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January 4, 2011


CR Holiday Interview #14 -- Kelly Sue DeConnick

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*****

I wanted to interview a newer mainstream comics writer this year. It's a fascinating time for that industry in that the status of lower-tier titles has shifted in massive fashion at such companies -- they aren't places where veterans are parked for years on end in the second, third, fourth decade past their initial burst of popularity. Instead, more modest series and mini-series and one-shots seem to play much more like farm teams, a way for companies -- particularly Marvel -- to inculcate new voices into the company's way of doing things, a way to try out new quirks on older and more staid characters, and a way to make bridge scenes between one part of a massive, major storyline to another.

Kelly Sue DeConnick is one such writer at the point in her career where she's beginning to receive those smaller, slightly out-of-spotlight gigs. Two such projects caught my notice in 2010. The first was a one-shot starring the Asgardian warrior woman Sif, the second and current project is the short series Osborn, starring Marvel's most awful father figure. That project shows that DeConnick has been paying attention to the current wave of top-flight mainstream writers but has also drawn on her own inspirations, many of which are described below, in service of a dialogue-centric and character-focused way of making comics that feels to me both four decades old and brand new. She's written the English adaptions for scores of manga volumes; contributed stories to the CBGB series at Boom!, Comic Book Tattoo, Marvel's Enter The Heroic Age and Girl Comics projects; wrote a one-shot starring Rescue/Pepper Potts; and co-wrote the 30 Days Of Night: Eben & Stella series over at IDW. I liked very much how DeConnick confessed to what parts of the process she found difficult, something a lot of writers never talk about. I greatly appreciate her taking the time do this interview during a very busy holiday season.

Kelly Sue DeConnick lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband the writer Matt Fraction and their two children. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: I was surprised when preparing for this interview how little I knew about you despite being aware of you for years and years now. I have no idea, for instance, what your background is with comics, when you started reading them and which ones and how important they were to you at any given time. Can you walk me through your comics history? Was there a point at which it occurred to you that comics might be an avenue for something beyond reading and appreciating them?

KELLY SUE DeCONNICK: Sure. I think it's kind of a boring story, so I'll try to be brief, but if there's anything you want to follow up on, feel free.

I grew up in large part on military bases -- my dad was in the air force. We didn't get American television when I was in Germany (from somewhere around age 8 to somewhere around age 12), so I started reading comics. Culturally it was just something a lot of the GIs did -- reading, swapping, collecting comics. The Stars and Stripes bookstore had a long, layered magazine rack that ran the length of one wall and most titles went for 45 cents. You could also pick up a handful for under a buck at base swap meets. I remember comics just being everywhere. It was unremarkable until I got back to the states, off a base, and found that wasn't the norm.

imageI've told this story before, but this was the 70s and the feminist movement was reorganizing itself. I think Mom thought Wonder Woman was a pro-girl kind of thing. She used to buy those titles for me in particular and dole them out like candy when I finished doing the dishes or whatnot. I'm preeeeetty sure she never actually read one. (My mom, to her credit, never policed my reading. I remember asking for and getting an issue of Vampirella. I also remember thinking she was one of maybe four mothers in the universe who would not make a big deal out of that.)

There was also the Edmonson family; they were the kids whose house I played at after school. Missy was my age, but she had two older brothers who were both big collectors and their basement was like, the most awesome hangout on the planet when you're 10 and not terribly outdoorsy. They had beanbags and walls and walls of comics -- long boxes and what we called digests back then. That's where I got into the old DC Cain and Abel anthologies.

imageThere was also a period when I got infatuated with the DC character Nocturna and tracked down every Batman issue in which she appeared. I was in high school when I found a stack of Tales of the Teen Titans (the Wolfman/Pérez run) at a used bookstore and was briefly obsessed with those. George Pérez is the first artist I remember being blown away by and aware of as a talent beyond the characters I was reading at that moment. His Wonder Woman relaunch was also a Big Deal to me in my, uh, comics-reading arc. I don't think I had that reaction to an artist again until Elaine Dove gave me a copy of Elektra: Assassin and taught me how to pronounce Sienkiewicz.

