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Trina Robbins, Feminist Cartoonist and ‘Wimmen’s Comix’ Founder, Dies at 85

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A senior white woman smiling as she holds up a comic book titled 'It Aint Me Babe.’
Trina Robbins, the first woman to draw Wonder Woman and an underground force for women in comics, died in San Francisco on Wednesday. (Liz Hafalia/ The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Trina Robbins, the groundbreaking San Francisco comic book artist, writer, editor and feminist, died on Wednesday at the age of 85. Robbins is primarily remembered for establishing — and popularizing — feminist comic books, raising women’s voices and for being the first woman to ever draw Wonder Woman comics.

The comic book world was quick to share its grief and reverence for Robbins and her work.

“You showed me what it looks like to lift up others,” Bay Area cartoonist MariNaomi wrote on Facebook, “how easy it is to do, and how much that small gesture can mean to a young artist. It can change their life.”

“She proved over and over that you didn’t have to be ‘one of the boys’ to make comics,” wrote the Canadian graphic novelist Miriam Libicki. “She made highly influential superhero and underground comics, she wasn’t afraid to be a reviled feminist ball-buster, and she did it all unapologetically as a fashion-loving femme.”

A senior white woman sits on a blanket-covered couch smiling.
Trina Robbins at her San Francisco home near Duboce Triangle in 2016. (Emma Silvers)

When Robbins first arrived in San Francisco from New York in 1970, she faced an underground comics scene that was thriving but still very much a boys’ club. Feeling shut out and lacking in collaborators, Robbins gathered together every female cartoonist she could find. Together, they made It Ain’t Me, Babe, the first collection of comics created entirely by women. Printed by San Francisco underground comics publisher Last Gasp, it was a swift hit, selling 40,000 copies in three printings. It was also a game-changer for comic book artistry in the Bay and beyond.

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Within two years, It Ain’t Me, Babe had grown into a serialized collection called Wimmen’s Comix. (Robbins’ contributions to the first issue included “Sandy Comes Out,” featuring the first openly lesbian character in comics.) The uncompromising publication was edited by 10 different women over 17 issues, and would go on to run for 20 years. In 2016, every issue of Wimmen’s Comix was immortalized in a two-volume book published by Fantagraphics. At the time, Robbins discussed her early motivations with KQED Arts.

“In the early ’70s, many of the guys’ comics were very misogynistic,” Robbins said. “When I would criticize [their comics] depicting rape as funny, they’d say ‘Oh, you just don’t have a sense of humor.’ So much of our [inspiration] was just saying, ‘Women have to have a voice.’ We have to be able to speak out if we want things to improve.”

A full page illustration of a worried girl and a man standing nearby. It's titled "A Teenage Abortion."
‘Wimmen’s Comix’ depicted women’s issues in unapologetic terms. (Emma Silvers)

In her work, Robbins also illuminated forgotten female comic book artists who had inspired her growing up, including Gladys Parker, Lily Renée and Nell Brinkley, bringing them to life in a series of graphic novels. Robbins also penned A Century of Women Cartoonists, The Great Women Cartoonists and From Girls to Grrrlz: A History of [Female] Comics From Teens to Zines. Her 2017 memoir, Last Girl Standing, featured a 1966 photograph of Robbins on the cover, surrounded by friends backstage at a Donovan concert in Los Angeles. At the time, before the ascent of her comics, she worked as a fashion designer and boutique owner.

In the ’80s, Robbins created unabashedly feminine series like California Girls and Meet Misty, which was published by Marvel’s Star Comics imprint. In 1985, her work on Wonder Woman began, immortalized with The Legend of Wonder Woman series.

In the ’90s, Robbins published Choices, a comics anthology for the National Organization of Women that raised money for pro-choice causes. She also cofounded Friends of Lulu — an organization that, for almost two decades, elevated women’s voices in the comic book industry.

In 2013, Robbins was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame at San Diego Comic-Con.

“Decades of love for this art and this community. There is no replacement for her,” Gail Simone wrote in Robbins’ honor. “We are blessed with her books, her art, and her guidance, and those all will live on.”

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