While Studio Phoenix has become quite popular with many fans, from the work of Ray Snyder and Drew Johnson on "Wonder Woman" to writer Dan Jolley's numerous & acclaimed projects, there's one member of the team they'll all tell you is the coolest: writer Marie Croall. With her first major solo arc set to hit in November on Devil Due Publishing's "Voltron," based on the popular 80's cartoon series, Croall took some time speak with CBR news about the story.
"The theme of my arc is teamwork. I really wanted to get into why each person was there and what they brought," explains Croall. "They are all trained soldiers and fighters (yes all of them) but beyond that there is something that they each contribute, from Lance's ability to defuse tight situations with humor to Pidge's quick thinking and innovation. I really wanted to explore those aspects of the characters. As far as getting Dan [Jolley, regular writer] off the book, he was working on 'Joe/ Transformers 2,' 'Firestorm' and 'Bloodhound' and sorely in need of a break, and I pitched a good story and everyone agreed that it would make a nice fill-in. I think it's a good starting place for new readers. It picks up right where issue 10 ends, or about an hour later, and goes into how the team deals with suffering on a personal level. I think it's the character work that makes it accessible to new readers."
As co-plotter of "Voltron" along with studiomate Jolley, Croall knows the characters very well and will be showing that breadth of knowledge with a focus on the series' female protagonist, Princess Allura. "The whole arc really focuses on all the women of 'Voltron,' but Allura more than the others. Allura has all these things in her past that make her a bad-ass, but she never really shows it. The combination of royal upbringing and massive loss have made her into a strong independent woman who has been looking for a way to save her people. The catch is that now that she has one, Voltron, her planet is more threatened than ever. I love characters who are in a tough situation, it gives the reader something to relate to."
If Croall was to take over the series again for another arc, she has definite ideas about who the focus would be and admits that while she likes all the characters, they all don't speak to her as a writer. "There is one Drule in particular who I just adore. I got to play with her a little in this arc, but I'd love to work with her again. I'm reluctant to name any names, there's an element of surprise involved. I'm not sure that all of the leads are creatively enthralling to me. Mark Waid is doing back-up stories with Zarkon, and while I couldn't find a way to make him interesting, Mark did. Same thing with Dan and Lotor. I think there are always going to be characters that I will be more drawn to and in my perfect world, I'd stick to writing them. That being said besides my mystery Drule, I'd love to do an arc about Lance -- he seems so second-fiddle to Keith, that would be fun to play with -- and Pidge. He can program any system, but can't get things off a high shelf [laughs]."
Since the beginning of the ongoing series, Croall has been co-writing with Jolley on a monthly basis and says that their work relationship is strong. "We do occasionally 'debate' over dialogue or character direction, but for the most part we see eye-to-eye. We always take a different approach for each project. For the first arc of Voltron, he did a draft of the plot, then I came in and put my spin on it. He did the scripts then we went over them and fine-tuned them together. For 'Lone Wolf,' our first project, we did the plot together and then I did the first draft of the script and Dan fine tuned it."
Some readers and reviewers have dismissed "Voltron" as a "nostalgia" book or a mindless book for children, but Croall believes that if one reads the series, they'll see that isn't the case. "I'm proud to say we've taken Voltron in a direction the cartoon never went. While it is an all-ages book, the emphasis is on the 'all.' We don't write for kids, we just write what the story dictates. If a ship blows up, people die. We just don't focus on it. As far as people's reluctance to try it, I do think the all-ages tag has given it a bad rap. The funny thing is the level of violence is about on par with Geoff Johns' 'Teen Titans' or Chuck Austen's 'Action Comics.' It's all about perception, and changing people's perception is a long, hard battle.
"The appeal the series has is due to the sweeping space opera setting. It's got magic and technology, civil wars and romance. This is not a book about five magical robotic lions, it's about the cost of war; there just happen to be magical robotic lions in there."
As visitors to the Studio Phoenix message board are aware of, devotion to "Voltron" is hard core even though it seems as though the series isn't a "buzz" book, something Croall chalks up to, "The nostalgia factor, I think. A poster on Newsarama said he couldn't do 'Voltron' without being able to hear the announcer's intro from the cartoon. I also get the impression that a lot of retailers aren't carrying the book. I can't tell you how many people have been surprised that there's a Voltron book."(The image in the background has been intentionally obscured so as to not spoil the identity of the villain in the story.)
Alitha Martinez also guest pencils Croall's arc and the writer says, "I'm glad she's here. She's got her own spin on the style Mike Norton and E.J started."
Don't think that Croall is limiting herself to just working on "Voltron"- she has some other exciting upcoming work that she's happy to tease. "I've got a short story in the October issue of 'Vampirella' that focuses on Ophidia, one of the members of the World's End Circus. It's just a fun little tale of snakes and dismemberment. 'On the Job,' my 'Metal Hurlant' story, is a quaint tale of a serial killer, once again involving some dismemberment."
There's a lot of discussion online about the treatment of women in superhero comics, from creators like Gail Simone or Devin Grayson, and Croall has her own thoughts on the matter. "I don't want to be a bitter vengeful shrew, spewing bile from my laptop, but there's so many things that bother me about the way some writers portray women. The two biggest flaws to me are on opposite sides of the spectrum, the first being what I've heard called Man-With-Boobs syndrome. There you have a woman who is completely indistinguishable from the male characters in the book by means other than her D-cups. Men and women process information, think and speak differently. Comic characters should reflect this fact. The other is the idealized woman. The one who is written the way her creator would like women to be and not really a reflection of how women truly are.
"On the other side of things I've seen a lot of women complain about the physical depiction of female characters. I don't get too excited about that anymore; while it's not an ideal situation, I've just come to accept that with few exceptions fictional women are all going to be thin and gorgeous. There's not a whole lot of guys out there that look like Thor either.
"I don't really want to speculate about why creators do the things they do. I just try not to make equal mistakes of my own. I don't write a lot of male characters; I don't get men, so I'm not comfortable trying to think like them for too long.
"Sometimes it's discouraging to see the attitudes represented by fans, retailers and other pros on-line and at conventions. Once, at a convention, I was doing a 'Voltron' signing for Devil's Due. I had this nice name placard with my name and 'Voltron' on it and all the books I did were laid out really nicely in front of me. Dan was sitting behind me talking to someone when this pro walked up and, while waiting to talk to Dan, tried to make small-talk with me by asking if Dan 'had me in tow' for the weekend.
"As long as people assume the women at shows and shops are only there as accessories there is a problem.
"We need to get more women writing comics. It's the first step to getting more women and girls to read comics. I think people pay a lot of lip service to that concept but don't really reach out and take action. It's very much an everyone-doing-what-they-can type thing. I spend a lot of my time trying to get comics covered in magazines that are read by teens and grown women, and I run a women-only discussion on the forum at Studiophoenix.com. I just want to do my part to make this industry approachable for women."
Doing her part may just involve writing some superheroes, if Croall has her way and she has in mind exactly who is most creatively appealing. "I would kill for a chance to write some of DC's more tactical women like Katana, Batgirl and Lady Shiva. I enjoy the way the legendary fighters see the world. At Marvel I love the Scarlet Witch and the women of SHIELD. The women who struggle the most appeal to me the most."
There's also some top secret work going on with Croall and while she can't spill details, she's happy to offer a teaser. "Soon I should begin working on a project that is as far from superhero comics as possible. In it I get to tell a story that's been in my head for over four years. Stay tuned for details."