So, yeah, I started reading comics somewhere around age eight, I think. I don't remember my first comic, though... there's a possibility that it was an Al Green religious thing that my grandfather bought me at a gas station. I'm not sure. I remember being on a road trip and reading that comic, like, 50 times out of sheer boredom. (I also remember cutting it up -- I think I made my own little strips out of it sort of collage-style, but I wouldn't swear to that. I definitely cut it up. That I remember distinctly.)

I hang out with Matt and Brian and Ed and you know these guys have read everything -- and continue to read everything and sometimes I feel... what's the word I want? Uh... like I don't quite qualify, somehow. Does that make sense?

SPURGEON: Sure.

DeCONNICK: Like, I didn't read Image comics in the '90s. All those jokes about pouches? That had to be explained to me. I worked in a video store for a bazillion years, not a comic book store.

But I do remember lying in a hammock on my crappy back porch in my college apartment reading Watchmen when I should have been studying for a final. And Sandman. I remember loving Sandman so much I took notes. I didn't intend to make my own comics -- I don't know why I was taking notes. But I took notes.

I'm sort of babbling here. What was my point? There are huge gaps in my comics knowledge -- I didn't read Marvel comics until I was an adult, for instance. And you know, I've read some Cerebus and some Strangers in Paradise, but I don't feel particularly passionate about either one. Don't misunderstand -- I'm not proud of the gaps in my reading. I'm not bragging about my ignorance, okay? I've never met anyone who reads as many comics as Brian Bendis. And I don't think that fact and the fact that he's the best-selling writer in the industry right now are unrelated.

I guess I'm just confessing that this is a point of insecurity for me. I'm trying to fill in those gaps as quickly as I can.

SPURGEON: There's an adage about working in the arts that says, "you'll use everything you've ever known." I wanted to poke at some of your unique experiences. First, am I right in thinking that the official entry point for working in comics -- well, near comics, anyway -- was the review and advocacy site artbomb?

DeCONNICK: Yes, artbomb was the first time I got paid for anything associated with comics. I think it was $50 per review? $25 maybe? Something like that. I was already a paid writer, but I worked in magazines.

SPURGEON: How do you look back at that experience? How was it formative? Was there something valuable in thinking about comics in the way you have to in order to write about them?

DeCONNICK: Hm. Well, I remember artbomb very fondly and there isn't a week that goes by that I don't wish it were still up and running. I was just talking to Sigrid Ellis of the Fantastic Fangirls site about it the other day, actually.

I don't think that artbomb taught me to read comics critically. It wasn't quite like that. At artbomb, we only wrote about the books we really liked. If a title appeared on the site, it was recommended. The approach I took was to write about each book in a way that helped the reader determine if they would enjoy the book. Blargh. I'm coming off very Oprah here, but I tended to write about how the books made me feel.

There was quite a bit about that gig that factored into why I remember it so fondly (not the least of which were my co-workers), but from a perspective of how That Then affected This Now, I think it gave me permission to embrace comics as an okay thing to take seriously. And you know, when I go back and look at the books that I chose to cover, it's clear who my comics influences are.

imageBendis is a friend now, but I was and am a huge fan -- of his dialogue, his humor and his much-lauded ability to craft three-dimensional women in a context that hasn't historically supported doing so. I think I covered all of Brian's books at the time for artbomb. Nicest thing anyone's said to me about Osborn is that the dialogue reminds them of Brian.

I don't meant to suggest that I want to grow up to be Brian Bendis -- or Warren Ellis, or Neil Gaiman, or Steve Niles, or Greg Rucka or anyone else whose praises I sang for artbomb -- I want to write like myself, about the things that interest me. But if you go back and look at what books I covered for artbomb, it's pretty clear who I thought was doing it right.

SPURGEON: I'm not sure that I know too many writers beyond Alan Moore that have articulated how training as an actor has had an effect on their writing. Where might you see that influence -- bits of process, or a way of approaching character, say -- in the way you work?

DeCONNICK: I'm very concerned with character and motivation and less gifted when it comes to working out the intricacies of plot. And, of course, I love books with intricate plots and am never so disappointed as I am with an unsatisfying or predictable plot resolution -- nor am I ever so pleased as I am when I have no idea where a plot is going. Pulp Fiction and Unbreakable are pop films that I will defend to the death because there was a point in each of those films when I gave up figuring out where they were going and just enjoyed the ride. I'll die happy if I can give someone else a similar experience on the page.

