Gail Simone is a force to be reckoned with.
In the comics world, she’s known for penning stories for Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Birds of Prey, Deadpool, and more. But even before Simone started writing comics, her influence was felt as the woman behind Women in Refrigerators, a blog that raised awareness of the representation of women in comics. She started the project after she noticed how an unsettling number of her favorite female heroes were killed off in comics—including being chopped up and stuffed in a refrigerator. From her role as a critic, she made the leap into professional comics writing.
She’s active online and vocal with her fans, and she isn’t afraid to criticize the very industry she works for. Many of her hashtags have sparked larger conversations among comic book fans, including her efforts to dispel the myth that girls don’t read comics. And when a company produces sexist merchandise, she’ll comment on it—even when it’s her own employer.
Training to be Batman’s pointy hat.
— GHOUL SLIME-MOAN (@GailSimone) October 2, 2014
Her fanbase is huge. When she was fired from Batgirl in December 2012, the outcry led to her being rehired almost two weeks later. Some of that fanbase is helping to shape and change the very way comics are being produced and marketed.
“I’ve seen the Internet level the playing field,” she said during the Carol Corps panel at New York Comic Con Oct. 10. “As many things as we could come up with to bitch about the Internet, and all the negative crap, it has literally given people an equal voice and their voices can be heard. Used to be, publishers were not interested, they did not care; now I think they care a little more. They care about who their audience is.”
Simone’s since moved on from Batgirl, which now has a new creative team, but she’s got a full load on her plate. She’s currently writing Red Sonja for Dynamite, she’s relaunching Secret Six, the limited series that she wrote on back in 2006, for DC Comics, and she’ll be writing Clean Room for Vertigo.
Can you explain Secret Six for someone who’s never heard of it?
I think of it a little bit like the Twin Peaks of superhero comics—even though I wouldn’t classify these characters as either hero or villain—this universe has a lot of things between those two: private detectives, mercenaries, those type of characters. That’s what Secret Six deals with. It’s one of those books that pushes the boundaries of mainstream comics in terms of some content that’s pretty sexy book, pretty violent book. It’s got characters that we’ve announced so far: Catman, Black Alice, and Strix are members of the Secret Six, and we have three more to announce soon.
And the storyline is gonna start out with these people who don’t know each other at all, are trapped together, and they need to figure out how to get out and why and how to deal with that situation.
— DC Comics (@DCComics) September 5, 2014
How will it be different from the previous run, characters aside?
I think it’s amazing. It’s a new take on it even though we have some of the same characters. It’s, like I said, it’s pushing the boundaries even more. It’s very sexy, very hot. Two of my favorite artists of all time are working on the book, Dale Eaglesham and Ken Lashley. So it’s very vibrant and sexy and all those things that I want and love for this particular comic.
What do you find fascinating about the characters that have been announced?
Catman. What I really like about him is he’s a really grounded character in terms of—he’s an excellent tracker, we’re giving him a set of new skills for Secret Six as it starts again anew. But he’s very sexy, very dangerous, unpredictable. I like that he’s adopted some of the qualities of the lions that he spent some time with in Africa while he was rebuilding himself. It’s just very compelling, and the way he reacts to situations is interesting and different. Unpredictable as well.
Black Alice is just an amazing young character that I created back in Birds of Prey, and this is gonna be a similar but new version of her as well. I’m very, very excited about it. She looks amazing. She’s got a secret that nobody else knows and makes for something completely new for her.
You mentioned in the Carol Corps panel that you really like antiheroes and villains, not just the hero. What is it about them that you like writing?
I think what I like about a lot of it is the psychology, the trying to figure out how they got that way, and then also there’s already some built-in unpredictability because things are not black and white for them. Sometimes they may do something that’s good and heroic. Other times they may do something that’s horrible and villainous and everything in-between, and I like playing with that spectrum.
Any other teasers you can reveal?
Oh my goodness. We have so many secrets going on in this book—that truly is the theme running through all the characters as well as the big story. And people that are fans of the DC Universe are gonna want to know what this secret is in this book.
You have a big Twitter following and you’re good with hashtagging—
Comic book writers know how to say something with very few words.
Is it partly for fun and your own amusement? Or is it just a vehicle for you to speak what’s on your mind?
Well, I enjoy a couple aspects of it. First of all, it’s my comics community. I’m from a very tiny, isolated town without that, and so I enjoy that aspect of it. I also like asking questions and I legitimately like hearing people’s answers and how they feel about things or what their favorite thing is about or how their first experience with a superhero character, what that was like, and why it appealed to them. I’m interested in all that.
And I like to joke around. I think it’s fun. And sometimes I get stuck in my writing and I just think of some goofy joke and kinda snap me out of it and I can get back into it easier.
What differences have you noticed between your Twitter and Tumblr audience?
I think Tumblr tends to be, you can get more in-depth with things and more blogging, and Tumblr has been real great for me in terms of research because I have contacts with people from all walks of life all over the globe. Sometimes we get some really good conversations going, and people who have a life experience or something to say that maybe the rest of us haven’t heard before. I find that interesting.
How does writing Secret Six compare to doing something like Red Sonja?
Well, they’re two different books, and any books that I write I never like them to have the same tone or same flavor necessarily. With Red Sonja, it’s a single character leading a book although there’s a supporting cast, whereas Secret Six is basically six characters who have equal time and equal place in the book, so it’s got a team dynamic that Red Sonja doesn’t have. And I think that Secret Six will have darker moments than Red Sonja, even though some of those can be dark too. But there’s a different dynamic between solo series and a team.
Do you think it’s possible that something like Gamergate could happen in the comics industry?
I think we’re well past that. I really do. We have so many fantastic creators—female creators as well as male creators that have their own followings, their own fans, and their own books that are successful. I don’t think we’re gonna be able to put the cork back on that bottle, frankly. So I would hope not because I think comics are for everyone and I think games are for everyone, and I just, I would hope not. It just seems impossible to me.
And as someone who recently got into comics, I’m here going, “Where have these been my whole life?”
Well, women and girls have always read comics. It’s just that we went through this weird period where it did seem like we were excluded and they weren’t really trying to keep that audience, but now I think, as Kelly Sue [DeConnick] said yesterday, [there’s] a resurgence and we’re seeing a lot of really successful books led by female creators and female editors. And it’s just been amazing and it gives such variety out there that I think the industry is only better for drawing in a bigger audience.
Photo via happyskrappy/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)