May is the official month to celebrate Women in Comics (though I don't think there'd be any objection to making that a year-round fest), and Dark Horse is leading the way with several of their female comics creators featuring here on Bleeding Cool throughout the month. This week we talk to one of the most interesting women in comics (and that's no exaggeration), a trained zoologist, former zoo-keeper, co-creator of original graphic novel Heathentown from Image/Shadowline, writer on Boom's Planet of the Apes, co-writer on Dark Horse's Star Wars: Legacy series, which focuses on female lead Ania Solo, and the upcoming Dark Horse series Deep Gravity. Corinna Bechko is all of these things and takes a no-compromise approach to following her own star.
Here she talks with Bleeding Cool about her career history, what she thinks of Star Wars: Legacy heroine Ania Solo, and why there are still fewer female creators in mainstream comics than there ought to be.
Hannah Means-Shannon: How did you find yourself writing comics? Was this before, after, or alongside other types of writing for you?
Corinna Bechko: It's not easy to make a living doing creative work, and comics are no exception. My first book was a horror OGN called Heathentown, published by Image/Shadowline, which I did with Gabriel Hardman. I had written prose up to that point but we wanted to do a comic together and this story seemed to lend itself to what we had in mind. After that we worked on several Planet of the Apes stories for BOOM! and I gradually found that commuting 3+ hours a day did not jive well with coming home and writing after doing a full day's labor as a zoo keeper, which is a very physically demanding profession. I've been writing comics full time for three years now.
HMS: Did it occur to you that there were fewer women than men in comics when you first started looking for comics work? What were your thoughts on that at the time?
CB: Definitely! It's hard to miss that fact, especially since I've been going to conventions for years so I knew my way around the comics scene even before I considered this as a career. That said, I didn't consider it an impediment. One of the things I love about comics as a medium is the ability to tell all sorts of stories, and that means all sorts of people should be making them. I was excited to be one of those people.
HMS: From your blog I see that you're a massive fan of strange wildlife. Have you found ways to bring that into your work in comics?
CB: I have a zoology degree and have spent most of my professional life working with wildlife in one way or another, so it's probably no coincidence that most of my writing also features animals in some way. I love doing stories that include monsters or odd creatures, and I always try to approach them as if they could be real. This has been great fun in Star Wars: Legacy, and also in the upcoming Deep Gravity miniseries for Dark Horse, since both require me to imagine what animals shaped by totally different evolutionary processes would be like.
HMS: What's your proudest moment in comics so far?
CB: Seeing a story I've made up, translated into words and images, and then into a physical book, has never stopped seeming magical to me. The day I came home from work and saw the box full of fresh copies of Heathentown waiting for me might take the cake though. It turned out beautifully and I'm really proud of it still.
HMS: Can you tell us a little about co-writing Ania Solo as a character and how she was created? Was it particularly appealing to you that you were going to be writing a female lead?
CB: I was really happy when we were told that our main character would be female, but we weren't told anything else about her other than the fact that she shouldn't have Force abilities. We had complete freedom to make up everything else, including her supporting cast. We started from the idea that we really wanted the series to feel like the original films, but we didn't want to repeat the stories or the locales. From there we just tried to make her a relatable character who was recognizably a Solo.
HMS: You've said in a previous interview that Ania is "not a traditional bad ass female lead". Could you explain a little whether you think "traditional bad ass" is limiting for female characters or why it's important that Ania is not?
CB: It can be fun to have those tropes but it can also become a cage that doesn't allow the character to grow or change. We felt it was important for Ania to be able to have flaws, weaknesses, humor, and warmth. She needed to be able to make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, or choose to disregard them. A lot of that isn't possible when a character needs to constantly be cool and infallible. Plus, it's more fun to write about someone who seems like an actual person.
HMS: Why do you think there are fewer women working on comics produced by large and mid-sized publishers? How do you think readers can help to promote change and more diversity?
CB: I think a lot of it comes down to the corporate culture of any given business. People tend to hire people they know and trust, and often those people look just like they do. It's a legacy issue too. "That's the way it's always been" has a powerful hold, even if people don't realize it and don't actively mean to perpetuate it. It's very interesting to me that Playboy, where I used to work, had many more females in managerial positions than any comics company I've ever heard of. Say what you will about the way they portray women in their magazines, they still made a point to find the most talented people to run their offices, regardless of gender. In my opinion it's a waste not to do that.
As for readers, vote with your dollars! Try something new, don't just read what you've always read because you've always read it. There's a lot of great stuff being made right now, and if you aren't actively looking for it, you might be missing out on your next favorite book.
Star Wars: Legacy #15 arrives in shops on May 28th, and keep an eye out for Deep Gravity (featured below), out July 30th from Dark Horse!