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Trina Robbins: A Life Fighting Sexism; Now Ageism

Robbins, who grew up in Queens, N.Y., recalls taking her weekly, 10-cent allowance to the neighborhood candy store and after studying the week’s selection, buying any comic that featured young girls and women. At home, she wrote and illustrated her own comics and dreamt of publication.

Robbins insists she did not come from a dysfunctional family. Nonetheless, by the time she entered high school, she had one goal in mind: move to the Village and be a bohemian.

And indeed, that’s where, in her mid-20s, her career as a cartoonist started. It was an acid trip that opened the door. High on LSD, she and her boyfriend found themselves outside the office of the East Village Other, a beloved hippy underground newspaper. They sought haven. The office was empty except for its publisher, Allen Katzman, who talked them down.

“A couple of days later, I drew a kind of proto-comic to express my gratitude and shoved it under the door,” she said. “They printed it in the next issue. Thus, began my so-called career.”

 

 

San Francisco SeniorBeat profiles cartoonist and comics historian Trina Robbins.

“There were at least five publishers of underground comix, and cartoonists were flocking to the city by the bay from all over the country,” Robbins said. “Life in the Bay Area was creative and exciting, and comix were the art form of the future.”

Unfortunately, the early promise of openness was misleading. The boy’s club atmosphere had not vanished. When Robbins complained that she did not find cartoons of “women being humiliated and raped or men having sex with little girls funny,” she said, “the guys called her a “feminazi” and told her she “had no sense of humor.”

 

 

Eventually winning both acceptance and greater financial security, Robbins turned her attention to women’s place in comic history. “I wanted to bring these forgotten cartoonists back to public memory. They weren’t written about so nobody knew them.”

In 1999, she published her first historical survey of women in cartoons, From “Girls to GrrrLZ: A History of Women’s Comics from Teens to Zines.”

While Robbins shattered the glass ceiling of misogyny in the world of cartooning, she now finds herself fighting ageism. Sporting a “creativity never gets old,” button on her black-belted trench coat, she announced, “Some publishers are reluctant to sign a contract with me, fearing that at 81, I’m ‘too old and won’t live to complete the work.’ I’ll show them.”

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