Trina Robbins is an absolute comics icon. She started out as one of the few women in the underground comix scene and has worked as a writer, artist and editor in the field since the 1960s. Her latest project is a standalone chapter in the upcoming Wonder Woman ’77, which is available for download today via the DC Comics App, Readdcentertainment.com, iBooks, comiXology.com, Google Play, Kindle Store, Nook Store, and iVerse ComicsPlus. The chapter is written by Robbins with artist Tess Fowler, colorist Jenn Manley Lee and cover artist Jason Badower. In the chapter, “Diplomat Diana Prince meets “The Man Behind the Curtain” when a dictator tries to fulfill his daughter’s final wish.” You’re going to need tissues for this one. I got a chance to chat with Robbins about the chapter, her decades-long relationship with Wonder Woman, her history in the field, the character she based on David Bowie and the four–yes, four books she has coming out next year! Check it out below along with some exclusive art from the chapter.
Legion of Leia: I’m a huge music fan, so I especially love this chapter. I know you have a huge history with music. Can you talk a bit about why you wanted to do this story?
Trina Robbins: Well, you know, the thing about Wonder Woman ’77 is that it takes place in the seventies. I like that because that limits it. It’s just things that happened in the seventies. For instance, I can’t do something about the Internet, right? [laughs] So, what’s happening in the seventies? Okay, rock and roll. Who was big, you know? David Bowie, and I just happen to love David Bowie anyway. He had died recently, and I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to do a story with David Bowie, except he isn’t David Bowie because we don’t want to be sued.
Legion of Leia: Danny Blue is such a great character. So you based him on David Bowie. Is there more that you want to do with him? Would you want to take this character further?
Trina Robbins: Oh god, if I had the opportunity, sure. I mean, if one of the editors at DC called and said oh, we loved this character–why don’t you do a story with him, I would, of course be thrilled!
Legion of Leia: For our readers who haven’t read the chapter yet, what do you want them to know about the chapter going in?
Trina Robbins: Well, really, I liked giving him an adventure with her, you know? And he’s a nice guy and he’s a good guy, and he’s a brave guy. He helps her fight the bad guy. But also, I always thought that if I can make a statement without plunging it into someone’s head, knocking it into someone’s head, just make a statement. It was about–the guys is evil. The dictator is evil. But he loves his daughter and his daughter is dying. He goes about it the wrong way, to get Danny Blue to talk to his daughter, to sing to his daughter, but he really–even evil people love something.
Legion of Leia: I love the theme that everyone can be a hero, even this little girl.
Trina Robbins: Yes, well, of course I got that from a line from a David Bowie song, “We Can Be Heroes.” And ages ago, back in the nineties, I did a book on super heroines and when people asked me to sign my book, I always wrote, “We are all heroes,” because we can all be heroes. I mean you don’t have to fight super villains to be a hero. You just have to do what you know is right. And you have to stand up for the right. You have to be brave.
Legion of Leia: So what stands out for you with this version of Wonder Woman? She’s had so many faces over the years.
Trina Robbins: Well, I just love the fact that it’s Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman. You know? I love what they’re doing, by the way, with the new Wonder Woman. I love that a lot. But this is not that Wonder Woman. This takes place in the seventies and it’s Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman. And I happen to have loved when she was on TV. That show was wonderful. She absolutely was Wonder Woman. You know, and I know a lot of people got turned on to Wonder Woman, just from that show.
Legion of Leia: I was actually one of them!
Trina Robbins: Haha! You see?
Legion of Leia: You have a fascinating history with Wonder Woman. Can you talk about how it all started?
Trina Robbins: Well, I’ve really always loved Wonder Woman. How it all started–I’d have to go back to being ten-years-old. Reading her and buying my own comics. Being old enough to cross two streets so I could go to the corner candy store and buy the comics I wanted. Wonder Woman was at the top of the list. Did you want me to go back that far? [laughs]
Legion of Leia: Yes! I was reading about everything and how far back you go, even working on them. I’d love to hear more about that, too.
Trina Robbins: Oh, yeah! Well, what was it, ’85, ’88? I can’t remember now. It was the middle-to-late ’80s. DC did one of those, I think it was Crisis on Infinite Earths, were periodically they would do this, they would have this enormous battle that would affect everyone, and at the outcome, they could redesign their characters. At that point, Wonder Woman was really 65-years-old and didn’t look it. So they had to kill her off and start all over again. And George Pérez was doing Wonder Woman. But they had a period of four months or something, maybe six months, before he did his Wonder Woman, and they had to keep her in print. So the way I imagined it is that they had a meeting and somebody said, oh what the hell, let’s give it to Trina. Even if she screws up, George Pérez will take it over and make it better. That’s the way I see it! Because everyone knew how much I loved Wonder Woman.
Legion of Leia: I actually read on your blog that you recently saw a Wonder Woman exhibit in Israel.
Trina Robbins: Yes, isn’t that amazing? It was the Negev Museum of Art, and it has two floors. I was in an exhibit on the top floor. The exhibit I was in was based on a book, “Graphic Details.” It’s an anthology of confessional comics by Jewish women and cartoonists. I was in that book. It won an Eisner last year, which was nice. They had an exhibit at the Negev Museum of Art of comics from that book. And they had a feminist comics symposium, which was really cool, and I was one of the speakers. But the exhibit, when it opened, I discovered that on the first floor, was an exhibit of Israeli cartoonists doing Wonder Woman. And, of course, they adore her right now. They’re so excited because of Gal Gadot. Their girl is Wonder Woman! And the exhibit was great! A friend of mine who I have known since the seventies when we were both hippies, Michael Netzer, who now lives in Israel, he did a wonderful Wonder Woman who was Gal Gadot, really. And it was a really good painting. [Editor’s note: You can see this painting on Trina’s blog.] But not everyone did literally Wonder Woman. Someone did something on Anne Frank. And when you think of it, she was a Wonder Woman, just for keeping that diary. So some people did things like that. But all the interpretations were really great.
