Legendary ‘Wonder Woman’ illustrator talks about her latest reproductive rights project

Cartoonist Trina Robbins poses next to a display of her work.

SAN DIEGO — Brooklyn-born underground comic artist turned legend Trina Robbins has been a feminist, activist, and self-proclaimed “herstorian” of female characters since she began her career in the 1950s. She has created empowering subjects for over five decades, characters who stand up for themselves and advocate for others.

She is best known for her illustrations of “Wonder Woman” comics in 1986, and her later work on “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Go Girl!” her own teen superheroine.

Robbins, who illustrated four issues of “Wonder Woman” before the character was recreated by famed comic book artist George Perez, told the American Independent Foundation on Saturday during an interview at the Comic-Con International convention in San Diego, California, “I think if Wonder Woman were here today, the Supreme Court would make her illegal.”

Won’t Back Down,” Robbins’ latest project, is a 100-page pro-abortion rights anthology illustrated and written by a long list of diverse artists of many genders who address the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade and how that ruling has impacted them.

“We all were feeling so secure. It’s been almost 50 years since abortion was legalized. And we thought we certainly won’t back down, we thought we’d never have to go back,” Robbins said. “But the rogue Supreme Court is horrible. And they want to push women back. It no longer is a two steps forward, one step back, which it’s been. It’s more like one step forward, three steps back. They want to bring it back to the 1950s.”

Robbins explained that she knew she wanted to do something, and when she learned Roe had been overturned, she began reaching out to other cartoonists to begin creating the anthology. 

“I decided we had to do something, and the weapons we have to fight with are pen and paper. You know, you use whatever weapons you have. I posted on Facebook and in a woman’s cartoonist group that I belong to, and people just kept answering and saying, Yes. Yes. Yes, I want to do something,” Robbins said.

Robbins edited the anthology and also shared her own abortion story:

I wrote the story of my second abortion. … It was an illegal abortion in 1968. But I was 28 years old and an idiot because I shouldn’t have gotten pregnant. But I knew the right people, so that I could find this group of doctors who believed that abortion should be legal and who once a week performed abortions, knowing that at any moment, the cops could break in. But they did it because they believed in it. And it was safe, it was medical. All illegal abortions were not wire hangers and back alleys. There were a lot of very brave doctors who believed in what they were doing.

Robbins said not all the stories are about abortion. Some take place in a dark future and others in the past.

When she began her career, Robbins said there were only two women drawing comics: herself and cartoonist Wendy Pini. Robbins’ career as a comic artist began in the late 1960s, creating comics for the East Village Other, an underground newspaper in New York City

In the 1970s, Robbins moved to San Francisco, where she lives today, and launched “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” the first comic book created exclusively by women. Robbins has won several Eisner Awards, given to comic book creators annually at Comic-Con, and in 2013 she was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Industry Hall of Fame.

Robbins said that although she doesn’t think the anthology itself will change anyone’s mind, she hopes readers will at least hear the stories from people who’ve defied abortion laws. Those who buy the book will be supporting Planned Parenthood.

“There’s nothing wrong with propaganda. Propaganda is good. One of my favorite Golden Age movies is called “Watch on the Rhine,” and it was originally a play by Lillian Hellman adapted into films by Dashiell Hammett, starring Bette Davis, so you can’t go wrong with people like that. It’s wonderful, but it’s pure anti-Nazi propaganda. Well, that’s OK,” Robbins said.

Robbins’ most recent books, “Gladys Parker: A Life in Comics, a Passion for Fashion” and  “The Flapper Queens,” chronicle women who were cartoonists in the 1920s and 1930s.

“These were the women who drew comics in the ’20s and ’30s. And they got the right to vote in 1920. And you can see in their work, it’s exciting and yet it’s heartbreaking because you can see they’re going, We’re equal now. Everything’s great. We can vote. They had no idea,” Robbins said.

Robbins says she is still passionate about fighting against injustice.

“When I did draw, the early stuff I did in the ’70s, it’s very angry. And, you know, through the years, I don’t have that anger anymore. But I still have the drive.”

“Won’t Back Down,” which has been funded through a crowdfunding campaign, will be released in the fall, and all profits from its sale will go to Planned Parenthood.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.