And Gail claims she’s no good at this.
I first encountered Gail Simone through the exceptional Killer Princesses title that she and Lea Hernandez did for Oni Press, subsequently following the scribe to Marvel’s Deadpool, which later became Agent X, and rightly solidified her status as one of the industry’s premier talents. In addition, she also happens to be one of the friendliest and supportive comic professionals you’re going to meet. Please welcome Ms. Simone to Ambidextrous as we discuss hairdressing, being a humor writer, departing Agent X, and becoming a Bird of Prey.
Brandon Thomas: The comic world was introduced to you through your weekly column on Comic Book Resources (You’ll All Be Sorry). Was the mark of professional comics writer something you were always pursuing, or did it just come by accident?
Gail Simone: Completely by accident. The column began as some email jokes to friends, and oddly snowballed. I really didn’t think companies were out scouting for hairdressers who live in the boondocks to write comics for them, but that’s how it turned out. When people ask my advice for how to break into comics, I’m absolutely stuck. What can I say-go to beauty college and be a smartass?
Thomas: So Gail Simone is comics’ first hairdresser/writer?
Simone: Except for Bendis. He doesn’t talk about it, but he does a lot of perms and nail treatments. Besides, it’s a fun job…Chuck Berry was a hairdresser, you know.
Thomas: You ever get the itch to return to the weekly column game? Did the experience make you a better writer you think?
Simone: Not really…it was a TON of work, and it’s time for new things. I’ve thought about doing a collection, with some new pieces. Could be fun. It was definitely excellent practice, because I got to use so many different styles.
Thomas: How’d your first professional gig come about, and was it at all intimidating to be asked to write an actual comic?
Simone: Scott Shaw! who does Oddball Comics at Comic Book Resources, liked the column enough to suggest that I submit some stories to Bongo. Of course, I’m a huge Simpsons fan, so it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. And one sure cure for being intimidated is a deadline. Also, the Bongo guys were incredible, and talked me through things. A lot of what I do now is still based on the training I got from Bill Morrison and Terry Delegeane.
Thomas: What was the most difficult aspect of the whole process?
Simone: Just learning the ropes…what’s essential for the artist to show and what’s merely optional, and writing the Simpsons is tough because you don’t have the voice actors to back it up, so your dialogue has to be spot-on, or it just doesn’t flow. Everyone knows how they’re SUPPOSED to sound.
Thomas: Being a humor writer, do you think there’s any difference in the way you approach a page in comparison to other writers?
Simone: I’m a stickler for construction, whether it’s comedy or drama. Timing is massively important to me. I don’t think I’m any different from most writers in that respect, though.
Thomas: Have you ever sat down to write a scene, with a gag or joke planned in advance, or does the humor just evolve naturally?
Simone: Oh, sure…I keep notebooks at my shop, by my bed, and in my car, for any stray bits I think are worth keeping. That doesn’t mean they don’t get abandoned if things don’t fit. A ton of good gags didn’t make it into Agent X because it would have damaged the story.
Thomas: Knew that was going to come up sooner or later. How’d you end up on Deadpool in the first place?
Simone: Actually, that was Joe Quesada’s idea, and I’m very grateful. He suggested that I pitch, and it was extremely well received, although I didn’t know the character that well at the time. Had to make up the research later. It was only after I’d done a couple scripts that they said we’d be ending the book and re-tooling.
Thomas: Did you read any of the early Joe Kelly issues, or even later on some of the Priest material? What was it that told you that Gail Simone should give Deadpool a shot?
Simone: I did read them, as many as I could find, including the stuff by Waid, Palmiotti, Scalera, and Fabian. The truth is, I thought I’d be relying more heavily on the comedy angle, but I found I really enjoyed writing Wade’s dramatic side just as much. I liked that he was so flawed and dangerous. Great character.
Thomas: Was re-tooling the character into what would become Agent X something you were always planning, or just a pleasant by-product of the proposed revamp?
Simone: When I took the Deadpool job, the revamp hadn’t been planned, so it was a complete surprise. Thankfully, we heard about it in time to make adjustments to the early scripts, and to head the latter ones into an ending that was respectful to the Deadpool readers.
Thomas: Was the revamp in some ways cathartic for you, as it did offer you the chance to build your own history/mythology around this character who may or may not have been Wade Wilson?
Simone: Well, it was my first ongoing title, so it was a bit of a curveball to be thrown, but since we got to keep the same team together, and people were responding so well to our Deadpool, it did become a fun challenge. I wouldn’t say it was cathartic, but it was enjoyable. Loved creating the characters for one thing. That was my favorite bit, having Outlaw, Mary Zero, Higashi and Saguri interact with Sandi and Alex, as well as slightly new turns on Arcade and Taskmaster. That was fun to do.
Thomas: Most online fans are aware of your departure from the title over “creative differences.” Without getting too specific, when did you first get the indication that leaving the title may be the wisest option?
