Gail Simone on comics, characters and Asheville

Comics writer Gail Simone has had an interesting past, including an earlier career as a hairdresser. In the late ‘90s, she created the website Women in Refrigerators, highlighting the treatment of female characters in comics. She went on to her own high-profile comics career, with runs on series including Birds of Prey, Secret Six and Wonder Woman.

Simone was the guest of honor at this year’s Fanaticon2 convention. She talked with Xpress about creating three-dimensional superheroes, the value of female characters and a possible move to Asheville.


Simone, seen here with an enthusiastic Fanaticon attendee. Photo by Mary Bynum.

Mountain Xpress: What do you enjoy about working in the superhero genre?

Gail Simone: I enjoy the fact that we can tell a diversity of stories with the wealth of characters we have to draw from. I also like to tell stories where the good guys triumph, [laughing] except in the case of Secret Six.

Where the villains are the good guys.

Exactly.

What are some of the challenges of working in the genre?

You have to use compact storytelling, all the dialogue has to really count. You need to say a lot about the character in a short amount of time, you don’t have time to do long descriptions and things like that.

So you don’t take particular umbrage with characters coming back from the dead, that sort of thing?

I feel like it’s a world that’s constantly in flux. I’m ok with other interpretations and updating or telling stories that happened in the past. I like it all; I like the choices that we have.

When you’re creating a character, hero or villain, what do you try to keep in mind and what are some of the pitfalls you try to avoid?

When I’m creating any character I try to make them as three-dimensional as possible. When I create a villain, I definitely think a lot about what bent them that way, the way their thinking process works, the way they interpret things that happen in the real world or in whatever world they happen to be in, how they respond to it and what their mission is. Why do they continuously do the bad thing that they’re doing over and over and over again?

With the heroes, I try to create things that are current for today’s audience like Black Alice, Misfit, Scandal Savage, the reimagined Catman, things like that. It’s the same thing, they need to be three-dimensional, they need to have purpose. I don’t like rehashing characters that already exist, I don’t want to create a new character when one that exists already will fit the bill.

Early in your career, along with your comics writing, one thing that got a lot of attention was the Women in Refrigerators website. Do you think the problems that pointed to have gotten better or worse since then?

I think the stuff that was happening prior to the Women in Refrigerators website was already correcting itself at the time. I think the site helped more people think about it and bring it more to the surface.

I got tired of people saying things like, “Why don’t girls read comics?” Well, you might want to take a look at what you’re doing to all the strong, female characters that are girls’ favorite characters to read, for one thing.

It’s become a term used in other genres as well. I feel at least there’s some awareness that female characters have value now, they’re not necessarily just to be in existence for the male hero to either vow revenge against someone who hurt the female character or just be a love interest or whatever. Now, they have more value than just that.

You have a very active Twitter presence, how useful have you found that in communicating with readers and fans?

I think any social media is useful. It’s fun to get on, keep in contact with readers in particular. As a writer, you’re very isolated, doing all your work in a dark, lonely office [laughing]. I was a hairdresser before I became a comic writer, so I was used to a social career. This kind of fills that for me as well. I think it’s useful getting the word out, useful getting other people’s opinions about comics in general and I really like the community.

What are some characters you haven’t worked with yet that you’d like to in the future?

I’d like to work with the Marvel family — Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel in particular. Someday I’m hoping to do a Spider-Man story.

You’ve predominantly worked with DC characters, why is that?

I’ve been a DC girl for a long time, growing up, reading DC Comics. I think the main reason that I’ve done most of my writing and work with DC Comics is that they’ve provided an atmosphere I enjoy working in, a diversity of characters to draw upon. Plus I’ve been able to create some new characters that have become part of the DC universe as well. They have treated me very well over the years.

There’s been some criticism on the diversity end, because a number of female and minority characters have been replaced by older, white male versions. Is that a continuing issue?

I don’t know what the plans are in the future for that, but it’s not something I particularly like. I do know we have some new characters created that are coming up to fill that gap.

How have you found Asheville?

I love Asheville. I’m actually, for the first time, seriously considering relocating here sometime in the future. I love it, I need to see it more, but what I’ve seen so far I love.

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