Read Alex Grand’s Understanding Superhero Comic Books published by McFarland Books in 2023 with Foreword by Jim Steranko with editorial reviews by comic book professionals, Jim Shooter, Tom Palmer, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Alex Segura, Carl Potts, Guy Dorian Sr. and more.
In the meantime enjoy the show:
From the Comic Book Historians Podcast, Alex Grand and Jim Thompson interview the illustrious Trina Robbins, underground women’s comic pioneer, comic book historian, and defender of social justice as we discuss her life and times from her childhood in the 1940s, Sci-Fi Fandom in the 1950s, her underground comix work in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as her mainstream comics work in the 1980s. Various topics include Steve Ditko, Wally Wood, Harlan Ellison, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas and more! First Woman to Draw Wonder Woman. Expert/Historian on Women in Comics! Then we dovetail into 1985 and the beginning of her comic history career examining her evolving Women and Comics book that explores various women in comic history, A Century of Women Cartoonists, The Great Women Superheroes, Nell Brinkley, Women Who Kill, Goddesses with Attitude, The Golden Age of Chinese Nightclubs in San Francisco, Miss Fury, Lily Renee, and her autobiography Last Girl Standing, discussing figures like Forrest Ackerman and Vaugh Bode. Find out more about underground women’s comic pioneer and comic book historian, Trina Robbins, Superstar.
Trina Robbins is an American cartoonist. She was an early and influential participant in the underground comix movement, and one of the first few female artists in that movement. Both as a cartoonist and historian, Robbins has long been involved in creating outlets for and promoting female comics artists.
🎬 Edited & Produced by Alex Grand, ©2021 Comic Book Historians Sound FX – Standard License. Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders. Images used for academic purposes only.
Trina Robbins Biographical Interview Part-1
📜 Video chapters
00:00 Welcoming the guest Trina Robbins
00:33 Trina Robbins’s background
02:21 Smart kids are usually early readers
02:53 Reading early comics
05:22 Only male superhero I liked | C. C. Beck
06:23 Mary Marvel | Misty, Millie the Model
07:20 Katy Keene
08:36 Fiction House’s women cartoonists
10:35 Christopher Rule | Patsy Walker Stories
12:58 1950s sci-fi fandom
16:06 My mother said stop reading comics
16:57 Wally Wood
17:35 Underground Comix | East Village Other
19:06 Reader of comic strips
22:32 Sci-Fi Convention, New York
24:21 Dating Harlan Ellison, I was 16
26:07 Moving to San Francisco in 1970
27:49 Women’s Liberation newspaper
29:59 Robert Crumb & Underground Comix
32:42 1973 Berkeley Comic-con event
35:06 The Big Apple Con – Stan Lee, Marvel
36:50 Panthea Comics
38:27 Tits and Klitz Underground Comix, 1977
41:26 “It Ain’t Me, Babe” 1st Women only comic
41:53 Which men supported women cartoonists
43:05 Spain Rodriguez complimented me
44:44 Roger Brand & Michelle’s house
46:23 Another anecdote
48:39 A party of pot brownies
49:52 Advice to younger readers looking at old stuff
52:04 Wrapping Up
Trina Robbins Biographical Interview Part-2
📜 Video chapters
00:00:00 Trina Robbins
00:00:24 Comic history career
00:00:52 Women and the comics, 1985
00:02:58 Backstory of Women and the comics
00:06:52 Collaborative work
00:11:25 Century of Women Cartoonist, 1993
00:14:11 Ruth Atkinson & Pauline Loth
00:16:02 The Great Women’s Superheroes, 1996
00:19:30 From Girls to Grrrlz: Teens to Zines, 1999
00:21:02 Teen comics to Romance comics
00:23:26 How comic women are portrayed
00:25:03 Change in women readers in 70s
00:26:28 Great Women Cartoonists, 2001
00:28:46 Catswalk: 10 speed press | Goddesses with Attitude
00:34:02 Women Who Kill, 2003
00:37:11 Wild Irish Roses: Tales of Brigits, Kathleens, and Warrior Queens, 2004
00:39:11 Golden Age of Chinese Nightclubs, 2010
00:42:50 Nell Brinkley in the Early 20th Century, 2001
00:49:15 Break from comic history
00:50:23 Miss Fury Sundays 1944-1949
00:52:57 Pretty in Ink: Women Cartoonists, 1896-2013
00:56:13 Lily Renée, Comic Book Pioneer, 2011
01:03:38 Last Girl Standing: Trina Robbins, 2017
01:07:20 Jeffrey Catherine Jones
01:08:47 Jim Morrison
01:09:05 Women in the Comics During World War 2
01:14:21 Gladys Parker:Passion for Fashion
01:15:37 Attention towards fashion design
01:17:59 Wrapping Up
#TrinaRobbins #LastGirlStanding #TheGreatWomenSuperheroes
#TheGreatWomenCartoonists #LilyRenée #ComicBookPioneer
#WomenInComicHistory #WomenCartoonist #WomenInComics #ComicHistorian
#ComicBookHistorians #CBHInterviews #CBHPodcast #CBH #WonderWoman #UndergroundComix
Transcript (editing in progress):
Alex Grand: Welcome again to the comic book historian podcast. I’m Alex Grand and I’m here with Jim Thompson. Jim, how you doing today?
Jim Thompson: Hi Alex, Good
Alex Grand: Great to see that face of yours again. So we have a special guest today. We have Trina Robbins who is a seminal figure in comics history and definitely a giant as far as 20th century Comic Books and a 21st Century Comic Book Historian. And so Trina, thank you so much for joining us today. Jim, take it away.
Jim Thompson: Hi Trina.
Trina Robbins: Hi!
Jim Thompson: I wanted to start at the very beginning with when you were born, where you grew up. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Trina Robbins: In Brooklyn? I grew up in Queens.
Jim Thompson: What did your father and your mother do?
Trina Robbins: My mother was a school teacher who taught me to read it the age of four, which is the most wonderful thing anyone has ever done for me except of course give birth to me, which she also did. My father had been a tailor, but he had Parkinson’s disease and for most of my memory, he couldn’t sew. Well, he did sew at home but he couldn’t sell professionally anymore. But he was also a writer. He wrote in Yiddish and those days they were lots of Yiddish language newspapers in New York and he wrote for them. He wrote articles for them. And as you, I’m sure you know he wrote a book.
Jim Thompson: Yes, he was also a chicken farmer, Huh?
Trina Robbins: No, he wanted to be a chicken farmer. Toms River, New Jersey. As I later found out was a hotbed of Jewish chicken farms and he did own land there and he wanted to move there and open a chicken farm. But of course it was really pretty impossible us since my mother really supported the family and she was a teacher and you know, she could really not, you know, commute from Toms River, New Jersey to Queens where she taught. So really all that I remember is that he had a book on chicken diseases and it was color, these diseased chickens in full color with bright red stores. And I was fascinated. I used to pour over that book. I was fascinated by the pictures.
Jim Thompson: Oh that’s interesting. You mentioned you being an early reader and I’ve noticed that in most of the intervviews we’ve done with comic creators, Alex got it with Jim Steranko and also with Rick Marshall. They all comment on being extremely early readers. Do you think that has something to do with an early attraction to comic books as well?
Trina Robbins: I don’t know, but smart kids are usually early readers and smart kids read comics, so there’s a connection.
Alex Grand: there you go. I like that.
Jim Thompson: I like that too. That’s good. Which brings me to my next question. When did you start reading comics and what comics were you reading?
Trina Robbins: Well, at first my mother brought them home. You had to cross two streets to get to the corner candy store. That, sold the comics, so when I was too little to cross the two streets on my own, my mother would bring comics home for me. They were the nice little kid comics, you know, like gold medal. Was it Gold metal that did those great comics? Well, you know what? They printed Pogo and they printed animal comics. Was it gold medal? Someone telling me please,
Alex Grand: Gold Key did that, yes Dell then Gold Key.
Trina Robbins: Yes. And they had great comics for kids and my mother approved of them because in the letter and in the speech balloons, they used caps and small letters rather than all caps. And as a teacher she really didn’t like the idea of the speech balloonss that were all caps because that was not proper. So the first ones I read were gold key comics that my mother approved of.
Alex Grand: do you mean Dell comics?
Trina Robbins: Was it Dell not Gold Key?
Alex Grand: Probably Dell because Gold Key was more of a sixties transformation of Dell comics.
Trina Robbins: Oh Yeah.
Alex Grand: And I remember Dell, they were very wholesome and they had that slogan. Dell comics are good comics. So that’s the generation of comics you were probably reading.
Trina Robbins: Yes, I remember that they had animal comics and Our Gang comics, they definitely had Pogo.
Alex Grand: Oh that’s great.
Jim Thompson: Our gang was also Walt Kelly, just like Pogo was.
Trina Robbins: Yeah. So I was reading Pogo, I was reading Walt Kelly at an early age. Yes.
Alex Grand: So was that in the fifties then or later?
Trina Robbins: Forties
Alex Grand: In the forties right? Yeah, in the forties there you go.
Jim Thompson: Yeah. That would have been before you graduated, after that at some point to the Atlas comics. Millie the Model and those… you weren’t reading those first.
Trina Robbins: Yeah. They weren’t Atlas they were Timely. That was when I finally was old enough about 10 I guess maybe nine or 10 old enough to cross the two streets and buy comics on my own with my allowance and basically I would buy any comic that had a woman or a girl on the cover in control, not tied to a chair and being rescued, but in control as the protagonist of the comics.
Alex Grand: I love that.
Trina Robbins: I was never interested in the male superheroes. I found them unbelievably boring.
Jim Thompson: You were a great lover of Captain Marvel.
Trina Robbins: Yes. He was the only male superhero I liked and he was of course Mary Marvel’s brother, which is how I met him because first I met Mary Marvel. He was trying in such an accessible way, really CC Beck that clean, clean, accessible styles, very warm and very funny
Jim Thompson: and you later became friends with CC Beck didn’t you?
Trina Robbins: I did and I treasure. I treasure that friendship.
Jim Thompson: That’s wonderful. Can you tell us a little bit about him as a person?
Trina Robbins: I met Him in 1977 my first San Diego comic con and he was so lovely. He had brought a guitar and I remember him singing these. They were supposed to be kind of like off color, baudy, bauy ballads, but they were really very tame of course, and they’re very sweet and very funny and we just made friends and he had a circle of fans that he corresponded with and I became part of that circle.
Jim Thompson: You’ve never gotten to draw Mary Marvel or do any work except for the occasional cover or something. Would you have liked to have gotten to do something with those characters?
Trina Robbins: Oh, back in the days when I drew, I would have loved to have drawn Mary Marvel. Sure.
Alex Grand: and did you bring a lot of that May Marvel and Millie the Model into your Misty Comics that you did in the eighties like would you say a lot of that was influenced into there? Or, or was it more your own life experiences that would go into that?
Trina Robbins: Oh, Misty was definitely an offshoot of Millie the model because she was Millie’s niece that was continuity that got it into Marvel Comics. But Mary Marvel in the nineties and early 21st century. I collaborated with Ann Timmons on a series called Go Girl. It was about a teenage blind heroine and she’s very influenced by Mary Marvel. I see.
Jim Thompson: Now you were also doing the kindly girls. There was also, um, uh, Katy Keene as well. Correct?
Trina Robbins: Katy was not Timely. We know everyone who is now a certain age. All the women loved Katy Keene. I mean, this is an interesting connection, but I actually have been taking Yiddish classes. They’re not classes, but there’s senior Yiddish classes and they’re not just senior Yiddish classes, but they’re senior LGBT Yiddish classes at the LGBT senior center. You know, it’s a great class and everyone’s friends and I will start talking about, we’ll get off topic. Right. And somebody started talking about the old comics that they remembered. The teacher started, he liked the little king. He talked about how to solve those little king. And we started talking about comics and I mentioned Katy Keene and all of the women went, Oh, Katy Keene. Yes! Every little girl in the forties and fifties loved Katie Keene through the sixties the early sixties
Alex Grand: That was a real cultural phenomenon with women readers at the time. That’s great
Trina Robbins: Girl readers. Sure. Women read it too.
Jim Thompson: And you were attracted also to the paper dolls aspect of it as well. Do you think that’s when you started to think about fashion was partly because of or in connection with those?
Trina Robbins: I always loved paper towels. I made my own, I had brown paper grocery bags filled with my paper dolls and I would constantly design more clothes for them and they were always in the same pose. I would redraw the jaws as I got better at drawing, but they would always be in the same pose so they could wear all the clothes I had designed for them.
