By Trina Robbins
Once upon a time, when the world was young, I taught a workshop in writing comics. Let me tell you about one that really has stayed with me.
I've been writing graphic novels, comics and books for over thirty years. My subjects have ranged from Wonder Woman and the Powerpuff Girls to my own characters, which range from women cartoonists and superheroines to women who kill. I've written over a dozen educational graphic novels for three different publishers, provided English language rewrites for shojo manga graphic novels, and lectured on comics and graphic novels throughout the United States and Europe.
In the many of workshops I've taught, it's been so wonderful to pass what I know and love on to young women who share my passion. I remember this particular class because of a young woman named Ivory Madison. Ivory wanted to write Batman. Everybody I have ever met who has designs on comics writing wants to write Batman, and they all have a snowball's chance in Hell. I told her as much and suggested, "Pick an old character, one that nobody's done much with so far, and the editors will be more likely to give you a chance."
And wouldn't you know it, she took my advice! Ivory picked a neglected character who'd never caught my interest before, gave her a real personality, and wrote the most overtly feminist comics series that DC Comics has ever published.
Twenty years ago, DC introduced Helena Bertinelli. She is the daughter of a Mafia boss who, after seeing her entire family murdered by a rival gang, vows revenge and becomes a superhero, the Huntress. In 2008, Ivory retold her origin story in a six part miniseries titled Huntress: Year One.
I won't reveal too much of the plot, but as I said, the series is, to put it mildly, feminist. Not just because Ivory's Huntress, who has grown up in the hyper-macho world of the Mafia, is strong—physically, mentally, and morally (saying "With all due respect for moral ambiguity...you must take sides.")—but because Ivory weaves in feminist themes throughout: cooperation among women (Catwoman makes a memorable appearance, observing "We need more strong women in Gotham, especially ones who answer to no one," and adding, "Well-behaved women rarely make history."); choices women make about love, honor, and courage, including loving men who are feminist and rejecting men who aren't; and how a woman can take on such an iconic figure like Batman and win without making him necessarily lose.
Ivory's feminist sensibility extends to the novel's art. The illustrator is Cliff Richards, a Brazilian cartoonist who shares with other Brazilian comic artists what seems to be a predilection towards large-breasted Bad Girl art. Yet his work on Huntress remains tasteful, probably because Ivory insisted on it. In an interview on the comics website, Newsarama, she describes what she wanted: "No arched backs, no ski-jump noses or baby faces, no heavy make-up, no painted-on clothes when Helena is dressed as a civilian."
With more series like this, this jaded comics critic might start reading superhero comics again. If you've never picked one up, start with Huntress: Year One.
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Causes Trina Robbins Supports
NOW, La Casa de Las Madres, Greenpeace, the Mime Troup, SPCA