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Trina Robbins, Trailblazing Female Cartoonist and Historian, Dead at 85

By | April 11th, 2024
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Trina Robbins in 2023
Photo by Gage Skidmore

Per The New York Times, pioneering comic book artist, writer, editor, and historian Trina Robbins died in hospital on Wednesday, April 10. She was 85 years old. According to her longtime partner, inker Steve Leialoha, she had recently suffered a stroke. Robbins was a pioneer in the underground comix movement of the 1960s and ’70s, and was also best known for designing Vampirella’s costume, as well as for being the first woman to draw a Wonder Woman comic.

Trina Perlson was born into a Russian Jewish family in Brooklyn on August 17, 1938, and loved and drew comics from a young age. She attended Queens College for a year before moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, and became part of the rock scene, befriending Jim Morrison and The Byrds. In 1962, she married Paul Jay Robbins, a magazine editor, and became a dressmaker. After they divorced four years later, Robbins returned to New York City, where she ran a clothing boutique called Broccoli, that made clothes for Mama Cass, and David Crosby, among others.

Robbins in 1969

She soon began submitting comics to the alternative newspaper The East Village Other, where she contrasted sexually playful subject matter with an innocent style reminiscent of the paper dolls of her youth. She went on to edit various women’s underground comix anthologies, including “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” the first comic completely written and drawn by women. She formed the “Wimmen’s Comix” collective, and became a vocal opponent of the misogynistic comics of her mostly male contemporaries, including Robert Crumb. “Rape and humiliation — and later, torturing and murdering women — didn’t seem funny to me,” she would recall. “The guys told me I had no sense of humor.”

She entered mainstream comics in the ’80s, writing and drawing the series “Misty” for Marvel’s children’s imprint Star in 1985. The series, which lasted six issues, was a follow-up to the “Millie the Model” comics Robbins grew up on, centering around Millie’s niece. She would subsequently try to recapture the spirit of the comics of her youth with “California Girls,” an Eclipse Comics series published from 1987 to 1988. She became the first female Wonder Woman artist with “The Legend of Wonder Woman,” a 1986 miniseries written by Kurt Busiek, that paid homage to the character’s Golden Age adventures. Robbins revisited the character on several occasions, including “Wonder Woman: The Once and Future Story,” a 1998 graphic novel penciled by Colleen Doran, that explored the subject of domestic abuse.

'The Legend of
Wonder Woman' #1 (1986)

Robbins was primarily best known in later life for her work raising awareness of women’s contributions to comics. She made her non-fiction debut with Women and the Comics (written with Catherine Yronwode) in 1985, and wrote numerous subsequent books on female cartoonists and other topics, including the autobiography Last Girl Standing, and a biography of Lily Renée. She helped track down and identify Golden Age artist Fran Hopper in 2012, raising awareness of her legacy. In 1994, she co-founded the non-profit Friends of Lulu, which was dedicated to promoting the reading of comics by women, and the participation of women in the industry. Her last history book was last year’s Dauntless Dames: High-Heeled Heroes of the Comics, while the last comic she oversaw was the abortion-themed charity anthology “Won’t Back Down.”

Robbins had been with Leialoha since 1977; she is also survived by Casey Robbins, her daughter with cartoonist Kim Deitch; a granddaughter; and her older sister, Harriet Nadel. She was honored during her lifetime with an Inkpot Award, and an induction into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame, along with several other awards; she was also mentioned in the opening verse of the 1970 Joni Mitchell song “Ladies of the Canyon,” which goes:

Trina wears her wampum beads
She fills her drawing book with line
Sewing lace on widows’ weeds
And filigree on leaf and vine
Vine and leaf are filigree
And her coat’s a secondhand one
Trimmed with antique luxury
She is a lady of the canyon

Those who have paid tribute to Robbins include Gail Simone, Jody Houser, Colleen Doran, Heidi MacDonald, Joseph Illidge, Tim Seeley, and Wendy Pini. Seeley said about meeting her that “she was in her late 70s, but could throw back tiki drinks and talk shit about the comic industry better than anyone.” Pini stated, “She represented something powerful: a pioneer and a survivor. Outspoken, controversial, at times even rude… I loved her for all of that. She was funny. Just knowing she was keeping on keeping on was a kind of comfort, something to count on.”


//TAGS | obit

Christopher Chiu-Tabet

Chris was the news manager of Multiversity Comics. A writer from London on the autistic spectrum, he enjoys talking about his favourite films, TV shows, books, music, and games, plus history and religion. He is Lebanese/Chinese, although he can't speak Cantonese or Arabic. Give him a visit (and a tip if you like) on Ko-fi.

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