I don't know if I've answered your question exactly.

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SPURGEON: No, that's perfect. You also worked for a very long time on writing from direct translations for manga series. Looking at Osborn's first issue, is the heavy focus on dialogue due in part to that experience?

DeCONNICK: I suspect that's more a result of the actor training than anything else, but I'm sure they're all related.

SPURGEON: You even work from dialogue first as opposed to structure or visual cues or graphic beats. How does a page form when you work from dialogue first?

DeCONNICK: A looooooot faster than if I try and break things down into panels as I go. [Spurgeon laughs] It took me a while to figure out that that was the best approach for me, and I still forget it sometimes and try to pound it out panel by panel and it's just... torturous. And not very good.

Okay, so, when I get to scripting, I've already got my outline. So I know what the scene is and who's in it. Without sounding too pretentious -- I hope! -- I just kind of let them talk. It's like... well, I was an actor, right, but I was also a professional improv actor for three-plus years. So, it's like improvising a scene -- only I'm playing all the characters. I take down the dialogue and then I go back and look at it. I cut what I don't like. Then I start breaking the scene down into beats the very same way an actor breaks down a script. The big beats? Those are page turns. The smaller ones are panel breaks. More important beats call for bigger panels -- though I never dictate that sort of thing, I only suggest.

Some beats are silent.

SPURGEON: Let me jump back to something you mentioned earlier. Do you think you might have a different take on superhero comics, particularly Marvel comics, for coming at them more as an adult reader? I don't mean to suggest that one type of experience is better than the other -- especially as you were explicit you don't feel that way -- I just wonder if you see things that others might not? Is there something to writing within a milieu, a shared universe, that one never visited as a child?

DeCONNICK: Hm.... It seems like there should be something to that, right? I don't know. I guess I don't have anything to compare it to. I did read DC comics as a kid, but I haven't written for DC, so I don't know if it would feel any different. And it's not as though the entire Marvel universe was foreign to me -- I mean, I didn't know what the Ultimate Nullifier was until Matt signed his exclusive and I started reading Marvel Saga. But I didn't grow up in a cave, so I knew Spider-Man's whole story and the X-Men and the Hulk. All from television, I guess. The '70s and '80s were good to superheroes.

Maybe I'm less precious about it...? I don't know. That seems presumptive.

You know, even working with pre-existing characters, I still try to write stories that are about something more than the personalities involved. I hope I bring a point of view, you know? I would hope that would be the goal no matter what.

Oh, hey -- I remembered something about actor training that is directly relevant to writing comics -- psychological gesture. I thought of you this morning when I was acting out a panel at my desk trying to decide if the gesture I was asking for felt right.

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SPURGEON: What is psychological gesture exactly? Can you describe what it is about a certain gesture that you feel is valuable to consider when putting together a script?

DeCONNICK: It's pretty much exactly what you'd think -- it's something the actor does with his or her body to give the audience additional information about what's going on in the character's head. It's a simple enough idea, but it's one of the things that makes acting an art form and not just Pretty People Playing Telling Lies.

So, for instance, my scripts often indicate when characters are making eye contact -- or more importantly, when they're not. People sometimes touch their mouths when they're lying, cover their eyes or foreheads when they're ashamed. I consider it valuable because it adds information that isn't in the dialogue.

SPURGEON: One thing I'm asking all of the participants in this year's series about is their feelings on what they do with comics as a job. Do you enjoy the experience of creating the kind of work you've been doing recently?

DeCONNICK: I do. Very much so. Not every part of the process, but for the parts that make me so very happy -- the rest is worth it.

I like being creative. I like having this thing that I -- at least in part -- made that stands alone from me and sometimes, at the best moments, surprises me.

SPURGEON: If I were someone who had no interest in the results of what you do, are there aspects of what you do that you enjoy that you'd be able to communicate to me? Is it a good gig?

DeCONNICK: Yeah, I think so. You know, comics are a collaborative artform -- which brings us back to the theater, I think. I'm really enjoying that team aspect right now. And it's fun to sort of sit down and try to build a puzzle every day. I try to make all the pieces fit and I try to entertain or just practice being fearless, being vulnerable.

