Gail Simone will hang up her magic lasso with “Wonder Woman” #600, but the DC Comics writer will have plenty of powerful women to write when “Birds of Prey” returns. That’s in addition to her duties on “Secret Six” and her WildStorm comic book “Welcome to Tranquility.” Shaenon Garrity, creator of webcomics “Narbonic” and “Skin Horse,” sat down with Simone Saturday afternoon at WonderCon to talk about her path to writing comics, working on DC’s flagship heroes and C-list villains, and how her past as a hairdresser helped her become a better writer.
Garrity kicked off the panel by asking Simone about her earliest experiences in comics and how she came to write comics herself. Simone described her childhood growing up in rural Oregon, where she was transfixed by the syndicated “Batman and Robin” television series and stumbled across comic books in the local market. Simone instantly connected with Wonder Woman. “This was the kind of princess that I could relate to,” Simone recalled. “She didn’t need a knight in shining armor. She didn’t need a handsome prince to come rescue her. She was proactive. She went out and had her own adventures, and she was beautiful, and she had a crown.”
The cooperative heroes of the Justice League offered Simone a vision of the world very different from that painted by her own dysfunctional family. And she was delighted to discover that Batgirl – who, like Simone, was a redhead – was “cool and strong and sure of herself. And she wasn’t ugly. She didn’t play the wicked stepmother or the nerdy friend.”
Simone said she always wanted to be a writer but was always told that she couldn’t make a living at it. When she had to drop out of college for financial reasons, Simone enrolled in hairdressing school in the hopes of pursuing a “somewhat creative” career. But she cites her work as a hairdresser as one of the key influences on her writing. “I worked with people at all stages of their lives, doing their hair. As silly as that sounds, I go through births and deaths and severe illnesses and divorces and marriages, everything. And so I just know that working with that many different people from different walks of life has helped a lot,” Simone explained.
The writer noted that her journey from hairdresser to comic book author has been anything but conventional. Long before she received her first author credits, Simone was writing mostly on comic book message boards as a fan. When her parody pieces began to attract attention from other members of the online fan community, Comic Book Resources offered her a column, YOU’LL ALL BE SORRY.
When Scott Shaw at Bongo Comics approached her about writing for “The Simpsons” comic books, Simone knew nothing about the process of scripting. “They said, ‘Well, if you could write up 10 springboards and send them in, and we’ll see if we’d be interested in one for a story,'” Simone said. “Well, they didn’t even say that, because I emailed Scott Shaw and was like, ‘What’s a springboard?'” It was the folks at Bongo who gradually taught Simone the process of moving from springboard to script. Eventually, she co-created her own series, “Killer Princesses,” with Lea Hernandez and was approached by Joe Quesada to write Deadpool stories.
Now that Simone has written for Superman and Wonder Woman, two of DC’s flagship characters, one fan asked if she shared some writers’ complaints that these heroes are too powerful and unapproachable. “When I first was asked to write ‘Action Comics,’ I was kind of freaked out because I had sat on quite a few panels with other writers who had been writing Superman and they had said the same things, that he’s too perfect, he’s too powerful, he’s too good, he’s too this, he’s too that. And the minute I threw all that out of my head, I realized, ‘You know, I freaking love Superman and there are so many stories that can be told with Superman just the way he is. He’s been around this long for a reason.'”
Simone described Wonder Woman as the most complicated character to write. “For Wonder Woman, it was that people were more confused about who Wonder Woman is and why she’s not more prominent when she’s one of the three icons.” Simone’s inspiration came from Wonder Woman’s roots. “With Wonder Woman, I felt those first beginning stories that [William Moulton] Marston did were so forward-thinking and so bizarre. They are very bizarre, but you can’t stop reading them, you have to find out what’s going to happen. And she was so proactive. She was an adventurer. She actually chose to leave were she was brought up and defy her culture and go out and have adventures. And so I knew it was important to keep her an adventurer.”
Another fan asked about how Simone approaches writing villains, which she does in “Secret Six,” as opposed to heroes. “I really enjoy the psychology of them, what motivates them,” she said. “And I enjoy what motivates the heroes as well, too, but it’s really fun to get deep into that.”
Simone ends her run on “Wonder Woman” with issue 600, which will be drawn by George Perez. But “Birds of Prey” will return under the “Brightest Day” banner, and Simone offered a few clues to what we can expect. “I’ve created a new villain for ‘Birds of Prey’ right off the bat. Everyone who’s seen this villain is very happy with and very scared by them.” She also described Barbara Gordon as the “911 of the DC Universe.”
Simone will lift her previous moratorium on the main characters having romantic relationships. “I really wanted to show that a book with strong female lead characters could exist, could be friends and work together and not have the catfights and the back-biting and the gossip and the fighting over boyfriends and they didn’t have to have a boyfriend to exist. But I think we’ve proven that, so we have some romances happening for one thing.”
She also describes the new series as edgier than the last and added, “We may push the threat level higher.”
But before Simone moves on to “Birds of Prey,” one audience member wanted to address a particular “Wonder Woman” topic: the gorillas. When one fan asked simply, “Why gorillas?” Simone responded, “Now, the gorillas are amazing. I think you’ve just got to have them in. It’s just that simple. They’ve got to be there. Also, story-wise, it says a lot of different things about Wonder Woman in terms of her tolerance, how she handles it, what would happen when she meets someone in battle, what loyalty they may pledge back, and the respect. The whole thing says a lot. And Wonder Woman, after all, her character is based kind of in fantasy. Anyway, I just think it’s great fun.”
Garrity added, “You shouldn’t be asking her, ‘Why gorillas?’ You should be asking everyone else, ‘Why no gorillas?'”