DeConnick Takes "Supergirl" to School

This June, DC Comics' "Supergirl" will be going to college, compliments of "Sif" and "Osborn" writer Kelly Sue DeConnick.

The second woman to ever write the Girl of Steel's self-titled series (star of the 1984 "Supergirl" movie Helen Slater lays claim to being the first), DeConnick will helm a three-issue arc, with artwork by ChrisCross and Mark Deering. Best known for her work at Marvel Comics, DeConnick will not be staying on as the long term "Supergirl" writer, leaving once her arc is complete, but that doesn't dampen her enthusiasm for leaving her mark on the life of Kara Zor-El.

"I grew up reading DC Comics; writing this book is a dream come true for me in every corny way that it could be," DeConnick told CBR News before enlightening us on what to expect from her Supergirl, her favorite fictional heroines and thoughts on the portrayal of women in the comic book industry.

CBR News: Your first issue of "Supergirl" hits stores June 15. What can you tell us about your arc?

Kelly Sue DeConnick: Gifted kids have started disappearing from the area surrounding Stanhope College and one of them reappears in Metropolis, unable to tell them where she's been or why. Lois Lane and Supergirl team up to investigate.  

And there's a classic villain who should look familiar to DCU readers. How's that for a taunt?  Don't worry; I don't actually keep it a secret for long.

With regards to the Kara/Lois team-up, what's your take on their relationship?

In my take, Lois assumes a familiarity that's unearned and the two have to figure their relationship out. It's awkward, but there's humor and mutual respect at the base, so they get there.

Is this awkwardness because Lois is comparing Kara to Superman?

I think it's an unconscious thing rather than a deliberate slight, but yeah. She's used to level of familiarity with Superman that's not really fair to assume of Kara. And I think Kara is rightly wary of that.  

Clark Kent's a grown man who, all things considered, had a pretty conventional upbringing. Kara's a teenaged girl who's an orphan and a refugee. Yes, they're from the same planet, but so am I and, you know, Jay-Z, but we don't have all that much in common. 

I'm oversimplifying, clearly -- but if you can replace Supergirl with Superman in your story and it still works? You've failed.

Since there's so little in the way of Post-Crisis Kara Zor-El stories, relatively speaking, is your run more influenced by the Silver Age Supergirl?

Is my Kara more influenced by the period before or after 1986? Well, after. Because, I mean, I'm not rebooting. Though my story isn't continuity hamstrung and I'd like to think that it's the kind of thing that someone who's never read a Supergirl comic before could pick up and not be lost, it's still happening in the here and now.  

I guess that dashes the possibility of Comet the Super Horse showing up!

Well, at this point. But now that you mention Comet, you know, I've still got time for rewrites. 

We'll be looking for it! While we're talking about the past, were you a "Supergirl" fan as a kid?

Yes, comics were a big part of my life growing up -- I grew up on military bases overseas and we only got one American TV channel -- AFRTS (or A-Farts, as we called it). There are huge gaps in my pop culture knowledge base as a result. Gaps shaped like "The Brady Bunch," for instance. My friends and I gobbled up comics to make up for our lack of TV. And, as it happens, I was a DC girl. The Linda Carter "Wonder Woman" series probably had a lot to do with that, but who knows for sure?

Since your TV access was restricted, did you end up consuming the pop culture and media of the foreign countries the bases were located?

Not as much as I wish! You get weirdly shielded from the stuff living on base.

I do remember watching some Japanese cartoons when I lived in Japan, though, and I was crazy about "Schlumpf" in Germany, which were called "Smurfs" when they came to the states.  

Before DC and Marvel, you worked at VIZ and Tokyopop adapting manga. How did you make the switch from manga to original stories?

My first substantial original comics work was "30 Days of Night: Eben & Stella" with Steve Niles. Steve and Chris Ryall took a chance on me with that book and I am eternally grateful. After that, I got sidetracked a bit by motherhood, then found my way back in via short anthology pieces. Eventually I was invited to pitch on a couple of Marvel one-shots. Out of those came "Osborn" and bam! Here we are.

So, did your experience working with Japanese comics influence the way you view and write American comics?

I think so, yes.  The clearest point A to point B line can be drawn from spending years focused on polishing dialogue to writing scripts with an emphasis on dialogue. I write my dialogue first, then I break scenes down into pages and panels. I'm sure that's how I'm most comfortable.

In the "Supergirl" script, I was also more specific about fashion than I think most American comic book writers are. That, I'm certain, comes from a healthy diet of shoujo, where fashion is very much part of the appeal.

You're only the second woman to write for an ongoing "Supergirl" series -- do you think you bring a fresh perspective to the character because of this? Or is gender irrelevant to the story?

I'm not of the mind that women need to write women and men need to write men. One of my favorite women in literature is Lady Brett Ashley -- created by a man not known for championing "the fairer sex." Another is Margaret Sargent from Mary McCarthy's "The Company She Keeps." Margaret is not exactly the woman you want your daughter to grow up to be. Those are two separate issues, but both are relevant to your question, I think.  

