Zoe Quinn Talks Making Her Comics Debut With Vertigo's 'Goddess Mode'

Goddess Mode becomes the latest high-profile launch from Vertigo this week, bringing together writer Zoe Quinn and artist Robbi Rodriguez in a cyberpunk story about a near-future world where all of humanity’s needs are administered by a godlike A.I., and centers on a young woman whose job is to provide tech support on the AI. Soon, she is pulled into a conflict between super-powered women and inhuman monsters for the "cheat codes to reality."

Quinn is an award-winning video game developer who is best known for becoming a lightning rod for criticism at the start of the "Gamergate" movement. Her autobiography, Crash Override, detailed her experiences in the eye of that storm, and elements of that experience will likely filter into Goddess Mode.

We talked to Quinn about the project during New York Comic Con back in October.

The first thing that I thought of when I read the premise of Goddess Mode was, "That's a really f---ed up take on Janet from The Good Place."

You would think. Also, love Janet from The Good Place. I really like the idea of playing with the expectation of like, "Oh no, our evil robot over lords," when I think it's totally the opposite. Where it's like, "No, I think that people working their ass off in shitty economy have way more in common with Siri and Janet anyway. They would be allies. I like leaning into that take on it., especially knowing how people actually do treat their digital assistants.

Also the fact that it's super weird to me that they're all ladies when all I want in my phone is a tiny butler. I want a dignified, "Yes Madam, let me get that for you right now."

Of course, Ask Jeeves went out of business.

That's true. Maybe he retired.

But people are so mean to their AIs. I remember Microsoft released some stuff on their Siri equivalent, Cortana. It was something like more than 50% of interactions were super mean and abusive.

Knowing how neural nets work and the weird and interesting world of AI ethics, it's like training these learning algorithms to feel bad and be mean. I say please and thank you to anything voice-controlled and anything AI-driven. People give me shit for it but it's like, "No, I want to train the technology that governs our world to be kinder because I want the world to be like that." That's kind of what my comic is about.

What do you think is kind of the core appeal of Goddess Mode?

I've got the elements of it being a updated take on cyberpunk rather than just copying the aesthetics of Blade Runner -- which it's gorgeous, love it, but thinking about using my comp sci background to be like, "Where is the future tech going?" Thinking in terms of quantum computing and network construction and a bunch of stuff that sounds like techno babble Star Trek jargon that no one wants to hear except for weird nerds like me.

Updating it in that sense but keeping the spirit which is...to me the interesting things about cyberpunk and the stories told within it were about the self and the relation to technology, not having control over manipulating your space in the world.

Too many people are like "What if phones, but too much?" Or like, "Technology bad." I don't agree with that at all. Because I come from a place where if it was not for the internet I would not be alive. It let me find community. As an artist who creates stuff primarily not just as medium in the digital world, but to distribute it. It's where I met almost everybody that I'm close to. It's such a beautiful thing to me, and it's something that also allows people that don't already have spaces made for them to make their own spaces.

That's so powerful and beautiful. The problem is that's stuff's being pushed out by status quo stuff and also just the loudest, most vitriolic nasty parts. That scares me, because we would lose such an amazing pull for good. I want to focus on taking the power back.

Depression Quest got a lot of attention in part because it challenged storytelling norms. As you're moving into comics are you saying, "what kind of cool crazy things can I do in this space?" Or for you is the cool crazy thing like, "Okay I've got to get my feet under me in comics first?"

Yes to all. It's actually funny. When I started making games, I learned from other independent game developers and my first mentor, Miguel Sternberg -- have to name check him, I owe so much to him. He kind of had a foot in both worlds when it came to both comics and games. First thing he did was he handed me Understanding Comics, and he's like, "Read this. It's cross-applicable. I know it's talking about comics but it's the same thing in a lot of ways."

It's honestly one of the most useful things anybody's done for me in terms of learning games and thinking about the crossover knowledge that I can then use to push on the medium of comics.

I've been thinking about comics for so long anyway, which is different from actually setting down and doing them, right? There was a time right before I went into games, I was kind of doing little webcomics on my own that didn't show anybody, because I always loved webcomics. Especially stuff like Homestuck because that kind of trash that really pushed on form and used these weird digital technologies.

I remember the first time they had a flash animation that expanded past the frame that you'd gotten used to for years. The whole website changed. It was like magic to me. There's such a beauty in that. I'm like, "Okay." I care about clarity. I want people to know what's up, especially for first issues, getting people on board. Being like, "Here's what this is,"

But also I'm a meta little mother fucker. I'm like, "What cool stuff can I do especially in a cyberpunk setting?" Especially given my comp sci background. I have some stuff planned. We'll see if it works. I don't want to say anything without being sure about it and also because surprises are neat. I may or may not already be scheming.

Obviously Robbi is already a superstar in this space. Is that kind of a nice safety net?

It's kind of the opposite for me. It's like, "Oh my God, I'm working with Robbi?" I want to earn that. I want to impress him. I want him to be like, "Yeah I signed up for the right thing." But also, being able to learn from him as we're doing this has been great. I've seen it as he's so good at what he does, I have been working very hard to earn that.

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I know the book's going to be gorgeous. Every time he sends me art, especially because Rico Renzi is similarly this frigging color wizard, it's so motivating and awesome, and it drives to work harder. I don't want to squander that on dialogue that I'm not like, "Yes, this is good." I really just want to reinforce that.

Competition is the wrong word there, but I want to rise to meet that challenge. I want people to be like, "Dang this is really pretty and well-written." Then I know that's an absurdly high bar because Robbi's been doing so much for so long and I'm some random new person. I don't view comics as a weird side stop in a writing career. I'm here because I love the medium genuinely and I've always wanted to be here. I'm kind of deer in the headlights blown away that I get to do it.