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The Mary Sue Interview: Gail Simone Talks Pulp Women and Badass Match-Ups in Swords of Sorrow

"It’s all the toys, all the best toys."

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Gail Simone’s latest comics project, Swords of Sorrow, from Dynamite, drops tomorrow! The Mary Sue had the chance to speak with Simone in anticipation of Issue #1. She gave us her thoughts on the appeal of female pulp characters, whom she’d like to see get an ongoing title, and the state of women working in the comics industry.

Teresa Jusin0 (TMS): Tell us about the origin of Swords of Sorrow. How did this project come to be? Was it an idea you had, then brought to Dynamite, or was it something that you created together?

Gail Simone: No, it was sheer trickery. Dynamite publisher Nick Barrucci knows I’m a sucker for crossovers, he knows I can’t resist them. And he knows I love a challenge, doing things I have not attempted before. So, like Gandalf bringing the dwarves to Beorn’s house, he started talking to me about this crossover event, all female characters from all over the pulp spectrum, and I got more and more into it.

I started suggesting things, “You should do this!” and “What about this?” and then I realize he had snookered me. I asked who was writing it, and he said, “Well, we were hoping YOU would.” Base trickery.

But it totally worked!

TMS: The female characters you’ve chosen are so random! Vampirella and Red Sonja make sense in the same world – but Jungle Girl? Lady Zorro? Why did you decide to be so broad in your use of characters? And will we be introduced to additional female characters as the series goes on, or are the ones introduced in Issue #1 the ones we’ll be following?

Simone: They DON’T make sense together, that is really the fun thing about it. When I was a kid, action figures were expensive and rare around my house, so Darth Vader ended up playing with Barbie and G.I. Joe, and when you’re a kid, that makes perfect sense. It’s fun, so who cares?

That’s what I wanted to bring, that sense of pulling all the toys down from the shelf and having them mix up their accessories.

The interesting thing for me was, once you get past the obvious differences in background, how perfectly the characters end up in their interactions. Irene Adler and Dejah Thoris really DO have things to say to each other, and Marguerite Bennett found a way to make Sonja and Jungle Girl actually communicate in a meaningful, funny way.
It’s all the toys, all the best toys. Throw them in an arena, I say.

As for who you follow, lots of cameos and obscurities show up, issue one is just setting out the main players. Pulp fans, comics fans, and Dynamite fans might end up playing Where’s Waldo? a bit, but it won’t affect casual readers.

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TMS: We know there’ll be spin-off titles focusing on individual women in addition to the main Swords of Sorrow story. Do you think there’s a chance for any of the characters who don’t already have their own solo books to continue on after this event? Which characters who don’t/haven’t already had one do you think deserve an ongoing solo book?

Simone: Oh, I hope so. Here’s what the idea was… there were so many possibilities, that it just couldn’t all fit in six issues. Seriously, that’s the truth of it. I wanted to see some of these matchups, but they would take up way too much real estate in the main story. Vampirella vs. Jennifer Blood? That’s, you know, Elvira meets the Sopranos. I want to read that, let’s give it room!

So I asked all my favorite current female writers who provide what I feel is some aspect of a modern pulp sensibility. Erica Schultz writes great espionage, Nancy Collins writes great horror, Marguerite Bennett’s heroines are at once very modern and very classic. So I wanted to bring them aboard with the notion, “what if the pulp hero tradition had always been inclusive of females in a much larger way?’

And then we matched two improbably characters and had them go at it. Maquerade and Kato, Dejah and Irene, this stuff was just so fun to read, let alone be part of.

I am really hoping people want to see an ongoing Irene Adler book. And I would love to read more Lady Rawhide. I hope this gets the readers who read Ms. Marvel and Batgirl interested in these great heroines who came first and kicked ass.

TMS: Between you and Kelly Sue DeConnick, among others, it seems like female comics creators are going out of their way to lend a hand up to other female comics creators. Do you think that’s true? When we’ve spoken to female writers in other mediums – like film, for example – it seems like that’s less the case, and we hear that women are still too afraid to help each other in the film industry because of that hardwired need to survive and maintain a career in a male-dominated business. Have we finally gotten to a place in comics where female editors and writers help each other more readily? And why do you think that is?

Simone: Most of these women don’t need my help, they are already killing it all over the place already, but yeah, in some cases, I definitely wanted to help showcase some writers who are doing great work. They don’t need me, they don’t need this project, but if it helps shine a little light their way, that is delightful. They are women breaking down barriers and that’s a big deal to me.

Mairghread Scott is crushing it on her Transformers work, Emma Beeby is the first female to write Judge Dredd in history and is awesome, Erica Schultz is an amazing talent doing awesome work, and Mikki Kendall is a noted science fiction author and activist whose writing really speaks to me, doing her first comics work. This is a group you want to take into battle!

Whenever I get even a tiny bit of leverage, I try to use it to open the door a little bit for others. I am doing okay, I have exposure, I would rather use that moment to try to create opportunities for comics to be better and more inclusive of everyone. It just feels like the right path for me. I can’t explain it any better than that, I like to see worthy people succeed. I love success stories.

I do know that when I started, several women I really admired were less-than-encouraging and it really stung. They felt me getting work meant they would get less work. I did vow never to be that person. And I should stress, women like Nancy Collins, Devin Grayson, and Colleen Doran were never anything less than 100% supportive. It was just devastating at the time, I don’t want that cycle to continue.

This feels like a better way, everyone trying to raise all the boats. Who knows? I am just making things up as I go along like everyone else.

TMS: What do you hope people take away from reading Swords of Sorrow?

Simone: Oh, the same thing I hope they got from Birds of Prey, and Wonder Woman, and Red Sonja. That there’s no real limit on what female characters can be in comics. They can be strong and weak, funny and dour, compassionate and cold, they can be all the fun things and the strong things and the bad things.

I really hope that people discover that there have been worlds full of these awesome characters for as long as there has been adventure fiction. Female heroes is not a new idea, it’s just one that’s been tossed around in the storm for too long.
Mostly, I want people to love these characters the way I do.

We’ll be reviewing Swords of Sorrow Issue #1 on The Mary Sue tomorrow!

(image of Gail Simone via Loren Javier)

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