Kelly Sue DeConnick has worked in the comics industry for the past decade, writing comics and translating Korean manwha and Japanese manga into English — including the English scripts for Kare First Love, Black Cat, Sexy Voice and Robo and Blue Spring. She’s probably best known for her work on Marvel’s Osborn: Evil Incarcerated mini-series, co-writing Richard Castle's Deadly Storm with Brian M. Bendis and, of course, her current hit series Captain Marvel.
Along the way she has earned a large and faithful fan base (men and women alike) with her work, and has also seen the role that women play in comics — on the page and behind-the-scenes — change over the years… and not always for the best. In honor of May PREVIEWS’ “Women in Comics” month, PREVIEWSworld spoke with Kelly Sue who had something to say about that subject and much more.
PREVIEWSworld: Tell us first how you got started creating comics…
Kelly Sue DeConnick: I started writing about comics — doing some stringer reportage and then writing catalog entries for Artbomb.net. From there I moved on to writing the English adaptations of Japanese and Korean comics (which I did for seven years), then short stories, co-writing and limited series. My first ongoing title was 2012’s Captain Marvel for Marvel comics.
PREVIEWSworld: This month's PREVIEWS theme is “Women in Comics”. Can you talk about the current state of female representation in comics? Both from a creator standpoint and a character standpoint?
Kelly Sue DeConnick: Women are WILDLY under-represented both on the production side and on the page. This is not just a comics problem, it’s an cultural problem.
To my knowledge, there are no reliable statistics to which we can refer for our industry, but numbers were just released for last year’s films citing only 15% of the protagonists as female — and 30% of the speaking roles! That’s depressing enough on its own but add to that the fact that that number is actually DOWN from 16% ten years ago and then it’s rage-inducing.
Little girls learn how to identify with male protagonists early on because they have no choice — they don’t get the opportunity to see themselves actively reflected in culture often enough, so they learn to identify with the male hero. We don’t ask that of boys. In fact, we discourage it. Women are low-status — who would want to identify DOWN?
So because of all this nonsense we have phenomena like the stage every girl goes through when she too refuses to identify down — the “I’m one of the boys” or “I don’t trust other women” phases. As sad as those things are, they’re the logical extensions of how we’ve taught our girls to value themselves. And, of course, we get men and boys who have never been encouraged to cross-identify, which leads directly to objectification.
If you’re not sure what that is, a really easy thing to do is to replace a woman in a story with a Sexy Lamp. If the story still basically functions, then that woman has been objectified. Chances are that she’s there not as a CHARACTER, but as a PLOT DEVICE. She’s there to decorate the set or to be wanted. She exists to motivate or reward another character (probably male) who has “agency” — meaning, they have a desire and will of their own; they’re full-realized characters.
All this stuff… it’s bad for us. It’s bad for us as an art form, as a culture; and if you hear nothing else, hear this: it’s bad for us as a business.
PREVIEWSworld: What steps do you feel can be taken to get more women creating and reading comics?
Kelly Sue DeConnick: Doing away with the myth that women don’t create or read comics would be a great place to start.
There remains this pervasive notion that we don’t have more women readers because superhero comics are 90% of our industry in this country and superhero comics don’t and can't appeal to women.
It’s simply not true. There is nothing inherently masculine about heroism, or the pulp aesthetic or power fantasies — believe me, I’m a five foot tall woman. I can teach any man in any room about power fantasies — I promise.
Superheroes aren’t inherently masculine any more than opera, Shakespeare or myth.
PREVIEWSworld: Now let's talk about some of your work. For new readers tell us about your Image Comics series Pretty Deadly that follows Death's daughter as she rides through a mythological Wild West?
Kelly Sue DeConnick: It’s sort of a… VERY grim fairy tale. It’s epic. We just completed the first arc that sets Deathface Ginny out in the world and we’re developing the second arc as we prepare to go to script.
PREVIEWSworld: Also for Image you'll be writing a new series called Bitch Planet. Talk more about what we'll see in this upcoming comic?
Kelly Sue DeConnick: Bitch Planet is a riff on the sci-fi and women-in-prison genres of the 1970s. We’re just prepping to go to script on this as well and if it hits the page the way I’m planning, it’ll be brutal. I keep telling the team we’re going for “mean funny.”
Story-wise, it’s about a prison in a time when women can be shipped off-world for being “non-compliant;” when being contrary is a crime.
PREVIEWSworld: Finally, Captain Marvel has really blasted off again with you at the helm. Talk about taking Carol Danvers into outer space?
Kelly Sue DeConnick: Yeah — everything about Carol wants to go up — head up, chin up, heart up. She’s a very bright and traditional heroine in that way — everything about her is trembling to shoot off into the sky. So we decided to see what would happen if we let her go.