Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bonnie Burton


Craft Queen Bonnie Burton loves Star Wars, Betty Page, and of course comics! Well known among Star Wars fans for her work online and her popular Star Wars crafting book, she also wrote the non-fiction novels "Girls Against Girls: Why We Are Mean to Each Other and How We Can Change" and "Never Threaten to Eat Your Co-Workers". But when it comes to her work, she is a giddy, sleep-deprived, die hard fan, just like the rest of us. As Bonnie has said, "May the glue gun be with you!"



How did you get into writing?
I've been writing ever since I've been reading! Growing up in a VERY small Kansas town, I didn't have a lot of friends, so books were like magic portals to me. At a young age I wanted to become an author. I would write short stories about mud monsters, killer possessed tractors, talking pastries -- anything that made me laugh! I published my first piece when I was 7 -- it was a poem about gunslingers in the kids section of a Canadian agricultural trade newspaper called The Western Producer. From then on I had a serious addiction to seeing my name and words in print.

I'd enter every essay or poetry contest I could find. In junior high and high school I'd get the Writer's Market book every year for Christmas and send every single magazine and book publisher my writing until one of them finally published my work. I also wrote for my school's newspaper, yearbook and literary magazine. Then I started getting published in teen magazines. I can't stop writing. And I never turn down a writing gig, ever!

How has journalism influenced your writing and writing process?

The more you read, the better you write. In addition to books, I love reading magazines that hire creative journalists to write for them -- whether it's mainstream magazines like Vanity Fair or indie publications like Giant Robot and Bust. Journalists who get their subjects to reveal something new and special about themselves are priceless. But you also have to interject some of your own personality into everything you write. I know that whenever I write feature interviews with actors, directors, authors and other celebs I try to keep them relaxed and talking and entertained. The last thing you ever want is for someone to clam up.


Do you prefer writing non-fiction?

I write a lot of non-fiction -- from interviews with celebs to craft books to teen girl advice books. I love writing non-fiction because it's what I'm most interested in reading. I enjoy reading books on a variety of subjects like forensic criminology, DIY crafts, celeb memoirs, art history, and so on. Whenever I'm writing a book, I always have half a dozen other book ideas spinning around in my head!

Why was it important for you to write Girls Against Girls, a book that hits the touchy subject of bullying?

I grew up in a very mainstream kind of environment. I had a hard time making friends with other girls because I was such an oddball. I was tall for my age and a klutz. I had zero fashion sense other than wanting to dress like Princess Leia for an entire year. I loved Star Wars and Doctor Who. I preferred to stay home and write stories or make crafts, rather than go to a slumber party full of girls who I knew didn't like me.

In high school when I decided to be Goth (we called it Death Rocker back in the day), I'd get shoved into lockers, books knocked out of my hands, untrue rumors started about me, and so on. But at that point, I didn't care if I was part of the popular girl group. I just wanted to survive high school by doing my own thing and go on to the next adventure of college. I dealt with mean girls by channeling my inner bitchy Bette Davis. My comebacks would get wittier and quicker. I would have made a great drag queen!

I wrote the mean girls advice book I wish I had when I was dealing with this kind of thing as a teen. Many of the books that are out there are either for parents or teachers. The books that are written for girls seem to talk down to them or just say "ignore it." Girls need better advice than that. They need to know why girls act mean, and why you should be careful not to turn into a mean girl yourself. I also asked my favorite women like Jane Wiedlin from The Go-Go's for their advice on how to deal with mean girl behavior. 

Would you write a story based in the Star Wars universe?

I'd love to write a Star Wars comic about Ackmena -- the Cantina bartender that Bea Arthur played in The Star Wars Holiday Special. She has sass and moxie. I could imagine writing something like "Cheers" with Ackmena and a Sam character. Not sure who would play Norm… maybe Hammerhead?

Considering your experience with Grrl Zine, would you recommend self-publishing to anyone trying to get into the industry?

I always take the Felicia Day Approach to things. If things don't go your way, make the magic happen yourself. Self-publishing is how you get your work out there for editors and publishers to see. Start blogging your work -- whether it's writing or art. Network with other writers and artists to collaborate on a comic or web comic, art project, novel, zine, web site, screenplay and so on.

I started Grrl Zine because I wanted to take a break from writing online and do something fun with print. It was a great experience to make a magazine from top to bottom -- design, writing, and editing. I ended up making 8 issues of Grrl Zine with a different theme for each issue which included - Alice in Wonderland, Puppets, Drag Queens, Evil Kids, and Lucha Libre. But by creating a zine, I ended up making a lot of friends who also made their own zines like the mad geniuses behind Giant Robot -- Eric Nakamura and Martin Wong. When you create your own zine, you belong to an elite, talented group of creators who take media into their own hands and do something special.

How did you hear about Womanthology and what drew your interest?

