Pioneering Wonder Woman illustrator Trina Robbins fought for women in comic book industry
SAN FRANCISCO - 84-year-old Trina Robbins has lived in her San Francisco home for decades, surrounded by a lifetime of collectibles, in a place filled with stories, and of art. She is a force to be reckoned with. She describes herself as a feminist, an author, and a pioneer in the world of comic books.
Her love of comics started when she was just a little girl. The ones she liked were "the ones that starred women," she explains. "The ones that starred men were very boring to me. I wasn't interested in those." Her favorite she says was "Wonder Woman, of course, but not just Wonder Woman; Mary Marvel, who was a girl, and all she had to do was say Shazam. And she became this super heroine." She says that was important because "it meant that you didn't have to wait to grow up to be a super heroine. You could be a girl and have superpowers."
One of Robbins’ superpowers, was her ability to draw, and as a young woman, she drew what she describes as little pictures on paper with speech balloons over them. In the ‘60s, an underground paper started publishing those drawings. Her work continued in the ’70s when she moved to San Francisco.
"In the sixties and the early seventies, really, I was one of the few women drawing comics and the guys didn't like it," Robbins explains. "I mean, the guys really, you know, they acted as though I didn't exist, you know? But a lot of people loved my comics, and I was one of the founding mothers in 1972 of Wimmen's Comix, which was an underground publication, an anthology of all women comic artists." She reflects on her accomplishments. "I was a pioneer and I am a pioneer."
In the '80s she went from one of a few artists to the first, when DC Comics decided its superheroes needed a new look. "Because, you know, Superman was 75-years-old and he still looked so young and is punching people out. So they had to redo it, you know, and they also redid Wonder Woman." Prior to that moment, she says the only artists that had drawn Wonder Woman were men, saying, "It was 40 years of guys drawing Wonder Woman, not one woman."
She says she was well known for being a Wonder Woman fan and while the new revamped character was being created, "They had four months you know, of no Wonder Woman," said Robbins thinking back. "So the way I figure it is, I mean…this is the way I see it. It's a roomful of editors and they say, what should we do with Wonder Woman? And someone saying, well, we all know Trina likes Wonder Woman. Why don't we just give it to her for four months? And if she screws it up, it doesn't matter, because we'll have a guy doing it next. So I did four issues of Wonder Woman, and that made me the first woman to draw Wonder Woman comic."
She says she drew Wonder Woman as she knew her, strong, muscular, independent because, "Of course. I mean, she's a fighter."
Four issues later she had cemented herself in history, or as she likes to say Her-story. "God, I’m a feminist," she says laughing, "and her-storian is what I call myself.
But she's never only focused on herself. She's no longer drawing, but she is writing. Publishing more than 10 books about women, including one on the women cartoonists of the jazz age. These are stories she says need to be told.
"Yes. And that's what I do. I mean, there was a time when people had never heard of these artists, and now they know who these artists are and it's so important. And everyone who opens this book and looks at the art goes, ‘Wow. How come I never saw this before?’ Well, you never saw it before because the guys don't write about women.".
She writes about women, she attends conventions. Her schedule never stops, although one thing can still make her pause. Trina Robbins can still get swept away by a good comic book.
"Oh, of course I do," she admits with a smile. "I'll be cleaning up and pick one up, you know, to put it in its place and suddenly sit down and start reading it".
Robbins says she is currently producing a pro-choice comic anthology. The proceeds will go to Planned Parenthood.