Jim Thompson: We were talking about the paper dolls, and the clothing. And so you were interested in the fashion aspect of these comics as well? That’s correct?
Trina Robbins: yes.
Jim Thompson: And what about other women in comics at that time? I know you have a great love for fiction house.
Trina Robbins: Yes, they published during the war and afterwards to really in the late forties they published more women cartoonists than any of the other companies. And that’s during the war when everyone was publishing women cartoonists, all the comic book companies because the guys were off fighting. They still published more than any of the others and the best. These women were great.
Alex Grand: So were you reading Fiction House as a kid or did that come later when you were doing research?
Trina Robbins: You know, as soon as I could discover comics, I was buying. I loved their Jungle comics. I was a huge Sheena fan. I was into Jungle comics. My mother was a little alarmed because you know, the girls were kind of sexy, but you know, by today’s standards, by today’s standards, they’re just pretty girls. You know, you’ve seen that girl comics and how horrendous they are. But even though my mother was alarmed, she never censored me.
Jim Thompson: Now this opens you up to a lot of different genres too cause fiction house was great at covering a lot of different,
Trina Robbins: My God there’s Science Fiction titles Planet comics. Yes.
Jim Thompson: You know, I have been looking at other companies during the same period that I’m finding a lot of women, surprising number of women in Ace and in Harvey and some of those as well.
Trina Robbins: Timely comics!
Jim Thompson: And Timely comics. Yes. Who was working at Timely?
Trina Robbins: Oh Wow. Starting in 1944 with the first Miss America magazine, which as you know was a girl’s mag that also had comics in it. You had Miss America and also Patsy Walker originating in 1944 drawn by Pauline Loth, also drawn by Christopher Rule, who in my opinion is one of the greatest, greatest cartoonists who ever lived. And I, you know, I guess it’s a very small Christopher Rule appreciation society, but I certainly belonged to it. So that was 44 then in 45 Ruth Atkinson drew the first year of Patsy Walker comics. See originally Patsy Walker was in Miss America comics as a one, just one comic in the magazine and by 45 she was so successful that they did Patsy Walker comics, that’s when they started Millie the model comics and Ruth Atkinson drew the first year of Patsy Walker, she drew the first Millie the Model comic book. And also in that first year of Patsy Walker drawn by Ruth Atkinson. It would be three Patsy walker stories drawn by her. And One Patsy Walker story contributed by Fran Hopper. That was practically an all woman deal there.
Jim Thompson: And why did that change? What caused women to almost virtually disappear from a lot of these companies.
Trina Robbins: Guys came back from the war and they wanted their old jobs back. That’s exactly what happened. But they were still, you know, like the timely teen titles from the late forties and fifties I was, I loved them and you know, they were drawn by guys at that point, but they were still, they were vibrant and alive and exciting and, and about teenage girls. And really that continued, it started falling apart in the 60s just about when Marvel, you know, started it, it’s superhero renaissance and they just devoted themselves because the superheroes were doing so well. They devoted themselves to the superheroes and threw the girl titles under the bus.
Jim Thompson: I’m going to skip ahead just for a minute just because of what you’re saying. You had given up comics for a while, but you came back in terms of EC comics because of your love for the Science Fiction books and because of Mad now, they did not have very many women working for them, correct?
Trina Robbins: No they didn’t, Marie Severin was the colorist and that was it.
Alex Grand: Just as far as the Scifi. So you were saying you were reading Planet comics and then also you’re reading the EC Comics and you got involved with Scifi fandom. Right? In the later fifties there was a Hugo award nominated fanzine Habbakuk. Am I saying it correctly?
Jim Thompson: Yes.
Alex Grand: Would you have had considered yourself a Scifi fan by this point?
Trina Robbins: Oh yes. I discovered Science Fiction and about 14 and except for what I had to read for school, I would say that from 14 to about 18 all I read was science fiction.
Alex Grand: Oh, I see. What was it about science fiction that you liked? Was it about like the technological aspect or was it more like they would put social things within a fantastic setting, social discussions in a fantastic setting. What, what was it about Sci-Fi that drew you to it?
Trina Robbins: Well, really it was everything. I mean it was mind opening. I was the only kid, well maybe one of two kids in my school who read science fiction, you know? And they thought we were weird. You know, science fiction was, was just weird. Kids read that stuff. I mean it was completely mind opening the concept. I mean, now there’s so corny and we know them so well. You know what, if you go back through time and, and marry, your husband or your father or whatever, they’re so obvious now, but they were just mind blowing in those days, cause they were new. Discovering Bradbury, you know? And like, again, it’s, you know, we, we know this stuff now and it’s old hat, but at the time, you know, wow, what if the Martians were big eyed wonderful people. But then we came and we destroyed them with our diseases. Wow. You know, I mean this was amazing stuff to me cause it was new.
Alex Grand: Yeah, that’s great. How did you get involved with the Scifi fanzines? Was it through like fan letters of comics? How did that happen?
Trina Robbins: My two best friends I met through a letter to a science fiction magazine when I was 14 I just wrote a letter saying, you know, are there any other fans you know in Queens and I, I’m 14 and I’m blonde and I have green eyes and it’s two boys immediately called me by my friends David and Marty and they became my best friends, teenagers my age and we would meet and David, David’s father had fixed up the basement with like a ping pong table and stuff, hoping that David would, you know, be a regular boy and play ping pong, but we never used the ping pong table and we just hung out and talked about science fiction.
Alex Grand: Oh that’s great.
Jim Thompson: Yeah. You started it, you said when you were around 14 it’s probably not a coincidence that your mom asked you or told you to stop buying comics the year before that approximately.
Trina Robbins: Yes.
Jim Thompson: So, so science fiction came up partly because you weren’t allowed to read comics anymore?
Trina Robbins: No. No. You must’ve said weren’t allowed. I mother simply said to me, you’re in high school now. You’re a teenager, comics are kids stuff. Why don’t you stop reading comics? She never, never, my parents were very permissive, but I simply went, oh yeah, okay. You’re right. And stopped reading comics
Jim Thompson: and then you came back when people showed you Mad Magazine and the EC stuff.
Trina Robbins: No, I didn’t come back to comics. I just came back to Mad comics. And you see that’s different, you know?
Jim Thompson: Yes. And then Wally Wood was one of your favorites, you later got to meet him, what in the late sixties?
Trina Robbins: yes.
Alex Grand: What was your impression of Wally when you met? Was he a nice guy?
Trina Robbins: Woody was a very nice guy. He had a studio where younger people, you know, young guys were assisting him and I could have it at that certain point. I moved to San Francisco in 1970 if I had stayed and not, you know, I could have been part of that group that I couldn’t have, you know, three lives and one of them would be Woody’s assistant.
Alex Grand: That’s amazing. Before that, before you moved, your first comics, were for the East village Other, an underground newspaper in New York City and they published the Goth Blimp works, which was a comic you worked on in 69. Was this your intro to underground comics? Tell us about that.
Trina Robbins: Well, I was still living in Los Angeles in 66 when someone showed me the East Village Other. Every major city at that point and college towns too had one underground newspaper in L.A, ours was the L.A. free press, and I did hang out with the L.A. free press crowd and I even did one four panel comic for them. But then someone showed me east village other and they had comics and the comics were, well the word entrepreneur comics didn’t exist yet. I called them hip comics. We talked about our culture of counter culture rather than short haired superheroes punching each other out. You know, it was something I could in particular, I’ve never forgotten. There was this one full page comic called gentles trip out and it was signed Pan Zika. It was totally, totally psychedelic. It didn’t really have a story or anything. It was just very psychedelic. And I thought, this is what I want to do. You know, like, like two years later when it was in New York, I met Pan Zika who turned out to be a woman. So this was really maybe my first major comics influence was a woman.
Jim Thompson: Trina, I wanted to go back to the earlier years just for a little bit. We were talking about comic books, but we haven’t talked about comic strips. And I know that you were also an avid reader of comic strips during this time. We haven’t talked to you about your family’s politics, but my understanding is they were a fairly liberal family, living in a community of more conservative people.
Trina Robbins: Very left wing family, living in an extremely bigoted right wing neighborhood.
Jim Thompson: And in fact, you had to sneak out to read Hearst newspapers, is that correct?
Trina Robbins: He wouldn’t allow the Hearst newspapers in the house, because they were fascist rags and of course they were fascist rags, but they had great comics. Hearst had great taste in comics.
Jim Thompson: So you would actually go out and take someone else’s in the mornings and read it and then put the newspapers back.
Trina Robbins: Oh, that was the Daily News, no the Journal American was the Hearst paper and they had the best comics. And I would read that over the houses of my friends when I was visiting my friends, I would read their Journal Americans, the Daily News really only actually had terrible comics, but they had Brenda Starr. That was the only one that I was interested in, the Daily News and my landlady subscribed to the Daily News. So I would go downstairs and pick up the paper when it landed at her door and bring it upstairs and unfold it and read Brenda Starr and then refold it and put it back down in front of my landlady’s door.
Jim Thompson: So you were reading comic strips that did have some political commentary like Barnaby and Pogo were two of your favorites?
Trina Robbins: Yes. Well, of course, Pogo ran in the Post, which was left wing and Barnaby ran in. Someone has to write a book about this really interesting newspaper called it. It went through three changes. First it was the PM, then it was the Compass, and then it was the Star. But they all had the same really, really, really good writers, really classic writers and really good taste. and, and they always folded because they wouldn’t take advertising because they were so pure. And that was what my father brought home. He brought home the pm when it was the star, I think not the pm or the compass, but when it was the star, it carried Spirit Sunday strips the Spirit. And they had like the best comics. You know, Barnaby? Yes. Barnaby was just amazing. And I think it might’ve been the compass that Walt Kelly was actually the art director on, but it was one of those. But so there’s this amazing phenomenon of this newspaper that went through three name changes in three different owners. It was always really the same newspaper. And why hasn’t someone written a book about this?
Jim Thompson: You know you mentioned Eisner, you were also a tremendous fan of the Spirit.
Trina Robbins: I loved the Spirit’s Sunday sections. Yes. God, yes.
Jim Thompson: And they had great women characters too, didn’t they?
Trina Robbins: They did. His women were so strong. Even if the Spirit was the protagonist, there was always a strong woman in there and they were great characters
Jim Thompson: and such a variety at the time they had such individual personalities. So then as we said, you have gotten into Science Fiction and you were hanging out with some new friends, but also because it was a community, you were invited to New York and were part of a group that also included older men that were inviting basically the 15 year old girls to come and join and talk about science fiction.
Trina Robbins: I met these people at at a local convention at an a New York comic con, maybe not comic con, Science Fiction Con. Probably my first Science Fiction Con and they were all these people and they were, yeah, they were all older guys in their thirties and Marty, my friend Marty and I, we were like 15 we were invited to hang out with them and it was kind of, well nice. A little weird, you know, because I mean nobody tried anything, I promise you that. But there was a lot of innuendos running around, you know, I didn’t get it. They went over my head. I didn’t know what was going on.
Alex Grand: Were you reading science fiction digests and pulps too?
Trina Robbins: Yes, yes, yes, yes. The pulps were great, but I also read a fantasy and science fiction then Galaxy.
Alex Grand: Galaxy, yeah. Okay. That’s cool. Were you able to like tell, you know if that was a Wally Wood picture or …
Trina Robbins: Woody was so recognizable. First of all, he was the first artist, cartoon artist I was aware of because in those days nobody was credited. But what he would sign his strips, you know, with that fancy gothic Wood so I knew what was by Wally Wood.
Alex Grand: Oh that’s cool. Interesting. So then with the Scifi conventions with these older guys and stuff. It was not just about comics, it was also about pulps and magazines and just the genre in general, it sounds like.
Trina Robbins: Yes.
Jim Thompson: You met Harlan Ellison around this time?
Trina Robbins: At a science fiction convention in New York. Yes. And the two of you became friends. I dated him he was five years older than me. First thing he did when he met me, was ask me how tall I was and then when it turned out that I was shorter than him, he asked me out. I was 16 and he was 21
Jim Thompson: so what was he like as a 21 year old? Was he the same as he was later in life?
Trina Robbins: Harlan has always been the same as he always has been. Yes. Yes. He had just sold his first book, which was, I think the original name was Rumble, but then they, when they reprinted it, they gave it a classier title, uh, something about the city. I don’t remember exactly, but it was the book where he talked about running with the teenage gang and disguise and he insisted it had really happened, but I didn’t really believe him.