My friend and brilliant artist Jessica Hickman asked me if I would be interested in being one of the editors of Womanthology, as well as a contributor. I jumped at the chance! This was a comic book anthology project that touched me personally. I love any project that not only has so many talented women working together for something positive, as well as a project that inspires young girls to follow their dreams. The fact that all the profits go to a charity make it even cooler.
  
What will you be contributing to the book?

In addition to working on Womanthology as the one of the editor to an amazing group of ladies who I think you'll be seeing a lot more of, I got to contribute a comic! For my comic "Lost Treasure," I worked with singer and songwriter Samantha Newark to use lyrics from one of her songs with an ocean theme. Her lyrics inspired me to write a comic about a pirate lady who was on search for something very special. Artist Jessica Hickman took it a step further with her beautiful interpretation of the story. Letterer Rachel Deering gave it that finishing touch that made the comic really pop!


Finally, what would you like to say to up and coming creators?

Never give up on your dreams! If you want to be a writer, WRITE! If you want to be an artist, CREATE! If I listened to everyone who said I could never make it, I would never have published 6 books, written for magazines like Wired and SFX, or landed jobs with companies like AOL, Apple or Lucasfilm. Always remember to be professional, treat others with respect and learn from your mistakes. You have to believe in yourself, keep practicing your craft and try new things. Your life is an adventure, so treat it like one!


In honor of the show that inspired this blog, we'll end with the questionnaire developed by Bernard Pivot:
I love that questionnaire! ;-)

What is your favorite word?

MOXIE! It's the "ability to face difficulty with spirit and courage" as well as having "verve and know-how." I like to think I am overflowing with moxie. I believe in myself and can think on my feet. Challenges can be fun if you approach it with humor and excitement.

What is your least favorite word?

NO! When people say no to me, I always want to figure out another way to turn it into a YES. Life can be full of negativity, so the last thing you want to do is add to that bad vibe. Be positive, laugh in the face of danger and ignore the haters!

What turns you on?

CREATIVITY! I love to see people make extraordinary things out of felt, googly eyes, scraps of fake fur, old socks, pipe cleaners, milk cartons, etc. I am impressed by people who see recyclables as craft supplies. I like to think of life as a giant, non-stop episode of Project Runway. Make it work!

What turns you off?

STATUS QUO! I hate it when people remain content with the usualness of their lives. We're on this planet for such a short time and you should grab every opportunity that presents itself. If someone asks you to collaborate on a screenplay, do it, even if you've never written a script in your life. If someone asks you to help design an evening gown for a horror film, do it! If someone wants you to write dialog for their motion comic, do it! Always try new things!

What sound or noise do you love?
My dog snoring! I know it's funny to say that, but a happy dog means a happy ME! My dog is my stress reliever, and she's a great muse. I've made so many wacky dog toys because of that pup! She inspired me making the Jabba the Hutt body pillow for my Star Wars Craft Book. She even sleeps with it!

What sound or noise do you hate?

Car alarms! I swear there's a parking lot in Hell full of car alarms. Those alarms are distracting, loud and useless. If I was a car alarm creator I'd make an alarm that sounds like a pit of snakes. I really should have been in Slytherin.

What profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt?

Writing and creating art is part of who I am and who I've always been. But if I could do anything else in the world and be good at it, I would love to act. My improv skills are great, but the minute I'm asked to memorize anything I suddenly forget how to read. But I think it would be so much fun to be part of a web series. So who knows? Maybe you'll see more of me online!

I'm also a fan of so many cop shows that I think it would be interesting to be a detective. Though I'm sure I'd be rather queasy seeing a dead body in real life.

What profession would you not like to do?

Nursing! I have a huge respect for nurses. They need to keep their cool with people who are in severe pain. I don't know if I am good in a crisis. I can think of all the ways to outrun a zombie, but I don't know if I can deal with real life traumas.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

"Did you bring the glitter?" After all, we know God likes to craft -- look at us! ;-)


Bonnie writes a monthly column for SFX magazine! Don't believe me? Check out the announcement here and grab a magazine at a local retailer today!

For everything StarWars and, best of all, more pearls of wisdom from Bonnie, find her as an editor at StarWars.com!


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Suzannah Rowntree

Most people are satisfied when they are with one title, but not Suzannah Rowntree. She's editor and graphic artist for Archie Comics, and became the character and concept designer for Jinx, a high school re-imagining of Lil' Jinx. Her creativity is matched only by her generous nature and a genuine love for what she does.

You’ve said you look up the editor when you find a book or comic you love.  Who are some of your favorites?

I really like Craig Yoe’s books. I think I’m biased, because he keeps picking topics that I’m interested in (Apart from the barf book. I will not be buying the barf book.), but the books themselves are beautifully assembled, and contain a good meaty chunk of information in them as well as being nice to look at. IDW’s entire editing team are fantastic. I’m a fan of Shelly Bond’s (Fables, Madame Xanadu, and lots more).  I look up to Carlos Antunes, a Digest Editor here at Archie Comics – he’s got great taste, a great work ethic, and is a really nice guy. 

