When Dynamite Entertainment retooled its long-standing “Red Sonja” monthly comic book series with “Batgirl” writer Gail Simone at the helm, the popular female creator was vocal about both her love of the red-headed barbarian and her excitement at working with an all-women roster of cover artists, including Nicola Scott, Collen Doran and Fiona Staples.
Now, just in time for the fortieth anniversary of the character, Simone and Dynamite are bringing readers the all-female written five-part anthology series, “Legends Of Red Sonja.” Featuring the talents of comic book creators like Devin Grayson, Marjorie Liu, Leah Moore and Kelly Sue DeConnick, the anthology also goes beyond the world of comics, bringing in bestselling fantasy authors such as Tamora Pierce (“Tortall” series), Mercedes Lackey (“Heralds Of Valdemar” series), author Meljean Brooks (“Iron Seas”), video game scriptwriter Rhianna Pratchet and horror author Nancy Collins (“Vamps”).
With the first issue hitting stores this week, Simone spoke with CBR about the anthology, the legendary comic book, prose and video game talent she’s assembled to tell tales of the She-Devil with a Sword and the enduring appeal of Red Sonja.
CBR News: I know when we spoke in March about you taking on “Red Sonja,” you mentioned that you had ideas for bringing in more women on the creative side. When did you first come up with the idea for the all-female creator written “Legends Of Red Sonja” series?
Gail Simone: It was right away, nearly. We had come up with the idea of having all the covers of my monthly “Red Sonja” run being drawn by female artists, and the results were just delightful and spectacular. It made everyone happy to see; Diamond, Dynamite, retailers, readers, it was just that fun.
So I thought, man, what if we did that, but with female writers writing short stories? And because Sonja has an anniversary, her 40th, coming up, this seemed a perfect way to celebrate.
Looking at the names you have lined up, it’s a veritable Who’s Who of female comics creators, like Devin Grayson, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Nicola Scott, etc. How did you decide on what creators to include in this Red Sonja anthology series?
It’s way more than just comics, that’s a big part of the fun of it. And it’s selfish, I’m sure, but I exclusively chose people who;
1) Loved comics, and
2) Did work that inspired me.
It’s just pure greed. I grabbed my favorite writers like trading cards. The amazing thing is, all these incredibly busy women pushed aside whatever they were doing to do this. I had this fairly long list, because I was warned that most people I asked would be too busy, knowing their workloads, but I didn’t get to those names on the rest of the list, because everyone just immediately said yes, to my delight.
I am incredibly proud of the team we assembled, it’s ridiculous. Tamora Pierce? Kelly Sue DeConnick? Mercedes Lackey? In one anthology?
We put together, in a short afternoon, a list of talent that should make any comics or prose publisher weep with jealousy. That makes me happy.
As you said, you’re working with big names from the fantasy novel and YA world, like Tamora Pierce and Mercedes Lackey. Why did you want to reach out and bring these famous fantasy novelists onto “Legends?”
Well, in both cases, I love their writing, that was the big thing.
But they both love comics, and it just seemed ridiculous to me that these prose titans and the other prose writers we grabbed, weren’t making comics. They love comics, they have huge fan bases, why isn’t anyone connecting those dots?
When CBR spoke with Marjorie Liu about her contribution for the title, she cited being a childhood fan of the movie Red Sonja. While you were compiling the series, did you find that many of the writers you spoke with had a similar deep love for the comics and film heroine?
A surprising amount, nearly all of them, had some special Sonja memory. The one that struck me is that Nancy Collins’ most famous creation, the cool vampire Sonja Blue from her Bram Stoker-winning novel series, was actually a nod to Red Sonja in the first place. I had devoured those books, they’re fantastic — and I never made that connection, even though it’s obvious when it’s pointed out.
Talking about the anthology specifically, how will each issue be broken up? Will you be teaming up and co-writing stories with any of the writers?
The way it works is, I am sort of the de facto story editor. I gave the writers all a series of documents outline a framing story and the characters in that story, and then each writer sent a plot for a short story, a ‘legend,’ that fits in our overall arc.
A huge team of the world’s deadliest mercs and killers, have been sent on an honor killing mission to get Red Sonja. Along the way, they are told legends of the woman they follow. Some narrators are not telling the whole truth.
Then, it was a matter of the writers writing their stories, and I often did minor tweaking (with permission) to make the stories all fit together. It was lovely. Not a single diva moment from anyone.
It was a lot of work, but the Red Women (as we were calling ourselves) were, without fail, lovely and professional and helpful.
Will any of these stories tie-into your main “Red Sonja” arcs, or are they all stand-alone tales from her past and future?
There is definitely going to be a bit of crossover fun. You do not have to buy both series, it’s not that kind of thing. But at least one character from this anthology will be showing up in the ongoing.
Are you working with all female artists on covers or interiors as well?
No, we felt that was the fun of the ongoing book. We have to give some guys a chance! Most of the artists, but not all, for the anthology are dudes, super-talented dudes. I don’t know who we can announce, but there are some names in there you are going to know, for sure. Jack Jadson is doing a great job on my framing story, holding it all together. And the brilliant Carla Speed McNeil is in issue one!
Right now, you have five issues planned. Would you consider adding more if other women creators wanted to contribute, or if there’s a huge demand for more stories?
Oh, I’d love to. There are so many women who wanted aboard after the space was filled, and women we didn’t get to ask yet. I’ve love to have Ann Nocenti, Christy Marx, Rachel Pollack, Alex Di Campi, Caitlin Kiernan, Nancy Collins, Barbara Kesel, Becky Cloonan, Kathryn Immonen — lots more.
But even more, I’d love to see this format be used with other characters. It’s a lot of fun — would love to see something like this for the Green Hornet, or any of a dozen other characters.
To end, what’s been the biggest thrill and challenge for you, both in terms of putting together “Legends” and as writer for the main “Red Sonja” series now that the first issues are out?
With Legends, it’s a few things. First, getting a-list artist Nicola Scott’s first actual script. Second, getting the first ever comics from Mercedes Lackey and Meljean Brook, and third, possibly the nicest benefit, bringing back three of my favorites, Nancy Collins, Tamora Pierce and Devin Grayson back to comics after they had all been away way too long. That just makes me giggle to think about.
They’re having a blast, I am hoping, hoping, hoping it means we’ll see more comics from all of them.
With the Sonja ongoing, the thrill is just getting to write one of the most badass characters ever created anywhere. And that’s not hype, that’s just the truth of who Sonja is.
I am lucky.
“Legends Of Red Sonja” #1 hits stands November 6.