Simone: This is tricky stuff, because it’s an editor’s job to do what he thinks is best for the book, but it’s fair to say that despite the fact that we both tried very hard, there was trouble from the very first phone call. We had very different ideas on virtually every aspect of the book, and very different ways of communicating. I will say that perhaps I’d been spoiled because I’ve had really fantastic relationships with every other editor.
Thomas: This was the first instance in which you didn’t immediately click with an editor?
Simone: Yeah, still to this day I think. But you know, it’s a business, and it’s a creative business, and people are going to have differences. I didn’t want to leave, but I didn’t want to stay and do a book I didn’t feel really great about either.
Thomas: Had you started work on Gus Beezer yet?
Simone: It was thereabouts, I think…Beezer’s been in the works a good long time.
Thomas: Is Gus a Gail creation, or did Marvel approach you with a germ of an idea and ask you to make it a hit?
Simone: Mike Raicht, the editor, whom I adore…his wife is a teacher, and I think that gave him the inspiration. He wanted to do a kid-friendly book, but was very open to what KIND of book it would be. From then on, I believe it was mostly me, until Jason came aboard to give the characters visual life. We had a pretty open field to play in, it didn’t even have to be in the Marvel Universe, for example. But to me, it would have been wasting a remarkable backdrop. We didn’t set it in the MU for the crossover potential…we did it because it’s just such a great thing for an imaginative kid to
play off of.
Thomas: Depending on the success of the upcoming one-shots, is Gus something you’d consider returning to?
Simone: It’s one of the books that I’d love to do more of, yes. As long as Jason’s available. I should also say that Marvel’s been great about this book. They let us do it pretty much exactly as we’d intended, which is wonderful.
Thomas: It’ll have to find a slot in all this upcoming DC work I’m sure. How’d you end up as a Bird of Prey, and what’s this Rose and Thorn book you’re working on?
Simone: Lysa Hawkins, who is just a great editor, was a fan of Killer Princesses, the Oni book I did with co-creator and artist Lea Hernandez. She was looking for a slightly tougher Birds of Prey and asked me to submit a proposal. I have a huge fondness for Babs and Dinah both, so it’s a bit of a dream come true. I’m really excited by the art, which is very sleek and sexy, with a nice dark tone, by Supergirl star Ed Benes.
Rose and Thorn is a six-issue mini that’s really very different from any book I’ve done before. It’s different from anything in the DCU, I think. Mike Carlin is the editor, and we’re having a great time on this. It’s an update of the classic DCU character, who was way ahead of her time as the troubled and grim street fighter.
Thomas: Are you a writer that prefers to have an active role in picking your artistic collaborators? Was Benes a personal favorite, and who’s handling art on Rose and Thorn?
Simone: I like to see samples, but in most cases, the editor has picked the artist, including Ed. Which is fortunate because the editors are better at choosing than I would be. And we can’t tell yet on R&T, sorry!
Thomas: No problem. Was there any trepidation in taking on Birds and R & T for fear of being typecast as a “female” writer? I’m assuming you’ll knock these out of the park, but when you do, will companies immediately think of Gail Simone to revamp every nickel and dime female character they have lying in the archives?
Simone: Thank you. I hope we do as well as the previous writers! And sure, I get asked to do a lot of projects with female protagonists. I enjoy writing characters of both genders, though, and since right now, most editors know me from Agent X, who is practically a walking penis, I think it’ll be okay.
Thomas: Good point, but are there any trends or “tendencies” within the industry that disturb you particularly as a female creator? Is there something that your male counterparts never get right?
Simone: Everybody’s got pet peeves, but sheesh, guys like Bendis, Rucka and Vaughan write females as well as any female writers I can think of off-hand. Overall, I think we’re in a time when female characters are much more vital and interesting than they have been in decades. Good thing, too, because the other path is just stupid and self-defeating.
Thomas: Who are some of your favorite writers right now?
Simone: Jeez, I have a hundred. Kolchaka, Mahfood, the Skinwalker duo, the One Plus One team, Chynna’s Blue Monday is brilliant, as is Jen Van Meter’s Hopeless Savages, Boothby, Morse, Grayson, Waid, Millar, Hernandez, Ennis, Ellis, Johns, both Moores. Lots. I’m enjoying Super Hero Happy Hour a lot, and people should check the webcomic at www.johnny-public.com. Hopefully that will get wider circulation soon.
Thomas: One last thing before I let you go. What’s your dream project?
Simone: Well, in the category of pre-existing characters, my favorite is a bit of a strange one. I’m crazy about Mary Marvel. I honestly think she could have a hit book. At Marvel, I have to confess it’d be fun to try Spider-Man for an issue or two. For my own things, I’m hoping to do a small-town horror series towards the end of this year.
Thomas: Cool deal. You told me that you don’t think you’re a good interviewee but I disagree completely. Thanks for sharing and good luck in the rest of 2003.