Kelly Sue DeConnick

Interview: Kelly Sue DeConnick

Kelly Sue DeConnick is one of the hottest writers in comics right now. After retooling Carol Danvers to make her the new Captain Marvel, DeConnick capitalized on her success to launch the creator-owned titles Pretty Deadly and Bitch Planet. She most recently took over writing duties for DC’s Aquaman.

Whether simply creating well-rounded female characters like Captain Marvel, writing more explicitly feminist works like Bitch Planet, or directly motivating her social media followers with tools like her Bitches Get Things Done mailing list — DeConnick has found success as a writer not afraid to take a stand for what she believes in.

We (virtually) sat down with DeConnick for a Skype interview, where she talked about her favorite tattoos, how to pass the “Sexy Lamp Test” and the fact that all comics are political.


Interview: ‘Moonstruck’ Writer Grace Ellis

Superstar writer Grace Ellis (Lumberjanes, Bravest Warriors) and mega-talented newcomer Shae Beagle join forces for a magical ongoing series, Moonstruck, which released its first issue in July.

In Moonstruck, fantasy creatures live typical, unremarkable lives alongside humans, and barista Julie strives to be the most unremarkable of all. Normal job, normal almost-girlfriend, normal…werewolf transformations that happen when she gets upset? Yikes!

But all bets are off when she and her centaur best friend Chet find themselves in the middle of a magical conspiracy. Will Julie and Chet be able to save their friends? Is Julie’s dogged determination to be normal a lost cause? Who’s going to watch the coffee shop while our heroes are out saving the world?

Heroic Girls spoke with writer Grace Ellis about fantasy, romance, and the importance of letting queer readers see themselves on the page.

The book is great as a relationship/romance story alone. How does the fantasy setting help tell the story?

In Moonstruck, the fantasy parts are vital parts of the characters’ world and identities, and I think that really gives it some extra dimension. For example, Julie, the protagonist, is a werewolf, but she’s hates wolfing out, partially because she sees it as losing control. So she has a lot of anxiety about a fundamental part of who she is. Take that next to Chet, who is a centaur and therefore literally can’t hide their magical side. Chet is really gregarious, partially because being a centaur and taking up a lot of physical space changes how they see the world.

Also, the non-romance parts of the plot is a story that could only happen within the urban/fantasy world of Moonstruck, so that’s fun.

Romance comics are an old idea made new again, how do you reconnect with girls (and boys) that may want this type of material, but are unaware that comics shops offer it?

Something I’ve been trying to emphasize is that comics are a medium and not a genre. I tell people it’s like saying that you don’t like movies because all movies are action movies. Maybe all the big budget blockbusters are action movies, but there’s an understanding that those aren’t the only types of movies out there. It’s the same thing with comics: There’s a wide variety of stories available because it’s a great story-telling medium, period. The fact that it’s widely accepted that comics are only superheroes is a really big fault of the current industry, but I think it’s something that Image, our publisher, is actually doing a really good job of confronting.

This is a little inside baseball, but for Moonstruck specifically, we’ve been doing as much as we can to reach the non-comics crowd, talking to general interest teen magazines, trying to get as creative as we can with marketing in general. At the end of the day, all we can do is make the best book we can and hope that people see that Moonstruck is a good book that’s worth reading, which I wholeheartedly believe it is.

When people think about the art in romance comics, I think they get a mental picture of Brenda Starr or Patsy Walker, how does a more modern, cartoony style help with the storytelling?

Shae’s art is so perfect for this story because of how cartoony it is, I think. It makes the book feel soft and warm and approachable, which is tonally exactly right for this type of story. Also, going back to the idea that not all comics are superhero comics, it’s a way of visually separating Moonstruck from typical action-adventure comics. It’s clear from just the cover that this isn’t what most people conceive of as a normal comic book. So hopefully the art can help like, flag down the type of person who would be interested in this type of book.

I love the colors in the book. They are absolutely gorgeous. I’m not sure I have a question here other than, “Are colorists underappreciated in comics?”

Oh, for sure. The coloring is an essential part of how the overall comic reads. Shae did the colors for the first issue, and then after that, Caitlin Quirk, who is another extremely talented newcomer, will take over. We had to do it this way because coloring a comic is such an intensive process that I’m worried we might kill Shae if they had to do it all alone! Besides, Caitlin is so talented and fun to work with!

