Supergirl severs her partnership with the paternalistic Superman. She realizes her powers don’t actually make her “different from the other girls.” Veronica and Betty rekindle their friendship strained by rivalry for Archie’s fleeting favor. Petunia Pig finally leaves Porky, her deadbeat husband, a literal chauvinist pig.
These scenes are from the panels in “Breaking Out,” one of the stories in the July 1970 edition of “It Ain’t Me Babe Comix,” in which popular female comic characters revolt against the men dominating their lives and defy their creators. The “uprooted sisters” team up “into small groups not unlike witch covens” and go picketing for women’s history and self-defense classes. They consider if they should “take that acid we’ve been saving and commune with the moon,” while Supergirl frees the inmates of a women’s prison.
“It Ain’t Me Babe Comix” was the first entirely women-created comic book and was produced by artist Trina Robbins. It grew out of the “It Ain’t Me Babe” newspaper created by the organization Berkeley Women’s Liberation and led to the development of “Wimmen’s Comix,” which was run collectively by female artists, including Robbins, from 1972 to 1992. Both are held in collections by the Harvard Schlesinger Library.
All three of these works developed alongside second-wave feminism. Coupled with the revolutionary spirit of 1960s movements for Civil Rights and against the Vietnam War, second-wave feminism advocated for women’s reproductive rights, job opportunities, and freedom from sexual assault and harassment. These themes shine through in the comix Robbins helped create.
Much like her art, Robbins is a colorful character. A fixture in the 1960s L.A. arts scene, she befriended legends of Sunset Strip, including David Crosby of the Byrds, Jim Morrison, and Mama Cass. Robbins is even the subject of the first verse of Joni Mitchell’s “Ladies of the Canyon.” “Trina wears her wampum beads / She fills her drawing book with line,” Mitchell sings.
“Comix with an ‘X’ is underground comics,” Robbins says. As we interview her, we can see eclectically-decorated bookshelves of awards and figurines and a near-life-sized nude female mannequin posed in her Zoom background.
“Underground comix was an art form of the ’60s and ’70s,” Robbins says. With the accessibility of creating and discovering comics on the internet and a mainstream openness to comics involving taboo topics like sex and drugs, she believes, “It really doesn’t exist anymore.”
But the desire to discuss drugs and sex was not the only reason “It Ain’t Me Babe” had to go underground.
“If you wanted to do a comic that actually paid you money in 1970, you had to draw superheroes. You had to do muscular guys beating each other up,” Robbins says. She was the first woman commissioned to draw one of the notoriously muscular female fighters in comics — Wonder Woman. “Women don’t do muscular guys beating each other up. That’s not what we’re into.”
Though some women certainly are into muscular men who fight (see: Marvel fans), the stories told in the comix Robbins helped produce are more grounded in the consciousness of its female creators. Grounded, but of course, no less fantastical.
The stories told by “It Ain’t Me Babe,” each drawn by a different artist, add imaginative twists to lived experiences. For example, one strip entitled “Monday” imagines a woman free from the crushing mundanity of secretarial labor — the Queen of the Jungle. She catapults from vine to vine, “eager to return home after many tiring battles against injustice and oppression.”
Another, “Remembering Telluria,” features bold and intricate panels depicting an ancient society ruled by Ma Mata, “the Great Mother, Beating Heart of the Earth.” It follows Ma Mata’s handmaiden and protégé, Maia, who goes on a mystical trip and sees visions of future industrialized urban life and “wars fought by violent men who had forgotten the Great Mother.” Maia awakens to discover herself in that modern hellscape. She had been plugged into a male doctor’s simulation machine all along.
The first issue of “Wimmen’s Comix” in 1972 debuted Robbins’ “Sandy Comes Out,” the first-ever comic strip featuring an “out” lesbian that was nonpornographic in nature, Robbins says.
Sharing the coming-out story of her roommate Sandy, Robbins imagines her internal turmoil as she questions her identity, framing lesbianism as “a positive alternative to the dehumanizing nuclear family.”
While progressive for the times, the piece was an outside-perspective looking inwards — a tension that Robbins acknowledges.
“I was still a straight woman doing it,” says Robbins.
In the comic, Sandy wonders if lesbianism could be “some way to smash phallic imperialism.” The comic portrays penises as inherently patriarchal and explains lesbianism by describing genitalia, ignoring the existence of trans lesbians and potentially denying them of their womanhood.
“It’s what Sandy said,” Robbins wrote in an email. “In 1972 there were no, or at least a microscopic number of trans women. I ask you to be aware that this was the very beginning of that kind of awareness, if it even existed yet!”
The stories also overwhelmingly feature white female protagonists, and rarely include characters of color.
“That was not our choice, to be all white,” Robbins says. “We got no contributions by Black women. It was as simple as that.”
Even though the comix were open to submissions from women of color, the perspective of the comix’s various contributors is one distinctly of white womanhood. In the story “Oma” in “It Ain’t Me Babe,” the female protagonist’s tranquil life homesteading is disrupted by brutality from Native Americans. In “Wimmen’s Comix” No. 8, “Virginia’s Story” follows a white woman who imagines different ways to kill a Black man in her home she presumes has come to rape her.
In an email, Robbins wrote that the creator of the “Oma” comic “now says that she regrets having done it.”
When asked what she would change about “It Ain’t Me Babe” or “Wimmen’s Comix,” Robbins responds, “Nothing.”
“They were perfect for what they were. A lot of the work was beginner stuff.”
To be sure, Robbins has made her mark on comics history — with some calling her the “Real-Life Wonder Woman of Comics Herstory.” She believes that the initial reception of “It Ain’t Me Babe” indicates that it inspired women to share their stories as they had not been able to before.
“We knew we were affecting women from the very first issue. The first issue had a call for entries,” Robbins says, “and immediately, we started getting comix from other women.”
“It was fantastic. There were as many different styles as there were women. And many of them were self-published,” Robbins says. “And it’s just, it’s endless. It’s endless. The possibilities are endless.”
— Magazine writer Ciana J. King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.