How did your love of art progress to graphic design? 

I've always been fascinated with color and color combinations. Graphic design really gives you an opportunity to play with color combinations and shapes in a way that a lot of other aspects of the business don't. 

You do the graphic art for Archie Comics. What does that include?

I'm definitely not the only person working on graphic design at Archie Comics. In the past, I've been part of the team working on text pages ("Dear Betty," and ads and such) on the Digests and 32s. Currently, I do all of the graphic design on Life With Archie Magazine as part of my duties as Features Editor on the book. With a few exceptions, I've been the exclusive designer on the title. I've also recently been working on graphic design as it applies to graphic novels as we plan the print incarnation of my Jinx stories. It's different from magazine layouts because the needs of the reader in terms of story pacing and page turning are quite different. I love learning new things, so it's been very exciting.



How did you become an editor for Archie Comics?

I began at Archie Comics as a Production Artist in the Digest Department, and did a lot of cleanup, coloring, and graphic design.  The majority of the workload only shifted to graphic design when we began work on Life With Archie in early 2010.

I was already working at the company as a Production Artist for a year when I pitched Jinx and it was picked up. Becoming an editor on Jinx followed naturally from that, but I didn't get a full gear change until early 2010 when we began preproduction on Life With Archie Magazine, and I became the Features Editor for it.

It's been a lot of fun.  I work under the supervision of Archie Comics President Mike Pellerito and Co-President/EIC Victor Gorelick.  It’s been like an apprenticeship.  I’m very lucky to be learning from them.  

How important is humor in comics, especially for long-standing titles like Archie?

Absolutely essential. Even when dealing with very serious subject matters. If you can’t laugh, what have you got?

What was your inspiration for this "real, not ideal" high school Jinx?

Honestly, my own High School experiences.  When I was a teenager, I didn’t see anything that reflected my real-life experience in entertainment media.  Things have changed since then, but I really wanted to speak to that age bracket with honesty.  Fortunately, the “Li’l Jinx” cast of characters adapted perfectly to that kind of a setup, because they were all originally created with realistic character flaws.


Whose idea was it to have Jinx try out for her high school’s all-boy football team?

That was the idea of our excellent writer, J. Torres. I wish I could take credit for it - I was always trying to prove that I was as good as the boys in High School - but that genius is his.

Any upcoming Archie arcs or special projects you can tell us about?

There’s lots of cool stuff happening at Archie! Life With Archie is poised to become even more mind-blowing in the upcoming year. We’ve got the awesome Kiss arc coming up in the Archie comic book.  Sonic is doing something phenomenal right now with the “Genesis” arc, and Megaman, which was launched earlier this year, has been turning up great stories and artwork. Kevin Keller – who is married in Life With Archie - will be continuing in his own series next year.

How did you hear about Womanthology and what drew you to the project?

I had heard a little bit about the project when Renae approached me to invite me. I accepted not just because looked like fun (which it has been), but because the project was exciting and the charity very worthwhile.
 

As an editor for the project, what have your responsibilities been?

My first priority has been keeping everyone meeting their deadlines and producing their best possible work.  My second priority has been assisting the artists and writers who are new to this, so that their first industry experiences are good.

What’s been the biggest surprise while working on Womanthology?

That I’m learning as much as I am. I’m very grateful – not just to Renae and the editorial team for offering me this opportunity, but to the talent I’ve been working with, for the experience. Thanks, ladies!

Finally, what would you say to any creators wanting to join the comics industry?

If you love what you do and work hard, good things will come to you. 


Jinx artwork drawn by Rick Burchett and inked by Terry Austin
Pencil drawing drawn by Fernando Ruiz.
All Archie images and characters © Archie Comic Publications, Inc.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Samantha Newark

Singer/songwriter Samantha Newark is no stranger to entertainment. As a teenager, she was best known as the speaking voice of Jem/Jerrica, central character of the insanely popular 80's cartoon "Jem". She's all grown up, but still just as loyal to her fans as they are to her. And now she's recording a new album. Her "truly outrageous" voice matches her genuine nature and an honest love of music.

When did you first realize the scope of Jem’s popularity? 

I’m discovering it’s reaching more and more every day, especially now that the show is back on TV again and is generating an even bigger fan base. But initially it was around 2000 that I started going online and saw all the Jem web groups and fan sites and Jem doll collector sites. I was pretty blown away that so many people were still so passionate about the show and keeping it very much alive.  

Did you watch the show?
I watched it a few times during its initial run but I have to say I am having such a great time watching it this summer on “The Hub”. I’m often up early in the morning, so it’s been kind of a fun little ritual to have my cup of coffee and watch a Jem episode. It’s a great way to start my day and also do my homework as I’m asked so many random questions about the series by the fans that it helps to be up on my Jem knowledge.

