Kelly Sue DeConnick "..I don't set out to write about angry muses. But then I write about angry muses, you know?..."
Kelly Sue is changing the perception of the comic book industry by writing empowering female characters.
Comics, once thought of only the realm of young boys, are opening up and being more inclusive to all people more than ever. Thanks in no small part to work of Author Kelly Sue DeConnick. She is a force of personality, both in her writing and in person by creating the female leads such as Captain Marvel and Death Face Ginny. She is also an outspoken feminist and promotes women empowerment. She created the #visiblewomen movement on twitter, which helps female comic book gain visibility in the comic book industry. She invited them, through her production company Milkfed Productions, that she runs with her husband, Matt Fraction, to take twitter by storm and tell the world about themselves. (1)
Currently, Kelly Sue is working on the third iteration of the Pretty Deadly comic series. A series that is steeped in magical realism, Americana, and mythology, “Death’s daughter rides the wind on a horse made of smoke, and her face bears the skull marks of her father. Her tale of retribution is as beautifully lush as it is unflinchingly savage.” The final installment of Pretty Deadly #3, issues 5 of 5 is coming out today. Check out amazon or ComiXology.
I had the great fortune of both watching her speak at the local book festival in Portland, Oregon, and meeting her in person. Kelly Sue graciously granted me an interview where we talked quite a bit about her lovely story, Pretty Deadly, and how women are viewed in comics.
BFWG: What’s the difference between your experience writing western style comics versus Manga-style comics and has that influenced you over the years?
Kelly Sue: Yes, so I was writing the English adaptations, so I wasn’t really it was like Dialogue Bootcamp because what you’re doing is if you’re doing your job well, your hand is invisible. You don’t want it to be be done in your style, you want it to be done in the intention of the original author and are into it and research I mean, not just, you know pure like magic channeling or anything. And then you try to support their intentions in such a way the reader isn’t thrown by verbiage.
That they’re able to immerse themselves in the story and so you have to because of the nature of Japanese versus English, Japanese is oriented vertically in English is oriented horizontally, and Japanese is very spare language.
When they add on information it’s only to be polite, everything else is very, very spare so like whereas in English I can’t even remember how many tenses we have an English, but it’s a lot.
BWGB: English is a horrible language.
Kelly Sue: 12 of the 16 tenses in English something like that they have two in Japanese. So for that reason, if you make the balloons bigger, you’re going to be covering more art. So with the adaptation, you are trying to develop distinct voices for various characters. But to do so in not only the fewest words possible, but also in the shortest words possible because of the nature of the shapes of the balloons. So, it’s a dialogue Bootcamp more than anything else.
BWGB: So it needs to be short and tight.
Kelly Sue: Yeah. I think it’s very definitely affected my taste. I don’t know, I mean, I do try to be disciplined about dialogue. I do try to be careful about anything that I’m adding, I’m not super dialogue-heavy, but I don’t think I write in a particularly Eastern way though.
“Girls have always read comics. There’s nothing intrinsically masculine about telling stories with pictures.”
-Kelly Sue DeConnick
BWGB: Is it kind of like the difference between, say, like a minimalistic writer like Chuck, I can never say his last name…(I mean chuck Palahniuk) versus somebody like Stephen King? He is very short, very tight, and as few words as possible versus Stephen King, who can wax extemporaneously about a doorknob?
Kelly Sue: Yeah. You know, I mean, my two favorite writers are two ends of the spectrum. Hemingway and John Irving, which is sort of interesting because either one of them can be kind of problematic with regard to women, but there is connective tissue even though Hemingway is very spare, and Irving is verbose. They’re both incredibly disciplined. So Irving is detail-rich and word-heavy, but on examination, you’ll find there’s nothing extra everything that’s there, every one of those ridiculous details is necessary. It’s not there for flavor. It’s not there for pacing, you know. So I would say the thing that I admire about both of them is the discipline. Interestingly, you would think that Irving would sort of being the more touchy-feely writer of the two, but he’s not Hemingway is, which is also kind of fascinating.