SPURGEON: I think of you as a fiendishly organized person and someone that pays attention to the example that others have provided. Is it more difficult, do you think, to be a freelancing creator in comics today than it was maybe five, ten, fifteen years ago?

DeCONNICK: I suspect that as wonderful as the Internet is, as wonderful and amazing as computers are in general -- and I'm an idiot early adopter on just about everything -- I suspect that we're living and working during a rather unfortunate part of that learning curve.

As much as I like being plugged in to everything, I'm coming to the unpleasant conclusion that I'm both happier and more productive when I'm not in constant Task Manager Mode. And I think it's hard to get away from that these days when people expect an immediate response to emails or whatnot.

For me -- and my husband works differently -- for me, to do my best thinking, to figure stuff out -- whether it's a pitch or a story or a scene, I need quiet first. I need to think about it and then I need to talk about it. And neither of those things is best accomplished in front of a screen.

SPURGEON: When you say you need to talk about, do you mean there are people you use as a sounding board? What of value to the end result do you get back from talking things through?

DeCONNICK: Every story is absolutely perfect when it only lives in my head. I'm confident, I have all kinds of ideas, snippets of dialogue, etc. -- it's like a high almost. And then... I have to start writing it down. And once those ideas meet the real world and I can examine them from even the distance of my eyes to the page... well, that's when it becomes clear that I'm not a genius after all.

imageIn the same way you're never as certain of your position on a subject until you have to defend where you stand or how you discover the holes in your understanding when you try to teach someone else a certain subject, there's nothing like trying to tell your story to a friend to make clear what parts need work. Often they don't even have to say anything, it's obvious where the problems are as soon as you open your mouth. And then sometimes someone will ask a question that you would never have seen coming.

The best person to talk this stuff out with is your editor, I think, but my ideas are easily intimidated so I like to start with a friend.

SPURGEON: What is the most challenging part of the non-creative things that make up your professional life?

DeCONNICK: I'm not sure if this is exactly non-creative, but it's frustrating that the hardest and most time-consuming parts of the job are not the parts you get paid for.

And then more directly to your point, I need to figure out the Internet. I'm a natural talker -- I, uh, what's the phrase? I "overshare." And while I don't want to make myself into a different person, I'm finding that the Internet is becoming a less friendly place than it was, say, ten years ago. I'm trying to figure out how much to share -- about my process, my insecurities, my family, my children -- so that I can still connect with people but not put any of those things or relationships at risk.

There are crazy people on the Internet who will threaten you if they don't like your comic book. It happens. Do I want those people to know where my kids go to school?

SPURGEON: I don't want them to know, either. Outside of what the crazies might project, is there anything that people tend to assume about writing comics that's not true?

DeCONNICK: It's a tired answer, but I don't think people understand that it's really hard work. I mean, I'm writing this to you having pulled an all-nighter and having gotten five pages for my trouble. I mean... it is fun, and it should be fun, but I dunno -- I'm no John Milton, you know? Stories don't pour from my lips fully formed and perfect to be transcribed and Bam! That's it. I have to mess stuff up and fix it and mess it up again and talk to my editors and draw charts and freak out. And every time, something gets through that I know could have been done better because this is serial fiction and the train has to leave the station every 30 days and that's just the way it is. So I try to not take it to personally, pat myself on the back for at least being able to identity what could be improved and move on.

It's hard and it takes a lot of time. Writing the script -- which is still hard -- is, for me anyway, the easiest and least time-consuming part.

SPURGEON: Can you talk about that struggle a bit more? You mentioned earlier how writing something down can make you feel like less of a genius. I think the disappointment that comes moving from the ideal to the real is something with which a lot of creators struggle, especially early on. In your case, it can't be the dominant feeling because otherwise you wouldn't work. How have you personally negotiated your perception of your writing in order to continue working? Is that also a matter of talking things out? For that matter, how do you motivate yourself generally?

DeCONNICK: It's such a thing. It's such a huge thing. I feel like I'm particularly crippled by it, but then, I also feel like I'm god's most special snowflake and no one will understand my pain, so... consider my self-obsession as context, I guess.

