From Girls to Grrrlz

18 / 05 / - 20 / 07 / 01
Exhibition / Talk

A history of American Women’s Comics - from Teens to Zines
organized by Trina Robbins (USA, Author, Comic Artist)



"Once upon a time, there was a woman named Ginger Rogers, who could dance as well as Fred Astaire, only backwards and in high heels. If a woman is able to do that, saving comics ought to be a snap"

- Trina Robbins

The exhibition "From Girls to Grrrlz - A history of American Women’s Comics, from Teens to Zines" first began to take shape with haus.0’s invitation to Trina Robbins, the reknowned American comic artist and historian of women’s comics, to develop a project concentrated on her own rich history working as both an artist, producer and chronicler in the comic industry. Robbins’ suggestion was to introduce her own work within the context of a history of women producers in the field of comics, and the resulting exhibition is based on her award winning book "From Girls to Grrrlz, a history of women’s comics, from teens to zines."
(Chronicle Books, 1999)

"From Girls to Grrrlz", exhibition documentation; 8 images - click on image for next picture

Robbins exhibition guide text sets the exhibition up in terms of transitions in terminologies, from ‘Women’ to ‘Womyn’ and from ‘Girls’ to ‘Grrrlz’, and includes a large range of comics and original art from comics for girls and women since the 1940s. While most of the earliest comics, from the 40s and 50s, is the work of men, starting in the late 60s and early 70s, the comics are by women, ranging from hippy psychedelic to feminist political.The later section ‘Grrrlz’ is mostly indie publishing by contemporary younger women, post-feminists, or the third wave feminists, who have reclaimed the word ‘girl’.

Trina Robbins perspective on women, politics, society developed along with the sense of new identity made potential within the 1960s American counterculture. Comics, the communication medium with their rubbery, flexible properties of image/text narratives, was one of the art forms to be adopted - or readapted - to articulate the new spirit. As a Cooper Union art school drop out ("I’d like to say I was kicked out for being a cartoonist, but that’s a slight exagerration. I was always an artist...Growing up in Queens I had a very strange image of what an artist is, I mostly got it, in fact, from comics."(1) Robbins started doing free cartoons for the East Village Other newspaper. In 1969 she relocated to San Fransisco, where she rose to prominence using cartoons in the emerging feminist press to articulate the many concerns of second-wave feminism - from abortion to coming out.
As Robbins states, "In the seventies I was a very angry feminist - I’m still very angry, but it’s not the same kind of anger – I wanted to give the guys back what they were giving to women, so I did some comparatively hostile –towards males– comix. Although they where never as hostile as what the men did, because I simply don’t have it in me to draw entrails strewn all over the landscape."(2)

Moving between underground, independent, and mainstream, Robbins has contributed in various ways to the production of new titles as well received the prestigious commission from DC Comics to do a 4 issue miniseries for the "Wonder Woman" character, where her strengths as both artist and historian join.
"If you look at the new Wonder Woman book by Les Daniels, which is written for DC comics and reflects their official ‘party line,’ you’ll see that Daniels actually writes that the readership of Wonder Woman has always been predominantly male! He gives no statistics to back up this incredible statement. Keep reading, and you’ll notice a heavy emphasis on bondage in the early Wonder Woman comics, but only one small sidebar regarding alleged lesbianism, in which he completely refutes the allegations. They’re still trying to attract the male readers: kinky sex, sure, lesbianism no, never, god forbid!(3)

"[Young male comic artists] have no idea of what women look like, the only way they know how women look like is how they’re drawn in the comics. So that, each year the women’s legs get longer, their noses get smaller, their tits get bigger, their waists get tinier. And little boys just gobble it up, and store managers and owners who may be 30-40 years old, but are still down deep inside twelve year old boys. No matter how much lip service they give to wanting girls in comics, deep down in-side the don’t want girls in comics at all. So comics have to be sold in other places for girls to reach them ...
You won’t find young girls in the comic shops, as long as it’s wall to wall twelve year old boys and wall to wall superheroes and pin-ups of babes in the window. Little girls and their parents are not gonna go in. ... And of course, the companies themselves have to be brave enough to take the chance to go beyond six issues, to give a book a year. Because the girls have to FIND it."(4).

Trina Robbins will be in attendance for the opening of the exhibition, and holds a talk on the exhibition theme, with accompanying visuals and insights from her career in the comics field ranging from underground women’s comics to commercial, and as a comics "herstorian".

(1,2,4) Stefan Dinter, Interview with Trina Robbins, in: Thirteen Interviews, Merz Akademie, 1993
(3) Regina Möller, Interview with Trina Robbins, in: De:Bug, May 2001

"Robbins is one of the most powerful voices for women in comics today. Her career spans 30 years. She was founding member of the Wimmen's Comix collective and has the distinction of having been published in underground comix ("It Ain't Me, Babe" and "Girl fight"), independent comics ("California Girls" and "Choices"), and mainstream comics ("Meet Misty", "Wonder Woman", "Barbie", "The Little Mermaid", "Powerpuff Girls"). Her work has been translated into eight languages, she has lectured in schools, universities and libraries all over the U.S.A. and Europe, and the recipient of numerous awards, including the Inkpot for Excellence in Comics, the Parents' Choice Award, the NOW Outstanding Feminist Award, and the Media Alliance Meritorious Achievement Award.
She has written and drawn comics, a CD ROM, a children's book, and books on the history of women in comics. Robbins has had an impact in many areas of the field, but nowhere is her work so important as her efforts as a comics "herstorian". Robbins is the author of "A Century of Women Cartoonists" and "The Great Women Superheroes" (Kitchen Sink Press), her most recent book, "From Girls to Grrrlz," was awarded the Firecracker Award at the Book Expo America, 2000."
(T.M. Lowe)