Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Trina Tornado

I found out cartoonist/scholar/herstorian Trina Robbins was going to be in Victoria in relation to a documentary film she participated in (Wonder Women), so despite some currently taxing health issues I went downtown to see her. We talked old cartoonists for awhile and I gave her a CD with my cartoon cover. I learned a mutual friend of ours (Barb Rausch), had died though, that's the risk in catching up.

Trina is a great and positive person, more active than me and she's 74 now! I guess that means she must have been my age when I first met her way back. Her 1985 history book (shown left, Eclipse, 1985) done with Cat Yronewode (top Will Eisner scholar) about women cartoonists really got me interested in the work of almost forgotten 1910s-'40s comics creators like Nell Brinkley, Rose O'Neill, Ethel Hayes, Gladys Parker and Tarpe Mills. I did know Tarpe Mills before this thanks to an Archival Press collection of black & white strips which was released circa 1978 (shown below), and why I ever sold it or the many Fiction House comics I had accumulated with women artists like (the still living) Fran Hopper, Marcia Snyder, and Lily Renee in their pages I sometimes wonder about, but they had all become too expensive for me to justify keeping at a critical point in my life. Miss Fury is considered by many the first Superheroine, predating Wonder Woman, Mary Marvel and, (probably the second ever) Bulletgirl. Growing up I loved seeing Batgirl on tv riding her Batcycle, somehow the female body looks better in tights and capes whereas usually the male body just looks dopey or silly, which almost makes me want to splurge on the Phoenix of the X-Men costume on Ebay so I can strut about in shiny boots like I'm all that and a packet of crisps!

In regard to Brinkley there are two books I can highly recommend; Nell Brinkley and the New Woman in the Early 20th Century, McFarland 2001, and the lavish The Brinkley Girls, The Best of Nell Brinkley's Cartoons From 1913-1940, Fantagraphics 2009, both authored by Trina. For Rose O'Neill I can point to Linda Brewster's Rose O'Neill The Girl Who Loved To Draw, Boxing Day Books 2009 while wishing for an even thicker revamp in the future. So nice just to finally see photos of these pioneering women! Sadly I don't know of any equally good books for Ethel Hayes or Gladys Parker, and very sorely wanted they are.

The Legends shop at which Trina was signing books had a display of often very lavish reprint books like the Tarpe Mills & Miss Fury, IDW Publishing 2011 one I bought for Trina to autograph. I could easily go into the red on just the old Felix the Cat collections and Eric Shanower Oz adaptations I saw. It's not quite a normal comic shop though, the glowering bizarrely muscled modern superheros were not nearly so prominently displayed as were local cartoonists works and vintage bagged funny books! There is a shop in Seattle over by a Dick's Drive-In that also struck me as more inviting to the general populace, but many are more foreboding and cultish much to the detriment of the form that is losing mass media status. In any case, I left feeling somewhat renewed and optimistic about the 'comic book world'. More Owly please, and less 'Owlman becomes a heroin addict and blows Smirky-villain up with frag grenade', or more Beanworld and less steroid-and-helium-boob-world!

Postscript: I once had an early Marvel comic (1949, shown) titled simply Cindy Comics (shown right) and it was filled with some of the most skilled and expressive cartooning I had seen but by an unsigned and possibly still unknown artist (I can rule out Al Jaffee, Dan DeCarlo, Mike Sekowski, and Ken Bald). Trina suggested it could have been Syd Shores, and going buy some of the more realistic art he did at that time I have seen I can almost completely rule him out on this, but other possibilities are Morris Weiss, Earl James or none of these fellows. Trouble is it is very hard to find representative cartoon work by all three. It's possible whoever the mystery artist was they had a connection to Harvey Kurtzman going by the proto Annie Fanny cover art. Again, I sure regret not keeping all my old funny books! I did see the same artist with single also unsigned stories in Patsy Walker comics of the time. I think of them as 'the good Cindy artist'. Patsy Walker is remembered where many other teenage characters are forgotten only because Marvel later made her into a Miss Fury style superheroine (wonder why Millie The Model wasn't similarly recycled). On the slim chance anyone has any examples of teenage strip art by the named cartoonists, or just solid Archie style cartooning from 1945-53 Marvel/Atlas comics, please consider me a fanatic for it.


C said...

Fascinating stuff, Rebecca; I knew nothing about these artists, there's so much talent there and it's heartening to know that as women they were able to make their mark in the days when it can't have been as easy as now. And I love the look of Miss Fury...

Rebecca said...

It was great to see the area media covering Trina's visit and the documentary about cartoons. On the day of the screening and shop appearance I saw two big newspaper write-ups with lots of photos, a tv interview and more coverage the next two days!

"(Film) Festival guests who turned heads this week included Trina Robbins," ran the daily paper this morning (Friday).

"What made the day great was seeing a comic book store filled with women," said Lloyd Chesley. "I mean vibrant, educated, literate women, many representing the best of Victoria's local art scene."

Yes, I try to smarten myself up now and then, it's only lucky nobody had knowledge of my continued participation in a Coronation Street soap chat site as 'sillybint'!

There was a large colour photo of three superheroines (from a charity organization) at the cinema entrance, but for a CT scan booking I could have gotten their autographs too. I've always been partial to Supergirl having had a number of those comics when I was little (a brunette who turned blonde, best of both worlds?), along with other favorites of the early '70s being Shazam, Plop!, Archie and various cute Disney animals (Scamp). It's really nice to have seen some non-dark kid-friendly comic books right up front in the shop, it definitely gives me hope!

mister kitty said...

I think the CINDY cover artist is... don't laugh... Dave Berg. He did some work for Marvel/Atlas in the '50s, and he was certainly versatile enough to handle the cheesecake.

Rebecca said...

That's a possibility for the cover! The interior style was really cool too, I was a fool to have somehow gotten rid of this comic. Oh well, nothing for it but to buy another copy... :^)