Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary
















February 10, 2008


CR Sunday Interview: Valerie D'Orazio

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Valerie D'Orazio worked as an assistant editor at Acclaim and then DC Comics, leaving the latter position in a cloud of dissatisfaction that saw expression in a much talked-about series of on-line postings called "Goodbye to Comics." That group of essays dissected in brutal, unsparing fashion comics culture as D'Orazio had experienced it thus far. She painted a portrait of an unhealthy if not outright damaging world of widespread obsessive behavior, behavioral dysfunction and unrealized expectations. This helped gain her a new and attentive audience that has since made her blog Occasional Superheroine one of the can't-miss stops for mainstream comics commentary on the Internet. She's recently announced plans to expand the site.

In September 2007 D'Orazio was elected President of Friends of Lulu, the advocacy group designed to encourage female readership of and participation in comics. I think D'Orazio is one of the most consistently excellent of both comics blogging generation 3.0 and of a growing group of female writers finding voice in comics commentary, and I was pleased that she agreed to an interview. I wish we could have run it back during the holidays as originally promised, but I'm just as happy to run it now. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: Can you describe the impulse that drove you to run for President of Friends of Lulu? What opportunities did you see there? I think a lot of people were surprised when your name showed up on the ballot.

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VALERIE D'ORAZIO: Well, nobody was as surprised as I was. It turned out that my boyfriend secretly nominated me for the position. He knew how strongly I felt about supporting women in comics and thought the experience would be good for me. When I was in comic book editing my dream was to get in a position where I could really make a difference in terms of equality for women in the profession and the creation of more strong female characters. And what I actually ended up doing in that job was to try to fit in with the "boys" as much I could -- the reason being, if I didn't rock the boat I could really come into a position of power where I could help my gender. In the end, this doesn't really work -- but I am not the only woman in comics who has ever possessed this ass-backwards reasoning. Oh, and I helped introduce cheesecake art to Supergirl. So, a big FAIL.

Then I started the blog, and I suppose it sort of helped put a spotlight on issues regarding women in the industry. But, it was the sort of change (if that is the right word for it) that is impossible to quantify in terms of any sort of real-world results. We can all express our outrage in the blogosphere about a perceived slight against women. We can even get The New York Post to run a little article on it. However, how has that really changed things for women in comics? I was tired of arguing over semantics and just wanted to see real-world results.

As President of Friends of Lulu, I now have an opportunity to put my money where my mouth is and produce tangible results. Whether it's mentoring a young comic book artist, or helping produce a panel on women of color in the comic book industry, or even just getting our blog up and running again with new content. It's real. It feels great.

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SPURGEON: A lot of times when someone runs for something, it’s with a criticism of the office or organization in mind. What was your assessment of the group before you came on board? Do you think some of the historical criticism of Friends of Lulu have been fair? I’ve heard everything from people proclaiming its irrelevancy to castigating its methods to suggesting that it’s a scheme to subsidize the con attendance of its members. How do you assess the organization’s history and what do you hope to change or enhance?

D'ORAZIO: The "origin story" of Friends of Lulu is, simply, a bunch of women who were tired of feeling marginalized and without community getting together and creating a group of their peers to communicate with and support one another. I think that's awesome. That is what is at the heart of Friends of Lulu, then and now.

You have to remember the context and era in which Friends of Lulu was founded, the mid-'90s. This was not a golden age for women in comics. Personally, and I could be wrong, that golden age was more like the 80s, because you had more female comic creators and editors working, and the comics largely reflected a level of maturity (especially regarding females) that I don't know if I have seen since. But by 1994, when FOL was founded, you were still in the middle of the T&A era of fan-favorite, two-dimensional heroines.

The first criticisms of Friends of Lulu I heard was around the DC editorial offices in isolated comments of derision. Certainly I do not think this was the position of the company towards the organization as a whole; they have donated generously to FOL in the past. But, there were a couple of people who labeled the organization as just a crazy group of man-hating feminists. And, I'm thinking at the time "well, it's not popular for me to get involved with them." The irony being that had I really been a part of Lulu at the time, it probably would have helped me a lot -- which is part of why I'm so passionate about the organization now.

