Kelly Sue DeConnick, who just took over as the writer on Marvel’s Avengers Assemble (making her the first female creator ever to write an ongoing Avengers title), the “entry-level” Avengers book bogged down by less continuity than the rest, conducted a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” interview earlier this week and gave surprisingly long and insightful answers.
That surprise shouldn’t reflect on DeConnick, who’s a pretty articulate writer in general–but rather on the process, as AMAs tend to see the answerer inundated with questions and doing their best to answer them; not everyone takes the time to give each question answered a thorough and thoughtful consideration.
As we occasionally do here, we scoured the AMA and will reprint some of the highlights below.
Compared to the last few years, how do you think the Big Two are doing in their representations of women (in terms of both characters and creators/employees)?
I think progress is being made.
Digital comics are a growing field. Has the growth of digital influenced the way you write in any way?
Hm… Probably not substantially, no. I’ve always been hesitant to use a double page spread. They intimidate me, honestly.
I know it’s still super early, but is there anything new you can tell us about Pretty Deadly?
I love the Castle graphic novels you and [Brian Michael] Bendis have done. What is that co-writing process like?
On the first one, he wrote the first 30 pages then handed it off to me. On the second one, he gave me notes on my outline that substantially affected the direction I was going, but once I started scripting it was all me.
Was it weird to hand those characters over to someone else, now that Peter David will be writing the next volume?
Nah. I’m excited to see where it goes.
There are all sorts of reasons that even comics fans find superhero comics objectionable, from women’s costumes and portrayals to the lack of minority representation. Your focus so far in Captain Marvel on stories about women (and the awesome change in Carol’s costume) is a great example of how superhero comics can be told from a feminist mindset while still kicking a lot of ass. I’m sure that the story you want to tell is paramount, but do you have a list of goals – political, philosophical, or the like – that you’d like to achieve through your work at Marvel?
You know, I really don’t have any agenda other than to make comics I’d like to read.
I mean, I get the question — I don’t mean to suggest that I don’t — but I really don’t set out to write propaganda.
Honest! I just want to write books that speak to me as a reader.
Is there any character that you would really like to write, but haven’t gotten the chance?
I don’t generally answer this question because:
1) If someone else is writing that character right now, they think I’m either gunning for their gig or that I think they’re DOIN IT WRONG. Or both; and
2) If no one is writing that character right now, I’ve just reminded folks s/he exists. Someone else will probably get to him/her first.
What tools do you use? Do you keep a paper notebook with you to hand write ideas? Do you write & edit your scripts on a computer or iPad? What software do you use? something like Final Draft or just MS Word? What does the final product look like? Does it have specifics for every panel and every word of dialogue? or is it more general?
I have notebooks for each of my titles, though I invariably have the wrong one with me when I want to write something down.
I write in Scrivener, on an iMac in my office or on an Air if I’m out and about. I have had very serious problems with Scrivener — twice I’ve lost huge portions of scripts — so I can’t recommend it without hesitation. I do love the interface, though .
Have you ever read a screenplay? Comic scripts are very similar to screenplays as far as formatting goes.
Yes, I write “full script” — each page is broken down by panel and each panel has a description as well as dialogue.
I have written one script “Marvel style” but it’s definitely not my default.
I understand that it’s supposed to be a movie friendly team but do you plan on expanding the team besides the already announced Spider-Woman?
For Avengers Assemble, I’m writing a rotating roster — so I’ll cast it as I need folks for particular story lines. Second arc, for instance, is Spider-Woman, Hawkeye and Black Widow.
Do you coordinate with the film division for cinematic universe appropriate stories?
No co-ordination with West Coast folks.
Do you find it hard to write with kids around? Or do you make sure to let them know that when Mommy is writing they stay out.
The kids go to preschool and daycare–else I would get nothing done. Even still, I often have to get up at 3 am to get work done. Too many interruptions during the day. (Earliest I’ve ever gotten up is midnight. And I am usually asleep by 9pm.)
How do you feel so far about Captain Marvel? What kind of “pre-game” prep did you have when they approached you with that?
Some of it I’m really proud of, some of it I know I could have done better. The pacing is a mess, for instance. All I can do is recognize that and keep working to improve. I’m still very new at this.
I started pitching the book in May 2010, so I had lots of time to research.
What are your favorite things about writing Captain Marvel & Avengers Assemble? And do you have a personal favorite character to write?
My favorite thing when I’m writing anything is when the script goes somewhere I didn’t expect.
I don’t think I have a favorite character to write, though writing Tony Stark was more fun than I expected and writing Thor was harder than I expected.
For the people who haven’t heard of Ghost. what is it about and why should they pick it up?