When did you first start singing?
I have always loved music and loved to sing from the time I was teeny tiny but I did my first professional show when I was 7 with a 4 piece band and was quite a busy little performer from then on.  

You didn't start writing songs until adulthood. What finally inspired you to start writing?
It was Tori Amos. I bought her first album “Little Earthquakes” and it ignited something really deep on a soul level that made me truly and authentically want to express myself as a songwriter as well as a singer. That record changed my life as an artist and really set me on the road.

Have you created songs for any other medium, like television?
I have been fortunate to write and sing original music that has been licensed for film and TV shows. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to be invited to sing on video games like “God Of War”, “Twisted Metal Black”, “Everything or Nothing”, “Wild Arms 3” and would definitely love to have some of my original music featured in some high profile games.

What inspires you to sing and write?
It’s really no less than an insatiable pull to express myself with melody and lyrics and sound.  I’m really just one of those people who can’t not do it. Like people who have to exercises to feel normal, I have to be writing and swimming in music to feel like I’m connected to myself. 

What inspired your upcoming single “I got everything”?
With my single “I got everything” it was just such an in your face kind of feel that lyrically it had to be the same. I wanted the song to just be all attitude and simple and hooky and sexy; it was a fun track to write. I was looking on this record to really push myself to write a lot of up tempo material. A musician friend in the business used to tease me that my songs were always around 85 bpm. I was struggling to write up tempo songs on the guitar because I’m not a good enough guitar player but I was dying to go there. Working with loops helps me write from a percussive place and work with any tempo that moves me, and it has opened up a whole new world of possibility for me as a writer that I am really, really loving.

Why did you start the "I got everything" CD cover contest?
There was going to be a lag in the time I released “I got everything” and when I shot new photos for my brand new album. I didn’t know what photos I was going to use for artwork for the single that would be new and fresh and feel like this new record. Then I thought of all the amazing artists that are a part of the Womanthology project and artists that I have been able to meet at the fan conventions and thought “Why not have someone illustrate me for the CD single?”.  I thought also that it would be fun to do a contest with prizes. “Jem” is always doing contests, so that is where the idea came from. Thanks to Renae for championing the idea, to Amanda Deibert for all her help administrating this contest, and to all the wonderful artists that have taken the time to create and share their artwork for this.
How did you learn about Womanthology? Why did you want to become involved?
I had the pleasure of meeting Renae at a few convention appearances for my work on “JEM”. I was really honored to be asked by Renae to participate in Womanthogy...I said yes initially because Renae is such a cool girl and I wanted to help in any way I could. I honestly had no idea what an amazing project this would turn into and the levity of it.

What song did you choose for the comic?
I chose three songs off my new album that I thought would be a possible fit for the theme and sent them to Renae to listen to with lyric sheets. She then passed them on to the team. I’m not sure who made the finally decision but I’m thrilled that my song “Blue Sea” was the song they chose. 

Who is working on turning your lyrics into a short comic?
Bonnie Burton is the writer that is adapting my song “Blue Sea” to comic form and I have since had the chance to read her treatment. I’m totally blown away; it gave me goose bumps and I can’t wait to see the Illustrations by Jessica Hickson. I’m thrilled to be working with these amazingly talented women. I've never had the chance to be involved in anything like this. It's so cool!! 


What would you say to any nervous up-and-coming creators?
The Creative industry is definitely one with many unknowns. There is not really a formula like a regular career where you work your way up in a pretty predictable way. It’s the big unknown for sure but when you are willing to just show up and learn from people who have what you want and be willing to make mistakes and grow and get better every day at your craft.  If you have a passion and talent for something artistic I really feel you need to find a way to honor that in your life, be it pursuing it as a full time profession or simply making sure that you take time in your day to create and use your gifts and share them. Life is so short and so full of beauty so don’t be afraid to add your unique and wonderful talents and beautiful gifts to the mix. The old sayings of “Feel the fear and do it anyway” and “Dance as if know one is watching”, they are cliches for a reason: They are true and have stood the test of time. So get out there and dare to dream big dreams, and then live them. 


In honor of the show that inspired this blog, we'll end with the questionnaire developed by Bernard Pivot:

What is your favorite word?
Yes
What is your least favorite word?
Hate 

What turns you on? 

Passion
What turns you off? 

Mean people
What sound or noise do you love?
Music and rain
What sound or noise do you hate?
Car stereos where the low end is so loud it distorts and assaults you when you are driving and people chewing with their mouths open
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Paranormal investigator or Kindergarten teacher
What profession would you not like to do under any circumstances?
Fire breather, sword swallower, undertaker
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Hey sweet girl, we missed you, come give us a hug

Want updates on Samantha's upcoming single and album? Check out her official website! http://www.samanthanewark.com/home.cfm 
Can't wait to hear her sing? Her Reverbnation page has videos of some previously released music! http://www.reverbnation.com/samanthanewark

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Truly, Truly, Truly...

