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27th Feb 2014, 11:50 PM

Jon, Max, and Mac

Independent Women of Graphic Novels—Meeting Gail Simone

"This arc is one of the single best I've read in years." 

"The stakes are at their highest when the Joker is involved... and this is a tale with harrowing, intense emotion."

"Considering Gail's history, it is evident that this incarnation of Lara will not only be rugged as ever, but also complex."

Jonathan here. Tonight (February 26) Max and I were at Things From Another World in Northeast Portland, having the time of our life meeting Gail Simone. If you don't know Gail, then take another look at the quotes above. They are all blurbs taken from reviews of her graphic novels. Gail is a highly respected writer in the industry, and for good reason. She has been an integral part of changing the industry's use of women in storylines.

Gail got her start as a writer by drawing attention to the way the industry throws away its female characters, often through having them killied, raped, or otherwise suffering traumatic indignities as a plot device for a male character to come in and save them. Gail's characters are a direct response to this problem. In her long career, she has worked with and devloped some of the strongest females in graphics, including Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Red Sonja, and now the revamped Lara Croft (in her debut comic book appearance).

This is a very interesting study for me and Max, as one of the things we've always tried to be concious of in Dahlia is how to create a female protaganist who stands on her own, who has to conquer things without the help of her male counterparts, and who can be put in dangerous or vulnerable situations without losing her independence. Tonight, we got to hear Gail's perspective on this. Things From Another World was packed with Gail's local fans, who spent an hour asking her questions about her current projects. Here were some of the topics and Gail's responses.

On Lara Croft

Gail was initially hesitant to work on a character who had been typecast for so long as the busty version of Indiana Jones, and who in the new games initially seemed to be someone who the player needed to save. But then she played the new game and got excited. "She is a much stronger character in the new game. You play the new game and you don't want to save Lara, you want to BE Lara."

Gail played the game multiple times and talked with the writers of the game in order to further develop Lara's motivations. "In a game, the motivations are often to go somewhere to do something to push the game forward. It's more about motivating the player. So you have to translate that a little bit when you move things to a new medium, and you really have to delve into what is going on behind the game."

On Batgirl and gadgets

A guy standing next to me pointed out that Batgirl doesn't use a lot of gadgets. "Well, she isn't Bruce Wayne; she doesn't have his resources," Gail answered. "She does have intelligence and strength, and she has to use that. But also she has an independent streak. She doesn't want to rely on gadgets, because she has this need to overcome her own fears and her own flaws and to prove to herself that she can do that." Gail paused for a moment here and then smiled, adding, "I do think gadgets are super cool, though."

On the process of writing

A couple good questions came up about the process of writing. Someone asked if it was difficult having to write to a deadline, to which Gail explained that she actually usually has a lot of time to prepare her stories. "When I was working on Wonder Woman, I had about eight months notice before writing the issue in which I would go back and read and reread all the Wonder Woman I could get my hands on. I would immerse myself in the world and then when it came time to write, I had all these ideas ready."

Continuing the topic of immersion, Gail was asked if she draws on modern events or headlines to create her plots. "Not headlines, no," she answered. "I'm not big into ripping from headlines. I pay attention to what's going on in the world, the social issues we're dealing with, and I work with those emotions. But the plots come from the characters. I immerse myself in them and learn what their issues and obstacles are and then push them to deal with them."

On the absence of Oracle in the New 52

This has been a big question in the DC world, what with the "New 52" restart of its superhero world. Batgirl's paralysis (a twist penned by Alan Moore in The Killing Joke) which led to her becoming Oracle in the original world has been revamped in the New 52, with the paralysis healed. This has left (as one fan tonight put it) "a hole in the universe." That same fan asked if Gail is planning on bringing back the character. Gail's answer: "Batgirl is younger, emotionally, in this version than she was before. She doesn't know everything, she's still learning. She has the potential to become Oracle, but she's not quite there yet."

The night ended on a hugely positive note, when Gail wrote an extremely beautiful message to me on the inside cover of my new copy of Batgirl: Volume 3 (Death of the Family). It's a personal message, so I won't share it here, but if you're reading, Gail, thank you so much. Whenever I'm feeling any doubt in my writing, I'll read your message.

And that's the kind of writer Gail is. She makes her readers feel strong, and she's put that to great use in speaking directly to a demographic that, a mere twenty years ago, was hardly represented in the industry. She's taken characters like Batgirl who were once little more than bodies in skin-tight leather and transformed them into statements of independence that have less to do with wearing a mask and more to do with being a woman.

Gail's is an ongoing struggle (for instance, Gail is currently one of the only female writers working for DC comics), but she's set a fantastic role model for others to follow, both male and female.