Then there is the big elephant in the room, the Female Empowerment Fund thing. I think the basic kernel of that idea, to help women out with the legal costs of pursuing a sexual harassment case, was nobly-intentioned. But, you had those noble intentions versus the organization and the woman spearheading the fund not fully comprehending how complex and delicate those situations really are. And so the Fund did not work out. The question is, does Friends of Lulu get defined by that incident -- does the countless hours of volunteer work, the mentorships, the women in comics discussion panels, the anthologies, the awards, the scholarships get washed away?

I think an organization or an individual is defined by how they respond and grow from negative experiences. In the wake of the Empowerment Fund situation, Friends of Lulu returned all the donations and spent a substantial time examining what went wrong. Moreover, the women who continued volunteering for the Board of Directors felt battered by the experience, alone, and misunderstood. They felt like throwing in the towel, questioned their mission, felt defeated and back at square one. But, instead of giving up they chose to regroup, get stronger, and keep the flames alive. As I can vouch for, the organization examined and implemented much stronger methods of intra-group communication, choosing not just to vote on all decisions only during official meeting periods -- thereby recording them in the minutes of each meeting -- but also to come to unanimous agreement before proceeding on the implementation of each decision made. Lulu got older and wiser. They refused to give up even in the face of a lack of outside support (though it should be noted that there was still a core of members who stuck with it through the long haul).

I believe the tenacity of Friends of Lulu comes from their passion about support women in comics. And I believe that this is the same tenacity that keeps women in this industry despite the odds.

As what I can contribute beyond my basic duties as president... well, I would like to add original content to the website in terms of research, blog posts, and interviews.

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SPURGEON: How's it been so far? Has anything been surprising or disappointing?

D'ORAZIO: It's been a blast so far! I work with a really great group of women, and they inspire and teach me a lot. I feel being involved with Lulu makes me a much better person. If there is something surprising I've encountered, it is just what a hunger there seems to be out there for a group like Lulu -- and, in a larger sense, a need among female comics professionals to be counted.

At the same time, there was an incident that greatly disappointed me. I had a situation recently where a fairly high-level woman in the industry made it very clear to me that she wanted nothing to do with our organization, to the point where she requested not to receive any mailings or other contact from us. And I had to wonder if it was the specter of the "it's unpopular to be associated with a women's organization when you are in a male-dominated industry." But, how can I criticize her when I failed to get involved with Lulu seven years ago myself? The only thing I can say is that, at the end of the day, it really really helps to have a support base of your peers, if only because you never know what is going to happen.

And yet I don't know if that stigma is really the case anymore. Female readers are becoming a bigger and bigger part of overall comic book readership. We have an editor from Marvel Comics -- which is about as mainstream comics as you can get -- on our board. As far as I've heard from her and others, the publisher is supportive of her involvement. DC has a line of books targeted largely for women. The editorial staff of publishers like Dark Horse and Tokyopop are heavily female. And we're doing things to promote the readership of comic books in general, like working with the libraries and with children; this benefits the entire industry. I don't see the problem.

Then there are some outspoken online critics of FOL. Some have been formerly involved with the organization. I respect their prior involvement and the time they put into the organization. And so I sit down and am honestly interested in what they have to say. And I explain what we're doing now, and just maintain a dialog; just ask, "what in your opinion would make us better?" So they don't disappoint me at all. They are asking questions, which is good. I hope to encourage them to participate again in our organization.

SPURGEON: This time next year, what would you like to have accomplished?

D'ORAZIO: Well, when I first started I had this big, ambitious "wish list" of things for Lulu to do; reinventing the wheel, and all that. But, then you look at the big picture objectively, and say: well, here are the things that need to be done first. And so this year is largely about building our infrastructure. The basics: updating the website, reaching out to the public & the industry, restarting our mentorship programs, looking for more volunteers, all while maintaining our existing stream of up-to-date industry information directly to our members through our newsletter and blog. So a year from now, I'd like to have all that heavy lifting done. Then we can start to really brainstorm and really get ambitious and implement some of the wonderful new things we'd like to do.

SPURGEON: It took me a while to kind of come to a full appreciation of what you do on Occasional Superheroine. How do you describe the blog and what you do with it to people?

