Interview: Gail Simone
This last weekend, C!TB attended the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, the largest event of its kind in Western Canada. One of the highlights was meeting one of C!TB‘s favourite creators, the esteemed Gail Simone. Gail is known for her work on Deadpool, Birds of Prey and Secret Six, as well as being one of the leaders in creating and advocating a diverse comics industry. Gail was generous enough to take time from her busy convention schedule to talk about the DC relaunch (where she’s writing Barbara Gordon as Batgirl and collaborating with Ethan Van Sciver on The Fury of Firestorm), the opportunities presented by digital comics, and being told she’d never make a living as a writer.
James: So, any big news recently?
Gail Simone: Are you kidding me? Everything new is happening, are you kidding me? Coming out in September is Batgirl #1 with Barbara Gordon as Batgirl again, and also I’m working on The Fury of Firestorm with Ethan Van Sciver and Yildiray Cinar, I’m very excited about both projects.
Brandon: I may have gotten my facts confused, but Wildstorm is in a wheelchair, right?
G: Wildstorm is in a wheelchair, what? [Laughs]
B!TB: Firestorm is in a wheelchair, I mean.
G: [Laughs] No. You’re… you’re confused.
J!TB: So how do you write Babs differently as Batgirl than you would as Oracle? Is there a different psychology to it that you’re finding?
G: I don’t want to say too much to answer that question because a lot of that is definitely story elements that we want to reveal as the reader’s reading it. She’s still Barbara Gordon, she’s still very much the smart, compassionate, take no crap and kick ass kind of character, just like she was in or out of the wheelchair. There’s a different take on it, it’s all very positive and I feel there’s changes in her that will effect her psychologically a little bit, yes, and we’ll reveal that as we’re going through the story bits at a time how she’s feeling about being Batgirl again.
B!TB: So at the comic store that I work at, for the past few weeks, whereas people in comics to a certain extent will talk comics, when a person goes to the comic store that’s where they have to talk–
G: Right, exactly.
B!TB: So for the last two weeks, a lot of what I find is when I’ve told people about Batgirl, because it is one of the bigger things in the relaunch, is I find first they’re a little, like, “No, no, no,” but actually, when they hear that you’re writing it, they kind of step back and go, “…I will read that.”
G: [Laughs] That is very flattering and great that people will have that kind of trust and I’m hoping that I’m honouring that when they read the work, because we all worked really hard on it, it’s an absolutely stunningly gorgeous book. One of the things we’re seeing is true joy in it and I’m having a lot of fun writing a character that’s just so full of joy even though there may be some bad things going on, so I’m really enjoying that and every panel that Ardian [Syaf] turns in is just a joy. He’s so good with facial expressions and action and the designing of the costumes and the new villains, it’s just all very exciting.
J!TB: Our big site ethos is talk about what we like, and so we like finding the joy in comics so I’m really glad to hear that, because there’s a lot of joy and that it’s fun.
G: There is. I mean, not to say there won’t be things other than joy.
J!TB: [Laughs] It’s all going to be rainbows and sprinkles.
G: [Laughs] Of course! Because it’s a girl book, right?
J!TB: Yeah! [Ed note: No.]
G: The art that they showed yesterday here at the convention for the first time, just a full page of her in the new Batgirl suit, and it’s just so beautiful and so, you could just feel the exhilaration when you looked at that page, that she must be feeling, being able to do that, so I’m excited for people to see the rest.
J!TB: Is it a difficult situation? I mean, there are verystrong opinions on both sides with Babs returning as Batgirl.
G: I don’t know if I would call it difficult, because I certainly understand everyone’s concerns. I was concerned about it as well. I went back and forth on whether this was a good idea and I would not have agreed to it if I did not think that it was a positive thing, that I could hopefully handle it well and do everything justice. There has been a strong reaction and that is such a compliment to all of the people who have worked on Birds of Prey and written Oracle in the past, how she has just really become such a large part of the DCU, and I’m excited about that idea as well, and I think with what we’re doing with the new Batgirl, with her as Batgirl, is every bit as exciting.
B!TB: A lot of people have been skipping over the Firestorm of it all, which makes us sad, because I have a feeling that book is going to be great. Ethan Van Sciver is not a person known a lot for writing, but how does that sort of collaboration work out?
