Women In Comics—The Gail Simone Interview
Aug 10, 2010
Jim Meyer (JM): OK, I’ve never done a cyber interview, so bear with me. Some of these will be old hat for you, but maybe not to our readers. Your career in comics started with your blog. How did you go from commentator to DC comics creator?
Gail Simone (GS): It’s an interesting thing about comics right now, that the old way of breaking in, by hassling editors by mail with open submissions, seems to be effectively closed off, and yet there are more doorways in now then there ever were, in some ways. I had written a weekly humor column on comicbookresources.com, and against the odds, it became a favorite of the industry. Editors and pros I really admired wrote me every week and encouraged me to keep at it. Several offered to help me break in, and eventually I just gave in and decided to take a shot, writing Simpsons material for Bongo Comics. Those guys really helped me figure out how to write a story effectively and I really owe them for it.
Around that same time, the great Lea Hernandez asked me to co-create a book with her, and that became Killer Princesses for Oni Press. Joe Quesada was the first guy at the majors to actually talk me into doing an actual pitch, for the book Deadpool, which was in danger of being canceled and therefore considered a good try-out book, I think. I can’t express my gratitude to those people, or my delight in the experience of going to a comics store and seeing books I’d written on the stands.
As for DC, a lot of that is Jeph Loeb and Geoff Johns. They met me at my first comics con appearance, and were amazingly supportive, which they both are to this day. They insisted I go speak to the Birds of Prey editor, and it turned out she had already wanted me to pitch for the book. I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for all those people urging me to give it a try. So blame them!
(JM): One of your most famous blogs was entitled, Women in Refrigerators, a take on how dangerous it is being a female character in comics. Did you feel a sense of responsibility to these characters when you took the helm?
(GS): Well, yes, and no. No, because the Women In Refrigerators site was all about examination, not condemnation. It was never meant to insult or accuse the industry, it was simply meant to hold up a mirror. We never meant that bad, dramatic things should never happen to female characters, or that they should never die. If you write adventure comics, bad things MUST happen to the characters. And in my books, they do. But the hope is that the female characters feel not superior to the male ones, but equally as compelling, equally as human, that’s all. And I feel that responsibility to all the characters I write, regardless of their personal plumbing.
Some female characters though, like some male ones, felt like they could use a bit of dusting off and shining up. Black Canary, certainly, but I felt the same way about Catman.
(JM): You seemed such a natural fit for Wonder Woman, but it’s a big responsibility, how do you approach Wonder Woman differently than other characters you’ve written?
(GS): One of the best Wonder Woman writers of the modern age, Greg Rucka, had said that the problem with Wonder Woman was that she was fragmented each time a new writer came on, and abandoned everything the previous writers had done. I agree, so my goal was to present a human Diana, someone who had some wit and charm and an inner life, but also someone who was cohesive.
I wanted to present a woman, not as a cracked series of mirror fragments, but as a jewel with many facets. So it was always about saying, all those past stories happened. Rucka, Jimenez, Perez, Heiberg, Picoult, Luke, all those writers had chops and talent, and their stories all happened.
Once you start from that approach, you ease a lot of the burden of the reader…they don’t have to wonder what history you’re drawing from and which has been ruled non-canon.
Mainly I wanted to ditch the idea of an arrogant speechifying aristocrat. That’s never felt like Diana to me.
(JM): Do you take a different approach when writing the Wonder Woman cartoon and that audience?
(GS): It’s important to give credit to the great Michael Jelenic who wrote the final drafts of the film and did such an amazing job. Wonder Woman is Wonder Woman to me…you can change things for a different audience, but it doesn’t change the character. If you can have the Chris Nolan Batman co-exist with the Brave and The Bold animated Batman, you can certainly have more than one version of Wonder Woman.
(JM): Women are a minority in comics, and even more so in the main stream. Do you feel there is a connection between this minority status and a trend towards more indie titles for female creators?
(GS): No creator wants to be thought of exclusively by the gender or skin color they’re born with. I love being a woman, I love being a woman who writes. But being a ‘woman writer,’ is not nearly as important to me. When my books go on the stands, they don’t go in a special female ghetto, they compete with the books of my male peers. The readers don’t care, honestly, and I love them for that.
But I will say, each year that goes by, I feel a little bit less like an oddity. The industry welcomed me, pros I had worshipped when I was little were incredibly kind and supportive. And now I look out and see Ivory Madison and Kathryn Immonen and Nicola Scott and so many other fierce women of impact and talent, and it all feels like a road we’re walking that’s headed somewhere wonderful. I walked it because Colleen Doran and Jill Thompson walked it for me, after Ramona Fradon and Marie Severin paved the way. People don’t buy Nicola Scott-drawn books because she’s female, they buy them because she draws like a damn bandit.
And seriously, the internet is changing things. Conventions now are full of women coming for their own reasons, not just as tagalongs. And I talk to more females who aspire to work in comics every year. It’s pretty exciting.
(JM): An event like Women in Comics month draws attention for female creators, but it also reinforces a line of demarcation. At what point does coverage like this tip from help to hindrance?
(GS): When it promotes the idea that these elements are in opposition to the furthering of comics as a whole. I’ve been on some great Women in Comics panels, and Race and Orientation panels as well, and some that are simply horrible, mired as they are in the self-defeating notion that the world is trying to personally keep the creator down.
You can’t accomplish anything from that point of view. A great female artist, or a great African-American writer, that’s a treasure, an asset to the whole industry. ANY great new talent is. Again, the audience understands this. Every interview, Dwayne McDuffie is asked about blacks in comics, when what the audience cares about is that he’s a brilliant writer.
Really, what is wanted is not, “More Asian creators!” What is wanted is a wide range of voices, and the best available talent.
(JM): You are known as one of the funniest writers in comics. Is it difficult for you to hold back on the funny some times? Have you ever been asked to tone it down?
(GS): That’s an interesting question, because I do like to have humor in dire situations. Not for comedy relief, which I don’t care about even slightly, but because that’s what people do in emergencies. We joke with family members in the hospital, cops tease each other after dangerous busts. In Secret Six, they tell jokes because admitting they actually care about each other would be too painful for this team of badass mercs.
The one time I remember really removing a lot of jokes was during my run on Deadpool and Agent X. I am not a fan of ‘wacky.’ I like the humor to come from the story, to have an organic quality, no matter how off the wall. So I did end up dumping a lot of jokes each issue of those two books. The current success of Deadpool really makes me happy. It just shows what can happen with the right creative teams.
I do sort of miss doing a straight humor book, though. I have some ideas, we may see something in the next year. I also have a DC project I am pretty sure no one saw coming, that I am just giggling about. I can’t wait to announce it, and the artist will blow people’s minds. It’s a great gig, honestly.
(JM): What’s with all the apes?
(GS): As almost every writer of Wonder Woman has found, it’s very easy for the book to get a bit preachy and ponderous. So almost every writer has brought in a p.o.v. character who sees Diana in a different, less-worshipful light, whether it’s Perez and Vanessa Kapetelis or Greg Rucka with Ferdinand the bull.
The Gorilla Knights are good fun, but they also show the kind of loyalty Diana inspires. And they fling poo, which always makes for great comics.
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