D'ORAZIO: I just see the blog as a place where comic book fans can hang out and discuss their hobby. I just speak my mind, and I think people respond to -- and crave -- that honesty. The outspokenness, especially on industry issues, is also quite appreciated by some professionals within the industry, a number of whom have come up to me personally and thanked me for being brave. Because this industry is so small, it's very hard to "talk back" out of fear that you will get blacklisted. So maybe I provide an outlet to "bitch." It's important, I think, to let this stuff out.

SPURGEON: You wrote a post on the one-year anniversary of your Goodbye to Comics series where you marveled at being in a better place vis-a-vis comics despite abandoning any and all what might be called careerist impulses. This might be a totally ridiculous question as phrased but I’m not sure how to get at it exactly, but what are the specific qualities of where you are now that pleases you more than where you were 15-18 months ago?

D'ORAZIO: When you are an assistant editor -- at least from where I sat -- your contrary opinion is not encouraged. And, if you're female, that contrary opinion is not just discouraged -- it's seen as downright gauche. At any rate, you can be replaced pretty easily. You stay because you hope and dream you will be promoted. You see how cut-throat things are and you vow to swim with the sharks and get-ahead. Always there is this fear that if somehow you "screw up" and lose the job, you will never find another one in this small small industry -- and that you are only competent to edit comic books. And that, in your sort-sighted view, no job could possibly be as cool as working in comic books. All this fosters a very conservative viewpoint, at least as far as work is concerned.

I contrast this with what I think my essential nature is, which is to stir up people with my words.

Now, my whole living and vocation is built off of me expressing myself. I'm a professional blogger/online promotions strategist in my day-job. I'm told to stir people up with my words, wake them up. I'm told to express myself. That's my job. How cool is that? And then I work on comic writing stuff, and I'm asked to be myself. I'm asked to pour more of myself into my work. I'm told to take chances. And then I work on my own blog, which is all about that as well. It's such a release. It is me embracing my essential nature.

SPURGEON: Building off of that post, it seems like a big life lesson that is repeated over and over in your writing is that it’s important to make one’s own way, to not always color between the lines if it suits you. Is that fair?

D'ORAZIO: What is that ancient bit of wisdom? "Know Thyself"? That's been the lesson I've learned over the past five years.

SPURGEON: One of the more interesting undercurrents in your writing that's critical of the comics world, including that essay, is that you seem to have a keen awareness of your ability to suffer through some of these things until you've reached a point where you couldn't. Is there any further reflection you have on the fact that you kind of endured all of these things for so long until finally making a break or dealing with some of the more pernicious aspects of it? Are they the same factors that keep you in comics now?

D'ORAZIO: I think a lot of that "stick with it until it almost kills you" mindset stems from my childhood. As a child, I was taught not to complain. So then you don't complain about wretched things that happen -- you just sort of go on auto-pilot. You "zone out" and pretend nothing is going wrong. I also have this very strong part of me that wants to get outspoken about injustice -- but, I grow up learning to suppress that. Complicating matters, exploitative people can pick up on which people will be most likely not to "fight back" -- and so they prey upon you. Now it's twenty years later -- and the cycle continues.

The only wrinkle is that as the years go by, the part of me that wants to be outspoken gets more and more insistent. When you're not true to yourself, one of the places that gets expressed is through your body. So my body was like: "Hey, I'm really unhappy. I'm going to destroy your stomach lining" and "I want out of this situation; pumping shitloads of excess adrenalin into your system just might get your attention."

So I finally got to a place where I broke past "auto-pilot" and refused to tolerate the intolerable. The only problem was, my life -- job, associates, home, etc -- was mostly built around the "me" I was, the meek one who didn't complain. So when you make a personal breakthrough like that, very few things survive it. My job at the time certainly didn't survive it. It's when you know who your real friends truly are.

Now I just sit back, look at a lot of the exploitative stuff that is still happening in the industry, laugh and blog about it. Sometimes I include little pictures with captions.

imageSPURGEON: I've never spoken to anyone who worked for Acclaim once upon a time. What remains with you about that office culture, that period in your life?