There's this book I like -- this book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and he names the thing "resistance." And he says it's evil. Literally, he uses the word "evil." And I had such a shiver of recognition when I read that. 99% of the time I find that word embarrassing, but I really do think it's properly applied in this case. I'm not sure if it's fear-based, or ego-based; perfectionism or cowardice, but it's fucking insidious.

So, how do I get over it? Not very well, honestly. I play different head games, try to trick myself into working.

Matt has a thing that he got from Ed Wood, which is to say, "I'll just have to do better next time." That works sometimes. Sometimes the pressure of deadlines is good enough -- I don't want to let my editors down or put them in a bad position. Sometimes I tell myself that no one will read it so it doesn't really matter anyway. That's a pretty good one.

If I can just get past the self-conscious part to the part where I'm really working -- the when I'm figuring it out -- that part's fun, that part's life-affirming and tingly. It's the bits that bookend it that are where all the hand-wringing and the tummy aches come in.

Add to that resistance fatigue and a fairly ridiculous workload and -- from my perspective, anyway -- its powers multiply exponentially.

SPURGEON: Are you getting a sense at all what people respond to in your work? Has any of the feedback you've received -- public or private, personal or from an outsider -- been particularly inspiring?

DeCONNICK: I got one letter after the CBGB story came out that I found particularly moving, yeah. And there have been two things that other pros have said to me that made me feel like I was on the right track, too. I'd elaborate, but I think that would be the equivalent of re-tweeting a compliment.

SPURGEON: I wondered if as a writer who has worked some of Marvel's slightly-out-of-spotlight gigs you could provide some perspective on Marvel's publishing strategies with books like that.

DeCONNICK: I can maybe hazard a few guesses, but Marvel's strategies are way above my pay grade.

SPURGEON: Only your perspective, of course. The mainstream serial comics market right now is such a calcified market that even under the most benign circumstances it's not likely a book about Sif or Norman Osborn is going to sell gangbusters. That would be wonderful; it's just not likely. This makes me wonder how Marvel sees these kinds of books. Do you get a sense with some of your projects, even into the anthologies, there's, say, a character development aspect to these books -- you're being a caretaker for that character? Do you think Marvel uses these books in part to develop writers?

DeCONNICK: I definitely think developing the writer is a big part of it. I feel like I'm learning the ropes at Marvel and it's win-win for both them and me to have me do so on smaller projects. Their risk is minimized and I'm on something like a journeyman level.

I'm having fun with it, honestly. This might be a thing for me. When I was adapting manga, I always preferred to work on the titles that flew a bit under the radar. I felt like I could do my best work that way, without risking the paralysis that can attend the glow of a thousand spotlights, you know?

SPURGEON: Sure.

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DeCONNICK: McKelvie and I did a thing -- a little Black Widow thing -- that went largely unnoticed in one of the Age of Heroes anthologies. But I used it to plant a little seed that I'm picking up on in this Black Widow/Sharon Carter book I'm doing as a one-shot with Greg Tocchini. Nobody needs to have read the former in order to follow the latter, but if you happen to have seen it, it'll be a richer experience. That's the sort of thing that tickles me as a reader and, it turns out, as a writer too.

SPURGEON: Do you think these smaller stories fit in with broader publishing plans, points of emphasis throughout the line? I guess I'm interested if anything other than "we want this book to be as great as possible" gets communicated to you, or if you and others writer make inferences.

DeCONNICK: The Black Widow piece I did with McKelvie -- it was called "Coppélia -- on that book, I was told before I pitched that they needed a piece to take Natasha from Point A to Point B, with regard to the Heroic Age. So I was definitely in on the plan there. Other than that, I haven't been too privy to Big Picture initiatives.

I haven't even been working at Marvel for a year, though -- and I'm not on an ongoing. So writers with a longer tenure or a heavier workload are going to have a dramatically different perspective.

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SPURGEON: I liked your take on Sif in the one-off, and I think that it put on display a certain orientation towards character. How do you go about building your version of a character like that, given all the different versions that have come before? There have been some very different versions of that character. Do you sort through these various takes while coming up with one of your own? Do you favor the first version? The most recent version? Does previous work hold much import at all? These seem to me like rather complex and nuanced decisions.

DeCONNICK: Man, I wish I had a good answer to this question. I sincerely don't know. I guess I just write my version...? Does that sound self-obsessed?

SPURGEON: Self-confident.