G: First of all, don’t be afraid to pick this book up. This book is something completely different. It has Ethan’s energy; probably the closest thing I can relate it to is the very first issues of Green Lantern with Geoff Johns and Ethan. The stories are huge, large scoping stories that build and build and build, and the way that the project is working is that I turned down the project quite a few times [Laughs] and Ethan literally kept saying, “Gail, no, this is going to be awesome, you have to do this, you have to write it, no, this is going to be awesome.” I was, “No, I don’t want to, I have nothing to say about this character,” and I can’t write a book if I don’t feel like I have something anything to say or something new to add or something, you know? And he just kept saying, “No, it’s going to be awesome,” and so finally, he just talked to me enough and I really respect his work and his ideas enough that I finally sit down and listened. It just sparked all these ideas and he and I went back and forth quite a while and put together a pitch. He’s co-plotting and doing the covers and kind of looking at the art as it comes in – which has all been fantastic – and I’ve been scripting and also co-plotting.
J!TB: That’s really cool! I know I didn’t really know a lot about Firestorm before Blackest Day. [Ed note: Let’s just pretend this was a deliberate portmanteau, how about?]
G: Right, and you don’t have to start with this, either.
J!TB: And that’s the good part about the relaunch. There are DC books that I pick up, but there are a lot I don’t, and now I’m looking at the 52 titles and thinking, oh man, I am going to be poor.
G: [Laughs] That’s a good sign.
B!TB: Yeah, mostly because I am going to sell them all to him.
G: We’re all going to be eating spaghetti for months now and nothing else.
B!TB: Living the high life.
J!TB: So what’s your take on, say, the digital side of the announcement? That’s one thing that I think – I mean, I’m very interested in it and I’ve written about it a few times for the site – but people kind of talked about it that first day or two and then once the announcements and the solicits happened, nobody talked about the digital part of it.
G: I think that’s probably just because of who’s talking loudest on the internet, might not be talking about the digital part. I think a lot of people are really excited about it, the creators are excited about it, and I’m excited about the fact that we have this opportunity now, that we can read an audience, that’s not to take away from our local comic book stores or anything like that. There’s a lot of places that don’t have a comic book store, my hometown didn’t have one until very recently, and so we don’t have access to the comics or we can only go to the comic book store – because this one is an hour and a half away – I can only go every once in a while. Sometimes when I got there the new cool stuff that I didn’t know was going to be cool was sold out. So, if something is sold out, you can get it. If you don’t have access to it regularly, you can get it. You can get back issues that aren’t available. I think that a lot of new readers are so used to reading things via computer, and the way video gaming works, that I think it gives us a great opportunity as creators and readers to put more content out. Like, maybe you are reading along and maybe a story that’s taken place previously is mentioned but you didn’t read that; you could have a little link to that story if you’re interested, or we could tell you more about the city of Gotham or more about Lois Lane, her background. By pushing at different things you can get deeper into the story and deeper into the characters, and I’m excited by that and I think that stuff that’s come out digitally on the DC app on the iPad in particular, which is what I have, is amazing. I think that Welcome to Tranquility in particular looks great on the iPad because it’s got different art styles and panel arrangements, and it just looks gorgeous on the iPad. So I’m excited about that too, and I know a lot of artists I’ve talked to are pretty excited about the possibilities of what they can do digitally as well.
J!TB: I know Tim Seeley has done Double Feature on the iPad.
J!TB: That was so much of a revelation, with the commentary and the different stages of the art. That’s something that you used to get if you got the hardcover deluxe version of something, and now I can see that and it’s wonderful.
G: Yeah! I think it’s great.
B!TB: From the retailer’s standpoint, I get a lot of people coming up asking about it, as to like, “Oh, are you worried? Is everything going to collapse around you?” I think there’s always that thing in, let’s just say our heads – in nerds’ heads – that’s just like, “I like this so much, I need it. I need it to take up space in my life.” Which is what the collections are for.
G: Yeah, and not only that, but to hold it, to interact with it. Some people are not as comfortable doing that digitally as they are with an actual paper cover, and each thing… I see the art come in in stages; I see the pencils, and then I see the inks, and then it’s the colour. Well, at each stage it changes, and it’s still fantastic at each stage clear on up to the final project, and no matter if we’re seeing it digitally or on paper, it’s still going to be great and worth seeing, but it’s not going to be exactly the same. I think if people really love that tactile experience with the paper and the ink and everything and the collecting, they’re not going to give up and just go straight to digital. I think people are going to use it more as a supplement, per se, and then maybe some of the younger crowd, that’s how they’ll get their comics. But I feel it will all still get people to try things that they wouldn’t try normally and then maybe come to the store and buy more of it–
G: –I really think it’s going to have those kinds of effects.