D'ORAZIO: Acclaim Comics was a utopian experiment in comic book publishing. I think the EIC Fabian Nicieza had witnessed a lot of the brutal bloodletting that had been going on at Marvel at the time, and decided that he was going to do things differently. He cared a great deal about his employees, and treated them more or less equally. I remember he really gave a lot of respect and credit to the assistants, which I really appreciated. I also appreciated that my gender was not an issue at the company. We had two very strong female editors out of a editor staff of about seven, and they were great role models for me. We all had a sense working there that this was as good it would ever get for us in comics, in terms of a great working environment and camaraderie with our fellow employees. And when we get together in reunions, which are at least once a year, we still echo those sentiments.

Our staff was very young -- I strongly remember the youth aspect of it. We were so idealistic and so -- I know this is going to sound corny -- joyous. It's an optimism I never saw again. I see and hear snippets of that level of optimism sometimes at Marvel, and sense it very strongly at DC's Zuda online imprint. I think it boils down to the boss/corporate overlord not crushing your nuts with their boot. From what I hear, the Zuda staff is pretty much told to just be creative. There needs to be more of that, before mainstream comics dies of a petrified intestinal tract.

SPURGEON: Some of your best writing has painted an absolutely brutal portrait of the culture within DC Comics. Assuming it's a distinction you'd even care to discuss, how much of what you described do you think is specific to DC and how much is universal to comics? Are there significant differences in different pockets of the comics world?

D'ORAZIO: I would like to take this opportunity to say that, for the most part, most of my observations about DC have been in regards to their "DC Universe" editorial department, not DC the Huge Entity. DCU editorial is where I worked. Before and after DC, I worked in retail, academics, advertising, public relations, marketing, and another comic book company. In comparison to these other jobs, I have to say working in DCU editorial was some of the most dreary and unhealthy years of my life. There were also some really fun times. But, it was like we worked under this big gray cloud -- it sucked the energy out of you.

If I can put my finger on a reason, I would say it started when a trio of editorial staffers resigned or were let go within a short time for reasons, in the minds of some staffers, that were unfair and indicative of a level of capriciousness on the part of management. This happened in the year right before I arrived. That produced the gray cloud, killing morale. Breaking up Denny O'Neil's "Bat-Office" was another depressing incident. Jenette Kahn leaving added to the cloud. And there was just this palpable sadness, and fear of getting fired.

I initially saw Dan DiDio's entrance as a good thing. I thought it was the sort of shot-in-the-arm we needed. Dan exuded a very Fabian Nicieza-like sense of optimism. I assisted him for a few months and got to know him. I really thought things were getting better. And then Mike McAvennie, whom I was assisting on Supergirl, suddenly got fired. And it was like it was all happening again. I was reassigned to Dan Raspler -- who I really liked as a boss. He gets fired, along with Andy Helfer, on the same day.

Everything after that point, at least for me, was just awful. Working there was awful. I remember I had this little nameplate on my door in the shape of a word balloon. And one day it just fell off. And it was magnetic, it was supposed to stay on. It wouldn't go back on. And then I started taping it onto the door. And it still fell. And so I kept it in my desk drawer. And people would stop by and say, "Hey, are you still working here? Your name isn't on the door anymore." Symbolically, that's pretty much how my last six months were like.

So no, I think that level of sadness and dread is not specific to the comics industry or even DC as a whole. I think there was just some bad energy in that department that came in at some point. And, I can't even say that Dan DiDio was part of that. Because it was there before he arrived. He was invited to DC to fulfill an express purpose, and he did what he was asked to do. Anything that came after that was just him reacting to what was already there.

But, I do think that the comic book industry is problematic to an extent because it is so small, and tends to get "clubby" and "incestuous." Also, I think a lot of people come into the business with this idealism that is part-and-parcel of the idealism of the comics they read as a kid. They think that comics the business is going to treat them differently, more kindly, more fairly, because they produce the adventures of our modern heroes. And then it doesn't turn out that way and they are crushed.

SPURGEON: Is it fair to say that another recurring message in your work is that the violent and sexist art on the page and violent and sexist behavior in various comics' workplace draw from the same well? What led you to make that connection?

