Kicking Ass Gail Simone Leads the Charge for Women in Comics

Kicking Ass Gail Simone Leads the Charge for Women in Comics
Anyone who has read Gail Simone’s online column, You’ll All Be Sorry! on the Comic Book Resources website (www.comicbookresources.com) knows that her wit is well matched by her talent. Her willingness to mock well-known writers like Alan Moore (From Hell, V for Vendetta) and Grant Morrison (WE3, Invisibles) has helped to further cement her reputation as a no-bullshit kind of gal. After building a loyal following of readers, she was encouraged to send a pitch to Bongo Comics, where she landed a job writing for the series of comics based on The Simpsons and further honed her comic sensibilities.

But it was a rare serious piece of business that most touched Simone. "Immediately after 9/11, I wrote a piece about finding some optimism I hadn’t known I still had,” she explains. "The piece got a massive response, and Marvel requested permission to use it in a tribute book they were doing for the New York Fire Department, called Heroes. They put my words over a lovely painting by Doreen Mulryan Marts, herself the daughter of a retired New York fireman. In turn, our collaboration was sent, with several other pieces from the book, on a tour of malls around the country, and also read aloud at a tribute held for the NYFD and NYPD. A lot of cool stuff has happened since then, but the mail I got from emergency workers who had actually been at ground zero was very humbling and moving. Marvel donated all the proceeds and I’ll always be very proud to have been part of that.”

After the project received this huge response, Marvel offered her the opportunity to take over a title; she began writing the now-infamous Deadpool, which later morphed into the beloved Agent X series. Though Simone left the book due to a conflict with an editor, her work had given the series such a distinctive feel that when it was cancelled, she returned to write its wrap-up issue.

Currently, Gail Simone writes one of DC’s popular titles, the female superhero book Birds of Prey. Although she doesn’t put much credence in the idea that she’s more qualified for the book as a woman writer, she does feel tapped into each one of the Birds of Prey heroines. "I identify with all of the characters I write, or I write them very badly indeed,” she says. "I have some of Black Canary’s impulsiveness and nurturing behaviour. I have some of Huntress’s anger and resentment. And I have some of Oracle’s aloof, disconnected lifestyle, because I work in a teeny office without the benefit of seeing a human being most of the day. Feeling something for the character is vital to hearing their voice in the dialogue — otherwise, it’s just words. There’s always a thought that superheroes are so intrinsically limited an idea that everything has to be bombast and heat vision.”

With the different assignments given to her by both DC (Action Comics, Justice League) and Marvel (Deadpool), she’s avoided being pigeonholed as a "women” writer. "At one point, I felt there was some danger of being typecast, but I have to give full props to both DC and Marvel; they never saw me like that,” she says. "I’ve written Superman, Justice League, and Deadpool (who is essentially a walking penis), among other things, so I have to say I’ve been pretty fortunate. I will say, however, that I do feel most of the female superhero characters are not that engaging, and I try to create new ones that might appeal to girls and women as often as I possibly can.”

Her work with strong female characters led to her being invited to participate in the "Women of Comics” symposium at the upcoming Paradise Comics Toronto Comicon (see sidebar). "[The event organisers] so clearly have only the best intentions; they want to spotlight and celebrate the increasingly vital contributions of females in comics. I can’t find a way to feel bad about that. In mainstream comics, at least on the creative end, women still haven’t got anything resembling parity of influence or output. But on the indie scene, it’s much closer to even. I’d like to see more women involved in every aspect, because this is a wonderful medium, and it could use the expanded viewpoint and appeal a more diverse behind-the-scenes collective would bring.”

Portrayed for years as the weaker sex in comics, female characters are finally starting to raise their voices. Simone is well on her way to leading the comic industry into the next phase by treating the characters she writes with strength, compassion and humour. With the amount of talent she has at her command, plus the balls to say what she feels, Simone is the next great force to be reckoned with in comics.



Women in the Spotlight
With an increased presence of women on the comics scene — as writers, artists, inkers and colourists — the decision to host a "Women of Comics” event at a convention seems like a no-brainer. But surprisingly, organiser Peter Fisico met with a certain amount of resistance when he started to make a wish list of women he wanted to invite.

"A couple of the ladies we initially approached declined to participate because their perception of the event differed from our goal.” Those misconceptions included accusations that it was purposefully excluding men from discussions, and the perception that "segregating” women creators with their own showcase meant they weren’t good enough to compete with their male counterparts.

Nevertheless, the show will go on — the Women of Comics Symposium, held on April 29 in Toronto (the event runs from April 28 to 30), will showcase such diverse talents as colourist Patricia Mulvihill (100 Bullets), Colleen Doran (Amazing Spider-Man, Orbiter), Jessica Abel (Artbabe) and Amanda Conner (JSA: Classified, The Pro).

The event was in fact conceived after an exchange between another Women of Comics participant, Jill Thompson (creator of Scary Godmother), and a mother and daughter at a store signing. "At the signing a mother and her daughter were talking to Jill and were surprised to learn that a woman wrote and drew comic books,” Fisico explains. "After discussing this concept with Jill and getting her thoughts and viewpoints we began to collaborate on names of female creators we thought would be good to spotlight.”

Dispelling the earlier fears of segregation, many of the women featured are also participating in other panel discussions that involve their male peers. A definite blending of the sexes with regards to programming at the convention is part of their agenda. Fisico is confident that it will be a success, but more than that, feels that it should be a mainstay of comics conventions.