SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The Cartoon Art Museum has unveiled Pretty In Ink: The Trina Robbins Collection, featuring highlights from the personal archives of legendary comics historian, Trina Robbins. Based on Pretty in Ink published by Fantagraphics Books, The Cartoon Art Museum’s retrospective of the same name has been assembled from Robbins’s own archives, and features many of the top women cartoonists from the early 20th century, including Ethel Hays, Edwina Dumm, Nell Brinkley, Ramona Fradon, and Lily Renée. Original artwork, rare photographs, and other memorabilia is also included in the retrospective.
As an exhibit, “Pretty” is an array of illustration styles, including art deco, and film noir, that amasses works ranging from large, hard-lined comic pages to playful drawings done in colored pencil. Original photographs of the artists themselves, gives presence to their lasting work.
According to Robbins’ 30-plus years of research, more women than men worked in the comics industry in the 20th century. After most of the men in comics left their jobs to fight in World War II, women “drew beautiful, courageous women who didn’t need to be rescued by men: girl detectives, girl reporters, counterspies, and jungle Queens.”
Take “Miss Fury,” the first-ever costumed action heroine, who debuted six months before Wonder Woman and garnered a million readers. It’s illustrated and authored by June Tarpe Mills, and a 1944 promotional sheet on display reads “100% of the MEN; 90% of the WOMEN; (And Why Not?) Voted for MISS FURY!”
According to the placards accompanying the pieces, when fighting female characters went out of vogue in the late ‘40s, women found a place in romance comics. Unfortunately, after World War II ended and men returned to their jobs, women were deprived of significant comic work.
But if there’s anything this exhibit shows, it’s that female cartoonists adapted to every shifting trend of their time, finding new work to capitalize on and new characters to represent. No matter the era, there will always be women in the readership to illustrate for. These female protagonists who led their own adventures and the brave artists who inked them to life rightfully hold a place in comics history.
“Pretty in Ink” is on display at the Cartoon Art Museum until Aug. 24.