The Great Women Cartoonists and the Great Women Superheroes

The Great Women Superheroes

The Great Women Superheroes cover
The Great Women Superheroes
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Kitchen Sink Press, 1996

Pretty much what it sounds like. Trina Robbins’ author’s note provides some useful clarification:

This book is called The Great Women Superheroes, rather than An Encyclopedia of Women Superheroes, so that I could include only those whom I felt to be the best, the worst, the silliest, or the most interesting. … I had to define superheroines as those comic book heroines who fit in at least one of the following categories: they wore costumes, had special powers, and/or had secret identities. Sorry, but this leaves out jungle queens, girl reporters, vampires, and elves.

Early chapters cover Wonder Woman, animal-themed heroines (mostly catwomen), patriotic and wartime heroes, sidekick heroines (mostly Mary Marvel), and the supernatural. The latter half of the book traces Marvel and DC characters from the Silver Age to the then-modern day. It’s a more targeted history that will speak to the interests of most traditional comic fans — but if this is the only book you read on women and comics, then you’re buying into the fallacy that comics = superheroes.

From Girls to Grrlz

From Girls to Grrlz cover
From Girls to Grrlz
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Chronicle Books, 1999

Robbins’ first book in color, which is much appreciated, and first by a “real” publisher. Unfortunately, based on the cover copy, that necessitated making this more of a “colorful and hilarious tribute” than a history. It’s very welcoming, asking to be picked up and flipped through, but that (and the pink polka-dot cover) also make it seem a little more frivolous. The varying typefaces in the middle of paragraphs don’t help.

There are only four chapters, and the groupings seem selected for convenience instead of accuracy: Girls’ Comics 1941-1957; Women’s Comics 1947-1977; Womyn’s Comix 1970-1989; Grrrlz’ Comix 1990s. The attempt to group together a wide diversity of comics and zines that happen to be by or about women in the last chapter falls flat. Another difference here is that the emphasis is on comics for females, whether or not they were created by women, instead of female cartoonists.

The Great Women Cartoonists cover
The Great Women Cartoonists
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I’m probably judging it too harshly. I don’t think I’m part of the target audience; I think this is intended as a general introduction, not something for those already familiar with much of the material. It would make a terrific gift.

The Great Women Cartoonists

Watson-Guptill Publications, 2001

The last (so far) of Robbins’ targeted books, and the best. It’s a reworking of A Century of Women Cartoonists (although not credited as such), but in color and a much more welcoming, browsable layout. And because it’s more recent, it might be easier to find.

8 Responses to “The Great Women Cartoonists and the Great Women Superheroes”

  1. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » June 6, 2008: Kung-fu Stalin Says:

    […] Johanna Draper Carlson on three more female-centric comics histories by Trina […]

  2. Mechademia 2: Networks of Desire » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] favorite piece was a short essay in the back by Trina Robbins about what a manga adapter does and why it’s a bad idea to get rid of them (a cost-cutting […]

  3. Honey West #1-2 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] I was wrong, as I’d have known if I checked the creative credits. There is some of that, but we’re kept aware of Honey as a character, not just a visual. This two-part storyline is all about the female body, but in a playful manner, as I’d expect from comics her-storian Trina Robbins. […]

  4. Active Weekend LinkBlogging: Review Ethics, New Roles for Old Friends, More » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] those lines, I don’t agree with this rant against Trina Robbins’ book From Girls to Grrrlz, but I admire her passion. If I may oversimplify her very lengthy post, the main objection seems to […]

  5. Ed’s Thoughts on SPX 2011 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Trina Robbins’ books were discussed. The general consensus was that the books were flawed, but they were the only ones available. Abel called for a good integrated history of comics that included women. It would be nice not to need separate books just for women comic creators. […]

  6. Lily Renee, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] for the “pioneer” word. That’s a context that I, and writer Robbins (The Great Women Cartoonists), bring to the work. I’m not surprised that, for a general audience, Lily Renee’s […]

  7. Trina Robbins to Write Ultimate History of Women in Comics » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Women Cartoonists 1896-2013, billed as “her ultimate book, a revised, updated and rewritten history of women cartoonists, with more color illustrations than ever before, and with some startling new discoveries”. […]

  8. Good Comics at the Comic Shop November 20 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] is releasing Trina Robbins‘ latest and last history of women in comics, Pretty in Ink: North American Women Cartoonists […]




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