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DeCONNICK: I don't believe you, but I like it so let's pretend.

Maybe it goes back to the actor thing? With Sif, I thought about how I'd play her. My feeling was that after the ordeal with Loki stealing her skin... and the mythological history of Loki stealing her hair... it just seemed like she couldn't have anything that he couldn't take from her. And it seemed to me that something like that would either drive you mad or piss you off. I wasn't really interested in writing her breakdown, so I wrote about how sometimes you have to get angry to get through.

Anyway, it just made sense to me. What's that line? If the only tool you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail? Something like that. Well, Sif's a warrior. She has a sword. The whole world looks like a fight.

I just... I hated the idea of her clinging to Thor and weeping. Who wants to read that?

SPURGEON: One thing I found intriguing about your first issue of Osborn, you project currently being published, is that you get this character at a moment of personal weakness, on the downside. This isn't exactly the superhero formula, which tends to prefer its bad guys as forceful alpha males in control of everything that are then dashed to the rocks by the good guys. Was it specifically appealing to you to write this character at this story moment? Is there something to be said about the resiliency of evil through a character like Norman Osborn?

DeCONNICK: I know he is evil, but I don't really think of him that way. I guess I think of him as arrogant above all. I dunno. He's like the world's smartest toddler -- self-centered, petulant and power-drunk but also bizarrely creative and funny. And, um, murderous. So I guess my toddler thing falls apart in the light of day, huh?

imageI don't see Norman as being in crisis... exactly. He's humbled, sure, but just a bit. It's another setback, another injustice for him to rage against. The real challenge for me in this series has been to find something for Norman to grab on to... this issue, the one I'm working on right now, is the faith issue. It's the one about the principles we put before personalities. For Norman... well, he has always been the thing he believes in, you know?

SPURGEON: Sure. Now, a study of principle over personality isn't exactly the first thing that springs to mind when you talk the genre in which you're working. How useful generally do you find the superhero metaphor as a writing tool? Is there something grand and operatic about processing an issue through these super-beings? What is the effect of telling the kind of story you're telling about Sif or Norman Osborn through that genre that you might not get if you told similarly-themed stories about everyday people?

DeCONNICK: "Operatic" is a perfect term for it. I love opera. And Shakespeare. And the Greeks. And Brecht! Fellini. Fosse. Catharsis. It's not that I think there's anything wrong with naturalism or simple stories quietly told, they're just not quite as much fun. For me.

SPURGEON: 2010 was a year with lot to be said for it in terms of the opportunities afforded -- and seized by -- female creators. There were two dozen quality, stand-alone books from women cartoonists, and a bigger spotlight on female creators at Marvel; one of the breakthrough stars of the year was Moto Hagio, a pioneering voice in her specific field.

DeCONNICK: Who's been in the business for some 40 years, right?

SPURGEON: [laughs] Exactly. I know that you feel things keenly, and I wondered if you thought 2010 was a positive year or not overall for creators that are women? What encourages and discourages you? Is it discouraging to even have this discussion, to be asked these questions?

DeCONNICK: I honestly don't know. I don't.

Am I dodging if I say I think we need a couple years worth of perspective before we'll be able to look back and see if 2010 was some kind of turning point?

I don't find the discussion discouraging... but I do find it exhausting. I believe the feminist movement of the 1970s died of neglect somewhere along the way and armies were dismantled before battles were won.

I do feel things keenly and it's hard for me to have this conversation without getting shouty on some level because I feel somewhat betrayed by the failure of that movement. It's fucking 2010 and we couldn't get the Paycheck Fairness Act passed. Two Thousand and Ten. Our girls are cutting themselves and starving themselves and we don't really seem to be all that upset about it. We blame the Paris Hiltons and the Lindsey Lohans when they are guilty of nothing more than being exactly what we told them we would value.

Okay.

I am veering wildly off track here.

This year.

This year I was asked in an interview what I would say to young creators who still think there is a glass ceiling in comics -- the clear implication of the question being that there isn't.

This year I was asked in an interview what I thought the main difference was between "a man writing comics and a woman doing the same."

imageThis year a creator for whom I have tremendous respect, who I consider both a friend and a progressive, said to me that he always assumed that women just didn't want to write superheroes. I was so taken aback by that that for a moment I wondered if he was right. I thought, well hell, maybe I'm just some kind of anomaly. I mean, I know there's something profoundly nerdy about me that I actually want to see Sif get ten minutes alone in a room with Loki -- does it make me masculine, too?

