strong women who fight the bad guys and win and don’t need to be rescued by some guy — because I already knew that!
MC: At least since Crumb’s early comix, you’ve been vocal about what you view as sexism and misogyny in comics — from indie comics to Wonder Woman. What about today — do you see such sexism and misogyny as having lessened in more recent years in comics, or is it as much of a constant as ever?
TR: There’s much less misogyny in comics today, down from a high point in the “Bad Girl” ’90s, but still every now and then, something happens like some editor at Marvel whose brain hiccups and when he regains consciousness, he discovers that he’s hired Milo Manara to draw a cover for Spider-Woman. The misogyny is still there, but to counter it, we have smart, young, feminist women on the Internet raising their collective voices when they find sexism — and their voices are heard! It’s kinda nice not to be a lone voice crying in the wilderness anymore.
MC: Not unrelated: From con floors to bestseller lists, women creators are claiming an ever-increasing fair share of the comics marketplace and community. Scott McCloud says he believes they will be the leading force in comics in not so many years. Could you speak some to how you view these recent changes within your long view, and what you see going forward in terms of how this shift plays out?
TR: Scott is right. What has evened the playing field is the advent of graphic novels. Now, if women want to draw comics, they don’t have to draw overly muscular guys with thick necks and big chins beating each other up. Real book publishers know that girls and women create and read graphic novels. And there are some damn good ones by guys, too! Boys don’t have to be afraid that we will take away their superheroes — as long as there are 12-year-old boys, there will be superheroes — but we have added girls to the mix.
MC: We are also seeing shifts in the representation and profiles of LGBTQ stories and characters, of course, [beyond indie and] in mainstream comics. Given your historic place in this regard [including the first comic strip featuring an “out" lesbian, “Sandy Comes Out"], could you speak to how you view, and feel about, these changes — and can you take at least a small measure of personal pride in your role?
TR: Yes, I am proud of having drawn the first comic about a lesbian — and it didn’t even occur to me that I was drawing a first. I just wanted to tell the story of my roommate, Sandy.
MC: Anything [else] you’d especially like to address?
TR: Yeah. I ain’t dead yet. I still write and do write and want to write. Please don’t think I’m carved in marble.
I learned that there was gonna be a panel of women who create graphic novels for younger readers at San Diego [Comic-Con], and I hadn’t been invited, so I asked if I could be on the panel, and they said, “Sure!” Then, when the moderator, who was a librarian, introduced the panelists, she pointed out what they had done and their awards, but when she came to me she said, “Trina is an icon and a legend.” That’s not much help, so luckily I had brought some of my graphic novels for young readers and I showed them and described them. Saying I’m a legend is like saying she didn’t have any idea what the hell I did. After the panel, I gave her one of my graphic novels, saying, “Here, since you’re a librarian and don’t know what I do, this is for your library.” And she said, “Oh, we have all your books in our library.” and I said, “Then why the hell didn’t you tell people about them instead of calling me a legend?”
The National Book Festival runs 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday at the Washington Convention Center. The Washington Post is a charter sponsor. Click here for more information.
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