Jim Thompson: And you reconnected with him later in Los Angeles when you came out there?
Trina Robbins: Yes. Out there. Yes. He was in my carass somewhere. Wherever I went there was Harlan.
Jim Thompson: You have a tiny movie connection with him too, correct?
Trina Robbins: Yes, that awful movie, The Oscar, which even Harlan agreed was the worst movie ever made. He had a character named Trina, played by Edie Adams, and he said he had based it on me. So Edie wanted to meet me since she was going to be playing the character. So we met her at the studio for lunch, and she was wonderful. And I don’t think the character was the least bit like me, but that’s okay.
Alex Grand: But the name is there.
Jim Thompson: So you stayed involved in science fiction, you finished high school and then you went to college for 1 year.
Trina Robbins: I dropped out of two very good colleges. Yes.
Alex Grand: Were those in New York?
Trina Robbins: Queens College and the other was Cooper Union that was in Manhattan. Cooper Union was the art school.
Alex Grand: What year was that when you left there? Cooper Union.
Jim Thompson: Oh, that would be the late fifties
Alex Grand: oh, okay. Okay, I got Ya. So then in the 60s then you’re working mostly in the, well, the East village Other and all that was 69
Trina Robbins: 66. And almost immediately was published in the East village Other.
Alex Grand: what prompted your move to San Francisco in 1970
Trina Robbins: the underground comics scene. It was just a new art form. It was very revolutionary. The idea that you could do comics that were not Spiderman or Batman, you know, that were counter culture. It was a brand new art form and it was very exciting and it was very vigorous and very alive. The comic books are coming out of San Francisco and that’s where, where they were coming from. So it was like the Mecca of underground comics and, and they was a. I call it a lemming like migration of underground cartoonists from New York to San Francisco during starting around 1969 through 1970 and 71
Alex Grand: right. That all kind of coincides with the movement of the late sixties like Woodstock and all that stuff. Right. That’s how it is that all that all just kind of goes together doesn’t it?
Trina Robbins: Yes it does.
Alex Grand: Yeah. And then at that point you worked on a San Francisco based underground publisher. It Ain’t Me Babe and a comic of the same name, which was an all woman comic book. Is that correct?
Trina Robbins: Oh, kind of a little bit ish. It Ain’t Me Babe was the first in those days we didn’t call it feminism yet. We called it women’s liberation. It Ain’t Me Babe was the first Women’s Liberation newspaper in America. It came out of Berkeley of course, and I saw maybe the first or second issue, I don’t remember it, but a very early issue and was very excited and contacted them and wound up drawing for them roughly every three weeks we would have paste up night and we would just, I would do little spot illustrations right there and you know, for the articles. And I also drew the comic for the back page and I did covers also.
Jim Thompson: You had an easier time working with underground newspapers then you had with underground comics.
Trina Robbins: You know, what happened was women’s liberation happened around the same time as women’s liberation underground comics, was still a very small group of people, but entrepreneur comics started getting ,and it was all guys. You have to understand that the women, it was me and one other woman, Willie Mendez, and the comics suddenly took a turn, I would say around 69 took a turn for the extremely misogynistic and you have to understand that there was no comics code in underground comics. These guys could draw whatever they wanted and what was coming out of their ids was an amazing hatred of women, really vicious, violent, misogyny. I had gotten turned on to what we called Women’s liberation and I think even if I haven’t gotten turned on to women’s liberation, I would, you know, still reacted the same way because this stuff was horrifying. I objected to it and the guys were extremely threatened by women’s liberation. My God, they were so threatened it was ridiculous. So basically I was shut out. I mean, there was a boys club and I was definitely shut out.
Alex Grand: This was driven by Robert Crumb then? This kind of shift of the ID toward those kinds of comics?
Trina Robbins: Well, I hate to pick on Crumb, but it was kind of, you know, because he was, he really, you know, he was a brilliant artist and a brilliant cartoonist. He kind of became the God, the god of underground comics. Right. And what he did was sacrosanct, you know? And if you dared to criticize him, you were burned at the stake in the, in the marketplace.
Alex Grand: Did he know about your objections to it ?
Trina Robbins: Of course he did.
Alex Grand: He did right? And then did he give you any interpersonal reaction to it or was it more systematic with the underground comics and just the people that were in it?
Trina Robbins: Well, he always said that, well, I’m being honest and this is what is in my head and I’m just showing it on a slate, but in that doesn’t really make it, you know, racists are honest too, you know?
Alex Grand: Right, right. I can get that.
Jim Thompson: You actually lived with his sister for awhile.
Trina Robbins: She was my roommate, yes.
Jim Thompson: Right after your child had been born and she had a young child as well.
Trina Robbins: They moved in when I think my daughter was about nine months old.
Jim Thompson: And how long did y’all live together?
Trina Robbins: Oh, we probably less than about a year. But it wasn’t a good living situation because unfortunately, her son who was just a little bit older and bigger than my daughter Casey. He wasn’t mean to him. She wasn’t horrible to him or anything like that. She never abused him, but she practiced their kind of benign neglect. She just kind of left him alone to wander around the house and get into things. And, and I think he was reacting. He felt, I mean, because she wasn’t really giving him active love. He was reacting very badly. And really the most rage filled baby I’d ever seen him, he took on my daughter who was younger and smaller and it just was a bad living situation. So we finally split up. I always really liked Sandy and try and try to make friends with her.
Jim Thompson: And you included her story somewhat in a comic you did later on?
Trina Robbins: I love the way you’re asking these questions, you know, because you’re getting them all wrong. Even though you’ve read my book and you know everything. In 1972 I did the story of Sandy becoming a lesbian. Sandy comes out and I didn’t know it at the time, but it turns out it was the first comic about an out Lesbian ever drawn.
Jim Thompson: What did I get wrong? I thought I was getting it pretty right.
Trina Robbins: Oh, but that’s okay.
Alex Grand: Nice try Jim. Nice try. haha. So, you know, I’m curious. Tell us about 1973 Berkeley comic con. You made some paraphernalia for that event.
Trina Robbins: I guess I did some T-shirts, is that what you mean?
Alex Grand: T-Shirts! Yeah. Okay, cool. And tell us about that.
Trina Robbins: Oh yes, I did do things for the comic con. That’s right, yes, well, it was great. Women’s comics had started in 72, two weeks after we started women’s comics, we discovered that there were these two women in Southern California who are also doing an all woman book and their’s was a much more outrageous title than ours. It was called Tits and Clits. We didn’t know about each other and yet here within two weeks of each other. You know, two different groups of women from either side of California. We’re producing these all women comics. Really? I know that it’s still early, but I mean was it the water? Was it something in the water? You know that we all, we all met in 73 and got along beautifully. You know that was Gwen Shevely and Joyce Farmer
Jim Thompson: You also did a women’s comic based out of France as well, correct?
Trina Robbins: Oh, I contributed, see that’s what I mean about how you’re getting them wrong. You did an all woman on based out of France. Sounds as though I edited an all woman French comic and of course I have not, I contributed. I contributed to Anna Na, which was the French. I’ve been told that they were inspired by women’s comics, that it was the French equivalent to Women’s Comics, but it was really so much better because all the European artists were better than us.
Jim Thompson: How long were you actually in France for an extended period of time?
Trina Robbins: We had something called the postal system so that you can mail them the art. You don’t have to go to France with delivery by hand.
Jim Thompson: Okay, but you were in France at some point
Trina Robbins: In 73 yes, I did. And visited. Actually I did not visit them at 73 I visited them in 77 when I went to Europe with my daughter, my seven year old daughter.
Jim Thompson: Okay, and you met a lot of the great French artists the time.
Trina Robbins: Yes. Yes. I stayed with Jean Pierre Dionnett, the publisher of Metal Hurlant and his wife, Jonique who was the editor of Anna Na.
Alex Grand: Oh, nice. Yeah, 70 sounds like a really interesting time. Now, did you go back to New York? I remember at the cartoon Art Museum, we chatted a bit that you went to Marvel and you met Stan Lee with your daughter in 74
Trina Robbins: I would go back to New York periodically. They were fantastic airline deals in those days where you could go round trip for $199 things like that. And I would stay with friends often. I would stay with Flo Steinberg who was a very dear friend.
Alex Grand: Oh really? That’s great. Yeah. Cause she did her own underground comic, Big Apple Comics in 1975?
Trina Robbins: yeah.
Alex Grand: Yeah. That’s, that’s awesome. That’s a cool car. I didn’t know about that connection between you two. Tell the audience about when you met Stan Lee with Marvel and he introduced you to comics, like Night Nurse and things like that. Tell the audience about that scenario.
Trina Robbins: Actually, I met Stan Lee in 1966 when I came to New York from Los Angeles. I visited marvel to do a write up on them for the L.A free press and they were great. I mean they were just very welcoming. You could never do that now, you know, you’d have to make appointments. But I just walked in and said, hi, I’d like to interview Stan Lee, you know, of Marvel Comics to write about Marvel for the Los Angeles free press. And, and I was made welcome and Roy Thomas took me to lunch and Stan was great, you know, it was really a remarkable time.
Alex Grand: So then was this kind of your personal introduction then to the Marvel people was around this time then?
Trina Robbins: Yeah.
Alex Grand: And then Denis Kitchen. Yeah, he published a few magazines under the Curtis publications for Marvel. The Comics Book. Which was the mainstream marvel underground magazine. Kind of a conflicted category. But you did some excerpts because when I was researching you a bit I, I got some of those and I read through them and you had some Panthea comics that were in there.
Trina Robbins: Yes I did.
Alex Grand: Yeah. So tell us about like what are you doing those from San Francisco or were you in Manhattan doing those?
Trina Robbins: I was in San Francisco, again, I call your attention to the United States postal system. So there you go. We didn’t have to be there. That was amazing. I mean because they were paying $100 a page, which was incredible for us underground cartoonits. We were happy to get $25 a page if we even got paid.
Alex Grand: Right? Yeah. The Panthea, I read that and it’s just the origin story of Panthea was just something else cause I guess a woman or a girl was kidnapped into the Wild or she was lost in the wild and then she grows up and makes love to a lion or?
Trina Robbins: Her plane crashes. She’s the only survivor, she’s a baby girl. She’s brought up by a lion and becomes his mate who is part lion part woman.
Alex Grand: Yeah. What a what an origin story. I’ve never read anything like that before. So definitely got my attention. So then what was your impression of the comics book? Why did that not last more than three issues?
Trina Robbins: I really don’t know why it didn’t last more than three issues. I thought it had four issues.
Alex Grand: There was three under Curtis, then he put together four and five. I think he on his own. Denis kitchen did.
Trina Robbins: Okay. You know, you can get the collected comics book and published the entire comics book. I don’t know why it didn’t last. It’s too bad. It was great while it was going on.
Alex Grand: But it was fun. And then you mentioned the tits and clits underground comics and you worked on that in 1977 or you contribute and worked on that?
Trina Robbins: I was a contributor.
Alex Grand: Yeah. Yeah, she did in 1977 and the mission seemed to be underground, but as sexuality from a woman’s perspective was different. Right from the late sixties early seventies from the male sexual perspective.
Trina Robbins: Yes. Oh I’ll say.
Alex Grand: And I looked at some of those pages and they’re very classy. Did you feel that that magazine achieved the goal of adequately viewing things from the reverse approach? Gender wise?
Trina Robbins: To a certain degree, yes. I mean the guys didn’t want to talk about women’s sexuality. You know, the same thing with women’s comics. I mean we dealt with subjects that the guys would not be the least bit interested in talking about, you know, the first issue had a comic called a teenage abortion. She was still illegal. We talked about menstruation, we talked about subjects that men didn’t just didn’t talk about, you know.
Alex Grand: Right. Which I think are important to talk about. I mean the cause those are real things that they should be out there.
Trina Robbins: Of course.
Jim Thompson: You were more involved in women’s comics then you were in Tits and Clits.
Trina Robbins: I was an occasional contributor to Tits and Clits. I think I may have contributed to two issues.
Jim Thompson: And you were actually an editor at least for one issue of Women’s Comics
Trina Robbins: Two issues.
Jim Thompson: but there was comments made that you were almost in charge of it, that you, you were the defacto editor for more than that.
Trina Robbins: I was never in charge of women’s comics. I was never the defacto editor. We had a rotating editorship so that no one could be a dictator and in fact, starting in 1982 we had two editors, a double editor ships so that even even then nobody could be the supreme law.