BWGB: I haven’t had an opportunity to read Cider House Rules that’s John Irving, right?
Kelly Sue: It is. My favorite John Irving book, the name is escaping me, A Widow for One Year. I wanted to call it the widow at the end of this book, like that Grover book for a second. I was like, wait, what? It is a widow for one year but probably the most, the best example of the kind of discipline I’m talking about is a profounding meaning. Where literally, every extraneous detail is intrinsic to the outcome of the plot. It’s phenomenal work, Outside of Hospitals is also really good.
BFWG: My second question is I recently read the Refrigerator Monologues, which is based on both the Vagina Monologues and the Girls in Refrigerators. It made me think critically about the role of women in comics as a plot device. How do you think the roles of Women’s in comics are changing?
Kelly Sue: Yeah, I have a thing I call the sexy lamp test, which is if you can take a female character out of your script and replace her with a sexy lamp with a post-it note on it. Your plot still functions then well, usually what I say is then fuck you, but the more polite version of that is then you need to redraft. I mean, I think there’s a thing that happens as a result of our thinking, our sort of cultural tendency to think in terms of the male default that women become device with which to motivate the male character.
So, you know, you broke my lamp. I’ll get you. You know you stole my lamp, I’ll get you. I finished this great escapade. I get this lamp, you know, whatever.
BWGB: Yeah. I can’t unsee it now. You know with the books I read and the comic books I read, I cannot unsee it. It’s everywhere on TV.
Kelly Sue: Yeah, well, I mean, it’s the message that it gives us. Right. It is that your life is not your story.
BWGB: I read somewhere that one of your mentors or heroes in the comic book industry was Warren Ellis, and I get that because he’s also a hero of mine.
Kelly Sue: Oh, yeah.
BWGB: Absolutely, I believe Transmetropolitan to be one of the most brilliant comics ever written. How has his work influenced you as a creator?
Kelly Sue:Transmetropolitan is probably my least favorite of Warren’s work.
BWGB: I think I have read all of his work.
“Yeah, I have a thing I call the sexy lamp test, which is if you can take a female character out of your script and replace her with a sexy lamp with a post-it note on it. Your plot still functions then well, usually what I say is then fuck you, but the more polite version of that is then you need to redraft.”
-Kelly Sue DeConnick
BWGB: Many people haven’t read Fell, it is surprising. It’s excellent.
Kelly Sue: Yeah. You know, he continues to produce good work. Injection, Trees you know, the funny thing about Warren, that people miss, I think is I would argue that Warren is both a comedian and an optimist and everybody gets so distracted by the futurist in him and also the like curmudgeon that you miss that there’s a tremendous heart in there.
Kelly Sue: As to how he has affected, how his work has influenced my work, is that what you mean?
Kelly Sue: I don’t know, I am the worst person to ask about that. I think I have a kind of and I think this is pretty common actually, I think I have a kind of mirror blindness where it’s really hard. I can’t answer questions about what I was thinking. I can answer questions about what my intention was, although sometimes I’d rather not because I think that the work should stand on its own and if my intention is not clear, maybe I haven’t done that well enough. You know, or it’s deliberately ambiguous in which it is sometimes the case.
So I want to start writing a novel next year, right? And I have five different sweater threads of novel ideas, and I’m trying to decide which one and I talked to this group of friends of mine about it and one of the women that I was talking to, was like and in my head, these ideas are all wildly different, like totally different, plot-wise different, audience-market different. And then she looks at them, and I am like, even before I get them all out like interrupts me to tell me how they’re all the same. You know, and it was like it, I didn’t see it. I did not see it. I wouldn’t have seen it in a million years. I think there’s an interesting thing about most of the writers I know we think we’re infinitely….Like we have this wide range, you know? And we were like, all over the place and usually we’re always picking at the same things from different angles, you know? My husband never sets out to write about dads, but he always writes about dads (BWGB Note: Kelly Sue’s Husband is author Matt Fraction. Fantastic writer of notable works such as Hawkeye and Sex Criminals. Check out his work) , you know…
BWGB: One way or another.
