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DF Interview: Gail Simone talks Swords of Sorrow, Sonja, Deadpool and … Women in Refrigerators?
By Byron Brewer
Trend-setting writer Gail Simone has, over the last few years, taken the comic book industry by storm, ushering in what seems a wave of female creators which has led to all publishers discovering a new audience with female-lead books.
Making a name for herself on Dynamite Entertainment’s Red Sonja, today brings a unique event to history with the release of Swords of Sorrow #1!
Dynamic Forces took the office Wayback Machine back to the Hyborian Age to speak to the fiery red-head … and we saw Sonja as well!
Dynamic Forces: First, Gail, many congratulations on your assignment as head honcho/coordinator for Swords of Sorrow, the so-called “Women of Dynamite” event. Really great! How does it feel and what has gone into this project?
Gail Simone: I've talked about this a lot, but I am a big fan of these meta-fictions, these Lego-stories, where you find a place and the bricks all fit. I am the reader who loved that Jonah Hex and the Legion of Superheroes technically all came from the same place. For the most part, DC and Marvel have pretty much had that whole thing locked up in Western comics ... companies like Dynamite are dealing with multiple licensors, it's a different playing field.
That said, I've loved pulp fiction my whole life. I am just as in love with the Green Hornet and Tarzan as I am with Spider-Man and Superman. But as scarce as it was spotlighting female characters when I started comics, it's even more so in that genre and era.
So the thing that sold me was, holy crap, what if we could put ALL these heroines in one book? Red Sonja, Vampirella, Dejah Thoris, Miss Fury, Jungle Girl ... what if the pulp era had actually included lots of female creators and headliners, and what if they all were in one story?
It just gave me chills to think about. And writing every issue is just a pleasure. We realized a few days into talking about the project that this would be the first time in HISTORY that a character from Edgar Rice Burroughs' worlds would meet a character from Robert E. Howard's world. That's legend, that's just one of those things you dream of doing, but never actually think it's going to happen.
One of the fun ideas to spring out of this is to do battle books, like Vampirella vs. Jennifer Blood, and Red Sonja Vs. Jungle Girl. I asked all the best, hottest upcoming female writers to write those and we nabbed some amazing talent, like G. Willow Wilson, Marguerite Bennett, and lots more, almost all of them doing their first Dynamite work.
So it's the first crossover of its kind in MANY ways!
DF: OK, that covered, in industry parlance we will start with the voyage from Krypton: How does a former hairdresser wind up as the toast of today’s female comic book writers?
Gail Simone: Kind of despite my best efforts, really. I had written some comics parody piece, purely as a joke, to amuse some friends, online years ago. I had no dreams of becoming a writer, that was an impossible fantasy. The pieces proved wildly popular, that led to a column at ComicBookResources.com, that was widely read in the industry and pretty soon pros and editors were asking me to write for them.
Which I turned down, one and all. I had a lot of stage fright, but also a gut feeling that I would be taking jobs from 'real writers.' I thought real writers were like mutants or something, that they were different from normal people.
Eventually, my dear friend, Scott Shaw, just turned my name in without even asking, to Bongo Comics. He believed in me that much. And at that point, I felt silly turning the offer down. And it's been amazing since, I have always had far more work offers than I could possibly handle, so I get to choose projects I WANT to do, which is a blessing not all freelancers ever get.
DF: The Women in Refrigerators website? (laughs) Explain, and include the Green Lantern reference for the uninitiated.
Gail Simone: This was before all the stuff in the previous answer, I was still a reader only, and I noticed that comics were going through this really grim, dark time. Watchmen and Dark Knight had hit hugely a while before, and out came all these imitator storylines where brutality was the only real selling point. Because it was felt that the female audience was negligible, this idea was used over and over again, let's kill a long-standing female character, or depower her. And it became so trite and rote and perfunctory, it was really unpleasant to be a female comics fan at the time.
The site was a list of female characters who were damaged in these stories, taken deliberately out of the spotlight, and it's named after a story in Green Lantern where GL comes home and finds his girlfriend chopped up and stuck in the refrigerator. It wasn't THAT ONE STORY so much, as that that was happening constantly, even in the supposedly lighter books. It was frustrating, so I made the list and it's sort of lived on, all this time.
I think pointing this stuff out is important, but I am happy that I've been in a position to actually work AGAINST this kind of thing as well, and now that the female audience can't be denied, it's nice that writers actually think about who is reading the book.
It gets misunderstood a lot, it was never intended to say bad things should never happen to a female character. But overall, I think it's had a really positive impact.
DF: Which was most important to your mainstream comics career: Marvel’s Deadpool or DC’s Birds of Prey, and why?
Gail Simone: I don't really think like that, I try to hit whatever pitch I am thrown with the best stuff I've got. I put the same effort into a one-shot or an annual that I put into my marquee series. If you read something like All-New Atom, I think you'll see my heart is in it just as much as something like Secret Six, which I am better known for.