Jim Thompson: I understand that. But people have said that you were,
Trina Robbins: well, this is simply not true,
Jim Thompson: but you know what I’m talking about.
Trina Robbins: Yes.
Alex Grand: Maybe Jim is saying that did you have to make some executive decisions every now and then?
Trina Robbins: We really were a collective every month we would meet and people from the first issue on and the first issue we solicited submissions and we got them and every month we would meet and we would sit on the floor surrounded by submissions and go through them and offer our opinions. The editor would have the last say for sure, but all had say, and you know, a lot of it was simply unanimous. If someone was simply awful, we all felt the same way, but every now and then we’d get something really exciting, something new, something that you know, showed real talent. And it really was, although maybe the editor had the last say, it was a collective decision.
Jim Thompson: Talk about the publishing of that with this was, this was being done. Who was financing this?
Trina Robbins: By Last Gasp, Ron Turner was the publisher of last gasp comics and he had published It Ain’t Me Babe Comics, which was the very, very first all woman comic book in the universe. As far as I know, I don’t know about Pluto, but I produced that one, that one. I completely, I take credit for that. I completely thought it up and produced it.
Jim Thompson: Who were some of the men during this period that really did support women cartoonists and comics? I know you’ve talked about Vaughn Bode as somebody that really helped.
Trina Robbins: Yes. He was very supportive when you know, like I said, there was a boys club and he wasn’t part of the boy’s club either. I think he felt very shut out. I think those guys resented him. Maybe he was just too talented for them. I don’t know. But they did resent him and there were other guys in 1972 my partner was Leslie Cabarda who was a cartoonist underground cartoonist at the time contributed comics book and he was of course supportive. I mean I wouldn’t be living has been living with him if we weren’t supportive there were lots of supportive guys. There was that core, there was that core of boy’s club
Jim Thompson: and there were some that seemed to go out of their way to leave you out of the convention list and to leave you out of projects and panels and you mentioned Roger Brand several times.
Trina Robbins: It was almost uncanny how much he went out of his way to not introduce me to anyone until leave me out. It was just, it was really kind of mindblowing. Yes.
Jim Thompson: I was reading where, I think it was Spain Rodriguez, and I hope I don’t get it wrong because you’ll fuss at me, but Spain Rodriguez said that they weren’t trying to actually freeze you out because you were women. It was just that your stuff was sweeter and they wanted to be vulgar and gross.
Trina Robbins: That’s exactly what he said. Yeah. To me that was a great compliment because first of all, that was when we were co teaching a class in the early 21st century in Chico on comics, I was teaching the writing and he was teaching the drawing. We would have separate classes. But then the last class was the two of us together and he said that he had read this in my book, my history of women cartoonists, a quote saying that it was a sweetness to women’s comics and he said that was really why they didn’t want to publish me because it was too sweet because they didn’t want to be sweet. They wanted to be nasty and raw and horrible. This was really an enormous compliment, you know? And not only that, but it told me that he had read my book, which was a big compliment too.
Alex Grand: So do you feel like when they want to be vulgar, is that just because it just gets more readers and it pays more? Is that basically all that is?
Trina Robbins: No it’s what they wanted to do. It’s little boys telling potty jokes. Come on, you guys. Do you remember when you were horrible little boys, but these are just horrible little boys who never grew up.
Jim Thompson: Well, I will say that the early women’s comics have their own level of vulgarity. They also were pushing boundaries quite a bit.
Trina Robbins: Some of them were quite vulgar, yes.
Jim Thompson: Tina, is there anything else you want to say in relation to, well, one, one thing I want to ask you about because I love this story was where it was a party and the men kept wanting to basically split up and put the wives and women in the kitchen and the men were going to go in another room and talk. And you were a cartoonist too…
Trina Robbins: You keep getting it just a little twisted. This was, this was 1970. It was a dinner, given at Roger Brand and his wife Michelle given at their house and they had invited other cartoonists and at the time I was living with Kim Deitch and he was part of the boy’s club. So I came along, I was invited, but then after dinner all the women went into the kitchen and the man hung out together, you know, smoking pot and talking. And I was, damn, that was a feminist. Oh, it’s not going to go into the kitchen with a bunch of women. I was a cartoonist. I wasn’t just the wife, you know. So I stayed with the male cartoonists, but then what happened was Roger kept leading them out of the room into another room and I would follow them into that room and then brought to lead them into another room. So it was like he kept moving away from me and leading the guys away from me and I just kept following cause I wasn’t going to be left alone. It was a very weird situation.
Jim Thompson: That’s great. I want to ask you about what other anecdote, which was you were being invited when you were living in New York. You were going to parties, were they hosted by Archie Goodwin?
Trina Robbins: Yes. Archie and Anne Murphy, his wife.
Jim Thompson: You saw Steve Ditko there?
Trina Robbins: Yes. In a little gray suit.
Jim Thompson: and Bill Everett and Roy Thomas and Gil Kane and Walt Simonson a whole blend of the past and the the current ones and they were all there at the parties talk about that a little bit and some of your encounters.
Trina Robbins: It was Flo Steinberg, who invited me, I guess the first time I went there was Roger again, Roger Brand, but he had never invited me. He had never told me about these parties. And he said, what are you doing here? I said, I was invited and it was great. I mean, I was, you know, they, I don’t think that they took me seriously as a cartoonist, but they accepted me as a person and were very nice to me.
Alex Grand: What year was that roughly?
Trina Robbins: That was 69
Alex Grand: when you saw Steve Ditko and Roy Thomas and then, that was in 69?
Trina Robbins: yes.
Alex Grand: Oh, okay. How was Steve Ditko? Was that the only time you saw him around then? did you see him at another time?
Trina Robbins: I saw him twice, a little gray man in a little gray suit, standing all alone in the hall with a drink, not talking to anybody. And, and Anne Murphy, Archie’s wife, came over and said, can I get you anything? And he said, no, I’m fine. And she just kind of looked at me and shrugged and he walked. He left shortly after that. And the second time I saw him, he was at Woody’s studio. I went to visit Woody, and he was there. And Woody said, oh, this is Trina Robbins. This is the girl I told you about. Which was a great compliment to me that someone that he actually told someone about me and all of a sudden Steve Ditko left. Woody said, you’re going, you’re going so quick. He said, yeah, I got to go.
Alex Grand: so he didn’t say much, I guess those two times. Did you get the impression that Woody and him were friends?
Trina Robbins: I think they were.
Alex Grand: So Ditko was just, do you think he was just shy? I mean, what’s your, I guess it’s hard to tell from those few encounters…
Trina Robbins: I think he didn’t like to hang out with people very much.
Alex Grand: Yeah, that’s okay. No, that’s fair. That’s interesting.
Jim Thompson: One other anecdote in terms of the parties, so I don’t know if it was the last party you went to before you moved, but there was a party where you brought the brownies.
Trina Robbins: Yes I made pot brownies. I felt that the parties were too stayed, that everyone was just being a little too rigid and too straight. So I made pot brownies and brought them in and called them Alice be topless brownies because she has the recipe for pot brownies and her Alice B Toklas cookbook that are quite famous. And everybody ate the brownies and was having a wonderful time and just just laughing and really loosening up. And at one point Roy Thomas said, what did you put in these Brownies Trina? And I said, Pot he said, I thought so
Alex Grand: that’s great. Now let’s talk early eighties you had basically a series of installments of Dope, of the comic Sax Rohmer’s Dope Book, but in comics form and Eclipse comics, it was were released in a serial fashion as you went through the story. You wrote in the graphic novel when I was kind of researching your stuff, that you felt like the elements of this story, we’re perfect for a comic book. And you also said that you enjoyed it reading it within the context of his time because there’s some racism and misogyny and this and that, but you still value it as an artifact of its time. So I guess a couple of questions. What made it for perfect comic book and what advice would you give to younger readers as they look at old stuff like that and how should they process that stuff?
Trina Robbins: Well, you know, I think we have to realize that by our standards in the past everyone was racist. It’s as simple as that. Really, truly everyone was racist. I mean, if you read Charles Dickens, you read Mark Twain, every one was racist. They were, you know, they didn’t know they were being racist. We have different standards now, but as for Dope, it’s so visual. I mean, my God, it’s got such a great villain essence such a great villain and such great characters and it’s just, it’s so visual. It’s so blood and thunder. Sax Rohmer was such a good pulpy writer and it just was made to be adapted into comics.
Jim Thompson: I was so happy to see that come back in print because it’s, it’s lovely. It’s, it’s one of my favorite things.
Trina Robbins: I think it really holds up, yeah, I think that in the eighties I was at my best as an artist.
Jim Thompson: I have to say that we had Tom Orzechowski on our podcast. He does such a good job on the lettering on that, it as some of his best stuff.
Trina Robbins: He lived downstairs from us, you know, we lived in the same building and I could just bring the pages downstairs to Tom.
Alex Grand: You mean back then he did?
Trina Robbins: yes. Okay. Okay.
Alex Grand: Oh that’s awesome. Yeah cause that was when he was also lettering X-Men at the same time.
Trina Robbins: He’s such a good letterer oh my God. Yeah.
Jim Thompson: And you were doing a lot of main stream work than in previous years during this a eighties period as well. Cause you were, you did some work for DC, the Wonder Woman series and you also did some Marvel work as well under Jim shooter, correct?
Trina Robbins: Yes. Yes. My attempt to bring back the girls’ comics with Misty who was Millie Model’s niece.
Alex Grand: Well that was awesome. Trina I know you’re low on time. What we’ll do is we will continue this off in a second segment in the future. Jim, any closing comments?
Jim Thompson: I just want to say how much I enjoy this, but also I look forward to the second section when we talk about Trina as a Comic Historian and a scholar and an advocate for artists who were underappreciated at the time and unknown until she really started to make us aware of them.
Alex Grand: Wonderful. Yeah. Thanks so much for joining us here at the comic book historian podcast.
Trina Robbins: Okay. Talk to you later. Bye.
Alex: Well, welcome to another episode of the Comic Book Historians Podcast. Today we have part two of our exciting interview with Trina Robbins. I’m Alex Grand with my cohost Jim Thompson. Jim, how are you doing today?
Jim: I’m doing great.
Alex: Trina, thanks so much for joining us today.
Trina: My pleasure.
Alex: So last time Jim and I spoke about and your history in producing comics and that dovetailed into 1985 and today around that time in the mid 80s, we’re going to start discussion of your comic history career, which kind of starts around that same period of time and I think Jim’s going to start this particular topic off and we’re going to talk about Women In The Comics, 1985 published by Eclipse. So Jim, take it away.
Jim: Well, I just wanted to say how excited I am to do this part of it because I think that what you’ve done, we all owe you a great debt for the historical work that you’ve done and you went in areas that nobody was doing and you really made a tremendous difference in terms of us understanding the history of comics and I just wanted to personally thank you for that.
Trina: Thank you. I have to small correction, I know I’m always correcting you guys. The book was called Women and The Comics, because Maurice Horn had done a book previously called Women In The Comics and had nothing to do with women who created the comics. It was all about that sexy pictures of women in comics that necessarily weren’t even necessarily main characters, but just some babes who were put in the picture.
Trina: So when we came out with women and we had to call it Women and The Comics, and when we came out with that, we actually got a letter from Maurice, a cease and desist letter, like how dare he. So I challenged him to a duel, but we never, it never happens.
Alex: Yeah. Rick Marshall told us about some dealings he had with Maurice Horn as well. So when I had read about that story in your biography, it made sense with what I’ve already come to understand about the character.
Jim: Okay. So let’s get started in terms of this now, this was your first comic related book rather than comic, is that correct?
Trina: It was my first book period.
Jim: Yes, and it’s also, it would be fair to say it’s a very first book on women comic creators exclusively.
Trina: Yes. Oh yes, the very first and remember that the first one I co-wrote with Cat Yronwode. She needs to get half the credit for that first book-
Trina: Eclipse that published they’re also needs to get a lot of credit for being the publisher of the first book on Women and The Comics.
Jim: So could you tell us the backstory about how that book came to be? Whose idea it was, how it got started and how long it took to write, the details about how it came to be?
