An Interview with Trina Robbins, Part 3 of 3A column article, The Squeaky Wheel by: Kyrax2
A couple of months ago, Trina Robbins was kind enough to grant me an interview. In Part 1, we discussed her past influences, her opinion on modern superhero comics, and her work on Wonder Woman. In Part 2 we discussed Japanese manga, Trina's current projects, Dan DiDio, and Octobriana. In this, the third and final part, we'll discuss the influence of modern technology on the comics world, "Friends of Lulu", and the future of the comic book industry.
Kyrax2: So tell me, do you use computers in your work, either in writing or drawing these days?
Robbins: Oh, of course I write on a computer!
Kyrax2: I ask because I know that you were born in a time before computers.
Robbins: [deadpan] We hammered it out on stone.
Kyrax2: [laughs] Well, I've know other people who were born in a pre-computer time who prefer to write with a pen, or even contemporaries of mine who prefer to write longhand in notebooks.
Robbins: I knew a very good and successful women science fiction writer who worked on old portable typewriters. And in fact, because they're harder and harder to find, all of her friends, when they found a portable typewriter at a thrift store would buy it for her so that she had a collection, because they do break down and there's no one to fix them anymore. I have a friend, I'm sure you've heard of her, Rachel Pollack? She writes all her stuff out on longhand first. She does use a computer, but she starts on longhand and she has a collection of beautiful fountain pens.
Kyrax2: I hear Neil Gaiman does that too.
Robbins: Well, I do all of mine on the computer; then I'll make notes by hand, lots of notes all over.
Kyrax2: Do you draw as well? Do you use a tablet?
Robbins: I don't draw anymore. I haven't drawn for almost twenty years. When I did draw it, it was by hand on paper. But that was pre-tablet.
Kyrax2: Do you think there are any negatives to our modern dependence on computers, I mean specifically as creators?
Robbins: Well the only negative of course is, what if civilization as we know it ends and there won't be any more electricity and everything that we've written will just sizzle out. For the longest time I actually kept a typewriter; after I went from typewriter to computer I kept my old typewriter for a really long time, always thinking, "Well what if civilization as we know it ends and there's no more electricity, I'll still be able to write on the typewriter." But then this guy came to my door, this old guy, and he had written a book or was writing a book or something. He had this pathetic, folded up, tattered article he had cut out of the newspaper that was about him, how he was writing a book, and he kept it in his wallet, and he showed it to me, and he was just asking for some money so that he could keep writing his book; it was really pathetic. And I thought, "Well if you give a man a fish he'll eat for a day, but if you teach him to fish he'll eat all the time." So I gave him my typewriter. But now I'm really sorry I did, you know, I miss it. But I think I did the right thing.
Kyrax2: It sounds like it. Perhaps you'll find one in a thrift store.
Robbins: Yes, that's what I keep hoping!
Kyrax2: What kind are you looking for?
Robbins: Oh, any old typewriter, as long as it's portable of course, it can't be electric because that defeats the purpose.
Kyrax2: Too true. Let's see...so, my daughter has decided that, as well as becoming a rock star and the President, she wants to write and draw comics when she grows up. I was wondering what advice you would give her?
Robbins: Well she should study the comics she likes, to start with; not so that she can copy them, but so that she can see how they do it, how they write it, how they draw it, how action is illustrated, how words are illustrated. There is a book called Panel to Panel. It's a collection of scripts, of comics scripts and I know about it because I'm in it. I used to write this series called Go Girl! , that you may or may not have seen, my teen superheroine - by the way your daughter would also like Go Girl! a lot, but I'm not sure if she can find it anymore because it's very out of print and if she can't find it let me know; I have lots of comics. They were collected into graphic novel series; I can't send her the graphic novels but I can send her the comics, I have tons of them.
Kyrax2: Wow, thank you. That's really generous of you.
Kyrax2: So you're saying to have her look at the comics she like and look at how they're made?
Robbins: Right. Also, every now and then people teach, including me, I give courses; I teach kids comics writing. I'm gonna be doing that for a local school.
Kyrax2: That sounds like it would be awesome.
Robbins: You might be able to find someone else that is teaching locally to you.
Kyrax2: I'll look into that! So, how about for an adult woman who's looking to break into comics or to write comics?
Robbins: Well really, I would say the same things. Check out Panel to Panel, see how the scripts are done. It really does help if you can find someone whose work you like; someone you respect who is teaching comics writing.
Kyrax2: Cool, thank you. So tell me, you started Friends of Lulu back in the 90's, right?
Kyrax2: So with your co-founding mothers, you guys all started Friends of Lulu, back in the mid 90's, specifically to promote women in comics?
Robbins: Yes. To promote participation; I think that's what the motto says or what the description says, "To promote participation in comics by women as creators and as readers."
Kyrax2: So, do you feel like the comics scene now has changed significantly?
Robbins: Oh my god yes; you have no idea. 1994 was when we first came up with the idea. Actually, the real founding mother is Heidi MacDonald, because it was she who photocopied invitations that she passed out at the San Diego convention in 1994, for anyone who was interested to meet at this café and talk about forming an organization for women in comics. So she gets the title of founding mother. It all really started at Wondercon, in 1994. I was one of the women who went to lunch with Heidi, and Maggie Thompson, and a number of other women. We basically bemoaned the fact that women were just about invisible in comics at that point and not only were they invisible in comics but this was like the height of the whole "Bad Girl" period, where the only images you saw of women in comics were the giant breasts, and the thong bikinis, and the broke-back poses, and kind of like the straw that broke the camel's back was that the convention, the Wondercon, held a Cherry Poptart lookalike contest. And Cherry Poptart is this underground comic, she is just this big-breasted babe; that's what it's about. And they actually, the convention, held this contest and we were just completely disgusted and we went out to this lunch, women in comics lunch, just to get away from the convention and talk about that there had to be an organization. But it was Heidi who took the big step and actually invited everyone to the huge meeting. The café was packed; there was standing room only, it was amazing.