How important is it for queer readers — especially kids — to see themselves on the page?

It’s vital that queer readers see themselves on the page. I’m a lesbian, and I know that if I had seen lesbians in any kind of media as a kid, it would’ve made an enormous difference for me because as far as I knew, I was the only person in the entire world who felt the way I did. So seeing a piece of yourself – like your sexuality or gender identity – reflected in a book can make you feel less alone and more understood, which I think is a big part of not just coming out but also of being a full, self-actualized human.

LGBTQ people spend our whole lives being bombarded with images of happy straight couples, but historically, queer couples are demonized or tragic or secondary. It’s hard not to internalize that. Thankfully, the tide is turning, because I gotta tell you: As an adult who is gay and has been out for a while, it’s still comforting to see three-dimensional depictions of LGBTQ people in media. We’re a part of the world, and seeing queer characters makes me feel like we’re not invisible and like our contributions to society matter.

There’s also an added element that’s kind of become almost a jokey trope at this point, which is that if a piece of media has queer women characters, then queer women are guaranteed to consume it. Through that lens, queer media becomes a conduit for bonding within the LGBTQ community. I mean, take the fandom for the TV show The 100: Even when their beloved show horrifically killed off one of the queer characters, the community came together and started an annual, real-life convention where they could meet up and discuss fandom. And that’s bonkers! Spaces for queer women are disappearing left and right, lesbian bars are closing across the country, but because of queer media, LGBTQ people find each other and are able to maintain a community! It’s really something to behold.

On the flip side, how important is it that we ask straight, cis folk to occasionally identify with queer protagonists?

The goal of most media is to get whoever is consuming it to empathize with the main character. When you empathize with someone, you have to see them as a full human, and that alone is a good reason to consume media about LGBTQ folks (as well as any media about someone whose life experience is very different from your own).  I mean, it’s harder to bully or legislate against someone when you can look them in the eye and see a piece of yourself.This is something that I think books do particularly well, because they’re often told directly from one character’s point of view. There have been a bunch of studies that show that knowing an LGBTQ person can stop someone from being homophobic, and I feel like seeing queer people in media falls along those same lines.

Also, I can say from experience that when you come out to someone, it’s not entirely unusual for them to bring up Modern Family or Ellen or Brokeback Mountain or Glee or whatever. People like to talk to me about Fun Home, which I love. What I’m saying is that when straight people consume media that features queer characters, it can become a touchstone and a way of directly relating. Now, obviously there are some problems with that (all of the examples I mentioned are mostly about white cis people, which directly makes it harder for people of color/trans people, for instance), but I think it’s a good place to start.

There is an amazing cast of characters you managed to introduce in just a few pages. How difficult is it to find room to tell all of their stories in a tight confines of 22-page comic?

It’s definitely tough, there’s so much story I want to tell! The only way we can do it is to have a detailed plan of where the story is going because we’re packing so many different character studies into relatively short issues. The secret to doing THAT is to think of a story that the characters could serve and characters that the story could serve, coming up with them both simultaneously. Sometimes it works to come up with random characters and throw them into a story, but if you want to do a lot with theme (which we do), it helps to conceive of characters and plot that all tie into that theme in different ways. It makes the story stronger, I think. Also finding ways to turn every moment into a character moment has been a rewarding challenge.

I could imagine this book existing ten years ago — but it would be a self-published zine. How has the industry changed to support titles like Moonstruck?

I think that broadly as a culture, we’ve experienced a pretty significant shift in the types of stories and characters that are allowed to exist in the mainstream in general. As someone who is still pretty young, I am very grateful to be coming into the industry when I am. Plus, publishers like Image and Boom are doing a lot to showcase books like Moonstruck, and that’s really putting pressure on other major publishers to consider taking a chance on different types of books. I am optimistic that the comics industry is starting to crack open and that soon, all types of wild ‘n crazy books are going to come pouring out.

Moonstruck #1 is on store shelves now.

