“Stories I wanted to tell”: An Interview with “Best Erotic Comics” Artist Trina Robbins

And welcome to the second in a series of interviews with the artists of Best Erotic Comics 2008. Today’s interview is with one of the book’s Hall of Fame artists, Trina Robbins. I’ve been an admirer of Trina for many years, both as a comic artist and as a historian. The author of The Great Women Cartoonists, The Great Women Superheroes, and From Girls to Grrlz : A History of Women’s Comics from Teens to Zines, as well as many other titles, Trina has been a powerful influence on the comics scene since the underground days. I was thrilled to have her work in Best Erotic Comics 2008, and even more thrilled to interview her here in my blog.

BTW, Trina will be one of the panelists at tonight’s Best Erotic Comics 2008 launch party, Thursday 2/28 at 7pm at the Cartoon Art Museum, 655 Mission Street in San Francisco. Come by and say howdy!

Greta: Thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed! Tell me about your piece. What inspired it, what were you trying to accomplish with it, etc.? I know why I like your piece and why I included it in the anthology — but what do you think makes it stand out?

Trina: Nothing heavy, really, just: what if the tables were turned and WE were the pets? Not even really an animal rights story, because I certainly am not opposed to neutering pets — at least until someone invents tiny kitty kondoms. Our two cats are neutered — they’re a male and female — and sometimes the poor dears get an inkling of an idea about what they’re supposed to do, and they assume position, the male biting the neck of the female, but then they can’t remember what comes next and they just kind of stand there. It’s funny in a pathetic way. My partner calls it the love that can’t remember its name.

And tell me a little about the history of this piece. You originally drew it in 1978, but it’s being published for the first time here. Can you tell me the story about that?

Yeah, back in ’78 I had done some illustration for this men’s mag, and I got along nicely with the editor. I sent him a sketch for the comic and he liked it and gave me the go-ahead, but by the time I finished the piece, he’d been fired and the new editor wanted nothing to do with anyone the old editor had worked with. So it has sat in my file cabinet till I heard from you.

Well, I’m so glad I could help it to see the light of day! Since you bring up men’s magazine, I wanted to ask: Do you see erotic comics as a separate genre from mainstream comics? Or do you see your erotic work as being an integral part of the comics world?

Well, they obviously ain’t mainstream. But comics are comics (or comix) and there are many different kinds and they’re all valid.

And when you’re creating sex comics, is it important to you that they be arousing to the audience? Or are you focused entirely on other artistic goals?

I’ve done so few sex comics! I’ve certainly never done any with arousal of my readers in mind — they’ve always simply been stories I wanted to tell.

Since you have done non-erotic comics as well as erotic ones, I’m curious: How has your adult work affected how your non-adult work is received? Has it made it harder to get your non-erotic work published or recognized? Easier? Or has it had no effect at all?

Far more non-erotic than erotic! But I don’t think one ever affected the other.

You’ve been doing comics — both adult and non-adult — for a long time, since the early days of the underground comics era. How do you think adult comics have changed since then? And how have those changes affected your own work over the years?

I’m not an enormous readers of erotic comics, but the impression I get is that first of all, there are genuine women drawing erotic comics now, so you’ve got a different viewpoint than you had 35 years ago, and also of the ones done by men, I think far less of them are the kind I’ve always objected to — the kind where rape and torture of women is portrayed as something cool and/or amusing. I’m sure you know that there are people who have accused me of being a censor simply because I have objected to comics that portray rape as funny. Those people don’t quite get it that objecting to something is not the same as censoring it.

On that topic — not the topic of censorship, but the topic of the changing world of adult comics: Do you think the increasing acceptance of comics as a serious art/ literary form has affected sex comics? Has it made it easier for adult comic artists to work? Or are artists less willing to do sex comics for fear of not being taken seriously… whereas 30 years ago they didn’t care because they weren’t getting any respect anyway?

Certainly there are some excellent graphic novels out now that deal with sex and that are widely respected. Michelle Tea’s Rent Girl comes to mind, as well as Phoebe Gloeckner’s books. And those books are definitely taken seriously.

Do you find that working on adult comics is an erotic experience? Or when you’re doing the drawing, are you just focused on the craft of your work rather than the eroticism of the scene you’re creating?

As I said before, I’m focused on telling a story. I find the idea of people as pets being allowed to mate before being neutered ironic rather than erotic!

And finally — what are you working on now?

I’ve been writing educational graphic novels for kids and they are definitely not erotic! They’re meant for the classroom, as teachers and librarians have become aware that kids are reading less, but that kids WILL read graphic novels. Some of them came out very well, thanks to a bunch of good artists: the stories of Hedy Lamarr, drawn by Cynthia Martin; Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman to get her pilot’s license, drawn by Ken Steacy;and Florence Nightingale, drawn by Anne Timmons, with whom I also team up for our ongoing graphic novel series, GoGirl! I just finished adapting a Ray Bradbury story into graphic novel form for Scholastic, and this Spring Anne Timmons and I will be doing a graphic novel adaptation of Little Women — like I said, definitely not erotic!

Retired cartoonist Trina Robbins has been writing books and comics for over thirty years. Aside from writing about women cartoonists, she has written books about dark goddesses, Irish women, and women who kill.

Previous posts in this series:
“That’s the fun of it”: An Interview with “Best Erotic Comics” Artist Justin Hall

“Stories I wanted to tell”: An Interview with “Best Erotic Comics” Artist Trina Robbins

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