On the Hemingway bent: while I'd very much like to see more women working in high-profile positions in comics (and other places, like, say, the White House, the Senate and the Supreme Court) I don't think that you have to be a woman to write women well. You need to be a good writer. You need to not use the women in your stories as props or devices, arm candy, things to protect or avenge, or bait.  

With regard to Margaret Sargent, I don't require that all women be portrayed in flattering lights -- in fact, I hate pedestals and I would argue that they do as much damage as railroad tracks and rope -- but I do require that some effort be made to give our female characters hearts, minds and motivations of their own. And it would be nice if they were the protagonists in their own books. I don't think that's too much to ask of a pool of incredibly talented people, you know?  

As far as Kara and I go, she's a bit tricky for me to write, not because of her gender or mine, but because she's more reserved than I am as a human being. My first instincts are not hers, and if I'm not careful I run the risk of confusing "reserved" with "passive." She's not passive. She's cool, rational, cautious without being timid. As much as I think every adolescent is a boiling cauldron of dueling vulnerabilities and passions -- and Kara's no exception -- the rough start that she's gotten in life and the mantle or responsibility that she shoulders have left her more guarded, more contained than most. She's a natural leader. I'm more of a natural pain in the butt, I suspect.  

Of course, anyone who's had physical science 101 knows what happens when you put a cap on a boiling cauldron.

Marvel really doesn't have an equivalent character to Kara, nor do they have a solo female series with a 60-odd year history behind her the way Supergirl does. How is it moving from Marvel to writing DC's "Supergirl?"

You know, I don't want to get into any kind of DC versus Marvel thing.  I've worked at both companies; I've been treated with respect and dignity by both.

DC and Marvel have both been guilty of misusing their female characters in the past, and both are making concerted efforts correct that in the present. There's also, I think, been more thought given to potential female readership in recent history (particularly in light of the manga boom of a couple of years ago -- one that proved women and girls would not only buy and read comics, but they'd spend $8-$10 a pop), which, beyond being progressive, makes good business sense. We keep cannibalizing that same core 30-some year old white male Wednesday comic buyer and we're eventually going to fold.  

Which is not to say that I want to take comics away from 30-some year old white males, or that I have anything against 30-some year old white male Wednesday comic buyers -- I don't. As it happens, I'm married to one and I think he's just about my favorite person in the universe. I'm just saying there's nothing wrong with trying to bring in new< readers rather than trying to get that "Green Lantern" buyer to buy this "Green Arrow" book instead. Or "X-Men" and "Iron Man." Regardless of the company, the argument stands.

How to attract new readers, especially new female readers, is one of those questions writers get asked a lot. So I'll phrase it a different way -- what attracted you to comics and made you a reader?

Gosh, I've drifted in and out of comics culture so many times, I feel like every time it's a different answer, usually specific to the book that drew me back in.

When I was a little kid, they were just there. And there's something very lizard-brain about the magic of words and pictures.  

When I got into "Wonder Woman," it was a combination of the Greek mythology ties and the nascent feminist movement of the 1970s. When it was "Elektra: Assassin," it was that I'd never seen art anything like that. When it was "Tales of the Teen Titans," I think it was the same kind of appeal a soap opera has, plus some page designs that blew my little mind. "Sandman," "Watchmen," those books expanded for me the ideas I had for what a comic book could be. "Planetary" felt like I was reading some kind of secret codebook to the universe.  

We've got "Wonder Woman" and you've mentioned "Lady Snowblood" as a favorite movie of yours before -- what other femme fatale media really gets your creative juices flowing?

Hm. I'm not so much into the "femme fatale" in the classic sense -- too much eyelash batting and not enough ass-kicking -- but I am a great lover of pinky violence and Women of Vengeance movies. Anything with Meiko Kaji. "Kill Bill." Anything with Angie Dickinson. "Modesty Blaise" -- the books, the movies are awful.  

Just thinking about strong female characters in general from pop culture that I like: Thelma & Louise. Ripley. Julia Sugarbaker. Buffy. Marge Gunderson. La Femme Nikita. Karen Sisco. Mrs. Smith. Angela Landsbury in "The Manchurian Candidate" -- also an odd pick, but she's incredibly inspiring to me in that movie.  

And "Xena: Warrior Princess." Totally not kidding.  

Finally, now that you've had the chance to write "Supergirl," what other DC characters would you want to take on?

Argh! That's another one of those questions that you get over and over that you're not supposed to answer because a) if you name a character that someone else is writing, it sounds like you're after their job; and b) if you name a character that no one is writing at the moment, some editor reads it and goes, "Hey, I hadn't thought about that character in a while..." and all the sudden the character you were hoping to get your hands on is in somebody else's mini.

So -- yes! There are other DC characters I would absolutely love to write! And no! I can't tell you who they are.  

That said, I bet if you dug around the Internet a little you could figure at least one out.

"Supergirl" #65 hits stores June 15

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