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Kelly Sue DeComics

Kelly-Sue DeConnnick
Arts Editor and Senior Writer (many years until 2012)

Three years ago, most comic book readers wouldn't have heard of Kelly Sue DeConnick. Now she's writing the adventures of Marvel's mightiest heroes on a monthly basis.

Like virtually all 'overnight' successes, though, there was nothing rapid about DeConnick's rise — long before she was writing top titles like Avengers Assemble and Captain Marvel, she cut her teeth adapting countless manga volumes for US publishers.

With that unusual apprenticeship and a number of Marvel assignments under her belt — and with exciting new projects like Pretty Deadly, developed with artist Emma Rios, on the way — DeConnick brings an enviable knowledge of the medium with her to the Brisbane Writers Festival.

We caught up with the fan favourite to talk about her creative process, her approach to writing strong women (it's the same as her approach to writing strong men, funnily enough), and why readers should enjoy her work on monthly superhero comics while it lasts.

How did translating manga prepare you to write your own comics?
Well, I edited or adapted more than 11K pages of dialogue before I moved to primarily doing my own work. It made me very dialogue focused and gave me a perspective on the visuals of language — similar, I suspect, to what an apprentice letterer might pick up. (Japanese is vertically oriented and more spare than English, so I always had to be aware that too many words would alter balloon shape and cover the art — which nobody wants to do!)

Do you feel like your own work has a manga influence as a result?
I've heard it said that it does. I'm not entirely certain I understand what that means, honestly.  "Manga" just means "comics" in Japanese.  What does it mean to have a Japanese influence? The only answer I've ever gotten that made any sense to me is that I do employ a technique that is somewhat rare in American mainstream comics — I use balloons that are empty save for punctuation on occasion. It's a much more common choice in Japan than it is here. But other than that, I'm honestly not sure what a Japanese influence means in terms of writing.  

Pretty Deadly seems like it's shaping up to be something special. What's the elevator pitch for that book? Does it have one?
Thanks; Pinky Violence + Spaghetti Western + Fairy Tale, I guess. 

My favourite issues of yours have been your collaborations with Emma Rios. Is there anything different about the way you work with her, as opposed to other artists?
Emma draws the way I think… only better. We have similar tastes and priorities and we've developed a short hand over the years. We go back and forth between "Marvel style" and "full script" — meaning sometimes I write scenes out in prose, sometimes with full panel breakdowns. Our version of "Marvel style" includes dialogue, however. 

Does it usually take a long time for you to develop a chemistry with an artist? 
It varies with the artist. Some people you click with almost immediately. I do think collaborations are almost universally improved with experience, though. As you're writing a book you're not only learning how how to write for that partner but also how that book wants to be written.

Do you often get pages back from artists that didn't turn out the way you intended? How do you deal with those situations?
Pages NEVER come back exactly as I imagined them — for one thing, I don't really imagine pages as a whole (rare for a comic writer, I'm told, but true). I sort of feel and hear my way through a page. Visuals are my partner's job. I do my best to give them what they need from me and then get out of the way. So, yes, pages are always a certain surprise and that's part of the joy of this process. (And the reason there's another dialogue pass after art and before letters.) 

Collaborating with an artist is one thing, but you've also been working with co-writer Chris Sebela recently. Is it difficult to do that without losing your 'voice'?
No, that's ego. I was protective of the dialogue on Captain Marvel because I wanted to make sure Carol's voice — not mine — was consistent. But beyond that, I don't sweat it. Whatever makes the best book.

You're appearing on the Inspire: Women panel at Brisbane Writers Festival. Captain Marvel and Spider-Woman are prominent female protagonists in an industry that maybe isn't loaded with them; do you feel an added weight of responsibility because of that? 
I try not to. I can't think about things in those terms — it's paralysing. I just try to write characters that feel true and stories I want to read.

Does having a young daughter affect the way you write those characters?
It ensures I'm always tired when I'm writing them!

Do you face any particular challenges as a woman in the industry that a dude probably wouldn't have to deal with?
For one thing, my gender comes up as a topic in literally every interview I do.  This is not a thing my male colleagues have to deal with.  

I'm being flippant, but this line of questioning presents something of a pickle. On the one hand, I don't want to pretend those things you refer to don't happen, that sexism — in our industry or any other — is over, doesn't exist, or doesn't exist outside the fandom/internet comments threads or whatever.  That is decidedly not true.  On the other hand, when the fact that I am a woman BECOMES the story, that presents its own problems. So how do I talk about these things without having them overshadow that I am a writer, not a female writer? Follow?  

