Gail Simone is one of the leading female comic book writers working in the industry. She’s delivered stories for titles like the award-winning Welcome to Tranquility, Deadpool, DC’s Birds of Prey and Secret Six. Though she’s probably most widely known for being the mind behind the newest incarnation of the iconic Wonder Woman series, as well as the brains behind the website Women in Refrigerators, a cutthroat online forum that explores the mistreatment of female characters throughout comic book history.
Torontoist caught up with Simone before her appearance in Toronto at Wizard World’s Comic Con to find out about Amazon mating rituals, Wonder Woman fandom, and what it’s like to be a girl in a major boys club.
Torontoist: What attracted you to Wonder Woman?
Gail Simone: When I first encountered her when I was a young girl, I was at a time in my life when I was really frustrated with fairytales and “girl” stories because a lot of the fairytales end with a knight in shining armor or a handsome prince running in to save this princess you’d been reading about the whole time. Which did not fit into my world because I’d never seen that happen. Even stories like The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, which I love a lot, are hugely different from Wonder Woman narratives. Those girls are supposed to be proper and fit into society and their adventure was thrust upon them—whether it was a hurricane that took them away from home or falling down a rabbit hole—they didn’t control it. Wonder Woman is very proactive; she defied her nation when she left it in the beginning and she’s not afraid of adventure. I consider her an adventurer, above all else.
How does Wonder Woman shake up traditional gender roles often found in comic books?
She’s beautiful, she’s graceful, and she’s a princess—all those things that we love—but she’s not there to be the sexual eye candy for the story. She supports her own book, she’s part of the Justice League, she’s one of the Top 3 (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman) for DC Comics. People put their own thoughts and beliefs about femininity and womanhood onto her moreso than they do any other character in comic books.
What prompted you to start Women in Refrigerators?
I live in a really tiny town, and we just now have a comic book store. There was really no one to discuss comics with on a daily basis. I had to drive an hour and a half each way just to buy them. As the internet was becoming more prevalent, and I was becoming active on comic book forums, I noticed a lot of talk about why there weren’t more female comic book readers. So I started thinking about some of the trends that were going on at the time, and how female characters were being treated. I thought, “Why were we doing storylines where the female character is only there so the male character can vow his revenge and go out and get the bad guy after she’s been chopped up and put in a refrigerator?” Maybe that’s not something female readers want to read all the time.
How has the reaction been to the site?
The response has been huge, and its had a positive effect on the industry. The term “Women in Refrigerators” is used in high-level comic book meetings and people are a bit more careful—actually I wouldn’t say careful, these are super heroes/heroines that are in dangerous situations and I write terrible things that happen to them—but it just can’t be story after story with the same outcome for all the female characters. I’ve heard stories about it being discussed in Hollywood about film characters too.
How has it affected your career?
It’s affected my career in the sense that everyone wants to ask me about it. But in terms of when I write a story, I have to service the story and not my own agenda, and that was really important for me when I wrote Wonder Woman, that it didn’t change the way I would write or construct a story. Fortunately, the trend I was talking about at the time was on its way out and hopefully now people will think about how they write female characters and if their treatment services the story in a positive way.
The evolution of Wonder Woman, courtesy of Gail Simone.
How is it being a female creator in an industry that’s thought to be male driven?
I can only speak for myself, but I haven’t experienced any sexism. None of that kind of stuff. Stories that I’ve wanted to tell, I’ve been able to tell without anyone saying, “That’s a girl story,” or, “Guys won’t like that.” I stand up for the story that I think needs to be told and I’ve been treated respectably. I got the most support actually from male creators when I first started.
Why do you think that is?
I think that’s just because there’s a lot more of them. A lot of female writers and creators kind of stuck to themselves more.
What has been the reaction from fans to your treatment of Wonder Woman since you’ve taken it over?
Mostly positive. Some people object to some of the changes or to the gay characters I’ve included but most people just care about the story. The thing about writing Wonder Woman that’s been the most surprising and rewarding has been having people tell me what Wonder Woman has done for them. That having Wonder Woman as a role model helped them get out of an abusive relationship, or that it got them to keep going to the gym and take care of themselves, it’s great. I’ve had young girls tell me that she helped them stand up to bullies at school. I’ve even had people go as far as to say it stopped them from committing suicide because that’s not something that she would do. People relate to her in a really emotionally deep way that I had no idea about before I started writing comics about her.
What’s the craziest fandom geared towards the series that you’ve come across?
I’ve seen lots of Wonder Woman tattoos and I’m good friends with Andy Mangels, who has a huge Wonder Woman collection that goes back to the beginning. He runs a Wonder Woman Day in Portland, Oregon every year that I attend, and there I see all kinds of well-made costumes and big Wonder Woman fans. I met a man in Singapore who has every Wonder Woman comic ever published and he buys tons of art work.
Do you get a lot of young female creators reaching out to you at appearances and conventions?
Oh yeah, it’s very exciting. I can’t wait until this generation starts actually turning stuff out. When I was in Singapore, this young Muslim woman came up to me and talked to me about writing comic books because she wanted to write mainstream comic book stories. To have that kind of diversity of creators whether they end up being male, female, gay, black, white, whatever, just that diversity, and the idea of work coming from such different perspectives is going to have amazing results when the time comes. Girls that are pre-teens are coming out and asking questions, and even younger girls come with their dads who say, “See, look, you can do this.”
Where do you see female characters in comic books headed?
The new wave will come from younger creators that have grown up with video games and Xena, Laura Croft, Buffy, all those things that didn’t exist when I was growing up. Whether it’s male or female creators that push it in different directions, it’s still going to be a whole different vibe. Even my son and his friends in high school don’t understand what the big debate is.
Matt Thomas is a filmmaker, arts and culture writer, and is currently an associate editor at Fab Magazine.