Right now, it’s about an ethereal women dressed in white who has the power to phase through objects and no memory of who she is or where she came from. It’s about her and her two friends trying to solve her mystery.
If we get to continue past the mini, the mystery will be solved and it will about her and her friends setting things right in Chicago.
I can’t get into it any more specifically without blowing the ending.
NOTE: Decidedly not all-ages.
Any exciting projects you have in mind for the future?
Pretty Deadly with Emma Rios from Image in the spring. Currently developing another creator-owned project with a Canadian artist, but I can’t go into detail on that yet.
Is it correct to say you eventually transitioned to “mainstream” comics from a background in manga translations? Did that job inform your style of story writing or structure?
My pat answer is to say that my emphasis on dialogue comes from my actor-training and my time adapting manga. I was speaking at Brian Bendis’ class the other day, though, and one of his students pointed out that I also do things like put an ellipses in an otherwise empty balloon–which is a very manga-esque thing to do. I hadn’t noticed that before.
It probably has more influence on my style than I am aware.
What do you think about the state of women in comics? Both from a literary and artistic standpoint.
I suspect you mean American superhero comics from DC or Marvel when you say “comics,” yeah?
And I assume you mean the treatment of the characters, not the working professionals?
Man… even breaking it down like that, it’s a really big question. I don’t want every woman to be portrayed as though she were perfect, upstanding, role-model material. But I do want women portrayed with agency.
You know the Bechtel test? The Bechtel test is good. Also good? The sexy lamp test. If you can replace any female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works — you failed.
I sound like I’m kidding, but I’m really not–women aren’t lamps. If they’re there to be motivational devices, rewards or decorations, the creators are doing us all–and I mean us PEOPLE not us WOMEN or even us COMIC BOOK READERS–a disservice.
There are a lot of great books out there. And a lot that still need work.
What books/writers have influenced you the most as a writer and in life?
Great question. Hm.
The two writers I always cite as my favorites are Ernest Hemingway and John Irving. I think that’s probably still accurate.
A Widow for One Year is probably my favorite Irving novel and The Sun Also Rises, my favorite Hemingway.
Warren Ellis remains my favorite comic book writer, probably. His PLANETARY series still drops my jaw.
Neil Gaiman’s Sandman too.
Anne Lamott’s work has meant a lot to me. Ditto Stephen King. A. S. Byatt. Joyce Carol Oates.
Sleeping in Flame.
Probably the book I was most surprised by ever was a thing I picked up in the airport thinking it would be complete garbage–a vampire story called Stainless–and I ended up absolutely loving it. I remember being utterly shocked by how thoroughly I was enjoying it. I should find it and reread it, see if it holds up…
…Just went to find it on Amazon and I see that the author is from Portland. I wonder if he’s still here. I wonder if I know anyone who knows him.
The world is so tiny.
I’ve just got an iPad and Captain Marvel is the first comic I’ve started reading digitally. What are your thoughts on where the digital market will go in the next few years? Comixology is great, but at the moment my concern is what happens if they go under. I think if they went DRM free I’d bite the bullet and go completely digital. As it is I’m a little wary of leaving print.
I understand. I read a lot of my comics digitally but I find the ones I want to refer to I need on paper. Can’t flip though digital comics. And digital is the end of the double page spread, which is a bummer.
That said, digital is great for diversity in the marketplace.
Also, how is it working for Disney/Marvel? Are they better than their scary past incarnations where they couldn’t care less about the writers and artists?
I have no idea how to answer this question.
Do I think people got sh—y deals in the past? Yes.
Would I stay some place I thought I was being mistreated? No.
Marvel’s a corporation, not a family. They make their decisions for the well-being of their brand, not my feelings.
Right now, I like my books and my editors and I’m learning a lot. When it’s time to move on, hopefully I’ll have built enough of an audience for myself that the small fraction of those readers who will follow me to creator-owned work will be enough to support me.
It’s a gamble though.
Last year you said DC approached you for the New 52. I’ve heard you say you were more of a DC girl when you were younger. Did you ever get around to discussing projects with the editors, and if so what were they? Or does a possible NDA still apply?
They approached me twice. One I declined before I ever got to know what it was. I was told it was tonally ‘somewhere between Osborn and Supergirl’ which is a pretty vast expanse, so your guess is probably even better than mine.
The other I did pitch on and they went with someone else. No harm, no foul — it happens. I didn’t sign an NDA, but I still feel like it would be bad manners for me to name it.
Do you find it hard to find a balance between pushing female heroes and pushing feminism?