Greetings Womanthology fans and newcomers alike!

The past few weeks have been incredible and hectic. Writer and drawing deadlines have come and gone for the 140 women working on the Womanthology stories. Our Kickstarter ended and we earned a whopping $109,301 toward the project. All thanks to you!

All this activity has lead to a lull for the Studio page (as I'm sure you're aware), but things should be picking up again soon. And with our second wind we're bringing in a huge name from television and music! You'll have to check back later for an actual name, but I can tell you it will be "truly outrageous"!

~ Jennifer V ~

Monday, July 18, 2011

Fiona Staples

Brilliant, talented, and just a bit twisted, Canadian artist Fiona Staples is best known for her work in the horror genre. It's easy to recognize her distinctive style, especially her work for Wildstorm. Scott Peterson, editor for Wildstorm, said it best: 

"Fiona Staples is a woman of mystery. She cannot be pinned down. She is the shadow of a myth." 



You went to art college without knowing what you would do with your training. Did it scare you to think of the future?

I'd been working on comics in my final year of school, but still wasn't sure if it would be worth it to try to do it full-time. The idea of making a living doing comics seemed pretty far-fetched to me, so I thought I should try to find some other kind of work, maybe in games. Bioware came to my school to crit our work and asked me to apply. So I applied at Bioware, didn't get hired, and thought, "What the hell, might as well just try to do comics!"

After that point I don't remember feeling too worried about the future, but maybe that's because I didn't have any specific goals to hang all my hopes on. I just thought I'd do what I could and see what happened.  
  
Do you alter your style depending on the project you’re given?

I think I alter things like the appearance of characters and the colouring, but my style stays more or less the same. It's pretty hard to consciously alter your style; I think it just has to evolve on its own over time and experience.

You once said you “may not be ultimately suited to mainstream stuff”. Do you still believe that?

Well, if we take "mainstream" to mean "superheroes," then yeah, I think it's still true. I always enjoy a good superhero story, but I don't have a particular affinity for them. I'm more than happy to dabble in them but ultimately, other genres like horror, fantasy, sci-fi, and mystery are more appealing to me. Maybe someday those types of comics will be mainstream again!


What would be your dream assignment?

Probably to join an archaeological dig someplace exotic and document the excavation in comic form. 

Do you work better as an independent artist or do you prefer contracted work?

For right now at least, I like working under contract with a publisher and writer and editor. If I was left on my own to just do personal work, I don't know what the quality would be like and I don't know if it would ever get finished. 

Can you tell us about any projects coming out soon that we can look forward to?

I've got a big creator-owned series coming up at Image, and we're announcing it at SDCC!

How did you hear about Womanthology?

Renae just emailed me about it one day, and I was interested right away! 

What writer have you been paired with and what story will you be working on?

I'm teaming up with artist Adriana Blake on a six-page fantasy story written by Jody Houser. 

Is it surreal being a mentor and inspiration for so many people?

I've never really mentored anyone, but it's pretty cool to be involved in a project of this scale, that could potentially inspire and encourage lots of new creators!

Finally, what would you say to all the young creators trying to get into comics?

Focus on your craft- getting better at what you do should always be your top priority.


In honor of the show that inspired this blog, we'll end with the questionnaire developed by Bernard Pivot:
What sound or noise do you love?

The chime when you solve a puzzle in a Zelda game.

What sound or noise do you hate?

Children pretending to cry.

What profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt?

Pastry chef, maybe!

What profession would you not like to do?

Being the person who holds the "slow" sign on a road crew.




Want to see some more incredible art by Fiona? Check out her blog: http://fstaples.blogspot.com/

Fiona won the 2011 Joe Shuster award for Outstanding Comic Book Cover Artist! You can see the categories and other winners at: http://joeshusterawards.com/

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Devin Grayson


Devin Grayson fell in love with superheroes after seeing Batman: The Animated Series. Soon after, she made friends with some of the biggest names in comics (names like Denny O'Neil and John Bolton) and was offered the chance to write. Confident, intelligent, charitable, and talented, Devin accepts all questions with grace and answers them with vigor.




Your very first published script was a short in The Batman Chronicles #7 featuring Nightwing. As a fan of Dick Grayson, how excited were you to write for a character you loved?
Beyond excited! Excited to the nth degree! In addition to being one of the greatest gifts and privileges I have ever received, it was the second or third time in my life that I’d been able to essentially will something into being. And that’s not just a heartening, gratifying experience; it’s a spiritual one, too. You reach out to something in the universe and you make a connection with it. The thing I was reaching for was a fictional entity, and to be able to take the obsessive energy of fandom and turn it into such an amazing opportunity and vocation…well, I still think about that moment when I’m down and it never fails to revitalize me. I remain overwhelmingly grateful. 

