An Interview with Trina Robbins, Part 1A column article, The Squeaky Wheel by: Kyrax2
A couple of months ago, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to chat with the wonderful Trina Robbins. I'll be sharing our long and interesting conversation with you over the next several weeks.
In Part I, we'll discuss her past influences, her opinion on modern superhero comics and her work on Wonder Woman.
Kyrax2: How did you get into creating comics?
Robbins: Well, I always drew. I don't remember a time when I didn't draw. And I actually drew comics from the age of maybe ten through twelve, I -- oh, my mother, she was a school teacher, she used to bring home an unlimited supply of eight and a half by eleven Board of Education paper for me to draw on, and an unlimited supply of Board of Education #2 pencils, so I had school supplies to work on, and I would take one of those eight and a half by eleven papers and I would simply fold it in half and turn it into a four-page comic. So I was already drawing comics. And then I went to art school, but I didn't last because in those days you couldn't take comics as a course. And they weren't even teaching you to draw real things, they were really into abstracts, and I was not into abstracts, so art school and I did not work out.
And by then I had also stopped reading comics. I was a very good daughter and my mother was simply very persuasive, I guess that's why she was a teacher. When I entered high school she said, "Well, you're a teenager now, and comics are for kids, so you shouldn't read them anymore," and I went, "Oh, okay," and I gave away what, of course, would now be thousands of dollars worth of comics to the neighborhood kids. So I wasn't reading comics anymore. But then, in the sixties, in the middle sixties, suddenly comics became this hip thing, and college students and hippies were reading them. So I was one of them, and I started reading, basically it was the Marvel Renaissance at that point. It was all their new characters, Spiderman and the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. But the ones who were the most interesting to me were Doctor Strange, because he was so mystic, and Thor, because that was really cool. I mean, I had never been able to relate to the idea of a bearded guy in the sky, you know, and I'd always really liked mythology, and with Thor, it was like Stan Lee was actually saying, "Yeah, it's okay, there really is this Nordic god, there really is something besides the bearded guy in the sky. So I loved that!
And I just kind of got back into comics, like I say, everybody else was, all these college students and hippies. And I realized that these - 'cause I never stopped drawing - I realized that these drawings I was doing were like really basically proto-comics. They were just little drawing with pencil on paper and could be turned into comics. So I started drawing comics, and at first I was very influenced by the whole pop art movement, you know, Batman was on TV and all that pop art stuff? But then my next influence was in 1966, or maybe it was '65, I don't know. Somebody showed me a copy of the "East Village Other", which was an underground newspaper, and one of the first underground newspapers. And... it had comics in it! And they weren't superhero comics. Because of the whole pop art thing and Batman and everything, I had tried to come up with a superhero comic, but it didn't work 'cause I wasn't a superhero artist, and I left it unfinished. And then I saw the comics in the East Village Other, and they weren't superhero comics, they were all about hippies and all about things hippies were interested in, you know? And there was one page in particular, a full page strip called "Gentle's Trip Out" signed "Panzika", and it was totally, totally psychedelic, and really, I don't know if it made any sense at all but it looked so great, and I thought, "This is what I want to do, this is my big influence," and it was. And two years later I found out actually that Panzika was a woman, so I think it's very interesting that my first big influence was a woman, and I didn't even know it.
Kyrax2: That is interesting. At the time of this "Renaissance", was it something that people of both genders were getting into, or was it something that more guys were getting into than women?
Robbins: I think women were getting into it, too. I didn't have quite the awareness that I have now. If I had, I would've looked at these comics and I would've gone, "Wow, Sue Storm of the Fantastic Four is such a wimp. She's such a wimp, everybody else has all these powers, and she does nothing except like, faint and...and weep." But I didn't have quite that awareness yet. You know, I can look back on it and see that, but I didn't then.
Kyrax2: So you started out with superhero comics...how do you feel about superhero comics these days?
Robbins: Well, actually, they completely changed. Those were really very simple and very naïve, you know, and I can still enjoy them to a certain degree because of their simplicity and naivete. Nowadays -- actually, for all their simplicity and naivete they had more story and more content than the average superhero comic does now. I mean, you look at some of these books and it's like there's no plot at all. It's just all fight scenes.
Kyrax2: They have fewer pages now, too.
Robbins: Yes, that's right! They have even fewer pages. So, you know, it's nothing like you're paying, god, I don't even know, what are they paying now? Three bucks?
Kyrax2: Generally $2.99 for most comics.
Robbins: And then, you know, you can read them in five minutes! That's if you want to read them. To be honest, I don't want to read them. I mean, somebody described them as "empty calories". I think that's the best description.
Kyrax2: Like cotton candy or something.
Robbins: Exactly like cotton candy! You take a big mouthful and there's nothing there.
Kyrax2: I've read that, per minute of enjoyment, superhero comics are some of the most expensive entertainment available today.
Kyrax2: Yup. Compared to video games, for example, that might last 50 hours, you get a much greater ratio of entertainment per dollar spent.
Robbins: Well, I don't play video games, but I can watch lots and lots of movies for free.
Kyrax2: Exactly! So...I know that you wrote Wonder Woman in the mid-eighties, around the time of Crisis on Infinite Earths?
Robbins: Yes, very briefly, just a four-part mini-series. Well, it was in between, George Perez was going to come up with the new Wonder Woman, and while he was working all that out, they needed to keep the series going, so I did my little four-part mini-series.