But I keep coming back to the idea that there's nothing innately masculine about heroism. Nothing innately masculine about science fiction. Nor about power fantasies or revenge fantasies or the pulp aesthetic.

Where there might be a kernel of truth to what he said is, I think, in the idea that women --- as much as we can generalize these things -- might not want to write superhero books if they haven't grown up reading them and they might not have grown up reading them if the books didn't hold any appeal for them, if, say, the women therein were not exactly icons of strength and power, but more often, uh, icons of plot manipulation and things-to-hold-hostage. Or superheroes with awesome powers like, oh, invisibility.

Blargh. I'm going to stop. I'm getting screechy and honestly, I don't do myself any professional favors by going off on this stuff, but A) I'm not very good at holding my tongue about this sort of thing and B) I've got a daughter. Every time I speak up at the risk of being disliked or making someone else uncomfortable, I like to think it's maybe one time she won't have to. So fuck it; I'll screech.

SPURGEON: Another broader issue: how concerned are you -- and, if you feel up to characterizing them, your circle of comics acquaintances -- about the economy generally and the comics economy specifically? Is this something that even gets mulled over? Do you have specific worries?

DeCONNICK: Oh, definitely. I think most of us are painfully aware of having missed the boom. We're all scared. Exit strategies are topics of constant conversation. Specific worries? I guess that the mid-list will continue to be cannibalized and what is already kind of a niche market will become even, uh, nichier. The death of the DM. That sort of thing.

SPURGEON: 2010 was also the 20th year of the Creator's Bill Of Rights. Are you comfortable with the rights that you as a creative person have within this industry? Is there anything you'd like to see changed, eventually? You worked with two characters this year, Sif and Norman Osborn, that were at the very least co-created by Jack Kirby -- granted, from myth -- and I believe Steve Ditko, neither of whom receives money from those efforts. Is that something you think about at all?

DeCONNICK: It makes my head spin a bit. I'm not as concerned about straight work-for-hire contracts -- though, I don't know, I probably should be -- as I am about how very few avenues there are for original, creator-owned projects. And there's this mutating definition of "creator-owned" that bothers me as well. It seems to me that if I'm not the one making the final decisions about my book, then I don't really own it.

I mean... I get why it's happening. I don't think publishers are at fault for trying to stay afloat, but still... it's disheartening.

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SPURGEON: What are your ambitions, Kelly Sue? Do you think far ahead? Where would you like to be in 10 years with that part of your life, and on what terms would you measure that kind of success?

DeCONNICK: You know, Matt and I get together every six months for an official meeting on the topic of goal setting. We're incorporated and this meeting is very official--we charge our coffee to the business and everything.

We sit down with the same notebook and we make a little chart that's a revision of the one made six months before. We set goals for each of us and for the company for 1 year, 5 years and 10 years. So every six months things get adjusted.

A photocopy of my chart is hanging next to my desk on the door of my bookshelf right now. Under 1 year -- which won't be up until August -- it says "Ongoing" and "New Insurance." The insurance thing is done, so come February when we meet again, I'll replace that one. The ongoing... Well, I'm having a hard time managing the workload I've got with the kids being as little and as mommy-dependent as they are. That's going to get adjusted. It may be the summer or fall before I start pursuing that.

Under 5 years it says "Tripled Income," "Creator-Owned Series" and "Representation."

Under 10 years it says, "Novelist."

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* Kelly Sue DeConnick
* Kelly Sue DeConnick At Marvel

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* photo by Ed Peterson provided by the writer
* an early household presence
* Nocturna
* Brian Bendis
* from the Travel Foreman Rescue cover
* page from Osborn #1; art by Emma Rios
* a very actorly sequence from Osborn #2
* panel from the little talked-about Coppélia
* Sif has a sword; art by Ryan Stegman
* problem-solving by Sif
* Norman Osborn speaks
* Sif desires revenge
* a nice two panel sequence from the Rescue one-shot; Andrea Mutti art
* photo by Laurenn McCubbin provided by the writer

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