How has your experience as a stage actor influenced your writing? 
I would highly recommend acting lessons and experiences to anyone interested in fiction writing. Characterization in acting tends to be a physical undertaking, whereas in writing it tends to be a cerebral exercise—but the differences pretty much end there. Both jobs demand an ability to inhabit fictional spaces and beings and bring them to life. In theater, you learn to think in terms of motivation and scene beats; what does this character want and how is he or she going to try to get it? If you can stay close to those elements in writing, you give your characters the chance to move and speak and act in recognizable, relatable ways. Theater really nurtured my interest in and love of fiction as a tool for exploring truth. I no longer have a desire to be on stage, but I still play with fictionalized aspects of the human experience every day.

Do you feel your writing is more focused on characters or events?
Characters, definitely. Sometimes to my detriment. Characterization is the part that comes naturally for me. I have a good ear for human speech and an innate talent for seeing the circumstances and motivations that shape people—my friends joke that my super power is the ability to sit with someone for two minutes and have them immediately confess their darkest secrets. Events for me are often just vehicles to force new reactions out of characters, and I’ll admit that I have trouble ending stories sometimes, because in real life I have no sense of anything ever really ending. In other words, I understand what people do and why they do it, but the forces that shape events—or plots, as we’d refer to them in fiction—are much more mysterious to me. This is a weakness in my writing that I have had to work very hard to overcome. Carefully studying story structure has been tremendously helpful, as has working on monthly comics in which you have to constantly begin and satisfyingly end events. When talent can’t help you, you have to build a skill set.

You’ve written for some of the biggest titles and characters in comics. Is it daunting to take on characters that people know so intimately and have grown up with?
Absolutely. And you go into it knowing that by virtue of some of the simplest decisions you make, you’ll be alienating some of those fans. There is literally no way to make everyone happy, so that’s not what you try to do. I think when we’re at our best, we can hope to use our work on those kinds of characters to emphasize and draw out the qualities we find most engaging in them.  It’s great to hear someone come up and say, “You nailed that character, that’s exactly how I see him.” But it’s even better to hear, “you know, I’ve loved that character my whole life, but I never really thought about [insert character quality here]. That really added a new layer for me.” With such well known characters, too, I think it’s a mistake to take on any to whom you don’t have a personal attachment. For example, I’ve been asked to work on Wonder Woman several times, but I don’t have a personal take on her. And until I do, I think it would be a mistake to engage with her professionally, even though it would, of course, be a terrific honor.

Do you prefer writing for established characters or original worlds?
There’s not much of a difference in my mind. When I’m writing characters of my own invention, by the time I’m committing them to the page I already know them inside and out, and so although I don’t have external editors or proprietary parties telling me what I can and cannot do, I’m still restricted, to some extent, by my understanding of who that character truly is. And as I stated above, I don’t approach established characters until I have that same kind of take on them. Obviously licensed, iconic characters enmeshed in merchandising arrangements come with their own special kind of baggage, and there’s way more wiggle room in your own fictional playing fields. But once you’re deep in the actual writing, the two experiences aren’t that dissimilar.

Several comic book writers transition over to gaming and I’ve read a rumor that you may have done the same?
I was actually a gamer way before I read, let alone worked in, comics. RPGs are another great way to explore fictional characters and I’ve been crazy about them from childhood on. But yes, in the last several years I’ve found myself doing more and more work for the gaming industry.  The script for a game plays out very much like a comic book script, except it’s even easier in the sense that you don’t have to create panel descriptions or even environment most of the time. Level venues are handled by a different team. At least in the work I’ve done so far, I’ve come in pretty late in the process, mostly just putting words in the mouths of characters that are already fully rendered visually. Sometimes all I get is the string files of the game text, and in those cases it’s more a matter of editing than writing. It wouldn’t be enough for me on its own, but it’s a great addition to the rest of the work I do.  

If you had complete freedom to write whatever you wanted, any genre, any format, carte blanche, what that would be?
I really want to do more novels. All my original training is in prose and I feel like I haven’t had the chance to push myself in that format yet. The three books I have written were all licensed characters and done on incredibly tight deadlines—fantastic experiences but not wholly satisfying on their own if I don’t get the chance to do more. I do have several sagas in my head that I’m dying to get down on paper; characters I’ve lived with for a long time whose stories I’d love to tell. In fact, I’m working on a proposal for a group of them right now.
My favorite genre to read is magic realism, but I think I’m probably better suited to straight drama or even YA. I’m actually not very invested in the kind of allegory that goes into super-powered characters and some sci-fi—I don’t think it’s necessary in explorations of the human condition. That said, the proposal I’m currently working on would technically be labeled horror genre so who knows? I just go where the characters take me.  