Trina: Well, I was really getting sick of editors and publishers saying and artists saying women didn’t read comics and women had never drawn comics and I knew that was not true. Simple as that, I knew it wasn’t true and Cat and Dean, Dean Mullaney who was the publisher of Eclipse Comics and Cat was the editor. She said, “Well then let’s do a book”, and at the time, okay, this was my first book, I was still very unsure of myself. I didn’t think I could do it myself. So I co-wrote it with Cat and that’s how it came about. However, I have to say, it’s probably a real collector’s item, but I would not use it for research because a lot of our research proved wrong. This was pre-computer days and it was very hard to find information on Women Cartoonists and a lot of the information we found was incorrect, but we didn’t know was incorrect because like I say, it was pre-computer. So don’t use it for research.
Alex: Do you find that the Internet has helped your research a lot more now than pre-internet?
Trina: Oh my God, yes. Oh my God, absolutely. In every way. The book that I’m currently doing that I actually finished and is coming out in the fall, I researched a lot of it through old newspapers that I got electronically because this book is about Gladys Parker. I’ll tell you more about her when you ask me, but it just so happened that the gossip columnist loved her and they had wrote about her a lot and this is where I got most of my information.
Jim: So, you guys were essentially almost starting from scratch in a lot of this. Well, what were they? Were there resource books that you did use a Horn’s book or anybody else’s?
Trina: Maurice Horn’s book? Not ever. I mean-
Trina: Because it reminded about women who created comics.
Trina: Really, really nobody’s book. We had to go with small self published what you would today call zines, in many cases mimeographed. There was a woman who, Lorraine, oh gosh, I can’t think of her last name now, but she had a kind of a fan group I guess is what you’d have to call it about women. It was specifically about paper dolls, but as you know, a lot of the women cartoonists drew paper dolls. So she had a lot about these are only women. I got a little bit also from … Okay, there was this group in Los Angeles who were fans of illustrators, just historic illustrators and each little small self published thing, booklet, pamphlet, whatever you’d call it, that they put out every few months I think. Was a better different illustrators, so they did one on Nell Brinkley and all of their information was wrong, but we didn’t know that because this was the only information we had. But even we were wrong about her politics. They were wrong about saying that she stayed married to the same man all her life because they divorced. They even got her hair color wrong, but we didn’t know this.
Jim: Yeah. How were the writing duties divided between the two of you? Did you take certain areas or certain individuals or did you just collaborate on each chapter?
Trina: Basically we collaborated on each chapter. I would also like to say that I got a lot of my information, a lot of help from Bill Blackbeard. The late Bill Blackbeard who had the Academy of Comic Art in San Francisco and the Academy of Comic Art really consisted of just an entire basement crammed full of newspaper, mostly newspaper strips. Bill was lovely, you had to phone him and if he could hear you leaving a message, if he wanted to talk to you, he pick it up and I was very lucky because Bill liked me and he helped me a lot.
Alex: So he was a friend of yours?
Trina: Yes. He was really … He was a great guy.
Jim: Now, this book was the illustrations were all in black and white, is that right?
Jim: Who decided which illustrations to go? Was that the editorial or was that a decision from?-
Trina: I think again we decided together. In some cases it was all we had. You know, all we had that was printable.
Jim: Did it break down in a similar way to the way the subsequent books that are similar, The Great Woman Cartoonist and the various versions of that. Did it have that same chapter notion of starting in the very beginning and then going through to basically where you were at? Or-
Trina: They were all chronological.
Jim: Did it break down definitely?
Trina: No, they were all chronological. But after Women and The Comics, the books that I did myself, I simply concentrated on women cartoonists and didn’t talk about women who worked as editors or in offices or anything like that.
Jim: So this one actually talks about writers and things as well as the artist?
Jim: I see. Is this one had at least had some aspect of international comics among them and other things? Is that right?
Trina: Yes, we did.
Jim: How was that? Was that an area that you already had some existing knowledge about or was that a lot of new information coming in?
Trina: I had a little bit of knowledge because I had already been to Europe, and met women cartoonists that were familiar with the work of a lot of the European women.
Jim: I see, and what was the reception of the book? Was it received … It was received positively by mainstream critics, wasn’t it?
Trina: Yes, yes. It was actually even reviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle and they have now since then, they have never reviewed any of my books and that’s my home town.
Jim: One question I would have is, you’re obviously part of comics history yourself as well as Cat. How did you all deal with having to write about yourselves in terms of your contribution toward the historical moment you’re writing about?
Trina: I think that in all of my books I have been very modest. I haven’t pushed myself just because I’m writing them. I have simply included myself where it’s necessary to include myself historically.
Jim: Is it awkward writing about your friends and people that you were working with at the time?
Trina: No, I treated everyone equally.
Alex: All right.
Jim: Have you ever had any pushback from people where they didn’t like how you portrayed the events?
Trina: I think it was in the first book, Women and The Comics, that I left a couple of people’s out by mistake. It was not on purpose and they were kind of upset until we explained that we had knocked on this on purpose.
Jim: I see. Okay. I think we can come back to some of this, but let’s move on Alex to the next book.
Alex: All right. So a Century of Women Cartoonists in 1993. That was published by Kitchen Sink-
Trina: Kitchen Sink.
Alex: This was just you writing at the time, correct?
Alex: So how would you say this project was different from Women and The Comics? Would you say that it was just more research? Tell us some of the contrasts between the two.
Trina: Well, it was ever so much more research. At that point, we even had the internet. I had just started using computers in 1993 but we had] them. We didn’t have what we have now, but we had something. Also, the reason that I did it was that Women and The Comics met a very sad fate. What happened was it was published in what, ’86? Was it ’86 or ’85?
Trina: ’85, okay. Well all the copies that had not immediately gone out to stores were stored with Eclipse’s other books in the basement of the house where Cat and Dean lived.
Trina: In 1986 came the great Guerneville river, Russian river flood in Guerneville, and is that if you know much about the bay area, we do have this happen every now and then it rains too much and the rivers flood. Okay, well it really flooded and everything in the basement was turned into paper basically, paper mache.
Trina: So that was the end of Women and The Comics.
Trina: So by 1993, I knew there was a need for another book and this time I was competent enough to do it myself.
Alex: Did you pitch the idea to Denis kitchen or did Denis kitchen come to you? How’d that work?
Trina: I pitched the idea to Denis.
Alex: Okay, and was Kitchen Sink in Massachusetts at this point when you pitched it to him, or was it more by phone? How did that happen?
Trina: We did it by the phone, but are they still in Massachusetts?
Jim: They had moved from Wisconsin-
Alex: Yeah, they were in-
Jim: In 1993 was when they first moved to Massachusetts from Wisconsin.
Alex: So as far as the differences and more research, were you also able to conduct more interviews with past creators for this particular edition versus the Women and The Comics book?
Trina: Yeah, I did. I was able to find, again, thanks to the Internet, I was able to find these women, many of whom are no longer with us.
Trina: In one case, Ruth Atkinson who is turned out had drawn the entire first year of Patsy Walker comics. In that case, she walked into a local comic book store, looked at the comics and said to the owner, “I used to draw this stuff” and he got her phone number and phoned me immediately-
Trina: It turned out she was eight blocks away from me.
Alex: That’s amazing.
Jim: That’s great.
Alex: Yeah. because I was going to ask you about Ruth Atkinson and Pauline Loth with Miss America and Patsy Walker and Timely in the forties-
Alex: And in 1945, Ruth Atkinson did a story about demanding equal pay and it seemed like Timely was more women friendly in their content than some of the other publishers. Is that the correct saying?
Trina: Timely was very girl friendly. But the story that Ruth Atkinson did was not about equal pay. It was about allowing the girls to wear pants to high school because in those days the rule was you had to wear skirts.
Trina: The girls all spoke up and they said something like, “We are here for the liberation of all women”. They really said that and wore pants to school, broke the rules.
Alex: Yeah. That’s pretty cool.
Jim: Okay. So I’m getting just curious, the Century of Women Cartoonists, did that also received a good media reaction or did it get publicity?
Trina: Yes it did. No, people loved it. I mean it was the only book of its kind. There was no other place where you could find out about these women.
Jim: That’s what I’m thinking. That’s great. So then three years later you did the next book, which wasn’t a history of creators book. It was called The Great Women Superheroes, also published by Kitchen Sink.
Jim: That’s a very different book. How did that come to be?
Trina: Well, I had done a book about Women Cartoonists and I felt that people needed to know about women superheroes. At the time during the 80s and also the 90s, it was all guys and the women were treated to these kind of add-on characters, the teams, the super teams would be like three guys and a girl or four guys and a girl and people needed to know there had been these fabulous super heroines in the past.
Jim: My feeling about this book was it was in some ways more political in that you were talking about it in a way that like Bell Hooks might talk about film that it was talking about it in terms of critiquing what was happening in the 90s-
Jim: And using the prior decades to show what was there and what it had been lost by that current time. Is that fair to say?
Trina: Absolutely. I think that with the exception of Wonder Woman, maybe Supergirl had the wrong book, I’m not sure. But these women were usually part of the team. They were like, I say three guys and the girl and then they didn’t have their own books and yet they had had their own books in the past. They had starred in their own books.
Jim: Now, I noticed they thought it was an interesting subject matter for you to take on though because you had said in our prior interview that you didn’t have, besides Wonder Woman, you didn’t and Mary Marvel. You didn’t really have a lot of connection with the superhero genre as compared to so many of the other genres that did have a lot more women in it. Did you just pick superheroes because one, it was needed to discuss the lack of them and also because it was going to sell easier than talking about jungle princesses and some?-
Trina: No, none of my books have I thought of in terms of, this will sound-
Trina: Yeah, I can’t help it. That’s why I’m so poor. But it needed to be told. I mean, it’s something needed to be told by the 90s when you had with those horrible bad girl comics. I mean the only way they started their own books were like Lady Death and these horrible hyper-sexualized soft core porn characters.
Jim: Did you get any pushback by the industry or by others or by their mail infrastructure about what saying about comics at that time?
Jim: That’s interesting.
Alex: Do you think that the industry was pretty welcoming to your input on it from that historical perspective of the female?
Trina: Well, most of the people in the industry that I spoke to or that spoke to me, thought it was fine thought it was great.
Alex: Yeah. That’s great. A book that I read of yours, I love it actually because it’s almost like an alternate history, but it’s actually a true history and I’m surprised no one else has talked about it from this perspective was From Girls To Grrrlz: A History of Women’s Comics from Teens to Zines, in 1999. I love the book because it really, it’s like the history of comics from a female perspective and I’m surprised that it’s not mentioned in other comic history books I’ve read this perspective, but so how did this project come into being?
Trina: Well, I’d already written histories of women cartoonists and super heroines and I was really so sick of hearing editors say girls don’t read comics and people really believed that and I knew that this was, may I use the word bullshit? This was bullshit.
Trina: I had read comics when I was a kid and it wasn’t just me. I wasn’t just the Geeky girl in the corner who reads comics, everyone, my age, all of the kids read comics. My girlfriend’s read comics and we would trade comics and what the girls read, I knew what the girls read cause I had read them and I knew that really what I was trying to prove was that of course girls read comics. When you give girls’ comics they like to read, girls will read comics. But if all you give them is muscular guys with big chest punching each other out, they’ll all say, “I’m not going to read comics”.
Alex: Right and that it’s an interesting call to diversifying the genres and comics so that all demographics can read them and so it seems like it becomes self defeating what used to in the book, how to direct the market almost became more of a funnel for more of the superhero genre and then it becomes a self limiting, self destructive force where then boys only read superhero comics. Only superhero comics are put out and now girls are almost edged out off the side. When there was decades, like in the 40s you mentioned Archie Comics being very attracted to female readers and then in the 50s, romance comics attracted female readers. Can you tell us a little bit about that transition from teen comics to romance comics and why that shift occurred?
Trina: Romance comics started right after the war. I believe Simon and Kirby, I believe their first comic book, what was it, Young Love?
Alex: Yeah, Young Romance-
Jim: It’s Young Romance.
Trina: Okay. I think that started in 1947. They were just out of the war, they were veterans, and they come home and there was … The teen comics was doing great. The teen comics which were also about teenage girls. But they just decided “Why don’t we”, because the love magazines did really, really well. But those were like older women, women … By older, I mean women in their 20s, even late teens might be 18 or 19 were reading the romance magazines and they said, “Well, why don’t we do a comic” and the first one was a huge success, enormous success and of course what happens when one book is a success is other people start copying it. So just, you know, all of the comic publishers had their romance titles.
Alex: Did it feel like maybe the teen comics readers just grew a little older and now they wanted romance comics? Is that why the industry shifted toward more romance?
Trina: No. Because after all, if the teen girls became a little older or were reading the romance comics, they were younger girls who have just been reading like funny animals or something and they were reading the teen comics and the teen comics still did very well in the 50s.
