Return with me now to the terrible 1980s: Reagan, enormous shoulderpads, and comics for boys only. Editors and publishers, suffering from some kind of group amnesia, insisted that girls didn’t read comics, had never read comics, so what was the point in trying to create comics for anyone but boys? Even Stan Lee, who told me that of all the comics he wrote, his favorite was Millie the Model, sighed, "But it seems that girls don’t read comics."
Was I the only living person who remembered the Golden Age of girls’ comics, when girls snapped up comics like Patsy Walker, Millie the Model, Katy Keene? Was I the only one who understood that girls are not particularly fond of big-chinned, thick-necked, overly muscled superheroes beating each other up, and that if you gave girls comics they liked to read, girls would read comics?
I decided to try giving girls what they wanted to read, and managed to convince Jim Shooter, who had started out at Marvel comics writing Millie the Model, to give me a chance with a six-issue mini-series, Meet Misty. I modeled my stories after the ones I had read and loved as a kid: pretty teenage girls, a rich-bitch rival, lots of great clothes and paperdolls designed by readers in the style of Katy Keene.
After the first issue, the mail started pouring in, stuffed into overflowing manila envelopes and forwarded by my editor, Ann Nocenti. Little girls loved Misty! Most of them didn’t even address their letters to me, they addressed them to Misty as if she were a real person. And along with the endearing dress designs they folded into the envelopes, most of them wrote some variation on: I love Misty! There were never any comics for me before, but this is a comic for me.
Wow, I thought, this book is gonna be a big success! I would walk into comic book stores and look for my comic, but somehow I never found a copy on the racks among the Spiderman and Batman and Fantastic Four. When I asked, the clerks would say, "Oh, it sold out." It took me a while to get wise: the stores had ordered only two or three copies. When the books sold out, they never reordered. Soon, all those letters were saying, I love Misty, but I can never find it.
By the way, I was not alone in my attempt to restore comics for girls. At the same time as Misty was hitting (or not hitting) the stands, over at DC comics Barbara Slate was doing the same thing with her comic, Angel Love, with the same disappointing results, and indie publisher Deni Loubert was printing Barb Rausch’s Vicki Valentine with even worse results. The comic book stores, catering to twelve year old boys and terrified lest girls enter their clubhouse, simply wouldn’t carry a girl’s comic. Not surprisingly, after her six issue run, Jim Shooter refused to publish any more of Misty, leaving me with cartons full of letters from girls stashed in my basement. The letters continued for at least the next six months; sent by heartbroken girls who simply refused to believe that Misty was gone forever.
Not one to know when I’m licked, I did some fast thinking: what if instead of one cute teenage heroine, I had TWO -- twins! And I proposed California Girls to cat yronwode and Dean Mullaney at Eclipse Comics. cat was a fan of Katy Keene; she understood what I was trying to do. And Dean was an understanding, sympathetic guy, who was willing to try something new. Eclipse published California Girls in black and white on good paper, with special full-color inserts, featuring a designer of the month and paperdolls, and the letters came pouring in again.
I was in hog heaven doing what I loved best; comics for girls (and certain guys), but the comic book stores had not changed, and poor distribution killed Max and Mo after eight issues. Dean, who I will be forever grateful to, told me, "I don’t mind not making money on this, but I can’t afford to lose money."
I sadly added more cartons of letters to the ones already stashed in my basement and the years went by. Eventually I packed up all the letters and donated them to the comic archives at Ohio State University. I got letters from some of the boys, grown up now, who had been designers of the month, thanking me because my encouragement had helped them understand it was okay to be gay (I was shocked -- shocked!).
Now at last, the success of shojo manga has made people in the comics industry admit what I knew all along: if you give girls comics they like to read, they will read comics. And wonderful Brian Anderson of CBG comics has reprinted California Girls in all its 1980s glory, as a trade paperback. You can buy copies at Wondercon here in San Francisco, from me (I’ll be a guest!) or Brian, at his table or his website: www.sosuperduper.com, my own website, the non-profit Prism Comics website, www.prismcomis.org, San Francisco's "Whatever…" comic book store in the Castro, www.whateverstoreonline.com, the bookstore at the San Francisco's Cartoon Art Museum , FotoGrafix Books, www.cartoonart.org, and on online comic store www.indyplanet.com.
Causes Trina Robbins Supports
NOW, La Casa de Las Madres, Greenpeace, the Mime Troup, SPCA