For example, I love Captain Marvel, but the initial two issues took some adjusting, the “Yay! Girl Power!” vibe was almost too strong initially for me, it just felt forced. Although by the time issue 3 rolled around and the Female take on the “Howling Commandos” showed up, I was in love with the series.
I honestly didn’t set out to write a manifesto — I write about things I care about. Same as anyone.
Superhero comics have traditionally been about justice and fairness–so’s feminism.
Was it the topic you had issue with or the prose?
The reason I ask is that no one ever said of OSBORN — “the ‘boo! crooked politicians!’ vibe was too strong for me.” You follow?
My suspicion is that the dialogue in the fight with Absorbing Man is what you didn’t like — and I’m not telling you what to like. It’s okay not to dig the book; we can still be friends. I’m just curious.
Anyway, my suspicion is that the AM fight dialogue is what struck you as heavy-handed. That’s fair–what I was going for there was big ham-fisted guy trying to push Carol’s buttons but hitting her with things he knew would annoy her. It was also intended as direct reference to the original Ms. Marvel series–in style, topic and tone.
It didn’t hit for everyone and that’s entirely fair. But that’s what I was going for.
The other stuff? Those are all stories of real injustices — no, the WASPS were not combat troupes. But they did die in service and they were, because of their gender denied military status. When the girls died the military wouldn’t even pay to send their bodies home–the girls themselves took up collections. It took until the 1970s to get them recognized as veterans. That is the kind of bulls–t that comics have traditionally railed against. Similarly, outstanding women pilots were denied access to the astronaut training program based on their gender despite the fact that the scientists all agreed they were not only qualified but actually better candidates than the men.
I DO get to create an Avengers team with anyone I choose. Avengers Assemble has a rotating roster.
Or did you mean, like, ANYONE anyone? ‘Cause, uh, I’d make an Avengers team with Tallulah Bankhead, Meiko Kaji, Pam Grier, Chuck Yeager, Lana Warchowski and Joe Biden.
Why do you think someone as awesome as Squirrel girl hasn’t hot her own series?
Because, unfortunately, I don’t think it would sell enough copies to stay afloat. Reality of the marketplace.
First off, I just want to say that your Captain Marvel is one of my favorite books out there right now. The first arc was awesome! Who doesn’t love a good time travel story?
Hitler! He never fares well in those things.
But my real question is this, do you see a future in the industry where the idea of a female creator working for one of the big two isn’t a note-worthy achievement but rather part of the everyday (or more appropriately, weekly) life of the industry?
Sure I do, but it’s going to take some time. Mentorship is key, I think. I have a project in mind along these lines but it’s gotten sidelined as I don’t have time for it right now.
I’ve heard both you & Matt talk a little bit about being in recovery. I was wondering how old you were when you made the decision to get help & how long you’d been struggling before that?
I was 29 when I went to my first meeting. I went with my friend who had only gone to his first meeting 9 days earlier. I told myself I was going to be supportive of him. To make sure he hadn’t gotten himself involved in some kind of cult or something. I was incredibly lucky that that first meeting I went to… I immediately knew
I belonged there. I cried like I never cried before or since.
Of all the things I imagined to be “wrong” with me, I never once thought I was an alcoholic. This despite the fact that a year previous a friend had asked me to dry out for a week just as a favor to him and I hadn’t been able to do it.
It still… It didn’t make sense to me.
12 years later, I still doubt it every once in a while. Because… junkie brain. But I figure, you know, just in case, let’s stick with what’s working.
And I am utterly convinced I would be dead if I’d kept drinking. Probably not from alcohol poisoning–though, I was a black out drunk by the end, so you never know. But more likely from the despair. I suspect I would have taken my own life. (Or just made some dumbass decision that would have gotten me killed.)
My life was saved. No hyperbole.
I know this isn’t going to be easy to talk about because it’s not even easy to ask about. As someone that struggles with these sort of problems, I see you & Matt both as examples that early struggles with addiction can be overcome & lead to happiness, clarity, & professional success.
I don’t know what your situation is, but if you think you might need a meeting… maybe try one.
There’s a lot to be afraid of, I get it. But you know what’s scarier? The path you’re on.
My email address is email@example.com, if you have more questions feel free to write to me. I’m an alcoholic and addict with 12 years clean and sober. I don’t have all the answers, I am decidedly imperfect and I make a lot of poor decisions even still. But I’m still here.
Why do you think it’s been so difficult for Marvel to establish a female hero who isn’t 1.) based of a male counterpart, 2.) made to give gender balance to a team or 3.) made to be the love interest of a more popular male hero?