Alex: yeah, like Archie did really well. Now there’s another phenomenon you mentioned and you touched upon it earlier, but Katy Keene and Torchy from 1947 and the divide and how women are portrayed, you mentioned that Torchy is almost more fetishy, sexy. Katy Keene is more classy and sophisticated and more for like an innocent female perspective. But you evolve that, you’ve also mentioned like Al Feldstein, Sunny in 1947 for Fox and Quality’s 1947, Candy, had a similar polarization and then in the 90s, you have Lady Death versus the Real Girl comics. Why do you think this polarization exists and how women are portrayed in comics?
Trina: Well, because there are always going to be guys who do comics specifically for other guys. Torchy was not really done for girls. Torchy was a pinup comic done for guys and you said something about fetishy. I mean, it was totally fetishy. Bill Ward was totally a fetish artist. He couldn’t help himself, that’s just what he drew. So he had to draw those legs with the super high heels shoes and the seams on the stockings, it’s just was what he did and this was not for teenage girl.
Alex: Right, and it makes sense cause he started that in the military for military guys. So it kind of makes sense, right? The last thing about that particular book I want to mention is in the 1970s, there’s almost like a crisis you mentioned in the way women are reading comics and what they’re looking for because it becomes more about women’s liberation. But then the mainstream comics, they have a hard time really connecting with them-
Trina: They were really didn’t get it.
Alex: So then what happens is you have Stanley who wrote a lot of female comics in the 40s and 50s but then that approach didn’t work in the 70s anymore and then so you have more the rise of the independent comics coming out from a girl perspective and then romance being faded out of comics in the 70s. What was going on in women readers at the time that this would happen?
Trina: Well, by the 70s and so many of us have become feminists, the love comics, the traditional love comics were just something to laugh at because the stories they told had nothing to do with our lives. You know, girl meets guy and is afraid he doesn’t love her for some reason or other and then it turns out he really does love her. I mean really these simple, simple stories and so cliché … Well, they had also become very much more cliched by the 70s. The love comics that still existed or incredibly cliched if you compare them to the earlier love comics, which sometimes were absolutely brilliant.
Alex: Right. That’s right. So now The Great Women Cartoonists, 2001 so was this essentially an update of the Century of Women Cartoonists? Were there new chapters? Was it re-edited? Tell us about that one.
Trina: It was an update in certain cases. I corrected mistakes I’ve made in the first one. It was basically an update with better pictures because we had color finally. It was a major New York publisher and I was very excited about the fact that it was a major New York publisher, but the editor was terrible. I’ll say that right now cause I’m not working for her anymore. She was awful. She led a lot of, and not just her, but the copy editor actually rewrote things that I had written, thought she knew better than me and I tried to correct them and they were never corrected. So there are some mistakes in there that are not my mistakes, but that made me cringe.
Alex: I see.
Trina: But it looks good, the book looked good.
Jim: That’s really interesting to me because I have that book and I was cross comparing it with Pretty in Ink just last night and there’s a lot of difference just in any basic sentence, the way that one is phrased and it’s so much more specific in Pretty in Ink, and I saw where those were correct and the earlier version was broader and incorrect in some ways. So that was-
Trina: In Pretty in Ink, we finally got it right. Yes. Now I don’t have to do those books anymore.
Jim: All right. The next that I have listed which came out the same year as Pretty Women Cartoonists was Neil Brinkley and the New Woman in The Early 20th Century-
Trina: Nell Brinkley. Nell, not Neil.
Jim: No, no, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Yes.
Alex: That’s my mistake. I made that mistake. Nell Brinkley, yeah.
Jim: Nell Brinkley. Yes, absolutely. I’m going to save that and do it together with the other Brinkley book and so I want to skip that and go to, is it Canary Press?
Trina: No, not Canary, con something.
Jim: Con. Okay. Con, it’s C.O.N.A.R.I.
Jim: Conari. Yeah, you did three books for them in the early 2000s. One in 2001, 2003 and 2004. Now, are those your first non comic related books that you did?
Trina: Well, I actually did a children’s book sometime in the 90s. If I had it right in front of me I could take it and look at the publication date. It was done by Ten Speed Press and it was called Catswalk.
Jim: I’ve never heard that one. Please tell us about that for a minute.
Trina: Yeah, says anybody else, they must have really had that distribution. I ran into a couple of editors for Ten Speed Press at a convention and they said they were fans of mine and would I like to do a children’s book and I said, yeah. So I did children’s book, it’s good to. Really, it’s good too, but nobody knows it exists because they had awful distribution.
Jim: I would love to see that. So tell us about the Goddesses with Attitude.
Trina: Goddesses With Attitude. I decided I wanted to do a book on goddesses. They were books on goddesses, but not from the viewpoint that I wanted to do and no one was interested until, I guess I found Conari Press or they found me, I’m not sure how it worked. But by that point I had tried other editors and the kind of editor who I thought would be interested in goddesses books and they were all … Basically they wanted me to make it politically correct. Can you talk about the earth and can you talk about, you know, the wisdom and all these very politically correct new age terms and so I didn’t want to do that. So when I finally got to do a goddess book, I said the hell with that. I’m going to just do outrageous goddesses as bad goddesses.
Jim: So talk about some of the guy who like, for example, who did you cover?
Trina: Okay, well, geez, there’s so many. We could even start with Isis. I don’t know which one. I think I started with the Inanna because again, it was chronological to a certain degree. Inanna really is the first major goddess and how she decides to visit her sister, who is the queen of the underworld, Ereshkigal and Ereshkigal is so horrible and she’s so jealous of her sister who rules up in the sky that Inanna has to pass each of all these gates to get to finally see her sister and in each gate, the gate keeper takes an article of cloths away from her. So finally she ends up stark naked in front of her sister who that doesn’t satisfy her sister. She stills just so pissed off at Inanna that she strikes her dead and hangs the body up on a hook in the underworld. She’s a horrible person and these little, tiny little spirits have to help Inanna and bring her back to life by giving her the food of life and the water of life.
Jim: How international was this in that, did you do Japanese and trying like, did you go all over the world?
Trina: I did. I did Japanese. I think it was Izanagi and Izanami, if I got the names right where she … They are like the two first humans created by the gods and she gives birth. She gives birth to the mountains and to the islands and she’s the mother, but then she gives birth to fire and it kills her as it would, you know. So she has to go to the underworld and he misses her so much. He tries to get her back. But unfortunately she’s been in the underworld and she’s eating the food of the underworld. So she’s really a corpse and she’s rotting and die and it’s disgusting and she comes after him and he’s like, “Oh no, I changed my mind. Go back”.
Jim: You know, my niece recently got a tattoo of a pomegranate when she turned 18 and I said, “Well, did you do this because of Persephone and she was like, “I don’t know who that is”
Trina: Similar story. I mean, really what happens with all these goddesses is they die and return, and it’s all tied and of course with the seasons. When they die, it’s winter. When they return, it’s spring. It’s very similar.
Jim: So you go from that to Women Who Kill, which this to does well. But this is different. Alex, what this is your crime area, take it away.
Alex: So tell us about Women Who Kill.
Trina: That’s one of my favorite books that I’ve written. Maybe it’s my very favorite books that I’ve written. These women are so interesting and basically that’s what I wanted to do. Okay, I did bad goddesses and what interested me, was women who kill. Because there are very few of them are mass, are serial killers or mass murderers and we all know about the women who killed men who husbands who abused them and beat them. That wasn’t what I talked about because that’s all too obvious.
Trina: But women who really do kill and, gosh, I have some winners there. Here’s the old, the landlady from Sacramento who poisoned all her boarders and took their social security checks. She’s still with us. I believe she’s still in prison.
Trina: But she was fascinating, because she seemed like such a sweet old lady. Maybe the worst of them was Belle Gunness, the ogre of the planes. Let’s see, where was it? Was it a Midwestern town. She lived somewhere in the Midwest and she put ads. She was Scandinavian and she put ads in the Scandinavian papers that she was looking, she was a widow. She had already knocked up her husband and she was looking for a husband. But that because she had a ranch and everything, they had to prove they weren’t just after her for her money. They had to bring $1,000 cash with them. So she poisons them as they come by and she keeps the cash of course and buries them in the pig pen, feeds them to the pigs.
Trina: She was worse. She was the worst.
Alex: There’s something about feeding people to the pigs. It’s so graphic and awful. So now that’s interesting. There’s this funny thing where when it’s also it looks like with homicide and also with suicides, the difference between men and women when they commit these things that when men do it and tend to be more physically violent forms, and then when women do it, it’s a little more subtle. Like in the forms of poisons or taking overdoses or things like that. It seems like the homicide suicide flavors are different between these genders.
Trina: Yes. I like that you’re calling them flavors or whatever. Maybe men are chocolate and women are strawberries.
Alex: There you go.
Trina: But yes, I mean, well, to start with, none of the women killed for the sexual pleasure of it, you know?
Trina: That’s the only men do.
Trina: Most of the women who killed it was very practical. They wanted his money, usually it was because they wanted his money.
Alex: Right. They had … So they had a better heads on their shoulders. It sounds like during these events.
Jim: Wild Irish Roses, was the third-
Jim: Was the third of those … That publisher-
Jim: So let’s complete and hear that one too. What was it?
Trina: Well, I’m a Celtic fun. I’m not as actively a Celtic fun as I was when I wrote the book, but I am the Celtic fun fascinated with not just Irish history, but really all Celtic history. But I had to narrow it down to one nationality, and I made it Irish. I’ve traveled a lot in Ireland and Scotland and the English countryside, and I love it. I love their history. I love their mythology. So-
Jim: I love the environment too. It’s my favorite place to go.
Trina: It’s so beautiful and my partner and I, in traveling in Ireland, we’ve always looked for the mystic stuff for the stone circles and the standing stones, just wandering. At one point a farmer told us, he said, “I’ll let you in on a secret. I’ve got a standing stone in that meadow over there. I don’t tell the government because the marshals come rushing in, you know, and just disturb you know, my beautiful farm”. But we went and found the standing stone and another time there was a stone circle in the middle of this pasture and after we had found this stone circle, suddenly we were set upon by a herd of angry cows and we just got over the fence just in time.
Alex: That’s a great story. That’s, I don’t know why that reminds me of the Mel Brooks movie, Spaceballs, where there was a Planet Druidia and then when they talked about the Druish Princess, John Candy says, “That’s funny. She doesn’t look Druish”.
Trina: She doesn’t look Druish, yes.
Alex: Yeah, I thought that was funny. So the next book, Jim caught me out to this Forbidden City: The Golden Age of Chinese Nightclubs, 2009. What a fascinating topic. So was this inspired by Sax Rohmer’s Dope? Is that-
Trina: Not at all.
Alex: It was just your own thing? Okay, tell us about that.
Trina: Well, some of these women were in my dance class. These beautiful Chinese women, older, older women, but really just beautiful and always wore makeup and were fabulous dancers and I finally found out that they had danced. The only nightclub I knew at that time was the Forbidden City and one of them told me, “Yes, we used to dance at the Forbidden City”. In fact, it’s funny because I told my daughter, she thought I was talking about the ancient Chinese, the one in China, the Forbidden City. I said, “Wow, these women in my dance has danced for Forbidden City” and she said, “Good grief. How old are they?”
Trina: But anyway, so they invited me to one of their performances because of course the nightclub scene had died. It died by the early 60s really.
Trina: But they had formed a dance group called the Grant Avenue Follies, and they performed for charity. They performed all over the place and they were great. They were great, because when you danced all your life, you’re still a great dancer. It doesn’t matter how old you are.
Alex: Right. It’s part of it. Yeah.
Trina: So I went to see the performance and I was hooked and I said, “Oh my God, I’m going to do a book about you” and they didn’t believe me. So I took them each one at a time, took them out for lunch and taped them.
Trina: They showed me about even the older women, who had danced in the 40s-
Alex: Yeah, before them.
Trina: And gave me phone numbers and most of them were perfectly willing to be interviewed. It was one woman who had been a stripper and she was shy. She didn’t, she never let me interview her, which was too bad, you know. But I interviewed these women and a lot of guys too and was able to borrow and scan in their photos. Beautiful, beautiful women with dark red lipstick and pompadour hair cuts and men in tuxedos, just so swamped off and a lot of them, most of them, the older ones have since passed away. Just a few, yeah. So I’m really, really, really glad that I got to interview them when I did.