How much research goes into your scripts?
It depends on how much I’m making up! 
If I’m including an element from the real world—mental illness, for example, or some aspect of science—then I’ll generally do as much research as I need to be able to accurately explain the elements in the script to another layman. Unless my character is supposed to a professional; that’s harder. I’m taking an online course in herbology now, for example, because I’m working with a character who’s supposed to be very good at it. I also have experts check my implementations whenever possible. One of the challenges of writing a character like Batman is that he’s devoted years to intensive study in a wide range of topics…as brainy as some of them have been, I guarantee you that not a single one of his writers has ever known as much about the work he does as the character himself. But you do your best.
I suppose I also gravitate toward subject matter with which I already have some familiarity. But actually, one of my favorite things about writing is that absolutely everything you learn in any context is usable. Research is one of my favorite stages of writing. Right after compiling the story sound track.


You’ve said you don’t follow the comics of characters you've written for after your run ends. Why is that?
As a professional, I do my best to keep current on the story continuity of all the major players, but from a bit of a distance. It’s a little bit analogous to your relationship with the new love interest of your former partner. You’re curious, you wish them the best because this is someone you really cared about, but you’re not exactly dying to go hang out at their new place with them. Losing a book can be emotional, especially one that features a character you have very strong ideas about. But it’s also part of the job.  
I may also have been commenting on the predicament fans find themselves in when they’re reading a story line they hate about a character they love. Usually, it pays to stick it out…the writer is probably going somewhere unpredictable. But sometimes it’s okay—more than okay, imperative—to just walk away from somebody else’s interpretation and stick with your own, even if it’s just in your head. Comics as an industry (rather than a medium) are designed to make money just like any other industry. The decisions that get made are not always in the best interest of character continuity or story structure or even audience engagement. So seriously, if you’re invested in a particular version of a character, don’t let the industry spoil that for you. 

Do you have any upcoming projects coming out that we can look forward to?
Yes, I’ve been working hard on a trilogy of graphic novels, the first of which should debut sometime next summer. I can’t share many details yet but will definitely be blabbing my head off about it as soon I get the go-ahead from editorial. What I’ll say now is that it’s for a company I haven’t previously worked for, and that they’re original scripts based on someone else’s (awesome) books. It’s been a really wonderful collaboration. 

How did you hear about Womanthology?
Renea De Liz contacted me directly by email and explained her vision for the project. Normally, I stay away from stuff that’s explicitly female-only, because normally the female part of it is done as a sales gimmick of some kind, and I think that can often hurt the cause of female creators more than help them. But three things about Womanthology jumped out at me right away: 1) the caliber and range of the people participating, 2) the clear objective of showcasing the work of new female creators by partnering them with experienced creators and 3) Renea’s obvious sincerity of purpose: she clearly and professionally explained what she was setting out to do and was intent on donating proceeds to female-friendly charities. That’s about as far from a sales gimmick as you can get. Later, when she sent me links to the artwork of some of the newcomers she was hoping to support, I was even more impressed. These young women are serious artists with real talent and developed skill sets. There used to be anthologies like this back when I was breaking in to the industry, and I’m delighted to be able to help support one now.   

Any hints about the story you’ll contribute to the book?
The theme of the story is “heroism,” so obviously that leaves a lot of room open for all kinds of stories! What Eugenia, my artist, and I have been discussing are the different perceptions of heroism…we all want to have super-powers and slay monsters, but the business of our day to day lives are also pretty heroic in many seemingly unremarkable ways. So the story explores and contrasts some of those perceptions.

As you mentioned before, you’ve been outspoken against banding women who work in comics together simply because they work in comics, having nothing else in common. What makes Womanthology different?
I think I answered most of this question in the response above, but I’ll add that there’s a huge difference between saying “women creators are cool!”—which doesn’t really mean anything except that you experience them as being a category unto themselves—and “these aspiring creators are cool, and I’d like to find mentors for them.” The first scenario groups us together because we’re supposedly “different” (separate but equal, anyone? I didn’t think so…). The second groups us together so that we can assist and celebrate each other and highlight new work from new creators. I remain deeply divided on the idea of whether or not there are predictable differences between male and female writers, but when it comes to social action, the idea of using your good fortune to help someone who has not yet had the same opportunities is something women band together to do the whole world over. 

Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to aspiring creators?
Believe in and commit to your dreams. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Learn about the realities of the industry you’re aiming to join and develop your skills to suit that reality. And, of course, don’t let anyone tell you can’t do it. If you’re willing to put in the work and the energy, you are already ahead of the game.   


In honor of the show that inspired this blog, we'll end with the questionnaire developed by Bernard Pivot:


What is your favorite word?
 “Bursting.”


What is your least favorite word?
“Pre-existing.”


What turns you on?
Curiosity and imagination.  And a capacity for passion—about anything.


What turns you off?
Small-minded, hateful, self-aggrandizing, faux-religious, unrepentant, money-grubbing, blindly right-wing hypocrites.
 
What sound or noise do you love?
 Rain on glass. And music through good headphones.


