“It is indeed about time for the underground comix movement to be considered enough of an art form to have an exhibit.” –Trina Robbins

Interview with ‘herstorian’ Trina Robbins on her development as a comic artist and writer, and her role in the world of comix today. By Amy Marek, University of Wisconsin-Madison Journalism Student, 4/13/09

Trina Robbins

Trina Robbins

How did you get started in comics? What can you say about the transformation to comix? Robbins: My mother was a teacher who taught me to read at the age of four, and I definitely took to it.  I was the kid who read everything, so when I read comics, too, my mother wasn’t afraid it would take away from me reading books, which it didn’t.  It simply added another dimension to my reading.  I also drew.  Then I went to art school, which was disappointing, because I wanted to learn how to draw pictures of real things on paper and the wanted to teach me to make huge abstracts on campus, so that was the end of art school, and somewhere along the way I had stopped drawing comics.

But in the mid 60s it all came back, along with pop art and Marvel comics, and I realized those pictures of real things on paper were proto comics, so I tried drawing them again, except this time I tried to do pop art superheroes, which were definitely not my thing.  Then in 1966 someone showed me a copy of the NY underground paper, the East Village Other, and son-of-a-gun, it had COMICS in it, but they weren’t superheroes!  They were about us hippies and our lifestyles — even if some of them were so psychedelic that they didn’t make sense. The one that really got my attention was a full-page comic called “Gentles Tripout” by someone named Panzika, and I thought, “This is what I want to do!”  What I didn’t find out until 2 years later was that “Panzika” was a woman — Hurricane Nancy Kalish!  Which means that my first inspiration was from a woman.

Do you work alone? Has your level of collaboration changed over the years? Robbins: I’ve always been a buttontrinasolitary worker.  That hasn’t changed.  But now that I’m a writer, I sometimes discuss problems with my current project over lunch with my partner, who is amazingly helpful.

Which comix artists are you closest to in terms of your appreciation for their work? Robbins: I’m not really that much into contemporary cartoonists — you may know that I’m a comics historian with a specialty in early 20th century women cartoonists — but 3 books that have really grabbed me recently have been Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis books, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, and Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese.

How did your audience change over time? Robbins: I was always grateful that people liked my stuff, because I never really belonged to the underground comix in-group.  I once said that I could live for a month on one fan letter.

How did you find working with publishers and being one yourself? Robbins: I only self-published one book, A pro-choice anthology as a benefit for NOW.  We made money for NOW and I was glad, but once was enough!  As for publishers, I always got along fine with them — they knew I was good and had an audience.  It was the cartoonists I didn’t get along all that well with.

How has your collecting changed over time? What do you collect now? Robbins: It has hardly changed.  I collect a lot of the comics I read as a kid. Girl’s comics, comics by women.

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What are the connections you make between comix and the work of younger artists today? Robbins: There are so many more younger people, male and female, drawing comics today, that it’s dizzying!

Given the social context that surrounded the underground comix movement, how do you see the role of the artist in society? Robbins: I only know MY role. It’s to continue to chronicle the history of early 20th century women cartoonists who might otherwise be forgotten — and in my role of writer, it’s to write damn good books and graphic novels and to aim them especially at the all-ages female part of the population, which still does not have enough comics aimed at them.

To learn more about Robbins, visit her Web site at http://www.trinarobbins.com/.

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