J!TB: I’m interested in seeing what happens with the combo packs.
G: Yeah, I’m interested too, I think it’s going to be well received.
B!TB: It’s… a bit of a tricky situation, because I know on the one hand it’s sort of, well, now you have your comic and you can go read your digital copy, but it’s very interesting to try and figure out what to order, from an ordering standpoint too, because I guess we can order a whole bunch of the regular copies, but does it really, do you order 50 of the bonus packs?
G: Right, and you’d have to talk to somebody more experienced with the comics retailing that I am to help you through that, but I think if people really love something, they’re going to buy a hard copy of it and keep it in good condition and I think they’re going to buy a digital copy with them to carry around and read on the train or the bus or wherever.
B!TB: I’ve had one customer, just be like, “Well, it looks like I’m done,” but that was to be expected. He’s very into, like, he gets his Silver Age collections, those big expensive hardcovers, and he gets the series that he’s been collecting.
G: These things are still going to happen, guys. These products are still going to be available. I don’t think we’re cutting back those types of things at all.
B!TB: And for that one customer that we’ve had, six of seven people will be like, “Well, I need to have half the DC comic books.”
G: [Laughs] I’m so sorry, guys. Not really.
B!TB: It’s a balance. We lost 8 monthly books [from that customer] and gained like… this. [Ed. Note: Brandon’s hand gesture here is too much to show on the internet.] It’s a fantastic market opportunity to go around to the community and be like, “Hey, if you like your Batmen, here’s a new #1 issue of Batman.” It’s everything, across the board.
G: I agree, and I also think that making stuff available, like I said, if you happen to go into a comic book store and you see Issue #4 of something that looks great, and you pick it up and you like it, and maybe your comic book store is sold out of 1, 2 and 3, then they can go back digitally and be caught up story-wise. I think that it’s going to be used a lot of ways and I’m excited to see how in a year where we’re at.
J!TB: I know you started off, as you refer to it, as a depraved hairdresser–
J!TB: –How did you move to working in the comics industry?
G: I actually came to a point in my life where I felt like I needed something a little bit more creative. Hairdressing is very creative and I loved being a hairdresser, but I had aspired to be a writer and possibly a screenwriter or actress – I was really involved in theatre – and then, you know, I had to eat, for one thing, and I was always told growing up that I’d never make a living writing, so I got way sidetracked. I just got to that point in my life where I was like, “Whoa, I need something more creative, what can I do?” and I started listing things. “Well, I certainly can’t draw, I’m not a sculptress, I don’t really sew,” you know, I went through all these things that I can’t do and, “Oh, I used to write, I wonder if I can still do that?” Also, at that same time, we were having comic book chat rooms and like I said we didn’t have a comic book store in my small town, nobody to talk to about comics, so I was going on the chat rooms and I was writing these weird little parody pieces that people thought were funny. They started circulating, and then that led to a column that I had weekly on CBR called “You’ll All Be Sorry!” I wrote that weekly, and that just caught a lot of people’s attention, a lot of editors’ attention.
The first professional comics work I did was for The Simpsons #50, and then I did Killer Princesses and Deadpool and then shortly after that I started writing Birds of Prey at DC. And I had my salon for the first probably 5 or 6 years of my writing career; I’d cut back one day at the salon and add more writing, and then another day, and then eventually… because I was told I couldn’t make a living writing all my life, so I was terrified because I made a living as a hairdresser. So eventually, it just got to a point where I was having to cancel people, I was getting so many phone calls in the middle of doing hair, I was having opportunities to travel, and it just seemed like… and then I was offered an exclusive contract for a decent length of time, and I decided, “If I’m ever going to try to make a living writing, now is the time to do it.”
J!TB: We have one more question: will you adopt us?
G: [Laughs] I’ve adopted the whole comics community, what are you talking about?
J!TB: Well, thanks!
G: I’m not wealthy enough to leave you a big inheritance, so if that’s what you’re going for, sorry.
J!TB: We write about comics for free on the internet…
G: [Laughs] Yeah…
C!TB would like to thank Gail for taking the time to talk with us and for being just as awesome as we always hoped she would be. It was a delight and an honour.