Gail Simone is the celebrated writer of Birds of Prey, Batgirl and Red Sonja, but her path to success was a very unique one. Arvid Nelson chatted with the writer to talk about her career plan or lack there of and what she is working on now.
ARVID NELSON: One of the things that fascinates me about you is your career path. I loved reading You'll All Be Sorry on comicbookresources.com, and I was sorry when it ended, but I was delighted to see you start writing comics. Was transitioning into comics writing the plan all along, or did it just "sort of happen"?
GAIL SIMONE: I have never actually had a plan for my career at all. When I was writing that column, it was very satirical of the comics industry and made fun of all the most powerful players… if I'd been hoping to find a way to break in, that would have been possibly the worst imaginable way to do it. And it followed the Women In Refrigerators site I spearheaded, which I'm sure made me even less popular in some quarters.
I never thought I would become a writer, that seemed a faraway dream. I even resisted several opportunities prior to the one I finally accepted, an offer to write for the Simpsons comic book. I couldn't turn that down.
But no, there's never been a plan. I have just worked hard, and been fortunate.
AN: You're writing Red Sonja now – what's it like transitioning from super heroes to fantasy? Sonja's outfit has been described as sexist, not without reason, but what's your take? What are your thoughts on Sonja as a character? I mean yes, she has a tragic, Batman-esque origin story, but is there more to her, and if so, what?
GS: That is a lot of questions!
Adventure stories are adventure stories, whether the character holds a batarang or a crossbow. The idea is to tell a thrilling story that still somehow also speaks about human truths. My first Sonja arc dealt with a lot of things we are still dealing with today; bloodsport, torture, the abuse of power, epidemic viral illnesses, that kind of stuff is still all with us, even on a larger scale. Sonja is pretty relevant, in fact.
Her outfit, I find that what matters most is who draws it, who writes her. She can be written well and posed like she just walked out of Penthouse, that is a problem. But her standing fiercely in battle among other half-naked warriors, it makes a huge difference. The readers know when something is nonsense fakery.
But to me, she is one of the root female asskickers, and a thousand imitators owe her a debt that they will never repay. She made her own way in her own adventures, and that made a lot of readers very hopeful, and maybe a little bit stronger, inside.
AN: Birds of Prey – justly, I might say – made you a much-beloved writer of comics. You've said it was hard when your run on the series ended… and then you came back! How did that feel? Did you ever expect to return, and when you did, did you have a lot of pent-up ideas?
GS: Again, I never have a plan, and I had to be convinced to do it by Geoff Johns himself, who stated very simply and effectively why BOP was an important book for comics, beyond just being fun to read. I thought taking the book again was going to be stepping backwards…but I missed the characters so badly that writing them was a sheer pleasure.
I always miss characters when I leave a book, regardless of the circumstances.
AN: Your writing has a lot of substance, but it never lacks for levity. Is balancing serious and funny something you consciously strive for, and what inspires your sense of humor?
GS: I don't ever feel like it's something difficult to balance. Cops tell jokes, soldiers tell jokes, it's a coping mechanism. Often, I know people would read, say, Ragdoll's comments and laugh, which is good…but to me there's another level there, the pain and tragedy that made him how he is. His comments seem random to the reader, but it is actually how his brain works. Some of his funniest comments make me sad every time I read them.
Humor is an important seasoning in drama, I think.
GS: Sure, but I do feel that now publishers and creators are at least aware that there is a female audience. I was there, asking this question, and I know for a fact that many people in the industry simply did not believe women were reading comics in significant numbers. And it showed, in how the female characters were handled.
Now, it would take a serious denial to ignore the female readership, and I do believe it's made a difference. Nearly every company is attempting to upgrade the quality of their female character representation, and that is lovely to see.
I think of Red Sonja, they got a great artist, they got the best female cover artists, they let us do Legends of Red Sonja as an anthology with some of the biggest names in female creators, and that' s just one character. It's lovely to see Dynamite put their money and resources where their mouth is like that.
More on Red Sonja by Gail Simone.