Legion of Leia: I know you’ve been working hard in your career to promote women in comics. What part of your career are you most proud of?
Trina Robbins: Oh, gosh. [laughs] I don’t know! There’s all sorts of things that I’ve done in my career that I’m proud of. I mean, I’m proud of the fact that I didn’t give up in the seventies, when comics were just–I was an underground cartoonist for underground comix, which were totally a boys club. But I wouldn’t give up. I mean, they would have loved it if I had given up. Maybe it’s because I’m so ornery. So I’m proud of that; that I never stopped and that I never gave up. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been writing all these histories. It’s wonderful to rediscover all these women cartoonists. I’m just thrilled with having rediscovered Tarpé Mills and rediscovered Lily Renée. I rediscovered Nell Brinkley. These women are fantastic and nobody knew about them until I did my book, and now people know about them. So I’m very proud of that.
Legion of Leia: I know you’ve been very outspoken about the portrayal of female characters in comics. How do you think the industry as a whole is doing now with that?
Trina Robbins: Well, you know…I don’t know why it took them so long to understand that if they produce girl-friendly comics, girls will read comics. Because as you know, they always–the mantra was, “Girls don’t read comics. Girls don’t read comics.” And of course, it isn’t true. And now, they’re producing all these girl-friendly comics, and the image of the women in these books is wonderful. You know, there’s something about the girl-friendly [stories], or what I call girl-friendly, it’s warmer. It’s hard for me to describe. It’s simply warmer. And maybe more inviting. I don’t know. You don’t have a lot of gritted teeth, or forced-perspective fists, you know? [laughs] And the female character, female and male characters, are more friendly. And, of course, no broke back poses. No breasts bigger the head. [laughs] You know, simple stuff.
Legion of Leia: And you have another book coming out, don’t you?
Trina Robbins: I have four books coming out in 2017.
Legion of Leia: Oh my gosh! Will you tell us about them?
Trina Robbins: Well, one of them in my memoir. It’s published by Fanta Graphics, and it’s called, “Last Girl Standing.” The second one is a collection of the work–I’ve edited it–collection of the work of four Golden Age women cartoonists who during the war, drew beautiful, strong, courageous women who didn’t need to be rescued by some guy, and who fought the Axis. It’s four different women, with art by the four of them, and it’s called “Babes In Arms.” And, kind of symbolically, these women were fighting the war, they were fighting the Nazis on paper. You know? With ink and paper. So that’s two.
Third is my father’s book. My father came from a small village in what is now Belarus. They called these villages “shtetls.” He came from a shtetl, he came to the United States at the age of 16, and in 1938, he wrote a book. He published a book, which is really a collection of his short stories, almost like snapshots. And they are snapshots of what life was like in his little village. That’s like 75 percent of it. And the other 25 percent is what his life in the early thirties, late twenties when he came to America; that takes place on the Lower East Side in Brooklyn. Of course, you know, when I read these–my daughter found the book for me on the Internet. I knew he had published this book, but I figured it was just lost. I thought I’d never find this book. My wonderful, wonderful daughter found it on the Internet. And I had it translated, because it’s in Yiddish. When I read it, I though, oh, this has to be turned into a graphic novel, so I have adapted 12 stories, 12 chapters, and I have 12 different artists working on them. The cover is already done. The cover is by Barbara Mendez, who was, in the seventies, one of the first underground cartoonists, using the name Willy Mendes, which is what I still call her–she allows me to call her Willy. And that’s coming out from Bedside Press.
And the fourth one is a reprint of my series “Dope” by Sax Rohmer. And that’s coming out from a small press called Thrive. And I did this in the eighties for Eclipse Magazine. I had found the book at a huge sale. In 1970, this bookstore was going out of business, and they had a huge sale. They specialized in science-fiction and fantasy. They had a huge sale, and every book was a dollar, so how could I resist, right? I got armloads of books, and one of them was this book Sax Rohmer called, “Dope.” Sax Rohmer was a really, really good pulp writer in the early 20th century. And he’s probably most famous for his Fu Manchu stories. He created Fu Manchu. “Dope,” I read it, and again, just like with my father’s book, I thought, this has to be turned into a comic. It’s wonderful. Gosh, I can see it as a silent movie. It’s amazing that they never did film it. Just opium dens and glamorous women and a real vamp villain. Just great stuff, and it all takes place in 1919. I happen to love vintage clothes, and I researched it thoroughly with old fashion magazines, so that everyone is wearing the right clothes. Unlike so many things I’ve seen done by guys, I have to say–I hope they’re not doing it anymore–but stories the guys would do–they figured that, if they give her a long skirt, then it’s long ago, with no knowledge at all of what people really wore. But I love keeping it authentic.
This chapter of Wonder Woman ’77 is available for download today via the DC Comics App, Readdcentertainment.com, iBooks, comiXology.com, Google Play, Kindle Store, Nook Store, and iVerse ComicsPlus. Check out Trina’s blog right here.