Deadpool was very important because it was my first book, and it showed I could do a guy lead. We raised the sales up hugely, and the critical and fan response was amazing. People forget that Deadpool was NOT a strong seller at the time and was actually going to be cancelled. So having had some part in that character's return was a big deal.
Birds of Prey was meaningful to me because it was the first time I was writing characters that felt like people I might know, in some way. And it was a huge turning point for the superhero industry, I think (not because of me, it just was the first female-led team book that was successful and popular). And again, this is a book that was going to be cancelled. And it sold really, really well and was a gateway book for untold numbers of female readers. I am very proud of that.
I loved both books very much.
DF: After penning Barbara Gordon as Oracle for so long in Birds of Prey, was it strange to return during DC’s New 52 in 2011 and write Babs as Batgirl again?
Gail Simone: Well, more like very welcoming and emotional. I love Barbara, she's the number one reason I read comics to this day. She's the person I would most love to be. So writing her is always going to be a pleasure and an honor.
DF: Gail, when we first interviewed you about doing Red Sonja for Dynamite, we discussed the seeming phenom of more women writers and more women characters in comics. Is that something that you see continuing in the industry?
Gail Simone: Oh, yeah, those floodgates are open, I'm afraid.
Here's the thing, female readers are our biggest growth area. I have been saying for years that this could be the case if we simply let females know that they are welcome. And now, nearly every publisher and retailer suddenly sees a new audience, and that's lovely.
Almost everything else in the world of print is dropping in sales. But comics are bucking that trend, sales are actually going UP, and that's because of new audiences. We'd be silly not to remember that.
More than that, it's FUN. How can anyone be sad that a wave is coming that brings Kelly Sue DeConnick and Kate Leth and Nicola Scott and Marjorie M. Liu and Faith Erin Hicks and G. Willow Wilson and Marguerite Bennett and so many more? Readers are getting Ms. Marvel and Batgirl and Captain Marvel and Harley Quinn and Lumberjanes and so many other books. You can't call that anything but a win.
DF: You certainly have been churning out a lot of Red Sonja fare. Are you going for Chris Claremont’s old X-Men production record? (laughs)
Gail Simone: It doesn't feel like 'churning!'
What can I say, I fell for Sonja hard. Loudmouth, dangerous redhead? I can relate.
What's funny about this is, I took the gig as a favor to Nick Barrucci, Dynamite's publisher. I agreed to six issues. Loved the character, wasn't sure I would be any good at writing her.
But I couldn't let her go. Six issues became twelve. We added a Zero issue. We did a #100 issue. We did a five issue LEGENDS OF RED SONJA book for her anniversary, with some of the best writers in fiction. Then my run was extended to eighteen issues. Then I agreed to do Swords of Sorrow, which is heavily focusing on Sonja. I CAN'T LET THAT SHE-DEVIL GO.
DF: What is it about Red Sonja that makes her a character everyone loves writing?
Gail Simone: I like characters who are impolite. Despite my online presence, in real life, I am very shy ... I get very skittish in crowds, I don't really know what to do when meeting people. Sonja is always herself, she can't be pushed, bullied, contained, or muted. She likes her drink and she likes her lovemaking and she doesn't mind bashing someone over the head if they give her sass, and that's all just huge fun to write.
DF: Elephant in the room: Your thoughts on the female Thor, apparently something Marvel will sustain for a length of time?
Gail Simone: I don't really know that much about it. I think the art is gorgeous and the writer is Jason Aaron, who does no wrong for me, the guy is amazing.
I feel, on the one hand like, "Hey, female Thor! Cool!"
But on the other hand, I keep popping my head up and wondering what the huge deal is. How many people have been Batman, how many people have been Captain America. It's a STORY. It comes, it goes, these characters always eventually default back to starting position, we all know that. So the job in the meantime is to tell an amazing story, one that enthralls.
I am sure that Jason is doing just that. It's a story, for Pete's sake, if you hate Thor having being a girl, don't worry, they will change it back eventually. Wolverine will be reborn. I don't quite get why either side, pro or con, is acting like this is more than just a ripping yarn. There's a NEED for ripping yarns.
DF: What is next from the Red-Head with a Sword, and I ain’t talking about Sonja?
Gail Simone: I have my first ongoing Vertigo project coming up, Clean Room, and I am ridiculously excited by that, it's drawn by Jon Davis-Hunt and it just looks astounding. I am still doing Secret Six, with two brilliant artists, Dale Eaglesham and Ken Lashley. I am working on a sequel to our smash Leaving Megalopolis graphic novel with co-creator and artist Jim Calafiore, and that's really all I can talk about right now, I think!
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Gail Simone for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions. Swords of Sorrow #1 (of 6) from Dynamite hits stores May 6th, today!
Grab your copy of Swords of Sorrow #1 right here!
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