Kelly Sue DeConnick is blowing up. The second issue of her new series, Captain Marvel hits stands today (it’s really, really good, BTW), and she and artist Dexter Soy have received a lot of praise for the book. We had the chance to sit down for an interview with Kelly Sue about her first writing gig, the best part of making comics, and her advice to aspiring creators.
TFAW.com: What are your earliest memories of comics? What was the first comic you read?
Kelly Sue DeConnick: You know, it breaks my heart that I don’t remember that. That’s a question I get a lot and I know many people can remember their first comics; I can’t. They were just always around. I grew up in large part on military bases. My father was in the Air Force and comics are a big part of (or at least were in the ’70s) base culture. Everyone read them, everyone trades them at swap meets. It’s just a thing.
There are a few early ones that I remember particularly well. There was one — a Christian comic of some sort, I think it was Al Green — that my grandmother picked up for me at a gas station on a road trip. I remember that one particularly well because that summer with my grandmother, I didn’t have access to very many, I just had a couple comics. So I read that one over and over again, and I started taking it apart — literally cutting the panels apart, sort of rearranging things . . . I tried to copy panels as well. Although I’m not, how you say, a good artist.
TFAW.com: What inspired you to become a writer, and when did you first begin to explore that creative outlet?
DeConnick: Spite, probably? I have a theater degree and was trained as an actor. I have a single ugly breakup in my lifetime, and that was with a writer, and I suspect on some subconscious level I decided, “Oh yeah? I’ll show you.”
TFAW.com: How did you break into the comics industry?
DeConnick: Have I broken into the comics industry? This is one of those things . . . I feel like I’ve broken in over and over again. I feel like every gig is a new “breaking in” story.
My first work in comics was writing reviews of comics with Warren Ellis on ARTBOMB.net, and then I moved on to writing the English adaptations of Japanese and Korean comics for TokyoPop and Viz, and I did that for a number of years. And then Steve Niles gave me the opportunity to co-write 30 Days of Night: Eben & Stella with him, so that was my first multi-issue original comic.
I got to work for Marvel as part of the “Women of Marvel” initiative of 2010.
With the exception of anthologies, it has been entirely work-for-hire thus far. I’ll have my first creator-owned book out from Image next year. Everything is a new breaking-into-comics experience.
DeConnick: The story of that book is really a story of the fan base for Carol Danvers, I think. That has been my good fortune. I got very lucky. I started talking to Steve Wacker at Marvel (my editor on Osborne: Evil Incarcerated) about a Ms. Marvel series back in . . . well, I opened a file for Ms. Marvel in 2010, so we’d been talking for quite some time. The timing wasn’t right for it, but Steve really championed that book — and me. He is a large part of the success of that book. We’re only one issue in, but I’ve been told our launch numbers were better than expected and the outpouring of support from the fan base is absolutely the reason for that. Really, if we had to stop now, I would feel like it was a victory — that someone else would pick up Carol’s torch for her in short order.
TFAW.com: How has your experience been as a female creator in the comics industry?
DeConnick: That is a really hard question for me to answer, because I couldn’t tell you what the experience has been for me as a male in the industry. (laughs) You know what I mean? I often make light of that question. It suggests that somehow I’m typing with my girl parts.
I think that we’re all very lucky to have this job. I think it’s a very hard job to get, and a harder job to keep. I think that as an industry I would like to see us treat our female characters better and I would like to see more women professionals working steadily. I think we’re on our way.
I don’t think it’s easy for anyone. Where I tend to get my dander up is when people suggest that women don’t want to (or shouldn’t want to) read superhero comics — or read comics at all! — or that women who want to work in the industry are statistical anomalies. People who should know better have suggested that the only reason there aren’t more women working on comics is because there aren’t very many women who *want* to work in comics. I call bullshit on that one.
TFAW.com: What’s your favorite part of telling stories in the sequential arts?
DeConnick: When I’m done! (laughs) Again, this is a great job, and I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, but it’s hard work. I go through a rollercoaster of insecurities during the process: “I’m terrible, I’m a hack, I’m never going to get better. I’m so slow, I’m out of time . . . ” All those things pop up. And then you make it through, and then you think, “It’s not so bad.” And you get to the point where you have to turn it in and you say, “I’ll have to do better next time.” And then someone writes you and tells you they liked your book and it made them cry and you think, “Yeah! I can’t wait to do the next one,” and it’s lather, rinse and repeat.
TFAW.com: Your husband is also in the comic book industry. What’s that like?