Kyrax2: It sounds like a really energizing moment for being a woman in comics.
Robbins: It was!
Kyrax2: Wow...so you feel like we've made significant progress on this front?
Robbins: Well I think that women have made significant progress; there really are more women creating comics now than ever before. And I'm a historian, a her-storian, I write books on the history of women cartoonists and there were many more than most people know, but there are more now than ever before.
Kyrax2: And people just don't know about them; they just sort of get lost in the histories.
Robbins: You do know about them if you're looking at something besides superheroes. If you go to a bookstore, a bookstore, remember? Not a comic book store but a bookstore, and you go to the graphic novel section, you will see so much there by women.
Kyrax2: The Friends of Lulu organization was dissolved a few years ago. Since women have made so much progress in the comics world, is such an organization, and the recognition awards it used to give out to female creators of note, no longer necessary? Or could we use another Friends of Lulu or similar organization even now?
Robbins: Yes, I think a women in comics advocacy group like Lulu is still very much needed. While great strides forward have been made with things like GeekGirlCon and Womanthology, and there are more women doing comics than ever before, they still earn the equivelant of 75 cents to a male cartoonist's dollar, if that. Most of their comics are self-published, on the web, or published with very small presses, while the guys who draw superheroes rake in the dough. An organization is needed to call attention to women and to let the public know that there is more to comics than superheroes
Kyrax2: I see. Speaking of the books that you've written, your her-stories and all the things you have written over your lifetime, if you could have everyone read one fictional thing and one nonfiction thing that you've written in your life, if you could make it like required reading for everybody, what would you chose?
Robbins: I'm not sure that I have yet created the one masterpiece, the masterwork that I would have everyone read. But I think that my histories of women cartoonists are very, very important. And I'm working on what I can hope is the final one that will stay in print, because Fantagraphincs is publishing it and they keep their books in print. It's the final, revised, rewritten version of all of those histories I've done. But until that one comes out, I would say, read any of them, although the most recent are the better ones because they'll have more information. So maybe that's the nonfiction book that I would recommend.
Kyrax2: You'd have everyone read it if you could?
Robbins: Yes, because it really will tell you so much. I don't know if I have…I love my Chicagoland series, they're cute stories; I'm very proud of them and they're for kids, but they're not the great masterpiece. You know what I mean? So I don't think I have one of those yet.
Kyrax2: So what do you see from here, from today? What do you see as the future of comics?
Robbins: The future of comics is graphic novels. I mean there are always going to be those little pamphlets, that's what they call them you know, the little flimsy pamphlets.
Kyrax2: The little floppies?
Robbins: Yes, the floppies, pamphlets, which are gonna get more and more expensive and have less and less pages and there's always gonna be the young men and teenage boys who read them; that's not gonna change, but the future is graphic novels, it's where you find the meat, it's where you find the really good stuff, the stuff that makes you feel good, that you really, really love. That's the future of comics and that's open to everyone, male and female.
Kyrax2: Do you feel like computers have made that easier to share, with the social aspects of computers?
Robbins: Yeah, well blogs really are so helpful, just to tell you about these things, just to spread the news. And of course there's also comics on screen, and I know that there's people who love that, but I don't; I don't like to read a comic on a screen.
Kyrax2: I tend to agree with you there, I prefer to have something I can hold in my hands.
Robbins: And take with you on the bus. There's this very, very good artist, Elizabeth Watasin, and she hasn't really drawn anything since the nineties, and she's started to write and she emailed me that she's written this novelette, and she'd like me to read it and give it a blurb. I love it so far, but I'm only up to chapter three because she sent it to me as a pdf and so I can only read it on the screen; and there's just so long that I can sit in front of the screen reading words. So I've been trying to read like a chapter a day, that's the best I can do, even though I really do love it!
Kyrax2: Could you print it out perhaps, and read it that way?
Robbins: I could but I just don't want to use all that ink, to tell you the truth - it's really long!
Kyrax2: I understand. I often have the same thing, if I find a book that's public domain, perhaps on the Gutenberg Project, and I want to read it, I'd still rather see if I could find an inexpensive copy of it in print rather that printing it out myself.
Robbins: Oh, god, you'll use up the whole cassette of ink and they're expensive. It's cheaper to buy the book, much cheaper.
Kyrax2: I've heard that per ounce, one of the most expensive substances in the world is actually printer ink.
Robbins: Oh my god!
Kyrax2: At least, somebody told me that, I don't have any source for that, but that's what I've heard. It doesn't surprise me.
Robbins: Next to comic books.
Kyrax2: Exactly! [laughs] Exactly, per ounce, one of the most expensive forms of entertainment. Alright, I think that wraps us up.
Kyrax2: I can't thank you enough.
Robbins: It was fun!
The Final Squeak
Trina Robbins, as author, artist and editor, has done tremendous work to bring to light forgotten and underappreciated artists and characters of the past. Check out more samples of her work below!