Let the Poison Out

Tim has told me at least once, but it feels like more than once, though it's probably just once: Let the poison out. And I infer his meaning to be: just say the bad thing you need to say so that it doesn't poison you. Now, of course, Tim is a nice man and isn't encouraging bad behavior. I, as many of you know, am not as nice a man as Tim. And so: I lay on my couch on Tuesday, home from work with a nasty cold, and read Last Girl Standing, the new memoir by Trina Robbins, the longtime artist and advocate for female cartoonists.  I'd looked forward to this for a while, because, while I've found her to be a sloppy historian (at best) and a mediocre cartoonist (ditto), she is a "figure" in comics: A survivor who carved out a place for herself in a medium and a business that was and (a few pockets of the biz aside) remains inhospitable to anyone who is not white and male. Surviving is not nothing.

But this book is, I'm actually sad to report, barely a book at all. More like a loosely ordered collection of memories that haven't been interrogated and display a startling lack of self-awareness, There is information here, but it's buried and mostly lacking dates. Some figures appear without explanation (Fascinating cartoonists like Sharon Rudahl, Lee Mars, Willy Mendes, et al, come in and out, but we never know anything about their backgrounds or existence outside of passing in front of the author's eyes) while others are given far too much time (pages are dedicated to Robbins' affair with Jim Morrison, which reads not like her "friend" Eve Babitz consciously fucking her way to fun and writing beautifully about it, but rather like someone who was lost and just getting fucked). There was so much room to go into the chronological details of Robbins' publishing career, but instead just five pages are devoted to Wimmen's Comix. Fewer still to It Ain't Me Babe and other fairly legendary titles. That's less space than is given to Jim Morrison, and fewer than to making clothes for celebs on the Sunset Strip. And none of this would be a big deal in a book by a different author, except that lots and lots of people made groovy clothes and fucked rock stars. That part of Robbins' story is categorically generic and dull. But very, very few women had solo underground comics and edited anthologies in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

There is much score-settling here, all of which makes Robbins look petty. There is a list (seriously), of all the men Robbins could have, but did not, "sleep with." There is a desultory mention (and reprinting) of Robbins' brief career in nude modeling for men's magazines. There is a bizarre recounting of her 40 year-long non-friendship with cartoonist Diane Noomin, which culminates in a cringe-inducing confrontation; much saber rattling at Aline Kominsky-Crumb; a raw and vicious chapter on her relationship with Kim Deitch; and an accounting of every time Roger Brand slighted her. Roger Brand! And there is a steady drum beat for every time Robbins was not included in various anthologies. Good lord. What's lacking entirely is any serious reflection on Robbins' life in the medium, or those of her colleagues. It's just list after list; lament after lament. 

I mentioned all of this to a friend and realized that Robbins' book is essentially like a TCJ message board thread, or a Dave Sim editorial. So, read that way -- as the ramblings of someone you're stuck in an elevator with -- it's grotesque fun! As a memoir by someone who lived through and participated in underground comics, it's a startling disappointment. This book is just inconceivably sloppy. It reads like an unfinished book proposal that someone accidentally printed. Ironically, but perhaps not coincidentally, this is not dissimilar to what happened with the recent S. Clay Wilson book. There is art throughout the book, placed in proximity to the text it refers to, but no dates or captions, so we are left to puzzle out when/where/why any given thing was made/published/printed. The front cover photo is pixelated and then printed in reverse in the interior of the book. There is no bibliography or even a modest list of the books Robbins has published. There is no timeline. What a missed opportunity this is. As the baby boom generation gets older, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to chronicle their history. And in this case, all it would have taken is a dogged editor to take some time and ask details, dates, etc. And short of getting all of that, said editor should have saved Robbins the humiliation of this book and simply not published it. But so it goes in comics. Still. 

For a sunnier view of the book, here's Paul Buhle's review.

That's what I have for the day. Have a great weekend!