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Lily Renee arrived during the Holocaust in New York City as a teenager, and somehow found work in the male-dominated comic book world. By the time of her retirement, she had become a legend and her heroic female characters–like Lily herself, smashing through the glass ceiling of gender expectation–and shaping figures that would inspire several generations of young readers, both girls and boys, to rethink the norms that so often otherwise surrounded them.

Image above: Lily Renée, Senorita Rio, Fight Comics, Fiction House, not dated. Trina Robbins collection.

Lily Renée, Lily Renée, The Werewolf Hunter, Fiction House, not dated (probably 1948). Trina Robbins collection © Lily Renée

Lily Renée, The Werewolf Hunter, Fiction House, not dated. Trina Robbins collection © Lily Renée

Trina Robbins, Comic Herstorian and Artist, San Francisco CA
Adrienne Gruben, Mexican-American director of the film “Lily”
David Armstrong, Executive Producer of the film “Lily”
Moderated by
Rachel Stern, Director and CEO of the Fritz Ascher Society.

DIRECTOR: Adrienne Gruben
PRODUCERS: Adrienne Gruben, Benjamin Shearn, David Armstrong

Award-winning herstorian and writer Trina Robbins has been writing books, comics, and graphic novels for over fifty years. She has written and drawn comics from Wonder Woman to Barbie. Her 2009 book, The Brinkley Girls: the Best of Nell Brinkley’s Cartoons from 1913-1940 (Fantagraphics), and her 2011 book, “Tarpe Mills and Miss Fury,” were nominated for Eisner awards and Harvey awards. Her all-ages graphic novel, Chicagoland Detective Agency: The Drained Brains Caper, first in a 6-book series, was a Junior Library Guild Selection. Her graphic novel, “Lily Renee: Escape Artist,” was awarded a gold medal from Moonbeam Children’s Books and a silver medal from Sydney Taylor Jewish Library Awards. Trina’s most recent book is The Flapper Queens, her history of women cartoonists of the jazz age. In 2013, Trina was voted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame.

Mexican-American director Adrienne Gruben spent five years bringing Lily Renée Phillips’ story to light for her film “Lily.” Formerly a producer, Ms. Gruben’s credits include “Treasure Island” (Sundance Special Jury Prize Winner, 1999), “Running With The Bulls” (IFC comedy special, 2003) and “You’re Gonna Miss Me” (Independent Spirit Award Nominee, 2007), a documentary exploring the life of legendary musician Roky Erickson. In 2017 she directed a drag queen variety Christmas special for OutTV Canada, and went on to direct “The Queens,” which followed the lives of four famous drag queens, as well as comedy specials for internationally acclaimed drag performers, Katya, Trixie, Alaska and Bob the Drag Queen. Outside of film, Ms. Gruben has worked on the international marketing campaigns for films like “Captain America: The First Avenger,” the “Mission: Impossible” sequels “Fallout,” and “Ghost Protocol,” “A Quiet Place I & II” and the upcoming “Top Gun Maverick.”

David Armstrong has been involved with the Feature Film and Television production and distribution businesses for over fifty years. Starting at the American Film Institute’s Center for Advanced Film Studies, he worked for John Casavettes’ production company, Faces International Films as a film editor on “A Woman Under the Influence.” Armstrong has held executive positions at Vestron Television, All American Television, USA Networks International and MGM Worldwide Television Group. As a comic book historian, he was the Contributing Editor of the definitive three volume IDW book series on Alex Toth and curator of the comic archive stories in “DC Comics Before Superman: Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson’s Pulp Comics.” Armstrong is the Co-Producer of an animated pilot for Frank Cho’s “Liberty Meadows,” and the Executive Producer of “Lily,” about the pioneering comic book artist, Lily Renée.

Rachel Stern is the Founding Director and CEO of The Fritz Ascher Society for Persecuted, Ostracized and Banned Art. Born and educated in Germany, she worked for ten years in the Department of Drawings and Prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She is a 2018 recipient of the Hans and Lea Grundig Prize, in recognition of her research about the artist Fritz Ascher (Berlin, 1893-1970), the international traveling exhibition and the book To Live is to Blaze with Passion: The Expressionist Fritz Ascher/ Leben ist Glühn: Der Expressionist Fritz Ascher (Cologne: Wienand 2016). In 2020, she published a selection of poems by Fritz Ascher, Fritz Ascher. Poesiealbum 357 (Wilhelmshorst: Märkischer Verlag) and edited, with Julia Diekmann, the exhibition catalogue The Lonely Man. Clowns in the Art of Fritz Ascher (1893-1970) / Der Vereinsamte. Clowns in der Kunst Fritz Aschers (1893-1970) (Holzminden: Verlag Jörg Mitzkat).

Photo Lily Renée at work at Fiction House, not dated. Lily Renée collection © Lily Renée

This an event of our online project “Identity, Art and Migration” in which we investigate US immigration of European refugees during the first half of the 20th century through the lens of seven artist case studies: Anni Albers, Friedel Dzubas, Eva Hesse, Rudi Lesser, Lily Renee, Arthur Szyk and Fritz Ascher.

What is it that defines human identity? DNA? Language? Culture? Landscape? Polity? Or is it a combination of all of these factors? How do the sources of identity make it easy or difficult for individuals who migrate from one location to another—by choice or under duress—not merely to adapt but to become fully comfortable within their new home? How do artists, with their particular set of sensibilities—and who are purveyors of, respondents to, and shapers of culture—respond to their own migration? How do they transfer the diverse identity norms of the worlds they leave behind to the new worlds into which they arrive? Can they translate from one language of images to another? 

Each one of the seven artists featured in this project was affected in different ways by Nazi policies and came as a refugee to the United States, to remain or not to remain here—or hiding within Germany throughout the war. The life and work of each of these artists addresses the issue of identity and the particulars of its expression from slightly different angles. As a compendium, they all serve as an intensified and emphatic articulation of the broader issues of relocation, transformation and the psychological and cultural self as a centerpiece of human being.

Generously sponsored by the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany in New York.

Please also listen to our ZOOM RECORDING of “The Pencil and the Sword. How Lily Renée (1921–2022) Put her Art to Work Against the Nazis”, featuring Sabine Apostolo and Michael Freund from the Jewish Museum Vienna, Austria (LINK)

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