Preview: Moonstruck #1


Writer Roxane Gay on ‘World of Wakanda,’ Feminism and Comic Books

Earlier this summer, Marvel announced that feminist writer Roxane Gay will team up with poet Yona Harvey to write World of Wakanda, a spin-off of Ta-Nahisi Coates’ Black Panther.

The series revolves around ‘Dora Milaje’ warriors Ayo and Aneka, who rebel together and fall in love. Gay, a best-selling author known for works such as Bad Feminist, An Untamed State and Hunger, is Marvel’s first black female lead writer. An acclaimed writer,  Gay was kind enough to share some insights with Heroic Girls about transitioning from feminist novels to the world of comics and superheroes.

black-panther-world-of-wakanda1Heroic Girls: Ta-Nahisi Coates told The New York Times that he recruited you and Yona Harvey personally to write Ayo and Aneka in an effort to “have diversity both on the page and on the payroll.” With Coates’ backing in the Marvel world, how much creative freedom are you given with these already established characters in the Wakandan universe?

Roxane Gay: Yona is actually writing a comic based on the character Zenzi, while I am writing Ayo and Aneka. I have been given pretty much all the creative freedom to write these characters and their story. The primary constraint is keeping in line with Marvel continuity which is a new writing challenge for me — but nothing that affects what I am trying to do with these women.

HG: Comics are a very collaborative medium compared to novels. How has it been working with so many people on a creative project?

RG: The most challenging part is keeping track of all the moving parts. There is my writing and the artist and the letterer and the colorist and my editors and the continuity and it’s overwhelming to be in the middle of it all. Deadlines have new meaning, that’s for sure. 

HG: As a champion for representation and inclusiveness in terms of feminism, how do you plan on incorporating this mission into the story and characters?

RG: I don’t have a specific plan for that. My feminism is as much a part of who I am and my writing so it will be a part of how I write the story. If I do my job well, you will see it without being overwhelmed by it.

HG: Which comics would you say are your biggest influences as you write this story?

RG: I am new fan of comics so I don’t have any influences yet. I have enjoyed the Saga series very much and certainly, I take a lot of guidance from Ta-Nehisi’s Black Panther run. Most of my influence comes from my favorite books.

HG: You’ve got a few months of experience working on comics under your belt now. If you could create your own comic, what would the hero be like?

RG: Heh, more like a few weeks. I just turned in my first script and am now working on the second. My hero would be a woman who is crafty and dark and full of heart if you know her well enough. She would be able to fly and wouldn’t wear a costume. She’d be someone I’d want to be friends or lovers with, I’m not quite sure which.

World of Wakanda is set to release this November. You can find Roxane Gay on Twitter @rgay.

Interview: John Marcotte talks gender and toys on Kingkade and Breakenridge

Were you aware that on top of Tim Hortons, hockey and free health-care, Canada also has an abundant supply of thoughtful radio talk shows where people don’t yell at one another and accuse opponents of treason? Who knew such a thing was possible?

Heroic Girls founder John Marcotte was interviewed on Calgary’s News 770 AM, on the lack of Black Widow superhero merchandise in the toy aisle. We talked about why this is happening, what the negative effects of this type of gendered marketing might be and potential solutions on the horizon.

It was a pleasant and illuminating conversation, and I encourage people to take a listen.

Interview: Saga Artist Fiona Staples

Fiona Staples has become a comic-book rockstar as the artist and co-creator of the most critically acclaimed comic of the past few years, Saga. Staples was introduced to Saga writer Brian K. Vaughan by their mutual friend, Steve Niles, with whom Staples worked on Mystery Society. Staples is co-owner of Saga, and has designed every facet of the book, including every character, planet and alien race. She also paints the covers for each issue, and hand-letters the narration — and incredible workload for one artist.

Saga has since become a runaway bestseller and a critical smash right out of the gate, racking up multiple Eisner awards, including Best Continuing Series, Best New Series and Best Writer, and six Harvey Awards: Best Writer, Best Artist, Best Color, Best New Series, Best Continuing or Limited Series, and Best Single Issue or Story — and that was just the first year.

Heroic Girls caught up with Staples and scored a quick interview with one of the busiest and most talented women working in comics. (Note: As wonderful as it is, Saga is a book perhaps best enjoyed by the parents of Heroic Girls.)

