GU Comics Day: Shining a spotlight on: Trina Robbins

by Erin Finnegan, NY editorial intern

It's a mystery! Trina Robbins is writing a Graphic Universe book, title still TBA.After several weeks of Artist Spotlights, we’ve decided to interview our Graphic Universe writers. Trina Robbins is the author of many books and comic books. She’s writing a Graphic Universe series that will debut this fall (Fall 2010). All we can reveal for now is that it will be a fast-paced and funny fiction series for middle readers.

Q. What was the first thing you were paid to write?

Not counting my own comics, I guess that would be my first history of women cartoonists, Women and the Comics, from 1985. Or wait a minute, did Catswalk come first? That was my first kid’s book that was really a book and not a comic. At any rate, they both came out in the mid 1980s.

Q. What’s your favorite genre to write in? What type of writing do like best—long, short, fiction, nonfiction?

Most of my non-comics writing has been nonfiction, but I really would love to write a fiction book. On the other hand, most of my comics have been fiction, except for the graphic novel biographies I’ve written. Right now I’m writing a fictionalized biography, and although it’s based on reality, I’ve had to use my imagination to flesh out what people said and did in the story. It’s a challenge, but I love it!

Q. Did you start off writing prose and switch to comics or vice versa? What’s it like working with an artist? Have you ever been surprised how your artist(s) see your characters or world?

I started by writing my own comics, and now I write for other artists. Because I have worked with some really good artists, I usually try to recommend them when I’m writing something for a publisher, but sometimes I’ve had no say in who the design director picks and, worse, I’m not allowed to give any feedback on the art as it progresses. On the other hand, when working with the artists I know and recommend, the books turn out to be something I’m really proud of.

Q. Graphic Universe books are generally for kids; how do you get into the mindset of your audience?

Hey, I was a kid once, and inside this aging body there’s still a kid trying to get out! Most of all, I always write what I would enjoy reading,myself, and I NEVER talk down to my readers! I’ve seen some comics, published by certain mainstream publishers who will remain nameless, which talk down to the readers, and those are so lame that they’re embarrassing!

Q. Have you ever written someone you know into a story? Perhaps at their insistence?

Sometimes when I’m strapped for names, I’ll use the names of people I know. In those cases, I always give them a copy!

Q. Do you write full time?

Yes! And I couldn’t be happier, sitting at that computer, punching the keys.

Q. What other stuff have you written outside of Graphic Universe?

I’ve written far too many books and comics to mention all of them, but you can check out my website at and if you look at the list on the left of the website and click on the part that says “Trina’s News,” you’ll find my blog, where I write about my current projects. My most recent book is a history of the Golden Age of Chinese nightclubs in San Francisco’s Chinatown, from 1937 – 1964: a very glamorous and romantic era. For that book, I interviewed 22 retired Asian entertainers who sang and danced in the old nightclubs, one as old as 97 (and still with us!). Their stories are so great! Some of the women ran away from home as teenagers to dance onstage, because their traditional Chinese parents thought it was shocking for a girl to dance or show her legs in public.

Q. Which of your comic projects was your favorite to work on?

Of course I loved working with artist Anne Timmons on our continuing graphic novel series, “GoGirl!”, about a flying teenage superheroine. I really enjoyed writing a biography of 1940s movie star Hedy Lamarr, who was brilliant as well as beautiful and designed a secret communications system to deter torpedoes during World War 2. I met and interviewed her son, Anthony Loder, who was delighted that someone wanted to write about his mother, because he thought she had been forgotten. Far from it! AND I got the artist I had recommended to draw the graphic novel, so it came out a winner in every way. Right now I’m very excited about the new biography I’m writing, which will be drawn by that same illustrator.

Q. Do you listen to anything while you write? Lyric-less music? Talk radio? Podcasts? Can you leave the TV on?

I can only write in total silence! Anything else distracts me.

Q. Do you have a favorite comic writer or prose writer? Who are your influences (in any media)?

I happen to love mysteries and detective stories, because they’re pleasant easy reads for relaxing when I’m concentrating on writing. Ed McBain is great, so is Cara Black, who writes mysteries set in Paris, and Adele Leone, whose mysteries take place in Venice, Italy. And when I’m not reading mysteries, I’ll read anything (and have read everything!) by Michael Chabon, whose Kavalier and Klay is about comics! And I also love Maeve Binchy, who writes about Ireland in such a clear, Irish voice, and Saron McCrumb, who writes atmospheric, slightly creepy novels that take place in the Southern mountains, and have a lot of folk songs and mythology in them. I could go on forever!

Q. Which college did you go to and what was your major (unless you went to one of those major-less schools)?

Alas, I was one of those hippie dropouts of the 1960s, so although I attended Queens College (for English) and Cooper Union (for art), I never graduated!

Q. What is the next convention you plan to go to? (If any.)

I’ll be at Wondercon, in San Francisco (my home town) in April. Look for me and say hello!