Trina Robbins obituary

<span>Trina Robbins in 2015. As well blazing a trail for women cartoonists, she wrote books on the subject, including The Great Women Cartoonists (2001) and Pretty in Ink (2013).</span><span>Photograph: San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers/Getty Images</span>
Trina Robbins in 2015. As well blazing a trail for women cartoonists, she wrote books on the subject, including The Great Women Cartoonists (2001) and Pretty in Ink (2013).Photograph: San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers/Getty Images

The American illustrator and writer Trina Robbins, who has died aged 85, began her career in comics in her native New York in the 1960s as a contributor to the counterculture newspaper East Village Other. She also drew and wrote strips for Gothic Blimp Works, an underground comic.

Then came comic strips, covers and spot illustrations for the underground publications Berkeley Tribe and It Ain’t Me, Babe, often described as the first feminist newspaper, before before she put together an all-women comic, It Ain’t Me, Babe Comix (1970), followed by the anthology All Girl Thrills (1971) and the solo comic Girl Fight Comics (1972).

Her black heroine, Fox, was serialised in Good Times (1971) and another of her characters, Panthea, who first appeared in Gothic Blimp Works (1969), was a regular in Comix Book (1974-76).

She also became one of the 10 founders of Wimmen’s Comix, an all-female underground comics anthology published from 1972 to 1992, and in the late 70s was a contributor to High Times, Heavy Metal, National Lampoon and Playboy.

Later she adapted the 1919 novel Dope, by Sax Rohmer, for Eclipse Comics (1981-83) and wrote and drew Meet Misty (1985-86) for Marvel. She was also the first woman to draw Wonder Woman, in The Legend of Wonder Woman (1986).

Robbins’ wider interest in the history of girls’ comics led her to co-write a book about the genre, Women and the Comics (1986), with Catherine Yronwode, and later A Century of Women Cartoonists (1993), followed by a number of biographies of female comic pioneers, including Nell Brinkley, Lily Renée, Gladys Parker and Tarpé Mills.

Born in Brooklyn, she grew up in Queens, where her mother, Bessie (nee Roseman) was a teacher. Her father, Max Perlson, was a tailor who later wrote for Yiddish-language newspapers and published a collection of stories, A Minyen Yidn (1938), that was turned by Trina into a comic anthology in 2017.

At the age of 10 she graduated from reading wholesome animal comics to Millie the Model, Patsy Walker and others with female protagonists. The Katy Keene comic was especially influential, as it encouraged Robbins to make paper dolls and design clothing for them. She was also a huge fan of the jungle adventuress Sheena.

Having discovered science fiction at 14, Robbins began attending conventions, and at one such gathering she met the short story writer Harlan Ellison. At 21 he was five years her senior, but they dated briefly and he later wrote her into his film The Oscar (1966) as Trina Yale, played by Edie Adams.

Trina attended Queens College before studying drawing at Cooper Union, although she dropped out after a year. In 1957 she married the cartoonist Art Castillo; they moved to the Bay area of Los Angeles until he disappeared to Mexico and the relationship ended.

Working for a time as a model for men’s magazines, she was a cinema usherette when she met Paul Robbins, whom she married in 1962 following Castillo’s death. Her new husband wrote for the LA Free Press, which gave her access to the Byrds, Bob Dylan and other musicians, and she began making clothing to sell to musician friends, including Mama Cass.

Returning alone to New York in 1966 (she and Robbins eventually divorced, in 1972), she opened a boutique called Broccoli on East 4th Street, making clothes for exotic customers and having flings with a number of them, including the Doors’ singer Jim Morrison and the activist Abbie Hoffman; she also had longer relationships with Paul Williams, editor of Crawdaddy magazine, and the cartoonist Kim Deitch, with whom she set up a cartoon art museum on East 9th Street.

Her clothes-making got her into a song by Joni Mitchell, who wrote in Ladies of the Canyon that “Trina wears her wampum beads / She fills her drawing book with line / Sewing lace on widows’ weeds / And filigree on leaf and vine”.

After she had sold her boutique in 1969 and began to make her living in comics, there was no looking back.

Apart from her writing and illustrating activities over the years, in 1994

she became one of the founders of Friends of Lulu, a US-based charity that promotes the reading of comic books by women and the participation of women in the comic book industry.

Her later work on the history of women in comics produced three further books, From Girls to Grrrlz (1996), The Great Women Cartoonists (2001) and Pretty in Ink (2013).

She also wrote a number of books for children, starting with Catswalk: The Growing of Girl (1990), and including the Chicagoland Detective Agency series (2010-14) of bizarre high school mystery adventures.

For adults she wrote The Great Women Superheroes (1996), Eternally Bad: Goddesses With Attitude (2001), Tender Murderers: Women Who Kill (2003) and Wild Irish Roses: Tales of Brigits, Kathleens and Warrior Queens (2004).

Her most recent comic was Won’t Back Down (2024), a pro-choice anthology.

She is survived by her partner, Steve Leialoha, a daughter, Casey, from her relationship with Dietch, and her sister Harriet.

• Trina Robbins, writer and illustrator, born 17 August 1938; died 10 April 2024