Alex: Yeah, and for background, for the listeners, it’s about Chinese nightclubs in San Francisco from the 30s to the 60s. Something mentioned in there that I want to just bring up is that a lot of the Oriental or Asian entertainers were then compared to Caucasian counterparts, like the Chinese Fred Astaire or something like that-
Trina: And the Chinese Frank Sinatra. Yes.
Trina: The Chinese Betty Grable because she had great legs, but of course they all had great legs.
Alex: That’s so great and that even older Hollywood celebrities would actually go there and enjoy an evening there.
Trina: Yes. Oh yes. They showed me photos of sitting at a table with Boris Karloff with Bill Cosby.
Trina: With hope, this one photo I think of by Jadin Wong who was the queen of the night clubs with how people got Lauren Bacall.
Alex: Wow, that’s great. That’s amazing.
Jim: Okay, so going back to comics. The last book that you wrote, comic related before doing this series of books that we’re talking about, have been talking about was Nell Brinkley and the New Woman in The Early 20th Century and the next book you did after doing Forbidden City was The Brinkley Girls. So both before and after you’re doing Brinkley, could you tell us first tell us about Brinkley so that we as an audience knows.
Trina: Well, of all the women that I researched, she was just the most immediately likable. You didn’t have to kind of get into it and say, “Oh yeah, I can see that style is very old fashioned, but I think I could, I could understand it”. Not with Brinkley. I mean, you look at her stuff and you’re just, you’re stunned. You’re stunned. She was so … The thing is she was so well known, she was so famous and she had so many fans but she was forgotten because nobody wrote about her, which is my big discovery and writing all of these books is that if you’re not written about, you’re forgotten and these women had been forgotten because when guys write books about comics, write histories, they want to talk about Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, you know what I mean?
Trina: Maybe throw in a little Steve Ditko. So for me the most obvious … oh wait, wait. There was a reason, not just that she was so incredible but that, okay, 19, I think it was ’96, and I was still new to computers and the Internet was still a very new thing and someone forwarded me the email saying, “My mother, who has since passed away was a big Nell Brinkley fan and just, and saved her work and has even written about her and you know, my mum, she’s passed away now. Now I’d like to give all of this literature, all of this, her collection to someone who knows about Nell Brinkley” and I immediately answered. I said, “I know Nell Brinkley, I’ve written about her and I have to tell you that if you want money, I can’t pay a lot because I’m a writer and writers are poor” and she emailed me back and said, “I wouldn’t dream of charging you. I just want you to take it” and she … Okay. Okay. This was the internet. She could’ve been anywhere in the world, right? She was about 20 minute drive away from where I live and she came over and delivered this huge stack of scrapbooks with original, not original work, but original comic pages. Very neatly placed in plastic, not pasted down or anything awful like that.
Jim: This would have been images you’ve never seen probably?
Trina: Yeah, because how much can one see? I just, at the time I was working on another project, a lot of the project before that. But then I just sat down surrounded with all this stuff and went through it and went, “Oh my God, this is a book”.
Jim: Now, what is the difference between the two books, the one that you added it in 2009 and the earlier one in 2001?
Trina: But, see that was for McFarland, the earlier one and it was much … It was smaller in size, it wasn’t smaller in information and it was black and white. So I was really limited. Yeah, so I was really limited to only showing her black and white work and also because she did work for newspapers and the work was so big in many cases I just had to extract one part of the illustration to show. But it was all there was for Nell Brinkley and it’s still in print and I even still get small royalty checks. So obviously people are buying it and one reason they’re buying it is because they can’t get the full color coffee table book that Fantagraphics published because it’s out of way out of print and Fantagraphics is not reprinting it and if you look for it on Amazon, it’s that they want so much that it’s really ridiculous.
Jim: That seems almost criminal to me. I’ve given this book out to four of my nieces. I can’t keep it. I’ll keep this one because-
Trina: Everyone loves it.
Jim: I think is your most beautiful book. I mean, it’s just the-
Trina: It is. That’s because she was so beautiful. Her work was so beautiful.
Alex: That’s great.
Jim: It’s so important historically. Do you know why it’s not in print?
Trina: Gary Groth, the publisher, he has a problem with reprinting books. He says, well they sold fairly well but what about the next time, will it sell 10,000 copies or will it only sell 300. It’s a gamble. However, my next book that I’m about to start is for Fantagraphics and it’s on the fabric cartoonists and they were a lot of women, but specifically there were three who did huge beautiful, full color Sunday pages and Brinkley is one of them. So people who have just been agonizing cos they couldn’t find the Brinkley book for under $400, can and will be able to buy the flapper cartoonist, which has a lot, a lot of beautiful full color, Nell Brinkley work.
Jim: When is that coming out?
Trina: I haven’t even started it yet. I promised … I’m about to start it. I did promise Gary that I would have it finished by 2020.
Alex: Nice. Okay.
Jim: Was there a reason that you took off most of the … From 2001 to almost the end of the decade where you weren’t doing comic related books?
Trina: I wasn’t.
Jim: Well, other than the history books, you were writing other things instead. Were you taking a break from comics history at that point?
Trina: I would have my books with me. Can you tell me what was the next book I published after that?
Jim: What I’m saying is like you did the Brinkley book in 2001 and you didn’t work in comics history. At least you didn’t publish in comics history for almost that full decade until 2009 when you edited the new Brinkley book.
Trina: When did I do the Miss Fury eBooks?
Jim: The Sunday volumes of 2011 to 2013.
Trina: Okay. I guess you’re right. So I was doing other stuff. Other books I guess.
Trina: The ones that we’ve just talked about.
Jim: Alex, that’s your lead, Miss Fury.
Alex: Now you edited the two volumes of Sundays, let’s talk about Tarpe Mills and Miss Fury. For the audience, it’s a Sundays collection of Miss Fury, female comic hero dressed in black leopard outfit working in South America against Nazis in 1940s. Tarpe Mills, a creative woman who made this trip. Tell us about your work on the project.
Trina: Well, one of the more fascinating things is how women will turn themselves into the main characters of the trip both identified so much that the main character is them. Because Tarpe Mills looked exactly like Miss Fury and she even gave Miss Fury a pet cat that was Tarpe Mills’s cat. Tarpe Mills had a white Persian cat named Peri-Purr and Miss Fury had a white Persian cat named Peri-Purr. So-
Alex: That’s interesting.
Trina: When I’m really, and she’s not the only one who has identified with his character like that, Dale Messick who drew Brenda Starr dyed her hair really, really bright shade of Orange to match her character’s hair. She basically, she didn’t turn the character to herself, she turned herself into the character and she always dressed to kill, surely you know it, Brenda Starr was very fashionable and the book that I have just completed for her release press, which will be coming out in both fall, it’s about Gladys Parker, who drew two … Well, the first strip she drew was in the 20s called Flapper Fanny. But after that she drew Mopsy, who was her main character and who she identified with most and she was the spitting image of Mopsy. She looked exactly like her character. So this is something that women do, men don’t.
Alex: That’s interesting. Yeah, because you mentioned that in your Teens to Zine’s book that like women’s comics, 1974 was sort of a birth of autobiographical graphic novels and that will end and you quote and there’s, or you have a quote in there that women love to share confidences and they put themselves in their stories a lot. I thought that was a really interesting pattern you noticed and I never thought of it that way, but I can see that. I can see what you’re saying.
Trina: Well, like Milton Caniff did not look like Steve Canyon.
Trina: You know?
Alex: That’s right. He did not. All right, and then another thing about is a … Okay, so we talked a bit about Pretty in Ink, 2013 being this ultimate update to your Women Cartoonists book. But I want to talk a little bit about some of the women you highlighted in the Rose O’Neill’s comic strip, The Old Subscriber Calls and native-
Alex: Right, and a Native American woman cartoonist from the 1940s who was a woman’s Army Corporal Ethel Hays, Edwina Dumm, Lily Renee. So how was it researching these women, finding out about them, putting it all together? Was it just what a constant sense of discovery? Tell us about getting all this information.
Trina: It was a sense of discovery.
Trina: Yeah. Sometimes I do believe that there’s a comics goddess who steps in every now and then because the old subscriber calls by Rose O’Neill is generally, unless we find … Make another incredible find is generally accepted as the earliest comic drawn by a woman.
Trina: 1896 and the way I found that is don’t tell me there’s no goddess in there somewhere working with me because there was a sidewalk sale right around the corner from where I live. This guy had set up a bunch of things that he was selling on his front steps and some of them, I think they were about maybe four or five issues, maybe four of a magazine from the late 19th century called Truth and I happened to know from my research that Grace Stratton had drawn for Truth and that possibly Nell Brinkley had also drawn for Truth and they were $5 each. I bought them and I brought them home and I looked through them and look at that, there’s a comic strip by Rose O’Neill. The Old Subscriber Calls from 1896 and that is as I say, accepted generally as the earliest known comic strip by an American woman cartoonist.
Alex: Which is incredible because a lot of times people start out with The Yellow Kid and they talk about the 1890’s-
Trina: Yeah, but you know the The Yellow Kid is 1896 too, isn’t it?
Alex: That’s what I mean is that women were part of comics from essentially year one or day one or however way we want to look at it and I think that’s an incredible thing that everyone should realize.
Jim: Even going further back Alex, a little bit. If you take into account European comics, because there was Marie Duval doing Ally Sloper in 1867. Trina does say American when she does that which is-
Trina: Yes, I had to limit myself for it, what had been an encyclopedia.
Trina: I limited myself to American.
Alex: Yeah, we got it. Yes, it’s true.
Trina: I straighten some of her comics. Beautiful Sunday pages from like 1902 and 1993. I mean, this is some of her earliest work and it’s wonderful. God, she was so good.
Alex: Wow. So now one of the people I mentioned and Jim’s going to talk about, this one is Lily Renee. So go ahead and take it away, Jim.
Jim: Yes. This is a different Book. Lily Renee Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer is different from anything else you did. Please tell us all about that.
Trina: It’s a graphic novel. It’s a graphic novel. Well, Lily, again, thanks to the Internet. I received an email from, I can’t remember what year it was, but from Lily Renee’s daughter and of course I knew that Lily had written about her in my books, but I had no idea she was still with us. I didn’t really know anything about her except that she had drawn these wonderful comics and we were into comic books now and I got an email from Lily’s daughter’s saying, “Well, I knew my mother had drawn comics. So I thought I would look on the internet, Google her and see what I could find and your name kept popping up” and I just even to hear from her daughter, I was so excited. I just screamed. I ran to my partner and I said, “I just got an email from Lily Renee’s partner, daughter”, excuse me.
Trina: So then I said, “Well, what can you tell me about your mother?” She said, “Well, I’ll let my mother tell you, here’s her phone number” and that meant, “Oh my God, she’s still with us”. So I think it’s been at least 10 years, hasn’t it?
Alex: Well, since your book.
Jim: No, I don’t think so. I’ll tell you when it is, but I don’t believe it’s been that long.
Trina: Anyway, I was writing at that point, I was writing graphic novels for young readers, for a publishing company called Lerners and I had wonderful editor who unfortunately left the company. But I adore her and I would write for any publication she worked for and I just told her the Lily Renee’s story because when I spoke to Lily and Lily told me that she had been this talented Jewish teenager in Vienna and then what happens is the Nazis march in the 1938 and she escapes to England in 1939 and having to leave her parents behind, not knowing if they’re dead or alive. Her parents not knowing she’s in England but not knowing anything else and they escaped to America and they find her and she comes to America and they’re living hand to mouth with a bunch of other refugees in this tenement building and she gets a job for fiction house drawing comics and she’s wonderful. She’s so great and just talking with Lily with her wonderful Lily’s accent.
Trina: But, hey Lily is still with us. She is 98 years old and in a month, in less than a month and in about two weeks she is flying, being flown to Vienna and we are flying to Vienna too with my partner and I because the Jewish Museum in Vienna is having an exhibit of her work after, this just the city that wanted to kill her, wanted to send her to a concentration camp and kill her except that she escaped. Now, they’re honoring her with this exhibit and they’re showing … I have 11 pages of Lily’s original art and I lent them to them for the exhibit and this is probably more pages of Lily’s art than anyone else has.
Alex: Are you going to take a lot of pictures of this exhibit? Trina, please tell us you will.
Trina: I’m taking lots of pictures and putting them all up on Facebook.