I understand that these things do need to be addressed, and I do consider myself a proud feminist, but at some point, if I allow that to become the entirety of the conversation, I forfeit the goals of feminism to the discussion. I don't want to be GIRL WRITER to my husband's unqualified WRITER any more than I'd want to be LADY DEADPOOL. I'm not the feminine alternative; I'm me. 

(Watch, some asshole will miss the point and write to tear me a new one in the voice of Lady Deadpool.)

Early on in your run on Captain Marvel, [supporting character] Helen Cobb dismissed the idea that she and Carol Danvers [aka Captain Marvel] turned out the way they did because of their fathers. But Carol is clearly trying to prove something to her dad, isn't she?
Oh, sure.  The entirety of the Marvel Universe is built on Daddy Issues. Spider-Man, Thor, Iron-Man — they've all got them.  I think the only one who didn't, classically, was Captain America and I think they've recently been written in.

Do each of your protagonists reflect different aspects of your own personality? Do you relate to Carol Danvers in the same way you relate to [Pretty Deadly protagonist] Ginny?
That's how we relate to the world, isn't it? Some cocktail of sympathy, empathy and imagination? It's all acting with a keyboard.  

And no, Ginny and Carol are very different animals. Ginny doesn't let me in as much. 

Writers often complain about the difficulty of coming up with ways to challenge characters as powerful as Captain Marvel, but you seem to do it with ease. Is it tougher than it looks?
Only in that it requires a certain sadism that doesn't come to me naturally. You spend eight issues establishing how important history and relationships are to a character, then take them away and see what happens. It feels cruel, but it's those challenges that give Carol the opportunity to be a hero, so I don't know where she's be without them.

You write Hawkeye in Avengers Assemble. In his solo title, that Matt Fraction bloke has given Clint a very strong voice — does that make it more of a challenge to write his dialogue?
YES. I think I do all right now, but I have cheated at least once. When I was first writing Hawkeye I had a scene where the dialogue was just falling flat. I asked Fraction in to come look at it and he gave me a tweak — he suggested Clint call Natasha "Tash." For whatever reason, that made it click. 

How important is it for you to inject a sense of humour into your books?
Very important, I guess. I don't know how not to do it. 

You've worked on a few crossovers, most recently as part of the Infinity brouhaha. What are your thoughts on crossovers, in general? Do you see them as a necessary evil, or do you enjoy them?
I like them in theory. I am a fan of complicated structures and collaborations in the CREATION of a work. I don't think they should be as complicated as they often are for readers and consumers, though. That's a thing we could work on .

To what extent, if any, do you feel like your work is compromised by monthly deadlines? In an ideal world, would monthly serialisation still be the best way to tell these stories?
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I'm too slow. I've gotten faster over the last year, but I don't know that I'm getting faster fast enough.  I may end up having to leave monthly comics for that very reason. There are people who can produce 4-6 scripts a month and keep the quality up. For whatever reason, I am not one of them. The only thing that gives me any comfort there is that several other of my favorite comic book writers have had the same issue and gone on to do interesting things.

How far ahead do you plan your story arcs? Do you tend to plan further ahead with your Marvel or creator-owned work?
I'm not sure I have enough experience to answer that question. Captain Marvel is my first ongoing. When we started, I planned one arc, because I was convinced that was all we'd get. When I pitched Avengers Assemble, the pitch document and three short arcs. I have one for Pretty Deadly and a second rough idea, but Pretty Deadly is my first and only creator-owned book, so I don't know if that's particular to that title or not.

If a student of writing was going to pull apart and study one issue of yours, which one do you think it should be?
Hm. One I've already written, huh?  I don't get to shunt this off to future works of genius?  Captain Marvel #9, maybe?  For character. Probably my strongest plot work was a Marvel short story called 'Girl's Night In' that, like, six people read. My most emotionally resonant work was a story called 'Count 5 Or 6' that appeared in the CBGB anthology. I don't know that I've got a single issue that combines all three well.

Not yet, anyway.

Kelly Sue DeConnick appears on a number of panels at the Brisbane Writers Festival from September 6-8. You can follow her on Tumblr and Twitter. Pretty Deadly #1 will be released on October 23.

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