Fiona Staples, Saga Artist
Fiona Staples, Saga Artist

Heroic Girls: Saga has wide mainstream appeal. How is the book getting into the hands of people who might never set foot into a local comic book shop?

Fiona Staples: As far as I can tell, it’s a combination of press coverage and word-of-mouth! At cons, most of the people I meet say they’ve loaned Saga out to their friends, had it loaned to them, or both. So Brian and I are extremely grateful to the readers who go out of their way to recommend our book.

HG: How does the collaborative process with Brian work? I know he has given you a lot of flexibility. Have you seen some of the ideas you put into the book through your art come back to you in later scripts?

FS: Yeah! I have no desire to interfere with Brian’s master plan, whatever it is, but if there’s something I want to draw he’ll work it in. When we’re gearing up to start a new arc, he’ll ask what kind of worlds and creatures I want to see. Usually my requests are pretty vague, like “ancient ruins,” or “golems,” or “new clothes.” Sometimes they’re more specific, like making a couple of our new characters mermen. And sometimes we just insert a character that I designed for fun, like the little seal guy.

HG: I’ve read in multiple interviews that part of the concept of Saga was to make a project that did not have immediate appeal to turn into a movie or television show. Why did you and Brian think this was important?

Saga-14FS: I think Brian gets his fill of the TV/film industry at his day job [Vaughn was a writer on the TV show Lost and the show-runner for Under the Dome -ed], and I am just clueless about it. We both love comics and wanted to take advantage of our medium to do things that can’t be done anywhere else.

HG: You got your start reading “bad girl” comics and Heavy Metal magazine. Do those early influences show in your current work?

FS: Maybe, haha. Stuff like Heavy Metal made me realize painted comics were a thing – that comics didn’t have to look a certain way or be a particular style. That was a huge revelation. All the Top Cow comics that I copied in high school are probably still in me somewhere, but thankfully balanced out with thousands of other influences.

HG: Women are often still marginalized in the world of comics, both as creators and consumers. Do you think that is changing?

FS: It’s definitely changing, although maybe not as quickly as we’d like. All the corners of the comics world except mainstream superhero books have pretty much agreed that diversity is a positive thing. I think the important thing to do now is create women-friendly books, and that will lead to more female creators in the next generation.

HG: Can you talk a little about your process? If I’ve read correctly, you do most of your work directly on a tablet. What advantages does that give you as an artist?

Saga1FS: I start by reading the script and making small thumbnails and notes in the margins. Then I draw slightly larger thumbnail layouts which I send to Brian to look over. I scan the thumbnails in and use them as pencils, doing all of the final art digitally. I ink the characters and foreground elements in Manga Studio and I do the colours and painted backgrounds in Photoshop. I use an iMac and Cintiq.

I’ve been working digitally since 2007, and find it to be way faster than traditional pencilling and inking! It also makes it possible to really integrate the colouring into the art, to be able to easily go back and forth between drawing and colouring.

HG: You use a lot of painterly techniques in Saga, particularly for backgrounds. What does that artistic choice bring to the book?

FS: I think the art style of any comic has a huge impact on the way it’s read. Some artists pack the page with detail so it takes a long time to read and digest it all. Others have a slick, cartoony style so the action really comes to life. I try to create evocative environments in Saga while keeping the focus on the characters- after all, it’s mainly a story about their lives and ideas and relationships.

Doing painted backgrounds gives me a lot of flexibility with them – they can basically be as loose or as polished as I need (or have time for). And there are some things – particularly space scenes and magical effects – that I just can’t render in linework alone.

HG: You’ve gotten to create some fantastic characters so far. Do any stand out to you as favorites from a design standpoint?

FS: Lying Cat is a favourite!


HG: Has the critical and commercial success of Saga opened any doors for you? Do you even have bandwidth for other projects with all you do on Saga?

FS: It’s given me many opportunities and I’ve had to turn them all down, haha. I definitely don’t have time for any other work, except the odd cover.

HG: Saga is an incredibly ambitious project in terms of scope. Is it something you can still see yourself doing in 10 years? 20?

FS: It’s hard to imagine that far ahead… ten years means I’ll have spent my entire thirties doing this one book. Yikes! We’ll see how life goes. Right now I’m content to be working on Saga for the foreseeable future.