Jim: So I was at San Diego comic con when you were promoting this book and I went to the panel of the two of you with you introducing her to us to a lot of people that probably had no idea who she was in that room and it was probably, I’ve been 25 years to comic con. It’s one of my favorite panels or favorite experiences I ever had there. Was the sense of history of you sitting next to her and were you all talking about comics?-
Trina: It was wonderful.
Jim: And about her life, it was beautiful. Did you do very much of that? How many, did you all travel to Jeffrey Conventions or was that the only one that you appeared at together?
Trina: Together, no. We went … There was a museum in New York at the time called Mocca, M.O.C.C.A. They were having an exhibit a lot, including a lot of my work of Women Cartoonists and I went and first I visited the [inaudible 00:56:19] and interviewed her and then we went on to the museum and we had a talk there.
Jim: It was wonderful and she was wonderful. I bought the posters she was selling and it was autographed. I have it hanging in my room. It’s just-
Trina: That’s great.
Jim: So, yes, absolutely. That had to be one of a special moment for you too. I would imagine amongst all you mentioned appearances.
Trina: Yes and then I think, time flies. I think it might have been about five years ago that Lily was visiting. She has, her son lives in San Diego and she decided she would like to come to the convention and so he emailed me, he said “Lily would like to come to the San Diego Con”. So I quickly got in touch with Jackie Estrada and of course they arranged everything so that she wouldn’t have to wait on line or anything horrible like that-
Alex: That’s nice.
Trina: And she came, she was in a wheelchair and her wonderful son and her grandsons who are just darling, and her daughter-in-law, they all came with her of course. But I took her around and it was so cool. These were people, I introduced her to people who knew who she was, but they were totally just blown up when I said, “This is Lily Renee” and they went, “Oh my God”. Maggie Thompson, you know who Maggie Thompson is.
Alex: Yeah, of course.
Trina: Yeah. Well I ran into her at the convention, I was with Lily at the point. That point Lily was with her, I guess with her grandsons, but I knew where they were. They were still at the table and I saw Maggie and I just grabbed her. I said, “Quick, come with me” and brought her over and I said, “Lily Renee”, and when I introduced her to Sergi Aragones, he kneed down and kissed her hand. I mean, it was wonderful.
Alex: That’s great.
Jim: So, Trina, does look like this was in 2011?
Trina: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Jim: So around the same time that the Miss Fury book came out when this was released.
Alex: Okay. So now we’re going to Last Girl Standing 2017. You wrote your autobiography, which is a great book because you really start from … You go from start to finish. What made you decide to write an autobiography at this juncture?
Trina: I’ve been wanting to do it for a while. For one thing, there’s so much misinformation about me out there and I’m really tired of correcting the misinformation.
Trina: So I decided I would just tell my story and Gary Groth loved the idea. That’s why I love that man. I told him last time I emailed him, I told him I would go to war for him.
Alex: That’s nice. So we talked about your autobiography last episode, but just some little finagling questions. So Forrest Ackerman, you were a friend of his and it was interesting in that he was a science fiction guy and you were a science fiction fan as well, and that he was doing magazines that had some nude women in them and you had gotten involved with that in some way. Tell us about that experience and your impression of Forrest from going through that.
Trina: I don’t think that he did any magazines with nude women. We’re talking about the growing mags that was-
Alex: Right. They were growing mags, that’s what I meant.
Trina: But they were not Forrest. No, but he kind of convinced me somehow that if I were to post for the men’s magazines, I would become famous like Marilyn Monroe, I’d be a famous actress and he would be my agent and I was like 19, so I believed him.
Alex: Then well, did something happen or a conversation or something that you realized that it was not correct or just tell us about like thinking out of that in that process.
Trina: Well, really the things that at that point, as a 19 year old, I had a whole series of really disastrous boyfriends who had really managed to destroy my self esteem and I didn’t know. I didn’t know I can have faith in myself, I didn’t know that I was very smart and very talented. But I knew I had my looks and it seemed like that was all I had.
Alex: I see. Yeah. So this it’s somewhat transformative in a way. Then last episode, you mentioned your friendship with Vaughn Bode and that he wasn’t in the Boys Club of underground cartoonists. I’ve learned quite a bit about Vaughn Bode since then and he had a different gender expression than other guys in the comic industry-
Trina: Yeah, exactly.
Alex: Definitely. Yeah. Would you say that was a part of him not being in that Boys Club and tell us about your kind of friendship.
Trina: I think so, because the Boys Club was very, very male, extremely male, and Vaughn would wear like long robes and he had this wonderful curly rock and roll star hair down to his shoulders and painting his nails black or green. He was definitely heterosexual, but he liked to play with gender and he looked great that way. The guys, and it wasn’t just that, it was what he did was very different from what the underground cartoonists were, the other underground cartoonists were drawing. He just wasn’t part of the club and I wasn’t part of the club either.
Alex: Yeah. Right. Interesting. Then evidently did you know about him and Jeff Jones before it was Catherine Jeff Jones and how they actually had an interest in the same woman and both of them had like a gender expression that are different from other people-
Alex: Did you know about that?
Trina: I didn’t know that they were both interested in the same woman. Who was that? Do I know her?
Alex: I don’t know her name, but there was a Jeff Jones documentary you may like, I think it’s called The Life and Choices of Jeff Jones and you can get it on DVD on Ebay for like $17. But it’s really fascinating, you may like it. But they liked the same woman and something happened where that woman then goes from Vaughn Bode to Jeff Jones and then a lot of Jeff Jones’s later 70s paintings and things are based on her and what’s fascinating is during this transition, there’s a lot of high emotions going on between all three and I don’t know if that factored in when Vaughn Bode died, but around that time is when Jeff Jones gets notified that Vaughn Bode had died in the way he did, and that is a very devastating emotional highs and lows and I was just-
Trina: That was devastating to all of us.
Alex: Were you shocked when you heard about his death?
Trina: Of course I was shocked. I mean, he was what, 33?
Alex: Yeah, really young. Yeah. Okay. Last question, and this is more of a fan question. It’s a little, it’s in your autobiography, but Jim Morrison. You actually a new Jim Morrison. Tell us a little bit about that.
Trina: You’ll have to read the book. Of course the audience would like to read.
Alex: Yeah. I’ll highly recommend it for everybody. It’s a fantastic book. Next one is next book that Jim’s going to talk about Babes in Arms: Women in the Comics During World War II.
Jim: Yes. Now, this is almost, it seems like this is a longer version of one of the chapters in your Women Cartoonists book. Is that fair to say or is that?-
Trina: Yes, it is because I felt that I needed to show much more and to tell much more about this wonderful phenomenon of what happened during World War II when, as you know, in every industry in the factories, everywhere, women stepped in to take the jobs that the men had left when they went off to fight the war and so they were doing things that women had never done before. They were building planes and ships and in many cases flying the planes, driving trucks and buses, doing things women had never done before and the same thing happened in the comics industry. The guys were off fighting the war and suddenly I’m talking comic books now, not newspapers, because the comic books had been very male. They’d been very young superheros stuff, were only superhero stuff, very male.
Trina: Suddenly women were drawing for the comic books and what they drew was very different for what the men drew, which was so interesting. They were drawing heroines, they were drawing beautiful, smart, competent women who fought the Nazis, and who could take care of themselves and didn’t need to be rescued by some guy, which in before that, the role of women in comics, they’d been girlfriends of the superheros who get tied up and rescued.
Jim: So talk about some of the women that when you were first writing, not this book so much is the chapter that this book is partly derived from, but like where their discoveries that you made in terms of some of these women and their connection to their roles or even that they were women. Were you surprised to find out cause some of these were not advertised necessarily as women while they were working, correct?
Trina: No, actually not true. In Fiction House the women who worked for Fiction House signed their names. Lily Renee’s work is usually signed L. Renee. Fran Hopper, simply signed who worked Fran Hopper. There was no secret about the fact that they were women. Maybe sometimes they would use an initial, I think Barbara Hall hold herself B. Hall.
Jim: I was thinking of that one.
Trina: Yeah. But Pauline Loth, well of course she drew for a girl’s magazine, Miss America. But it was … Everyone knew that it was Pauline Loth.
Alex: Just a quick question about Babes in Arms. So it’s interesting just for the listeners is a lot of people think about Rosie the Riveter and women going into manufacturing during World War II. But it’s interesting you highlight that there was a need for women comic people are people that fill in those spots and so there’s actually a whole slew of women that you highlight in the comic industry, and I think a lot of people should realize that.
Trina: Well, what comes along with the whole slew of women, it’s a whole slew of women comic book heroines because that’s what they drew.
Alex: It’s amazing.
Jim: Now with Girl Commandos, I had a question which relates to and that’s a wonderful strip and wonderful encounter-
Trina: That’s Girl Commandos. Yeah, they’re great.
Jim: They are great. When Robert Crumb uses … Does the title say Girl Commandos, was that meant to be disrespectful or was he even aware of that comic even? Did you say he was even-
Trina: I don’t think he was aware of Girl Commandos. I don’t think so.
Jim: Okay. So it’s just a coincidence. Now, you knew the creators or were you friends with her daughter and no, sorry-
Trina: Yes, I was friends with Barbara Hall’s daughter, Ladybelle and she said, “My mom used to draw comics” and I said, “Really?” I just still didn’t think, I thought, well maybe she drew a comic once and then I spoke to her and I found out not only has she drawn Girl Commandos, but she had drawn Black Cat, which is like a major historical comic era.
Jim: Yes. So one of the things I’m getting from this conversation, which is interesting is how much a historian depends on luck to a certain degree that you have come across in your work, amazing connections that provided so much you may think just by good fortune and nothing else.
Trina: Yes. That’s what I chock up to the comic goddess.
Jim: Then I think that’s everything you have currently published in terms of nonfiction and non direct comic books themselves. Did we miss anything?
Trina: No. There’s the Gladys Parker book that’s coming out in the fall. It’s called Gladys Parker: A Life in Comics, A Passion for Fashion because besides drawing this comic strip, Mopsy, which she was most identified with and she drew it from 1937 until 1965, she died the year after that. She also, all throughout the 1930s, she had a line of clothing, very successful fashion designer who had drew and so beautiful high end dresses and high end department stores and by 1940 she moved to Hollywood and was designing clothes for movie stars like Barbara Stanwyck and Hedy Lamarr. So it’s really, of all the women that I have written about, she’s the one I wish I could have lunch with.
Alex: Yeah. That’s great.
Jim: That’s interesting.
Alex: So with your experience in fashion and clothing, cause you were actually doing … You were in clothing, tailoring and to retail and you design clothes for different people in different mediums and different rock bands and things. So is that always kind of in the back of your mind when you’re looking at a comic page, the fashion design that’s going on a page?
Trina: Yes, and I have noticed in just checking out historical comics, comics history, that women pay so much more attention to the clothes than men. There are exceptions, like Katy Keene is a real exception. But of course Bill Woggon interpreted designs that had been sent to him by fans.
Alex: Yeah. That’s really interesting. Now Bill Woggon, yeah, when he was doing Katy Keene and doing those fashion tips, do you feel like that makes him somewhat Bill Woggon, I guess for Katie Keene? Do you feel like that makes him somewhat unique as far as male comic creators and looking at fashion? Is that kind of a rare thing in the-
Trina: Bill Woggon was very, extremely unique. What he did was so unique, just that taking designs that had been sent to him by readers. I can tell you that I am in a class, I’m taking a class that is all seniors right by me and we got into a discussion, men and women. We got into a discussion about the old comics that they had liked. Like our teacher said he loved The Little King. Remember The Little King? Okay, and we-
Alex: Yeah, loved that.
Trina: Yeah. Well my teacher loved it too. We brought up the comics we had liked as a kid and somebody said Katie Keene and all of the women went, “Oh yes, Katie Keene”. You know people, girls loved it. Girls loved it, and one woman even said, “They should bring it back”.
Alex: That’s great. So Trina, thank you so much for joining us today. This was really riveting and we covered everything we wanted to cover where enormous fans of yours and what I think I personally enjoyed it and I think Jim does too, is how frank and how forthcoming you are with all this wonderful information and you’ve done so much research on comic history. I think it’s fair to say that you are the goddess of comic history because what you’re doing for comic history it’s unmatched. I’m really happy that we’ve come to know more about you and that you’ve taken the time to hang out with us these past couple episodes. Really, I look up to you personally and we’re just such huge fans of your work. Thank you so much for joining us.
Trina: Thank you and now I’m going to lunch.
Alex: All right.
Jim: Have a good lunch.
Alex: All right. Thank you Trina.
Jim: Thank you Trina.
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