MANIA: There aren't a lot of women who grew up reading comics. I lived in a small town, so I always was kind of looked at with raised eyebrows when I went to the newsstands or 7/11s and got my comic books. When you were buying your regular reads, did you ever get any strange looks or people who tried to point you in the direction of Tiger Beat or something deemed more "girl worthy"?
GAIL SIMONE: I kind of contest this notion. I don’t know that it’s true that girls didn’t read comics, even when the material produces was clearly aimed completely at boys. But I think girls were more casual about it, perhaps, and less likely to attend conventions and such, and so remained less visible. Certainly, I had a few people who discouraged my comics reading, but in general, since I read everything I could get my hands on, comics were just sort of part of my compulsive reading anyway.
MANIA: I also remember being something of the outsider in school because during free time or reading time, I would pull out a stack of Justice League of America , New Teen Titans or Batman comic books to read. What did your friends think of you being a superhero fan?
SIMONE: Honestly, I don’t remember being alienated, or caring, even. I was a pretty bull-headed kid, so what other people thought wasn’t really a big concern, I have to admit. Some editors say I still think this way, unfortunately!
MANIA: What was it about comic books that held your attention, got into your blood and became a part of your future?
SIMONE: Ah, great question. The truth is, I love almost everything about comics as a medium. I love the feel, the format, even the smell of new comics is fun. I love how the short page count meant a high velocity of story-telling, you know? Bam, second page, the Joker’s murdering someone and the Batmobile is racing down the streets of Gotham. That high-energy was really something of an entertainment oddity back then, something you’d only see in imported kung fu films, which usually lacked the compelling characters and plots of comics.
And it wasn’t just superheroes...the funny comics had to be funny WHAM in the first page, the horror comics had to have the icky stuff going on by the fifth panel or so. I love all that, and I think in our rush to tell more ‘adult’ stories, we’ve gone too far in the other directions. Comics CAN tell entire issues where people just talk over coffee, but I am baffled by anyone who really wants that in a superhero comic. You can have fantastic character moments without tying an anchor to the bullet train as so many comics today seem to do.
Comics have the crazy oufits of, say, wrestling or classic opera, they have the intense long-term story elements of a daily soap, and they have the amazing fight scenes of the best action films. I adore them and I don’t apologize for them at all. The depth of the variety of material out there rivals any other medium, really.
MANIA: I know you were a big fan of Barbara Gordon. When you were reading comics, who do you think were some of the creators who really helped define the character and make her more than just the typical female hero on the page?
SIMONE: Well, the story where Barbara was shot and crippled, she was really nothing more than a prop, a common treatment of female characters at the time. Again, there was a belief that there was no such thing as a female comics reader...people like you and I didn’t exist in their minds.
But the brilliant Kim Yale and John Ostrander picked up the character and made her into a brilliant master computer operator and one of the most fascinating characters in comics. From there, Chuck Dixon did wonderful things with her in his Birds of Prey run.
She’s fantastic because even just sitting in a chair in a dark room by herself, she’s tremendously compelling. The DCU without her would be a much less interesting place.
MANIA: I agree. How does it feel for you to have people tell you they think you're one of the best writers to add new mythos to Barbara Gordon?
SIMONE: I’m always amazed anyone wants to read my stuff. It seems very personal and made to fit my own interests and beliefs, so it’s always a bit baffling to me that others seem to be energized in the same way. I have felt absolutely embraced by the industry at all levels--the creators treat me as a peer, the publishers have been enthusiastic and respectful, and the readers, Jesus, I have no idea what I’ve done to deserve readers like this. I know a lot of women have experienced very rough times in the business at least partially because of their gender and my heart goes out to them (and I get furious to read some of the stories they tell), but my experience could not have been more different.
MANIA: When you were pitching Birds of Prey, you mentioned elsewhere that your original pitch for the series is what got you the job, but that DC didn't want you to do anything that was in that pitch -- that you basically had to start over again from scratch once Editor Lisa Hawkins hired you. What was your original pitch like?