D'ORAZIO: I think the work cannot help but reflect their makers and the environment that they were created from. It's just like kids. Children will have dysfunctional parents, and there is a good chance they will end up being dysfunctional to some degree themselves, reflecting their own parents' flaws like a fun-house mirror.

SPURGEON: You've drawn some pretty compelling portraits of people whose "life in comics" has been bad for them. What is it about comics people that they seem so frequently exploited?

D'ORAZIO: Many comics people I know are, in a sense, still childlike. Including, to an extent, myself. It's the damn comics, I tell you. They preserve your youth (in this weird slightly-unsettling Olsen Twins sort of way, but why be picky) in exchange for making you a bit naive. To my knowledge, there is no entertainment medium that quite does that to people.

I blame the seductive allure of Peter Parker.

SPURGEON: I have nightmares that the level of exploitation in comics is so deep that we're going to wake up 15-20 years from now and every single day is going to be a telethon for another person whose life in comics has led them to ruin. Is it possible to interact with comics on such a devoted level and not have it sap away some other part of your life, not have it cause cumulative damage?

D'ORAZIO: I think it is key that any person working in comics either maintain a day job or a non-comics skill-set. Why are people working in comics frequently exploited? I've seen many cases where a person will break into comics right out of high-school or art school, spend 5, 10, 15 years in the business, and feel it is the only thing they know how to do or that they will get paid well at. And so they depend on that job for everything. They've got bills to pay, often a family to support and a mortgage, all that -- and they are depending on Comics to see them through. What happens when their job is threatened? What happens when they're not the flavor of the month anymore? What happens when the calls stop? Panic sets in. "It's the only thing I know how to do."

I talked to this one middle-aged artist, he's not getting the call-backs anymore and he's panicking. He's telling me, "if I can't get work in comics anymore, the only job I'll be able to do is civil service. I'd rather have a bullet in my head." After working with the funny books for so long, sorting mail by zip code may seem like a fate worse than death.

But, what this single-minded investment in comics as a vocation also does, especially on the publishing side, is make people ruthless. If you've been working in comics for for 15 or more years and you're a senior editor and you don't have another skill set, if you've been doing this since you were 20 years old and you've got the big office and all the shibboleths, you are going to do whatever it takes to stay in that job. Because what are your options? If you haven't developed another skill set, and the only editing you know is comics...

imageI remember applying for jobs at mainstream publishing houses after Acclaim Comics went under. And I would show them what I was editing -- Classics Illustrated, Magnus Robot Fighter, Disney Adventures, etc. And I had one interviewer refer to them patronizingly as my "school projects." That is some scary shit.

That's why, after Acclaim, I started studying marketing and advertising. I mean, on my own, buying books. Because I knew that to depend solely on comics for my living was dangerous.

I feel like at the San Diego Comic-Con, when they have these workshops -- they should have one to educate both veteran and new comics people about this subject, about diversifying one's skill-set.

SPURGEON: Your writing is frequently very funny. Who do you find funny?

D'ORAZIO: Bill Maher, Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle, George Carlin, Margaret Cho. I like my comedians angry and smart. I used to be a huge fan of Dennis Miller. I would watch tapes of Dennis Miller stand-up routines when I was a teenager and just be in awe, and try to copy them. I can't believe I'm actually admitting that now.

SPURGEON: How much has writing in a very personal voice with a lot of humor become your natural voice, and how cognizant are you as a writer of achieving a certain effect by playing up those elements when you write? Using humor as you do, do you worry about what you write being dismissed?

D'ORAZIO: I really think that what I write, to a large extent, is my personal voice. My everyday persona is kind of mild-mannered. Writing is my outlet to be myself. To use a superhero metaphor, the writing me is Superman, non-writing me is Clark Kent.

SPURGEON: Are there things -- in comics, out of comics, wherever -- you'd like to pursue in the future writing-wise?

D'ORAZIO: I originally got into comics way-back-when to write comics, and I would still like to do that. At the same time, it is not a driving obsession of mine -- if I can publish some stuff great, if not that's okay too. I'm involved in steps right now that will perhaps take me in that direction. But, having been a comic book editor myself, I take it all with a grain of salt and just try to have a good time. Outside of comics, I would like to develop my comedy-writing skills, maybe write Mad Magazine-type parodies. Or a horror novel. Or a Mad Magazine-type horror novel.

