Gail Simone: The Closest to a Superpower We HaveA comics interview article by: Rafael Gaitan
Among the many, many highlights of the highly, highly exhausting San Diego Comic-Con was my chance to interview the talented and lovely Ms. Gail Simone. A longtime fan of her work, I was most recently engrossed by her Secret Six run. Simone is also playing a big part of the New 52, writing one of the more talked about titles, Batgirl, as well as this week’s The Fury of Firestorm. I spoke candidly with Ms. Simone about her process, her role in the New 52 and a surprising amount about comedy.
Rafael Gaitan: So Gail, I know you love Secret Six. Those characters are very near and dear to you. What kind of mindset do you get into when you write those characters? I mean, there's some really stark stuff, especially in arcs like "The Darkest House." So how do you balance that mindset where it's really funny dialogue, extremely snappy and clever, but then you have these moments of just…shocking brutality? Which I am also a huge fan of.
Gail Simone: [laughs] Well, I like to read stories, personally, that have a lot of different elements in them, and I like to write them as well. My favorite type of comedy is situation comedy, and that's why I'm a huge fan of Saturday Night Live, SCTV, and the things that are more situational. With Secret Six, because we had a storyline going and these were very morally questionable characters that we were dealing with, [there was] a lot of brutal stuff going on. It is a comic book that deals with a little bit of the dark side. But humorous things happen, and there's always a little bit of a humorous perspective you can take. I like having that balance, and it's one of my favorite things to write. Secret Six has been one of my favorite things to write that I've written.
Gaitan: Besides the sense of humor, to avoid the obvious comparisons to Suicide Squad, what would you say you approached differently? As you've said, they are morally gray characters, much like the Suicide Squad, but what distinction would you say that you specifically brought to the Secret Six?
Simone: I think it's probably overall more violent, more sexual, a little more inappropriate. It definitely hit that line, that edge of content for a major DCU mainstream title. And then also we had these obviously B-list characters or characters I created myself and their relationships with each other [that] I think distinguish it as well.
Gaitan: So you also wrote Batgirl. I know you're an adamant fan of Barbara Gordon and that you talk about it a lot on Twitter. Considering that you do come from the world of blogging and being the person that used to read about this stuff before you wrote it, how do you plan to mitigate that? There's the backlash of Barbara back in the role and there are the questions about where The Killing Joke is going to apply.
Simone: Obviously I can't give away the storyline [of upcoming issues], but particularly in this situation we took a character who was paralyzed and disabled for a period of time and she is coming out of her chair, so we wanted to reveal how this happens through story very carefully and correctly. It's too cheesy to give a short soundbyte to explain it, for one thing.
As you said earlier, I love Barbara Gordon. She's a great character and there are lots of people who love Barbara Gordon. I've loved her for a lot of years. She's the smartest character in the Bat Family and she's a really kick-ass red-headed Bat character and we're bringing a new take on her, but it's still the same character with the same characteristics we all love. I understand people being upset about Oracle moving to [being] Batgirl again. It's something that I was asked about several times [when writing the character before]. I turned it down every time, but this time I felt that the timing was good and the ability to tell the story was good.
As many people as are upset about possibly losing a disabled character in the DCU, I've been asked for years, "How come all the other comic characters can be killed and come back to life, lose an arm, get their arm back, have their head chopped off and come back and there's this one single female character that can't be healed?" So there's that side of it as well. But I love Oracle, and I love Barbara Gordon and I really like her character, no matter what the take is on her at the time. I'm really proud of this new book -- the art is absolutely gorgeous. Ardian Syaf is doing it, Adam Hughes is doing the covers and I'm proud of the story. I would not have agreed to write this book if I didn't think something extremely positive would come out of it.
Gaitan: Regarding your process, when you do your scripting and such, I always wonder how much of a collaboration do you have. With Secret Six, for example, with Jim Calafiore -- did you remain in constant contact with him? Did you feel that because he's been your artist for so long, you sort of had that symbiotic relationship where you wrote to his strengths and downplayed the weaknesses? What kind of involvement level would you say you had with him and vice-versa during your average scripting session?