SIMONE: First, Lysa Hawkins is a fantastic editor, one of the most inspiring I’ve ever worked with, and it was a bitter blow when she had to leave DC and the book. The editors since, Joan Hilty and Mike Carlin, are also wonderful people and great editors, two of the best in the business and I’m crazy about them. But Lysa was the one who made me want to take the book. She had a way of pumping out supportive vibes that was really quite special.
She also was perfectly willing to tell you when she hated something, and she hated my first pitch. That’s fine, you need that in an editor. And she was right. I was trying to continue on in the vein of the two previous fill-in writers, and that’s not what the book needed, talented as those guys are, brilliant, really.
Ed Brubaker and Geoff Johns had both personally steered me to ask about pitching for Birds of Prey, as I’d just left Agent X and really had no mainstream work lined up at all. Their encouragement to a newbie really gave me courage. But the thing was, I didn’t want the book. As much as I loved Babs and the Black Canary, I felt certain I’d be doomed to be typecast as a writer of female characters.
But Lysa was persistent, and finally I realized, what the hell, I love these characters...why SHOULDN’T I try to write them?
So I did the pitch, and it was a little bit Gilbert Hernandez and a little bit Terry Moore, and not much Gail Simone. Lysa didn’t like it, but she’d read Killer Princesses, and knew I could hit a lot harder than I had in that pitch. It was about some gifted mutant kid hackers who had the power to take Oracle down. Yawn.
So I came up with a different approach, a story that I felt would break Black Canary down so bad, that if she survived it with her full ballsy attitude intact, she could survive anything and would never be thought of as a hostage again. That was "Of Like Minds," where the main character spent almost the whole story tied to a bed with her legs broken.
And Lysa loved it, she called and said she was dancing on a table. I’ll tell ya, there’s something to be said for an editor who dances on the table. My editor at Wildstorm, Ben Abernathy, is another great editor in that vein, enthusiastic and committed to story. I’ve
been very fortunate.
MANIA: Yes you have! I know that was a few years ago, have you incorporated anything from those initial ideas you had about the series into it now?
SIMONE: Oh, sure...the villains from that discarded pitch sucked, but to be brutally honest, we’re still dealing with the large character questions, the stuff that fascinated me, from those early issues and pitches.
MANIA: Some people were surprised to see Black Canary leave the pages of Birds of Prey. Was this something DC wanted to have done due to her involvement in the new Justice League or was this something you wanted to do just to mix things up a bit in the pages of BoP?
SIMONE: It was a mandate, but DC couldn’t have been more respectful. They offered to let me tell the upcoming BC stories, which I declined to do for various reasons. Dan DiDio has always been a huge supporter of the book, almost from day one. It’s a compliment, really, because in his words, we had made Black Canary into a bigger, more important, figure in the DCU, someone that could really hold her own instead of being a sidekick/eye candy/hostage.
As for the story, Black Canary is my favorite to write, and I could write her endlessly, so it’s a bit sad to see her go, even temporarily, but the writer in me knows that this means possibilities of story. If you take Bop from my first issue right up until Dinah leaves, it’s really one long arc...the Trials of The Black Canary. It’s a story where she finds herself in a crappy, awful situation and vows never to be there again. She trains to be better, with some of the worst people around, and each level she steps up, she has to dig a little deeper into her soul, to where she very nearly gives up her own sense of self, to be at that almost magical level of gift and talent. We got to resolve that as intended, and it’s a huge sigh of relief to me that our experiment saw its completion. And I think it worked...Dinah is treated differently now, as a big-hearted but extremely dangerous character. I think it took, if you know what I mean.
MANIA: How will the other members of the BoP be dealing with Dinah's decision? They've been friends for so long, it seems like it might be tough for them to move on without her being there?
