Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I Have to Enjoy What I Write - An Interview With Trina Robbins

It was through Naropa people, during my mom's attendance at the Summer Residency program, that I learned of Trina Robbins and her work – okeh, I take that back; I had seen her work before then, I knew what Vampirella looked like, I owned four out of six issues of Misty, but I did not put it together as a body of work. I definitely didn't connect the émigré from Drakulon and Millie the Model's niece to a short, sharp black and white comic in the back of a San Francisco zine my mom left lying around the apartment when I was nine, even though that (what I now suspect to have been illegally reproduced) comic was prefaced with a bit of hype naming Trina Robbins. For one thing, that zine referred to her as a “girl” who made comics, which to me, as a kid, meant she was a kid.

A table of poet-professors trying to illustrate to me how to trace elements of an author throughout their work used the two people they had something by on hand and the two that stuck with me ended up, for whatever reasons, being Trina Robbins and Clive Barker. This was also the first time I remember recognizing the Peter David tropes and tendencies that put me off his work, the day I started looking for Tatjana Wood's name in credit boxes, and when I realized that what had been a disparate set of movies I was probably too young to have been watching but had seen anyway were, in fact, all directed by David Cronenberg.

Yes, I'm the only person on the planet who auto-associates the remake of The Fly with Trina Robbins and Millie the Model.

Travis Hedge Coke: “How responsible do you feel about the contents of comics you work on? Responsible to your audience, to comics history, or to yourself.”
Trina Robbins: “Very responsible!   Recently I've been writing graphic novels for young readers, anywhere from 8 years old to teens, and I make a point of NEVER writing down to them.  When I write for kids, I still write for myself, and I have to enjoy what I write.  If it makes ME laugh (or cry) then it's good.  Also, something I only realized recently, because one of my editors mentioned it, my scripts always have a lot of diversity.  There's a story that used to go around about Chris Claremont, one of Marvel's better writers, that if he had to introduce a new character, say, a cop, or a teacher, or whatever, he always said, "Why can't it be a woman?" and I go one step further in my scripts and say, "Why can't it be a black woman or an Asian woman?" I've given my young white heroines  black or Asian friends, but, after getting rejections on a graphic novel I submitted with a black heroine, never tried again to script a graphic novel with a black heroine until my editor actually suggested it to me for the most recent graphic novel I wrote -- and I was delighted! “

Hedge Coke: “Have you ever been part of something in a comic that you couldn't have imagined would get anyone's dander up, only to be cautioned by someone above you at the publisher or find it enraged folks after publication?”
Robbins: “Ironically, considering my reputation as a feminist, I've been criticized by much more radical women than I for having pretty girl heroines.  At an appearance in a women's bookstore in Stockholm about 3 or 4 years ago I was verbally attacked by a very angry group of women with shaved heads because I wrote Barbie comics.  At first I was so surprised that I tried to answer them rationally, but by the end I was so mad that I was shaking with anger, and when I got home I sent them an email care of the woman who owned the bookstore, telling them that if they didn't like what I did, to do their own damn comics.”

Hedge Coke: “Have you ever seen someone's contribution to a comic you worked on and been, if not offended, concerned about some content of their contribution?”
Robbins: “Not sure if this is what you mean, but I've been writing some comics about a certain heroine from the 1960s in a series that has other comics in the same series written by at least one other writer and drawn by a different artist than the one who illustrated my issues, and I was a little annoyed to see that the artist drew the heroine with enormous breasts and that the book contained graphic sex scenes.  I had tried to keep the ones that I wrote in the spirit of the period, which meant no graphic sex, and anyway, I thought the graphic sex and enormous breasts were in bad taste, and I didn't like the idea that since I had written other books in the series, it could be associated with me . In the distant past when I drew underground comix, it used to annoy me when people would describe my comix as "dirty" because they were associating my work with all the graphically explicit underground comix.”

Hedge Coke: “What elements of a comic do you try to focus your attention on most?”
Robbins: “Of course I'm a writer, so: plot, characters, humor, action.  In other words, all of it.”

Hedge Coke: “Have you ever toned down something - or thought about it - because you were concerned it was going to be seen as you pushing an agenda/fetish/interest and not a naturalistic part of the comic?”
Robbins: “I don't think so.  I do try to say stuff without being preachy!”

Hedge Coke: “How much do you draft and tweak before the publishable versions of most of your comics work? Do you feel you get better if you revisit a page or a story several times or is first shot best?”
Robbins: “I tweak like mad -- I go back at least three times before I'm satisfied!”

Trina Robbins is the author of many fine comics and books, from fiction to confessional to histories and encyclopedias, including two books on the magnificent Nell Brinkley and two different Wonder Woman comics. Recent works include a Honey West series and her Chicagoland books.

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