INTERVIEW: Gail Simone Guides 'Blockbuster Update' of Red Sonja, Vampirella and Dejah Thoris
Sunday was a great day. It started off awesomely with a marriage proposal. A young man named Matthew had hired my friend Grant to draw a picture of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for his girlfriend, Lisa, a Buffy fan. When they picked up the commission, Lisa read the word balloons, “Hi, Lisa. Matthew tells me he loves you very much and he has a very important question to ask…”
Happily, Lisa said, “Yes.” Congratulations to the couple!
The first item on my itinerary for the day was Archaia’s panel on Storytelling Through World-Building. During the panel I sat next to a student from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which reminds me of the awesome dinner group that my fellow Robot 6er Brigid Alverson put together for Saturday night. Brigid always collects a fascinating group of dinner companions and this year it included blogger Matt Brady, educator and writer Josh Elder (Reading With Pictures, Mail Order Ninja), and folks from SAIC’s Institute for Comic Studies, like Chairman of the Board of Directors Stanford Carpenter and Director of Academic Programming Beverly Taylor.
Back to the Archaia panel: it was moderated by Archaia’s EiC Stephen Christy, DJed (that is, PowerPointed) by Archaia’s PR and Marketing Manager Mel Caylo, and included panelists Sean Rubin (Bolivar), David Petersen (Mouse Guard), and Jeremy Bastian (Cursed Pirate Girl).
I’m not really qualified to speak to how much practical help the panel was to new and aspiring writers, but for process junkies, it was a fascinating look at the specific work-styles of these three, particular creators. Christy presented the panel with a list of world-building areas like characters, architecture, and culture and asked them to talk about their approaches to each as Caylo showed slides to illustrate what they were saying. Petersen talked about the models he made to help him keep details straight, both in architecture and in things like which leg of a character is the wooden peg. There were lots of slides of his models for library interiors and the tavern from Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard, and he even brought in the model ship he used for Mouse Guard: The Black Axe.
Bastian discussed the extensive detail he packs into Cursed Pirate Girl and how inconsistency can sometimes be a strength in creating a sense of wonder about the world. Rubin’s Bolivar is different from the other two creators because it’s set in New York City, but it still requires Rubin to be familiar with the setting so that the place is as much a character as the young girl and the dinosaur who participate in most of the action.
Since Rubin is the current illustrator of the Redwall book series, it was interesting to hear him and Petersen compare and contrast Redwall with Mouse Guard. Petersen admitted to delaying the debut of Mouse Guard for a couple of years out of concern that people would compare it to Redwall, but went forward with it because he knew his take on mice in a fantasy setting was different from Brian Jacques’ beloved novels. In fact, Petersen intentionally did some things differently like keeping his characters the same sizes as their real-life counterparts. His mice are tiny and fragile in comparison to the larger weasels, snakes, and crabs they have to fight.
In Redwall, the different species live in the same space and Rubin talked about the challenge of illustrating a world in which small mice designed architecture that also had to be useful for larger animals.
Petersen also discussed his initial defensiveness when inevitable comparisons between his work and Redwall came up, but said that he now sees the similarites as a strength and a marketing tool. “If you like Redwall,” he tells readers, “you should try Mouse Guard.”
I meant to go to some other panels on Sunday, but got caught up in something left over from Saturday: the idea from the Future of Superheroes panel that digital comics are the new drugstores/newsstands for today’s children.
The idea presented by the AV Club in their Saturday panel was that digital comics could provide the affordability and easy access that’s needed to allow children to browse and buy their own comics, much like how kids of my generation could when we took our allowances to the local drug store to shop the spinner rack for something cool to read. The problem raised by the AV Club was that digital comics need a credit card to purchase, so how are kids going to overcome that hurdle?
To get the answer, I talked to comiXology’s Chip Mosher, who reminded me that comiXology works through iTunes and that parents can already set up pre-paid accounts so that their children can shop for themselves. Easy peasy. As for price, that’s a longer discussion, but Mosher pointed towards comiXology’s having over 60 million downloads (10 million of those being within the last month or so) as an indicator that current pricing isn’t a barrier to readers’ purchasing comics. In other words, the comics industry not only has its drug store/newstand back; it also doesn’t need “saving” any more. Mosher stressed to me multiple times that “comics are winning”; something I want to explore more in a future article.
Speaking of kids, Sunday is always my favorite day at C2E2 because of the number of children present. There’s a kids’ costume contest that day, but there were also lots of kids just there to enjoy the show and meet their favorite creators. I was impressed with the number of children in line to meet Christopher Jones at the DC booth, for example.
That reminds me of something else I noticed all weekend. Diversity was a huge theme at C2E2 this year with panels on African Americans in comics, women in comics, GLBT people in comics, and people with disabilities in comics. It wasn’t just the programming that highlighted the need for diversity in comics though, it was the people at the convention. So many different races represented; so many women; so many same-sex couples holding hands; so many different kinds of people brought together by a common love for comics. The comics audience has changed and there’s no excuse any more for pretending like it’s all made up of straight white guys. Seeing that diverse audience in such a dramatic way was the single best thing about the show for me.