SPURGEON: You seem to draw a distinction between attractive art that employs sex and art that exploits it? Why are such distinctions so often blended and confused in comics?

D'ORAZIO: Well, the forerunners of comic books were the pulps that often had lurid illustrations of half-naked women in dangerous, titillating situations. The histories of those pulp/men's magazine publishers and the comic book publishers are often intertwined. DC's own publishing ancestors were producing that "Spicy Tales" stuff. So it's just a natural progression.

Then you've got the situation where a lot of those "childlike" comic fans/creators I mentioned grow up on the comics, never grow out of them. But have hormones. And then Witchblade is born. It's that simple.

But, I see nothing inherently wrong with these erotic comics. It's just that they are Erotic. They are for adults. It's when I see that imagery in a mainstream comic with no "mature readers" label that I get my hackles up. Or if a comic publisher with pretensions of being mainstream offers nothing but those sexualized images in terms of their female characters. I don't want those T&A comics in the hands of children. I don't want iconic characters like Supergirl or Mary Jane, who have such potential to inspire girls, being turned into sexpots. I think there needs to be boundaries.

As far as what erotica is considered "art" or not... one person's porn is another person's wonderfully ironic artistic masterpiece. I know I've made fun of certain T&A comic artists, etc., and explained why other works are "true art." But, that's a little pretentious. The person who is slaving over the pinup with the engorged breasts cupped by demon hands thinks it's art; him, and the thousands of people who drop money to buy the image. Ayn Rand may disagree. Of course, some people think Rand's work is not "real" art either. We can play this game all day.

SPURGEON: You've written that a feminist point of view in comics is important but at the same I remember you chastising someone for conflating a comics issue with real-world exploitation and abuse. How do you personally negotiate finding a place between over-inflating an issue and the way people blow off issues by declaring "it's just comics."

D'ORAZIO: Honestly, I think I've been a bit pretentious in this regard as well. I don't know who am I to tell people what and what not to feel passionate about. Fandom & computer life has become such a big part of people's lives now. Fans get so emotionally connected to their fandoms. And then somebody poops on their fandom, and they freak out. And I can say, "Well, that's not real-life. Let it go." But then I'm spending three hours on eBay looking at old Popeye memorabilia. At least their passions have a social justice context; mine just involve a sailor with one eye.

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SPURGEON: Is there any issue in the last three years that you think has been underplayed? Overplayed?

D'ORAZIO: I understand a lot of the outrage some readers have about stuff like T&A in comics. But this stuff is never going away. The primal need to look at a pair of breasts is never going away. Now, saying something like "I don't want this cherished comic book heroine to be a slut" or "kids shouldn't read that stuff" or "mixing images of women with sexualized violence can be dangerous" makes sense to me. But take the case of Top Cow's Witchblade. It's erotica. It's like our generation's Vampirella or Barbarella. I can laugh at this or that aspect, but the title isn't a menace that needs to be stopped. It serves a function for men, the same function Laurell K. Hamilton's books serve for women -- the blending of horror/fantasy with erotica.

SPURGEON: You mentioned this briefly, and I thought it intriguing: why hasn’t there been a major-major female comic book creator in North American comics?

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D'ORAZIO: Well, I think there has been major-major female comic book creators -- just not in mainstream comics. I think Marjane Satrapi and Alison Bechdel, just to mention a few, are major comic creators. But the question is, who is going to be the female Grant Morrison? As a fan of superhero comics, that question is important to me. Until there is a female Morrison or Jim Lee or Alex Ross or Alan Moore, until there is a female mega-star in mainstream comics, I think we haven't arrived in that genre. Gail Simone and Amanda Conner are the closest comic creators we have like that.

What is holding things back for my gender in that regard -- is it the gender itself or simply the material? Is it because we are being oppressed or because the work is really not to that level yet?

Readers aren't stupid. When they see the really great stuff, they will react to it. If the stuff is quality, it will last. See JK Rowling.