SIMONE: Especially for Oracle, and in fact, she finds herself flailing about a little bit. Huntress loves Dinah, but is used to people leaving her. Oracle is...a bit at a loss. At first.
MANIA: Obviously Black Canary was a favorite of many of the BoP readers, how are you planning on filling the void? Which Bird will you have step up to the plate and hope that readers find just as engaging?
SIMONE: This is a fun, fun time for Bop. For years, people have been begging to see their favorites join the team. With Oracle’s new rotating roster, virtually any crazy choice is at least a possibility. Barda in particular is hugely fun. Manhunter’s in this story, and some other favorites are coming that I can’t spoil yet, but I’m REALLY excited about. It’s just fun stuff, Mission: Impossible for superchix.
MANIA: What have been some of the challenges you've faced working on this particular group of characters and keeping them fresh, entertaining and relevant after so many issues?
SIMONE: Just that you have to keep digging, you have to keep shining the light on different parts of their characters, but that’s a huge reward for the challenge, really. Oracle ISN’T perfect, Huntress is NOT remorseless, you know, you have to get beyond the sound bite.
MANIA: What's coming up for the BoP in the New Year?
SIMONE: 2007 is a huge year for guests in the book, with so many cool heroes and villains...you’ll just have to use your imagination. But it’s a lot.
MANIA: Awesome! You're not just working in the mainstream DCU, though. How is going from the group dynamics of the Birds of Prey to the group dynamics of the WildStorm's Gen13 different for you?
SIMONE: Oh, it’s completely different. A big part of the Gen13 dynamic is that they literally NEED each other. They’re on the run with nothing, and the whole world is after them. The Boppers are much more in control, and much more about planning and subterfuge.
MANIA: When you're working on a team like Gen13, how tough is it for you to make sure each member of the team gets the right amount of "face time" in the book -- because every character is someone's favorite ....
SIMONE: It’s not really tough at all...the characters all have voices and they want to be heard. We’re doing issues that focus on one more than the other, but it’s a nice balance and I love them all, the whole group.
So no worries. In fact, I think we’re giving Burnout and Rainmaker a focus that they usually didn’t have previously.
MANIA: How do you take what you used to enjoy the most about Gen13 and incorporate some of that into your new take on the series so that it's new, but still has some of that flavor that attracted its original audience?
SIMONE: I’m going to get in trouble here, but the truth is, I wasn’t reading comics much when the Gen13 kids were popular, so I missed a lot of that phenomenon. But I’ve gone back and read a ton of them and what strikes me is that the kids had star power. They don’t need to be ‘re-envisioned completely,’ as they’re great characters as is. But I did feel that trying to recapture that exact vibe would be commercial and creative suicide. I felt more could be said about the fact that they’re actually teenagers, and some are deep into geek culture, and that’s all fascinating stuff. Truthfully, I love them, flaws and all. It’s a book I’m hugely proud of, and I think it has an unexpected kick if you keep an open mind.
MANIA: What are your goals with Gen13? If people several years from now are talking about this incarnation of the team, what do you hope they're saying?
SIMONE: That it was unique, that’s all. I’m not a fan of re-creation as much as creation. I wanted to share these cool, interesting characters with a new generation who might only know them from covers and pin-ups and such.
MANIA: How about a few teasers for what's coming up in that series?
SIMONE: HUGE showdown with the Tabula Rasa characters, a visit from another WS super-teen team (NOT what you expect but I’m telling you, you’re gonna laugh), and a visit to a small, quaint, quiet little retirement village known as Tranquility, wink wink!
Some cool guests, too.
MANIA: That's always fun. What's the difference between working in the mainstream DCU and WildStorm?
SIMONE: Mmm. The DCU has a greater range of toys and history to play with, and the WSU has more open space to build new stuff. Both are a blast. I never thought I’d enjoy the WSU as much as I am, and the DCU will always be my favorite fictional setting.
