After years of being the resident comics expert on G4’s Attack of the Show, Blair Butler has brought her own story to the page with Heart, a tale of a Mixed Martial Arts fighter published by Image Comics.
Butler is no stranger to writing, of course — she’s written for television for years and has had a thriving career as a standup comedian. For our Women in Comics series, we were lucky to snag a few minutes of her (very limited) free time to talk about writing for comics, who she admires, and what she’s tackling next!
TFAW.com: What are your earliest memories of comics? What was the first comic you read?
Blair Butler: I was really lucky. My dad took me to Clint’s Comics in Kansas City when I was a kid — maybe 8 years old? I was always able to fish comics out of the quarter bin — usually really old Werewolf by Night or the original She-Hulk series (when she looked like a green nurse on steroids). The quality of the quarter bin was, admittedly, not the greatest. But then I got into Batman and back issues of the New Mutants — and the rest is history. I was hooked.
TFAW.com: You’ve had an atypical journey to comics writing, coming from stand-up and television. What has that been like?
BB: It’s been really interesting — both comics and stand-up allow you to be your own editorial voice, which is remarkable and liberating. In TV you have to get approval from so many disparate people that you often feel like your “voice” (for lack of a better way to phrase it) never comes through uncompromised. Of course, coming from TV, you also secretly harbor the fear that no one will take you seriously — that everyone will assume that you’re a dilettante.
TFAW.com: Opening up Heart and finding a tale about an MMA fighter was completely unexpected. Where did this story come from?
BB: I’ve always loved Mixed Martial Arts. And I always loved comics. I kept hoping someone would write an MMA book that told a more grounded, realistic story set in the world of professional fighting. And no one did. So I finally took a deep breath and stepped up to the plate.
I also felt that if I wrote a comic, I wanted to cover territory that hadn’t already been explored a thousand times before. I hadn’t seen any MMA comics — and I was burned out on stories about people in sports, or music, or film succeeding against all the odds — because the stories of the failure may not be as romantic — but they are a lot more relatable. The thing about Heart is that it doesn’t matter if you like MMA at all — I think, thematically, people will find a lot that resonates with them.
TFAW.com: What was it about Oren “Rooster” Redmond’s story that interested you the most?
BB: Most “sports stories” focus on guys who go on to be champions — and I wanted to tell a story about the other guys, the guys who struggle just to string a few wins together. The guys who are convinced they’re bound for glory — until they aren’t. I wanted to tackle a traditionally testosterone-heavy sport — and find things that I could relate to. That was my challenge to myself, anyway.
TFAW.com: What made Image the right publisher for Heart?
BB: I don’t think any other publisher would have taken a gamble on this subject matter — or on me. I mean, I’m an unproven writer doing a black and white “sports” comic. But Image really gives you the ability to sink or swim on your own merits. You’re acting as your own editor — which can be daunting, especially for a first-time comic writer — but I felt like it really liberated me to do whatever I wanted. I’m incredibly grateful for that. And the artist of Heart, Kevin Mellon, is hugely committed to doing creator-owned comics. (Shameless plug for Kevin’s new comic, Creator Owned Heroes). But right now, Image is giving creators the ability to take tremendous creative risks — and to own their ideas, which is huge.
TFAW.com: What aspect of writing comics have you struggled with?
BB: I think, initially, just trying to cram too much onto a single page was my Achilles heel. Kevin — and our fantastic letterer, Crank — were incredibly patient with me throughout the whole process, which I hugely appreciated. This was my first comic — and I knew that doing a black and white, non-superhero comic would be a tough sell — but I’m so humbled by the positive response to Heart — especially from people who have never seen a UFC fight, but really relate to the theme of the book. We’ve been really overwhelmed by people who have reached out through Twitter to let us know how much they loved the book.
TFAW.com: What’s your favorite part of telling stories in the sequential arts?
BB: Just seeing the art come in — seeing the pieces all come together — and finally having a comic to hold in your hands. TV pilots and screenplays just sit on a shelf for years — so being able to create something that’s out there for everyone to see and hold? That’s a pretty incredible sense of accomplishment.
TFAW.com: What are you reading right now?
BB: Locke & Key, Scott Snyder on Batman, Greg Rucka on The Punisher, Batwoman, Powers, Saga, The Walking Dead, Fatale, G.I. Joe: COBRA (hugely underrated), the latest Darwyn Cooke Parker comic — I know there are a dozen books I’m forgetting that I’ll kick myself for later.
TFAW.com: Who’s one woman in comics that you admire?
BB: Gail Simone is fantastic. I just feel like her work — especially Secret Six — which was my favorite DC book for years — is amazing, inspiring, there just aren’t enough superlatives. And did I mention that she’s incredibly supportive of new voices in comics? She is.
TFAW.com: Throughout your career, you’ve been a woman in typically male-dominated areas: stand-up comedy, gaming, and now comics. What’s been the most surprising about that, and what advice would you have for women in similar situations?
BB: The most surprising thing, judging from the horror stories I’ve heard, is that I’ve had a really easy road. It’s really never been an issue for me — which, again, I attribute to the pioneering work of women like Louise Simonson, Gail Simone, and dozens of others — and to new voices like Laura Hudson and Kelly Sue DeConnick.
TFAW.com: There’s been a growing trend of people “calling out” so-called “fake geek girls.” What’s your take on that?
BB: It’s a bummer for everyone. I guess I would just say, more visibility and acceptance for comic book culture is a good thing, and women shouldn’t have to prove their “geek” credentials. If you’re a little girl, and a supermodel is on a late-night talk show — raving about how much she loves Star Wars or Wonder Woman or Wolverine — maybe that empowers you to feel like it’s okay for you to like it, too?
BB: Yeah — I’m doing a story with Alicia Fernandez — an absolutely magnificent artist from Spain. Mariah Huener asked me if I wanted to do a short story in Womanthology: Space #2 — and I was thrilled to accept. I won’t say too much about the story — but in light of the recent passing of astronaut Sally Ride, I think it was a pretty great piece of history that I was totally unfamiliar with — and really excited to share with people.
TFAW.com: What other types of comics projects are you interested in tackling next?
BB: Everything. Anything. I just need more time in my life. Co-writing five hours of live TV each week — year-round — is a killer.
You can order the trade paperback of Heart right here at TFAW and save 10%
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