Now -- might there be a problem for female creators getting past the "gate-keepers" at the comic companies? Is there built-in bias against female creators? It depends on the editor. Some editors are absolute sexist assholes. And some honestly want to bring in more female talent.

Past all those factors -- I think the mega-successful female mainstream comics creator might be the one that can write things male comic fans would want to read. Because apparently at least 75% of mainstream comic readers are men. Maybe it's that sadly simple.

SPURGEON: You just mentioned Satrapi and Bechdel, and earlier you referred to Popeye... so much of your on-line commentary is focused on American mainstream comics, I wondered what your overall comics reading is like. How great a proportion of what you read is devoted to mainstream comics? Who do you read out of the American mainstream? How much manga do you read? Do you read solely for enjoyment at this point?

D'ORAZIO: I would say that two-thirds of the weekly comics I purchase are mainstream, though I do purchase a certain amount of mainstream comics in order to stay topical on my blog. And from those mainstream comics, I'd say half I keep or plan to upgrade to collected editions on, and half I discard in one way or another. I have lost all sentimentality in terms of buying comics for future investment, and so I often bend the covers back and treat the "floppy" editions pretty much like a magazine.

I do try to keep up with the independent offerings; for instance, when I read about Tom Neely's The Blot on your site, I immediately purchased it online and enjoyed it very much. But on a weekly basis, I am sometimes shy to spend $10-25 dollars on one non-mainstream graphic novel, which will only leave me with $5 to spend for the rest of my books. Sometimes, it comes down to the review needs of my blog.

I would say that many of my readers are interested in straight mainstream superhero comics -- and so am I! Consequently, I do cover a lot of those topics. But, I also introduce independent comics my readership might not have thought of, like Jeff Lemire's Tales From The Farm series. And so I'm trying to be a nexus-point between the mainstream and the independent, between the so-called "fanboy" and the feminist.

Manga, I could really use more knowledge of than I have, especially since so many females read them and I'm heading an organization that promotes women in comics. And so I'm trying to learn more about that.

As for reading for enjoyment -- I had stopped reading for enjoyment when I was 16 and had my first job working in a comic book store. The speculation boom was in full swing and everybody was buying comics for investment. I'd pick up comics two, three of each issue at a time and not read them. Working for actual comics publishers actually made this worse -- I was so sick of comics by the end of the day that I had no interest in reading them as entertainment.

It was only when I met my boyfriend that the true love of reading comics for pleasure was reawakened in me. He is very passionate about comic books and that passion was infectious. And he would just sit me down with a stack of comics, new and old, and just say, "Take a minute from what you're doing and just read these." And then we'd discuss them, debate them, take them apart, read what other people had to say, and even rewrite them. It's a relationship built, in part, on a mutual passion for the art form.

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SPURGEON: What's the last good comic you read? What was the last great one?

D'ORAZIO: I really like the direction the Hulk books are going into. Yeah, I realize I've just alienated a bunch of the people reading this. But I do like those damn books. They're just plain old fun. They keep hitting bright green globs of Dumb Fun at me, and I keep saying, "More dumb fun, please!"

The last great comic I read was an advance copy of a graphic novel that should be out by the end of February called Skim by Jillian & Mariko Tamaki. It's a coming-of-age story of sorts, but avoids all the cliches of a coming-of-age story. The art style is like traditional Asian art... used to tell a story taking place in the 1990s. Original in every which way. Why aren't the big-budget places printing stuff like this? Fact is, there are a whole bunch of breakout talents out there, many even with finished graphic novels lovingly displayed in three-ring binders. Why aren't the big-budgets finding these people?

The irony is, a lot of these new young talents, they don't even have working for the mainstream comic publishers on their agenda. They tell me, "I'm not doing some project I don't have my heart into. I gotta do something that means something to me. Life's too short." God bless them.

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* photo provided by D'Orazio
* various Friends of Lulu spot art
* an issue of Shadowman for which D'Orazio served as assistant
* an issue of Magnus Robot Fighter for which D'Orazio served as assistant editor
* Witchblade, an example so nice she gave it twice
* cover to one of Gail Simone's Wonder Woman comic books
* Skim, the last great comic D'Orazio read

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Occasional Superheroine
Friends of Lulu

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