What sound or noise do you hate?
White noise and hate speech. And an animal crying out in fear or pain. 


What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I’d love to be a botanist specializing in ecology.


What profession would you not like to do?
Any work that involves toxic components or an excess of biological liquids.


If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Well, first of all, I’d be quite dismayed to find actual pearly gates.  And I also hope and believe that there’s not a god in any traditional sense of the word. If there is, I’d like him to say “okay, okay, it isn’t really working, you’re right, let’s talk.” What I hope about death is that whatever our spiritual essence turns out to be—quantum energy, star dust matter, or even just a conjecture of consciousness—it has some experience of cosmic re-consolidation as it passes out of our mortal frames.






Want more Devin Grayson? You're not alone! Check out her website www.devingrayson.com for other interviews, a comic checklist, and all kinds of tidbits any fan would drool over!


 True to her charitable form, Devin is attempting to collect donations for the EAC to help train new hypoglycemic-alert dogs. Help save a life by donating to the cause! http://wishes.causes.com/wishes/322612?bws=fb_stream_wish

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sarah Litt

"International Woman of Mystery" Sarah Litt is another of Womanthology's secret weapons. As an assistant editor at DC/Vertigo, this self-proclaimed bookworm has edited several titles, including Vixen and The Green Woman.




First thing's first: How did you end up the "International Woman of Mystery"?

HA! I think Will Dennis actually coined that term. I'm not quite sure what I did to earn it, aside from maybe just sitting at my desk quietly. But it's a good title. I think I'll keep it. 

How did comics first enter your life?

I used to read Archie comics when I was younger. Then, in high school, there was Sandman and stuff like that. I stopped reading comics for a while, and then I started working at Vertigo.

You’ve said you always knew you would end up in New York. Why’s that?


My parents grew up in NY; they followed my grandparents when they moved to Florida. So I grew up with what I guess you could call a New York temperament. The kids made fun of me because of the very slight accent I had, because my mother kept her accent. But yeah, I didn't really fit in in Miami, and NY was just a natural fit. I've been here sixteen years. Who knows where I'll end up next.


How would you describe what you do?


My official title is assistant editor. I work on the graphic novels that Vertigo started putting out about three years ago, under the purview of Joan Hilty and Jon Vankin. I oversee a lot of the art, the balloon placements, and of course making sure everything looks and reads the way it's supposed to. I also deal with all of the talent. I've made some very good friends this way.


Why did you get into editing?


I've always loved books and reading. Editing was just sort of a natural fit. It's funny, whenever I run into people who knew me growing up (which happens a LOT), they are never surprised that this is what I do.


Many editors also love writing. Are you one of them?


I used to be one of them. But I had this job as a literary scout, and we would get submissions all the time. And they were bad. Like, a new level of bad. And that's when I realized that maybe being a writer is not for me.


How closely do you work with the writers and artists attached to the titles you edit?


I like to think I work with them closely enough to really get the essence of what they want to do out of them, but still allow them to have their vision. Does that make sense? I call and email and discuss at great lengths various aspects of scripts. I want it to be perfect, but still be a reflection of the creative team. I mean, that's who it's all about. Well, and the readers, but you know what I mean.


Have you ever had to ask for a complete rewrite of a script?


Not a COMPLETE rewrite. But changes. Lots of changes.


How did you hear about Womanthology?


As with most things, I read about it on Twitter. Yay social media. It sounded like an awesome idea. I like awesome ideas. So I volunteered. 

I will only be editing. Unless they want me to draw stick figures. I draw a mean stick figure. 

Womanthology isn’t your first anthology; you also worked on Vertigo’s Strange Adventures. Do you prefer anthologies to standard comic books?


Working as extensively as I have on the graphic novels, I like the break that anthologies give. Plus, it's a challenge for everyone: how do you tell an amazing story in a very limited number of pages.


Finally, what would you say to the aspiring creators trying to break into the comic book industry?

If you're really serious, don't give up. You will hear "no" a LOT. Take time to figure out what your problems are. Have other people read your stuff. Ask questions. But don't give up. It's not easy. But then, nothing worth doing in life ever is. 


In honor of the show that inspired this blog, we'll end with the questionnaire developed by Bernard Pivot:


What is your favorite word?
 
All of them.


What is your least favorite word?

I don't have problems with any words. I think that is key to being an editor.

What turns you on?

Intellect.

What turns you off?

Doucheyness.

What sound or noise do you love?

I have to have music playing all the time when I work. So maybe that?

What sound or noise do you hate?

Screeching children.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Baker or pastry chef.

What profession would you not like to do?

My mom always told us money's money. But I'd go with garbageman, due to my fear of rats.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

ummm. 


Can't get enough Sarah Litt? Check out her tumblr page at http://artandcookies.tumblr.com/


Secret Adventures is out in stores now and definitely worth a look! Get to it!