Kyrax2: What was it like writing an already-established character?
Robbins: Well, I really only co-plotted it; it was written by Kurt Busiek.
Kyrax2: Oh, that's right, you did the art on it?
Robbins: Yeah, I did the art on it and I kinda co-plotted it. I came up with some characters and what should happen, but he did the scripting, and to be honest, I'm not that crazy about it. I think I would have been much happier if I had been able to script it myself.
Kyrax2: What was your experience like working for DC Comics then? Did you feel like you were welcome there, as a woman? Did they approach you? Did you approach them?
Robbins: They actually approached me, isn't that amazing? I still can't believe it. It was fine, I had no problem at all. I think they knew I was only going to be there for a short term, so why bother? It was like, I really feel that they thought, "Oh well, we have to keep it going, you know, until George Perez has this whole thing worked out, what should we do?" "Well, let's give it to Trina, it won't matter anyway." Kinda like that.
Kyrax2: I read, too, that you have some issues with the way other artists have drawn Wonder Woman.
Robbins: [laughs] "Some issues" is such a charming way to put it. It's really sad that Wonder Woman is, she's really a slave. She belongs to DC. She's not a living person. And so she's at their mercy, and she's at the mercy of whoever writes her and whoever draws her. You know, what is really weird to me, is that they don't have a bible for their characters. You know what a bible is, I don't mean like, "In the beginning, God created earth," I mean, showing how the characters are supposed to look, and you can't depart from that. Disney has a bible for their characters, so that people who draw Disney characters have to make them look correct. And Mattel, you know I was briefly writing Barbie - really, not that briefly, for quite a few years - writing Barbie comics, and I didn't draw them, but they have a Barbie bible. And people who draw Barbie have to make it conform to the way Barbie is supposed to look. But DC doesn't have a bible, so Wonder Woman is all over the map. When Gail Simone was writing Wonder Woman, they had I think a couple of artists who were working on it, and they were doing a beautiful job. She was beautiful, she was not insulting, she was strong, she wasn't wearing thong bikinis, it really was very, very lovely. But then at the same time, she'd be in one of the other DC books, and the guy who was drawing her would give her gigantic breasts and cut her bottom all the way up. Even the hair, sometimes it's long and curly, sometimes it's straight. I mean, it's really weird. You'd think that they would care more about their characters and that they would have a bible. But they don't.
Kyrax2: It doesn't seem very consistent from comic to comic.
Robbins: Totally inconsistent.
Kyrax2: Did you object to the hypersexualization of Wonder Woman specifically because you felt that it didn't fit with her character and because of the inconsistency, or was it the fact that she was being hypersexualized at all that bothered you?
Robbins: Well, I object to the hypersexualization of all the superheroines. Most of them have been hypersexualized, but especially to Wonder Woman, because she is an icon. She is up there with Superman and Batman. And she is the one who is the big influence on women. Women who don't read comics still know who Wonder Woman is. And they'll buy Wonder Women products. They'll buy Wonder Woman notepads or cards or whatever, even though they don't read the comics. And most of them, if they were to read the comics and see the ones in which she's incredibly hypersexualized, they'd be horrified. I mean, most of these women, women past a certain age at least, remember Wonder Woman from television. You know, from Lynda Carter.
Kyrax2: Yeah, I watched re-runs of that when I was growing up myself, in fact. So...I'm looking at picture here of Vampirella, and I notice that her costume design and her pose are very sexy. Do you feel that it's a different genre, or a different kind of character? Under what circumstances is making a character more sexy more acceptable?
Robbins: There's a difference between sexy and hyper-sexy. The way I have drawn Vampirella, she's definitely sexy, I designed the costume. But her costume, through the years, has gotten briefer and briefer. She has been hypersexualized, but not by me. I mean, I see drawings in which she's got the 'brokeback pose'. I would never do that. And when I drew her, which was, you know, I've only done the occasional fan drawing, she's never like that.
Kyrax2: So it's as much about pose and attitude as about costume?
Robbins: It's about pose and attitude, it's about the way her body is drawn.
Kyrax2: And how she presents?
Robbins: Yeah, and also, in fact, the costume itself, which as I say, has gotten briefer and briefer. It's not what I originally designed at all.
Kyrax2: So again, departing from the original vision, departing from what would have been the bible.
Tune in next week for Part II of my interview with Trina Robbins, wherein we'll discuss Japanese manga, Trina's current projects, and Dan DiDio...
The Final Squeak
For another take on Wonder Woman by Trina Robbins, check out her more recent Wonder Woman: The Once & Future Story.
Kyrax2, in her secret identity, is:
A. A part-time model.
B. An ace World War I pilot.
C. A mild-mannered office manager.
She has a bachelor's degree in:
A. Was sent to Earth by her real parents to escape the destruction of their home planet.
B. Is secretly a robot who can remove her own head.
C. Loves comics and reads any she can get her hands on. (I know, this one's pretty farfetched!)
A. Races ultralights for fun and profit.
B. Used to have a crush on Kitty Pryde.
C. Was born during a total eclipse of the sun.
In her spare time she enjoys:
A. Reading (books and comics), writing (fiction and non), gaming (everything from tabletop wargames and RPGs to Cardcaptor Sakura, Tetris, Rock Band, and DCUO) and watching TV (mainly anime, animated superhero cartoons, and Rifftrax).
B. Building emissions-free vehicles out of recycled materials.
C. Alligator wrestling.