MANIA: You've got another WildStorm project in stores now, what was the spark that initially inspired Tranquility?
SIMONE: That’s interesting...it was about seven years ago, and as I recall, Mark Waid was being offered a creator-owned book, I don’t even remember the details. And he mentioned it to Tom Peyer and I, and this was before I wrote professionally, I believe. We each came up with a couple ideas, and I came up with Tranquility whole that night, weirdly. Some of the characters from that little mindstorm actually waited all that time to appear. I told Tom about it, because I didn’t think Mark would like it, and Tom told Mark, and he said, “That’s an idea so good I may have to kill you and steal it.”
So I figured I was on to something. Sadly, it was so long before I got the chance to put it out to the public that this Eureka thing came along, and I guess there are some similarities. I still haven’t seen it. But I highly doubt there’s anything like what this book is going to be. It’s one of my favorite things ever. It’s funny and sexy and scary and goofy and awful, all rolled into one. I was born in a small retirement town and I live in one now, and it’s something we really haven’t seen much in comics.
MANIA: Why did you want to do this with all new characters - albeit some that may seem reminiscent of existing characters - instead of setting this 45 years from now and using some of the established characters in a kind of Elseworlds type tale?
SIMONE: Ack, the best part of the writing, the very best, is making new characters and trying to make them come to life. It’s heaven. Trying to find something new about an established character is fun, too, but a town full of crazyass ideas I came up with myself, that’s just a joy to get to do.
MANIA: This really seems like one of those types of comics that would be a lot of fun to write -- like your possibilities are limitless, or limited only by your imagination. When you are the creator of something like this, and you could do anything and everything, how do you narrow it down and focus on now, when your mind must be thinking of a million things?
SIMONE: Because the truth is, if you do the work correctly, it’s exciting to see someone buy a newspaper, or have a corn dog. Tranquility also has my first real murder mystery in it, and they have to be told with UTMOST care. Tranq takes twice as long to write as any other book I do (with the exception of the equally difficult All New Atom), but I’m delighted with the results. And Neil Googe, the artist, is brilliant.
MANIA: For those who haven't heard much about Tranquility yet, who are some of the main cast?
SIMONE: The set-up is a retirement town, a beautiful haven a bit like Mayberry, where retired heroes and villains go to live in peace. The main character is Sheriff Thomasina Lindo, a non-powered, tough, kind young woman who loves the town’s citizens and does everything she can to protect them, in every way, not just physically, but also their reputations as some of them sink into the darkness of extreme old age.
But there are dozens of other fun characters, including Maximum Man, a former accountant who turned into Earth’s mightiest hero with a single secret word. But he forgot the word in an accident, and now reads aloud from dictionaries of the world, trying to find his word again.
MANIA: How might this be different from what one expects when seeing your name attached to a project?
SIMONE: That’s really for readers to say...I always try to put my heart into whatever I write, whether it’s a prose story or a Superman/Pepsi online tie-in. I think the readers deserve the best I can do, no matter what the project. All I can really say is I love this book, it offers unique charms, I think, and I hope people give it a try.
MANIA: What other projects are you working on?
SIMONE: Secret Six concludes this month, but there may be more very soon. I did a Black Alice one-shot for the Dr. Fate event that I like very much, and the rest, I can’t say yet!
But I do want to give a couple shout-outs to some amazing artists I’m working with; Nicola Scott, future superstar for sure, on Bop, Eddy Barrows and Mike Norton on Atom, brilliant guys, Talent Caldwell, who just does the Gen13 kids brilliantly, Brad Walker on Secret Six, one of the best villain artists ever, and finally, again, Neil Googe, who has done amazing stuff with Welcome To Tranquility.
Hey, I SAID I was fortunate!
You can learn more about Gail Simone's projects by visiting DC Comics [LINK: http://www.dccomics.com ]
Jennifer M. Contino is a lifelong comic book fan who writes about the industry daily at http://www.comicon.com/pulse.