GeekGirlCon ’13: An Interview with Kelly Sue
Interview by AJ Dent, GeekGirlCon Staff Copy Writer
If ever there were an author who’s as much a superheroine as the characters she writes about, it’s Kelly Sue DeConnick. From adapting manga into English to revamping Captain Marvel, her comic book career knows no bounds. We are very excited to welcome her to GeekGirlCon ‘13!
Recently, I had the honor of chatting with her about women in the comic book industry, her collaboration with artist Kelly Rios, and her prolific career.
Are there any particular challenges or flak you’ve received for your reinvention of Captain Marvel?
I know there are people who aren’t into it, but for the most part, they don’t seek me out to let me know. The people who seek me out are the ones who are super into it. So from the beautiful little bubble that I live in, it is a resounding success! [Laughs] I mean, there are things about my own performance I am not happy with, because I’m on a learning curve. I have ten years in the industry, but I only have three years writing original comics. It has been a kind of whirlwind.
I have been very lucky. In 2007 was Eben and Stella, and then my son was born, and I went back to doing very little for about a year, so I had to kind of restart my career again. So it’s really only been three years I’ve been back at it. Ten-plus years as a professional writer, ten years in the comic book industry, but really only three doing this kind of thing, and only one doing a monthly superhero comics. And let me tell you, monthly superhero comics are a grind! I am not particularly gifted at that part of it.
Matt [Fraction] and Brian [Bendis] are both very fast and very good. They’re also both a lot more experienced than I am so I try to take solace in that, but I don’t know how long I get to ride that. I don’t know if I’m getting faster fast enough. I don’t know if I can keep the quality up the way that they do. When I start getting too upset about it, Matt points out that Sandman never came out monthly, and Gaiman was doing just Sandman. He’s one of my favorite comic book writers of all time, and he is not fast either. Now someone will probably hear that and suggest that I’m comparing myself to Gaiman, which is not my intention! [Laughs] This is just to say that better artists than me have had the same problem.
Back in the day you could get away with not being fast enough in a market that insists on being fast, but you cannot get away with it now. But most of my favorite comic book writers working today are crazy fast! They’re just amazing. They keep the quality up, and they put them out like clockwork. I have not figured out how to do that yet, and I say ‘yet’ because I haven’t quite given up yet. But I’m teetering on the edge of giving up! [Laughs]
Have you seen any shifts for women working in the comic book industry over the course of your career? Do any current trends particularly excite or frustrate you?
I think popular culture is reflective of culture in general, and we are having a lot of conversations right now about what happened to the women’s movement, how it sort of fizzled, and how it seems to kind of be coming back again. Unfortunately, I think—and I’ll reveal my political leanings here a bit, as though it was a secret to anyone!—women have been culturally under duress, if not attack, over the last few years, and are certainly starting to respond. And I think that female comic book characters came to the fore and made big strides in the 40s, in the 70s, and again right now—not coincidentally in times when women’s movements was coming to the fore. In the height of the second wave movement in the 70s, in the 40s when women were going into the workplace, it is not a coincidence. So you see this conversation happening a lot right now, in our industry and about our industry and in our fandom.
I think that that is very exciting to me in one respect; in another I do get frustrated because it’s a difficult balancing act. I want to talk about it, it’s something that interests me. As a young woman, I was not aware of having experienced any sexism until I was well into my adulthood, it was probably not until I was married that I was aware of it. It wasn’t until deeper into my career did I start to see, “Oh! Oh, yeah! That’s why that happened!” And so I think that sometimes there are people who have not yet experienced it—and I say yet with unfortunate resign—who do not think that it exists, so I think it’s important to call it out when it happens, as much as you can and as delicately as you can.
At the same time, boy am I sick of this being the conversation! My husband’s gender almost never comes up in an interview. I would say never, but I don’t know, maybe it has come up once, I’m not sure, but I kind of doubt it. When Brian Bendis was invited to write Spider-Woman: Agent of SWORD, no one asked, “Ooh, are you going to be able to write that? You’re not a spider!” [Laughs] You know? “Aren’t you afraid you’ll bring too much masculinity to that character? Are you only going to write about her hitting and punching things?”
These conversations don’t happen in reverse. Although, when you put them in reverse, you can sometimes illustrate just how asinine they are. But I get sick of it. I get sick of the notion that I am “other.” My husband is a writer, my friend Brian is a writer. I’m a “girl writer.” It fucking sucks. I don’t want to be a “girl writer.” I’m a girl, yes, I’m a woman, I’m also a mother, an outspoken feminist, and I’m proud of all these things, but the entirety of my identity doesn’t need to be present in these things. It becomes that adjunct thing—“you are other.” The joke I always make is that I don’t want to be Girl Writer any more than I want to be Lady Deadpool. It’s like, “You are the linguistic Other.” Now watch, the world’s biggest Lady Deadpool fan will write me: “There is nothing wrong with Lady Deadpool!” Missing the point. [Laughs] Missing the point.
So I have mixed emotions about the conversation happening right now, and my role in it. On the one hand, I think it is important, because as much as it may infuriate me, as much as it may at times embarrass me, you know, I think every time I have this conversation is one time my daughter doesn’t have to. Fingers crossed.
What advice would you give young geeks who are interested in working in the comic book industry?
I have so much advice, I can teach a class on it! It’s hard to boil down into a line or two, but the most important thing is to stop making excuses. Any creative pursuit is scary, and you’re not going to be as good as you want to be. You’re probably never going to be as good as you want to be, but if you never start, that guarantees it.
Start making comics. It doesn’t matter if you can’t draw, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have an artist. Do them with stick figures, make mini-comics, use cut-outs from magazines, use pictures, or just start practicing writing scripts. One thing you can try is to take your favorite comic and reverse-engineer it. Try writing the script that would have produced that comic. You don’t need anything to do that except a notebook, a pen, a comic book, and some time.
So start. I get inquiries from people who want to know how to get jobs writing comics, and they’ve not written comics. You know, I’m not going to hire a plumber to fix my sink if he’s only ever washed his hands. Using a sink does not qualify you to build a sink.
So start. Start now. I started too late, I will tell you. I am 43 years old, I have two small children, and I am utterly exhausted. The number of all-nighters I have pulled to keep up with my deadlines is stupid, so don’t do what I did. Start now. I am an idiot: do not follow my path.
Everybody wants to wait until they’re hired, or they say it’s hard to find an artist, it’s all very, very hard. It is all very, very hard. You must do it anyway.
Talk about inspirational tough love! For more life lessons and looks into the works of Kelly Sue, catch Part 2 of our interview with her next week!
Make sure you don’t miss out on seeing Kelly Sue at GeekGirlCon ‘13—buy your passes now!