Graphic Details: Interview with Trina Robbins
Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women is the first museum exhibit to explore this unique niche of autobiographical storytelling by Jewish women. The touring exhibit, sponsored by The Forward, features the work of 18 Jewish women artists. The Jewish Women's Archive is interviewing each of the artists about their work and their experience as a female, Jewish graphic artist. This week's interview is with Trina Robbins, a writer and "herstorian" who has been writing comics and books for over 30 years. A pioneer in the field, Trina Robbins played an important role in opening the doors for women in comics.
Q: How did you get into cartooning?
Trina Robbins (TR): I had always drawn and always written. My mother was a teacher, who taught me to read at the age of 4 (the greatest gift anyone has ever given me), and she used to bring home from school reams of 8 1/2 X 11" paper and an endless supply of #2 pencils. I would fold the paper in half, making 4 pages, and draw a 4 page comic.
Q: How does your Jewish identity influence your work?
TR: Sorry, not much. I've done a few stories that I consider Jewish-identified, like the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, which my father had told to me growing up, or my adaptation of Hirsch Glick's Die Parteznaer Lied, which I did with Sharon Rudahl, but mostly what influences my work is that I'm a woman.
Q: Do you think the experience of being a cartoon artist is different for men and women?
TR: Yes! We even draw differently! I think everyone still draws what they drew as children, and what boys drew were airplanes, guns, and superheroes. What girls drew were pretty girls, mermaids, ballerinas and horses.
Q: Tell me about your pieces in the Graphic Details exhibit. What's their story?
TR: One of the two pieces I have in the show was drawn for my big sister, whom I worshipped growing up. It chronicles all the amazing misinformation (much of it quite misogynistic!) that she fed me and that I digested because I thought she knew everything. Somehow I became a feminist anyway! And my sister insists she can't remember ever telling me any of it.
Q: What's next? or What are you working on now?
TR: I just finished scripting a graphic novel for all ages, the true story of Lily Renee Wilheim Phillips, a teenage Jewish girl who escaped the Nazis. She lived in Vienna when the Nazis marched in in 1938. A year later she escaped to England via Kindertransport, lost all contact with her parents when England went to war with Germany, but -- happy ending! -- they escaped to America and reunited with her via Bloomsbury House in England, which was a clearing house to reunite families split up by the war. Then she came to America and drew comics! True story! It's being illustrated right now by Anne Timmons, with whom I've worked quite a few times -- we work well together -- and is slated for Fall, 2011.