Trina Robbins is an icon.
After all, she was the first woman to illustrate Wonder Woman, but like so many aspiring artists, she started her mega-career as a mere zinester.
In the late 60s, Trina moved from NYC to San Francisco to be at the epicenter of the underground comix scene. In 1970, she founded the underground feminist newspaper It Ain’t Me Babe, whose first cover featured “hippie scientists in a lab having just brought to life the bride of Frankenstein,” and whose tagline read “To subsume me in your shadow, to come each time you call, a lover for your life and nothing more” (an overt and pithy homage to the Bob Dylan classic, It Ain’t Me Babe).
For those unfamiliar with her career, Trina’s involvement with Wonder Woman officially began in 1986. At the conclusion of the first volume of the series, DC Comics decided to create a four-issue limited series titled The Legend of Wonder Woman which was written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by Robbins.
Though she was already a legend to many in the underground, her status was solidified when she recreated the iconic woman of the comic world. As Trina said, “[there’s] nothing wrong with beauty.” Amen to that.
TRR recently spoke to Trina about her humble fanzine beginnings, her indie feminist rag, and her catapult to superstardom via Wonder Woman. How lucky are we?
The Revolution (Relaunch) (TRR): So let’s talk about your early work in the sci-fi fanzine community given our interest in zines, specifically intersectional feminist zines. How would you describe the demographics of that culture in the 50s and 60s? Does the inequity have anything to do with why you left NYC for SF in 1970?
Trina Robbins: As a teenage sci fi fan, I was aware that most of the sci fi I read was by men, and I paid attention to the few women writers I found, but since I was just another teenaged fan, I don’t think I experienced any sexism. Of course, at times I got a lot of attention from teenaged boy fans because there were so few teen girl fans! But I’d hardly call that sexism. Fandom was not a boys’ club.
By the 60s, I wasn’t active in sci fi fandom anymore, having gotten into creating underground comics by 1966. I left NY for SF because SF was at that time the center of underground comix, with at least 2, maybe 3, publishers of underground comic books. Although I was becoming aware that I was being left out of some comix venues, it was still a small thing that didn’t bother me. I felt I was still friends with most of the male UG cartoonists. It wasn’t until I found myself in SF, alone and friendless, that I was in a hotbed of male dominated counterculture.
TRR: Talk a little bit about the It Ain’t Me, Babe underground newspaper? Are you a founding member of that project? What did the newspaper publish?
Trina: Babe started in late 1969, and I discovered it in early 1970, and joined the staff, taking to bus into Berkeley periodically to help with the layout and pasteup and bring in art or draw illustrations on the spot.
TRR: Did the newspaper survive beyond the It Ain’t Me, Babe Comix? If so, did you continue to have any relationship with them?
Trina: Of course it did! I think it lasted until at least 1972. By then, I was so busy being a single mother that I no longer had time to contribute, and also I had begun being published in comic books and producing my own comic books, so really, there was a limit to what I could do.
TRR: I know you were a longtime fan, but how did you really feel about William Marston’s feminist vision, which not only emphasized strength, but beauty and bondage (which sounds a bit like the “bad girl art” movement of the 90s that you criticized)?
Trina: The “bondage” has been greatly exaggerated. Reading Wonder Woman (WW) as a girl I saw no bondage there, only attempts to kill/hurry/restrain WW so that the reader could see her escape—and she always escaped! Nothing wrong with beauty, and she was never, NEVER drawn in the style of “bad girl” art! You really need to look at examples of that stuff and see it was never like what artist H G Peter drew.
TRR: By the time your started illustrating WW, you’d created female characters that had “come out” and you’d criticized misogyny (and rape culture) in comics. Given your proclivity for taking on the patriarchy, how did you negotiate the DC Comics The Legend of Wonder Woman gig? Were there restrictions regarding what you could do artistically? Mandates that you refused to follow?
Trina: There were no restrictions and no mandates. I didn’t have to negotiate anything; DC asked me to draw the comic.
TRR: You collaborated with another woman (Colleen Doran) on the DC Comics graphic novel Wonder Woman: The Once and Future Story, and given the subject matter (spousal abuse), I’m guessing that DC gave you artistic license. How did that experience differ from your previous DC/WW gig?
Trina: Yes, DC gave me artistic license. I really prefer that book to the 4-part WW comic series I drew, because I didn’t write the 4-part series. I could have written it, but didn’t yet feel competent as a comic writer, so DC gave me a writer. My own fault. But I’m VERY proud of the Once and Future Story—working with Coleen was a pleasure, and it happened that we were both Celtophiles. William Moulton Marston’s granddaughter, Christie Marston, once told me that she thought that book should be in every high school classroom. Great compliment for me!