DeConnick: I’m fond of my husband, as it happens. I think I’ll keep him. As far as our being colleagues — I bounce stuff off of him all the time. They’re usually craft questions rather than story questions, because we’re interested in different stories — we tell different stories. But I could not be a bigger fan of his work. He’s so gifted, and sometimes it makes me horribly, horribly jealous. I know how hard he works, how much stress he’s under, and what level he produces at — and yet he makes it look utterly effortless.
I just recently read a Mark Waid script, it was the first of his I’ve read. I was struck too, with him, at how effortless he makes it seem. And I envy that so much. It’s so amazing. It’s such a testament to their level of their talent and craftsmanship. I look forward to one day (laughs) getting somewhere near that.
TFAW.com: What are three things you think comic book publishers should be doing to attract female readers?
DeConnick: I don’t think the female readership is a monolith. I have some ideas about how, as an industry, we can try to make things friendlier to new readers in general — and I do think we have a huge potential audience of new female readers. (The manga boom ought to have dispelled the myth that women won’t read comic/buy comics. They’ll do it, and they’ll pay $10 a pop!) I think that we have a tendency to dismiss not just the female readers, but new readers in general and market only to people who are already reading comics, and I think that when we do that, it’s not really self-sustaining. We’re leaving money on the table. One thing I think helps is more obvious jumping-on points.
TFAW.com: What aspect of comics have you struggled with, as a creator?
DeConnick: The schedule. I think that is the bane of my existence right now. Because we’re a serial format — the train leaves the station every thirty days. The way things tend to get up and running, the turn-around time is breakneck.
Neil Gaiman said something recently about when he’s writing a book, he starts with the first word and puts one after another until he gets to the end of the story, and that’s the first draft. Then he goes back and reworks it so it looks like he knew what he was doing the whole time. That’s the same idea as one of my favorite E.L. Doctorow quotes (and I’m paraphrasing here):
Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make a whole trip that way.
That’s a much more natural process for me — to just kind of dive in and write and see where I end up. Then go back and say, “Oh, if I’m going to need this gun in the third act, I need to make sure it’s there in the first act.” But because of the way that the comic book industry works, you don’t get that much time, and you need to be able to write from an outline and structure it from the beginning. Ideally, I’d be able to write a whole story out, figure it out as I go, and then go back and rework it before any issues ever came out. But that’s just not possible in serial fiction.
TFAW.com: What advice can you give aspiring comic book creators?
DeConnick: Work hard. Make comics. This absolutely attainable. If this is the thing that you want to do, you can absolutely do this. It is not easy, but nothing worthwhile is. Don’t be a jerk to your editors — that’s always a good idea. Work hard, care about what you’re making.
TFAW.com: Who’s work had an influence in your writing?
DeConnick: Brian Bendis — for his dialogue, in particular. It’s just some of the best in the industry. He’s also not afraid to write very vulnerable books, if that makes sense to anyone. Warren Ellis is just a master in every sense of the word. He understands this craft better on his worst day than I ever will. He’s also hilarious. I think that’s the great secret about him — that he’s a comedy writer. He makes me think while he’s making me laugh.
TFAW.com: Who’s one woman in comics that you admire?
DeConnick: I couldn’t narrow it down to one. Diana Schutz would be huge for me — the stories that woman can tell . . . Gail Simone. I just admire Gail as a human and as a comic creator. I adore Jen Van Meeter. Jen Van Meter, Kathryn Immonen, and Marjorie Liu are all three women who have a certain grace to them that I will never possess, and I admire greatly. Kathryn is elegant on every level. Jen manages to be both fiery and gentle at the same time. She’s one of the most nurturing people I’ve ever met in my life. My shoulders fall three inches whenever I’m in her presence. Marjorie Liu is just classy, I don’t think she and I are the same species. I feel like the mushroom toad girl next to her. She handles all of this with such grace.
TFAW.com: What was the last comic you read?
TFAW.com: What projects do you have coming up soon?
DeConnick: I have Ghost from Dark Horse right now with Phil Noto. His work always solicits gasps — he’s amazing. Obviously Captain Marvel with Dexter Soy. He’s astonishingly talented, very epic work. I have a creator-owned book called Pretty Deadly coming out next year from Image with Emma Rios, who was my collaborator on Osborn. I love her work. Castle: Storm Season just went out to the printer, so that should be out soon too — that one is with Ema Lupacchino, who is killer.
We want to thank Kelly Sue for taking the time out of her busy schedule to chat comics with us, it was a great time. Very cool to hear about her first creator-owned book. You can bet that Pretty Deadly will be on our reading list.
Did you pick up Captain Marvel #1? Did you love how fun the issue was? What did you think of the first Castle graphic novel? Let us know below.