Interview: Trina Robbins
Current Mood: thankful
Current Song: Static Waves by Andrew Belle featuring Katie Herzig
I'm pleased to be a stop on the The 2012 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour. Today, I'm interviewing Trina Robbins, who has received the Sydney Taylor Honor Award in the older readers category for the graphic novel Lily Renee, Escape Artist. Her past works include The Brinkley Girls and The Chicagoland Detective Agency. She corresponded with me via email from her San Francisco home. Sadly, she was unable to send sourdough bread as an email attachment. Gladly, we spoke of awesome girls in books and comics and history.
What was the first comic book you picked up? Did you find it yourself, or did you have a relative or friend who got you into comic books?
My mother was a 2nd grade schoolteacher and she taught me to read at the age of four. I took to books like a duck to water! At the ages of four and five I was reading and loving the Raggedy Ann books, my favorite books. At the time, Dell Comics was also publishing Raggedy Ann comics, so of course I had to have them and read them. Pretty soon I was buying a new comic every week, always starring a girl hero.
Congratulations on the honors you've received for Lily Renée, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer. When did you first learn about Lily's life and legacy, and what inspired you to write Escape Artist?
I'm a historian as well as a writer, and my specialty is comics history as it pertains to women, so I've written a number of histories of women cartoonists. One of the women I wrote about in my books was Lily Renee -- I loved her comics, but knew very little about her, until one day I received an email from her granddaughter. I was so excited! I had assumed that Lily was no longer upon this planet, so I got even more excited when her granddaughter told me Lily was alive and well. I phoned her and visited her in New York and found out about her amazing life, which could have come out of one of her own comics, and I realized that I had to write about her.
That's fantastic. How did you come to team up with illustrators Anne Timmons and Mo Oh?
Anne and I have collaborated on a great number of comics, including graphic novels starring my own flying teen superhero, GoGirl!, some educational graphic novels for schoolrooms, and some comic strip retellings of classic novels like Northanger Abbey and Little Women. She is a pleasure to work with! Because my editor wanted to get the book out in good time, she decided on an inker. I've never met Mo Oh, but she did a great job.
Which of your non-fiction works has been the most fun to work on?
I'd have to say this one, Lily Renee, Escape Artist.
Which required the most research?
I've scripted a lot of educational graphic novels for classrooms, about real people and real history, and they've all required about the same amount of research. I love research, because I actually find out stuff! A good example is Nathan Hale. We all know he said, "My only regret is that I have only one life to give for my country," but how much else do we really know about him? I hardly knew anything, 'til I did the research at my library, and found out about the Battle of Brooklyn. And it was fascinating! Who knew there had been a Battle of Brooklyn?!
Another one was Custer and Sitting Bull and the Battle of Little Big Horn. Another one where we all know, duh, Custer's Last Stand, but it usually stops there. But my research uncovered a fascinating man, almost like a tragic hero. And I found out how Sitting Bull got his name! And how the only survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn was an army horse named Commanche, and that Commanche became a hero, and the Army ruled that he would be taken good care of for the rest of his life and no one would ever ride him again. How romantic is that? I even downloaded the music that the US troops marched to, and played it while I wrote the script!
What are your top ten favorite graphic novels or comics?
Golly, top ten? I guess I have to start with the "classics:" Maus, Persepolis, Fun Home. After that, let's see...
I love the Rabbi Harvey books by Steve Sheinken. You have to get used to the strangest art style in the world, but they are brilliant and hilarious.
And speaking of Rabbis, I also love "The Rabbi's Cat," by Joann Sfar. It's a French graphic novel translated into English, and apparently it's been made into a movie, which I hope comes here.
OMG, I LOVE "American Born Chinese," by Gene Yang!
"Dangerous Woman," a biography of Emma Goldman by Sharon Rudahl!
"We Are On Our Own," by Miriam Katin, another Holocause survival story.
Going all the way back to 1995, "The Tale of One Bad Rat," by Bryan Talbot.
"Special Exits," by Joyce Farmer.
As you can see, I don't just stick to books by women.
To learn more about Trina Robbins, visit her website.
To learn more about the Sydney Taylor Book Award, visit the website and the blog.
Read the press release for the blog tour.