Simone: First of all, comics are all collaboration unless you have a creator that does it all -- which is rare -- so no matter what, it's a collaboration, and different creators that I work with -- we handle it differently. With Secret Six, I definitely scripted it and then Jim illustrated it, and we emailed back and forth during the course in case something I said wasn't clear to him in the script. Sometimes, he’d come back saying "What about if we do this?" and I’d say "That's a great idea," so there was a bit of back-and-forth at that stage.
Now, with Fury of Firestorm, where I'm working with Ethan Van Sciver, we're co-plotting, so before anything else happens Ethan and I are back-and-forth quite a bit on the storyline and what we're trying to accomplish, the current issue we're working on as well as six issues down the road, what the end game's gonna be, and that kind of thing. And then I script it, he does the covers and a lot of the design work, and Yildiray Cinar is doing the interiors and a lot of design work as well. So this book, The Fury of Firestorm, is a huge collaboration with all of us and it's all of us giving our absolute best, and this book I think people will like. I haven't been a huge fan of Firestorm before. I like Firestorm and he's had a great book at times throughout his existence and I said "No" to doing this book a bunch of times before I said "Yes," but finally Ethan and I came up with a HUGE idea that we really liked and I did get excited about.
I'm excited about this book. If you can imagine all the countries in the world that have nuclear capabilities or nuclear capabilities that are obsolete and hiding underground…just imagine all this nuclear stuff that they have. Because we're not really scared anymore of the Cold War and stuff like that. We're not afraid of superheroes or anything like that, but nuclear power is the closest thing we have to a superpower in reality, and the way that this book is written, it is damn scary, for one thing. And then we've got these two young boys who don't agree on anything, yet they have the ability to push the button at any time. It's interesting stuff.
Gaitan: Absolutely. That sounds harrowing. Would you say when you do your scripting, specifically when you do -- and I'm sorry this is so Secret Six centric -- but when you do your writing in general, with your process, what do you think are your inspirations? Do you have any sources that you've found were unlikely when you were coming up with the ideas of what you were going to do with Secret Six and even with Batgirl? Like, a moment that you broke a story that seemed to come outside of the traditional process?
Simone: That happens with me a lot, and it's one reason I detest outlines, even though I'm required to do them. But when I do an outline, I have the agreement that if I can come up with something better when I'm actually writing, please let me at least try it. Sometimes something you could not have thought of before just pops in or there's something going on in the world that reminds you of what's going on in your book and you want to take it a level deeper.
One of the things about being a writer, in my opinion, is that you have to be open. You have to be open to new experiences, open to other people's perspectives, open to different situations in the world. When you sit down to write, at least for me, I try to clear my mind as much as possible of all the crap that is not what I'm working on, so I work in a very isolated office with no music, no noise, nobody knocking on the door or anything because once I'm in the zone I only want to be thinking about what I'm working on. You free your mind up to allow things to come in...if you need to.
Gaitan: Do you find that you dedicate specific time to projects, or do you have the scripts open in front of you and when you're in thought and something comes to you you'll work on it immediately?
Simone: Well, how it works with me is I don't have a what I would call a "typical work day." I do work predominately with actual scripting at night because that's when it's the quietest and the least distracting for me. But I have deadlines! [laughs] So usually I'm working on what my first deadline is at the moment. It's when I maybe get stuck, like if I'm stuck in a scene and can't figure out the best way to quite bridge two scenes together then I may go work on my other project while my mind is cleared of struggling with this. And then it'll pop in and "Oh, okay!" and go back to the other one. That’s one reason I like to have numerous projects as well, because I'm actually more efficient that way than if I just have one.
Gaitan: Do you have any creator-owned stuff coming up?
Simone: Ethan and I are working together on a project that's secret, so I can't really say much. When that comes out, be looking for it, because that is the work of Ethan's life. It is absolutely amazing and even his own family says that. He's putting everything he has into it, and it shows.