Kelly Sue: Yeah. I don’t set out to write about angry muses. But then I write about angry muses, you know? You just kind of have your thing, I don’t know, it’s really interesting. Yeah, yeah. I mean, because you’re, you’re always trying to like, you’re trying to dig into the place where you feel the capital T-truth where you feel kind of unsafe that’s the place that you’re steering towards. And you know, and we all have these kinds of sore spots that we’re trying to figure out.
Yes, we always tend to get pulled towards them from different angles. But I’m sure someone else could look at my work and be like, Well, hey, Dummy, here’s Warren’s influence, but I’m the wrong person to ask about guys. Oh, no, me and Warren are wildly different, you know. Probably we’re not, probably were exactly the same, except for, you know, the stuff that we’ve written together which in the most fun about that was, we were legitimately playing a game, overtly playing a game where the things I was trying to write things that people would think was Warren and Warren was trying to write things that people would think was me. And there are a few of those spots where it’s like, hey, we got that was me or whatever, you know.
BWGB: That must have been a fun exercise in writing!
Kelly Sue: It was actually, I mean, silly, but yeah, but they’re pretty fun.
“Yeah, well, I mean, it’s the message that it gives us. Right. It is that your life is not your story.”
-Kelly Sue DeConnick
BWGB: Congrats on the third Pretty Deadly! We have jumped forward in time to the roaring 20s. What made you select this decade is the newest setting? Similarly, what made you select a major war and the Old West for the previous arcs?
Kelly Sue: So, I was very deliberately trying to work through the mythology of America.
BWGB: Yes, there is nothing more mythological than the Wild West.
Kelly Sue: Yeah. So the Wild West is sort of the birth of that idea of America that the western mythology you know, we still, it’s were referred to as “The West,” you know. Yeah, in the cowboy aesthetic is so much a part of Americana and then and then we’re sort of working our way up. So that was the late 1800s. The early 1900s was World War One, and then we’ve moved into it’s actually 1933 for; I don’t know if we ever stated anywhere, so it’s not a big deal. But then we’re looking at Hollywood in the 1930s. Because again mythmaking and the idea of America and America presenting the story of itself. So you got to talk about Hollywood, right? Yeah. So as we’re working through the history of America, we’re also kind of being playful with a comic book genre and the history of comics, and so we do a weird Western, we do a war comic, and this one is murder mystery war.
“…I didn’t see it. I did not see it. I wouldn’t have seen it in a million years. I think there’s an interesting thing about most of the writers…”
BWGB: The silent film type right.
Kelly Sue: Yes, but like for the genre. It goes a weird Western comic, war comic, romance comic. And then I don’t know what the fifth one is yet right now we’re just calling it a literary comic, which is kind of a bullshit term doesn’t mean anything.
BWGB: You’re not going to go to space or anything?
Kelly Sue: I don’t think so. I think Emma would quit. Yeah, when we first talked about it, and when I moved through time on this, she was like, I can’t remember where she put her foot down. She was like, I don’t want to get into World War 2. I was like, Okay, I think it was World War Two was where she was like, I’m like, Okay, fair. Done. It’s perfect because we’re going to end coming out of the Great Depression, which is sort of when Americana, like the myth of the West, changed irrevocably, sort of perfect.
BWGB: The last question I have is actually just a fun question. If you were going to have dinner with three other creators and or characters from stories, who would they be and why?
Kelly Sue: I think I think if it were my characters, I would want to hang out with a sissy If so, I’m going to do three of my characters it would be Sissy from Pretty Deadly, Penny from Bitch planet and I think the two of them would get along well, by the way. Yeah. And then for the third, maybe Tick from Captain Marvel. So I thought we’d be a tight little dinner party.
Beth Tabler writes for Before We Go Blog and Grimdark Magazine. She is an avid fan of science fiction, fantasy and graphic novels. You can find her here on twitter.