Marvel is a publicly-owned company. They exist to make money. Period. If there was an idea that extra dollar could be made with female-led comics, Marvel would have more lady-led books than Avengers titles–with multiple variant covers, no doubt.
Why are there so many Avengers titles? They sell. Reliably.
Right now, we’re stuck in a cycle. The perception is that women do not buy comics in significant numbers and that men do not support lady-led books, unless those books are loosely-disguised T&A books.
Retailers are stretched very thin. Comics are not returnable so whatever they buy, they’re stuck with.
Let’s remember this, okay? It’s important. The publisher’s customer is not the reader. Follow? The publisher’s customer is the retailer. Once the retailer orders the book, from the publisher’s standpoint, THAT IS THE SALE.
Those sales figures you see on icv2 or whatever? Those do not indicate the number of readers who pick up a book, they indicate the number of copies ordered by stores.
We all together on this? Good. Okay.
Ever wondered how a book could get cancelled before it ever hits the shelves? That’s how. Once the orders from the retailers are in, those are the sales figures. Period. Doesn’t matter what the internet thinks of the book(1), doesn’t matter who reviews it favorably on IGN or CBR or whatever. It matters how many copies of the book the retailers order before the book even hits the shelf.
The retailers have limited budgets, limited shelf space, and hundreds of new comics that come out every week. With rare exception, comics lose their value quicker than used cars (quarter bins, anyone?) so retailers must order very, very carefully. Every month, they have to try to determine exactly how many copies of each title they can sell through. If they over-order on just 2 titles per week, think about how quickly those stack up (literally!).
What’s the takeaway here? Change is hard. Retailers, understandably, cannot take risks. Perception becomes fact.
If our “base” won’t reliably support female-led books (and that is a whole other conversation that I do not have time for) then we need new readers. Strictly from a sustainability standpoint, we need new readers–our readership is aging and dwindling and the goodwill we should be getting from the comic book commercials commonly called “tentpole movies” we are, in large part, squandering. As an industry we put up high thresholds against new readers–whether it’s something as culturally repugnant as this whole “authentic fangirl” crap or just our mind-boggling practices of shelving by publisher and numbering books into the 600s.
Think about the manga boom for a minute. The American notion had always been that women would not buy comics in significant numbers. There was even a commonly bandied about notion that “women are not visual.” Who bought manga in the US? Largely women and girls. At ten bucks a pop, no less. Women spent literally millions of dollars on what? On comics.
Now, some people will argue that that had as much to do with the diversity of genre in manga as anything else–and that is a fair point. But I would argue that there is nothing inherently masculine about the science fiction aesthetic, nothing inherently masculine about power fantasies or aspirations to heroism.
So what else was it about manga that got women to buy in in huge numbers?
Well, for one thing, they didn’t have to venture into comic book stores to get it. No risks of unfriendly clerks or clientele, authenticity tests or the porn basement atmosphere that even if it’s not the reality of most stores, is certainly the broad perception. They could buy manga at the mall. What’s more, they didn’t need a guide. All they had to do was find the manga section, flip the books over and read the description (just like they’d done with any book they’d ever bought in their lives) and then, once they found one that interested them, find the volume with the giant number 1 on it and head to the check out.
Contrast that with an American comic books store experience for a new reader. First challenge–find the store. Now say you just saw the Avengers movie and you think you might want to find something about Black Widow. Where do you even start? If you don’t have a friendly clerk, you’re going to get overwhelmed and leave. If there’s no BLACK WIDOW #1 on the shelf, you literally do not know what to do. New comics readers have to have a guide.
Compared to getting into traditional American comics, it’s easier for a new reader to learn to read backwards! Think about that.
Anyway. That’s it. The summary is “change is hard.” Our industry is built to sell Batman (literally–all of our sales figures are relative to the sales of Batman) to the same guys who have always bought Batman and change is hard.
So what can we do? As readers, the most powerful tool we have is the pre-order. PRE-ORDER, PRE-ORDER, PRE-ORDER. Why? Because when you pre-order with a store, that is a sale to the store. The store is not assuming any risk. Therefore they bump up their orders with the publisher, which is reflected in the title’s sales, which then becomes a cue to the publisher… hm… maybe these books will sell? Let’s make more!
With me? If there is a book outside the most mainstream of mainstream–especially books from smaller publishers, but also “midlist” books from DC and Marvel, if you want to encourage those choices, the thing you must do is pre-order.
Do I hate asking that? Why yes I do. I don’t want to ask people to commit to paying $3-$4 for a book three months before they’ve even seen it. It’s embarrassing. But it’s literally the only way I can see to affect change.
Digital sales may change things in the coming years, but right now they’re not a significant factor.
All right. That’s all I’ve got.