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Women In Comics Interview: Kelly Thompson

A Women in Comics Week column by Talisha Harrison aka Tali Adina

In honor of it being Women in Comics Week, I wanted to interview some of the many ladies in the industry. I asked each of them about how they got into comics,  the projects that they’re working on,  their thoughts on women in comics, and much more. Today’s interview is with Kelly Thompson, the blogger of Comics Should Be Good’s She Has No Head!, co-host and creator of the podcast 3 Chicks Review Comics, writer of the WOMANTHOLOGY story “SuperLess Hero” and author of THE GIRL WHO WOULD BE KING.

What got you into comics?

Kelly: There are actually two answers to that.

I always tell people that the X-Men Animated Series from the 90’s (which I discovered when I was about 15) was what caused me to discover comics (and more specifically Rogue) – and I do feel that’s true since it was what brought on my OBSESSION with comics and introduced me to the community of comics, and all the terminology, and having a pull list, and even just going to a store solely for comics every week. But in truth, I loved Archies when I was much younger and would beg my mother for them mercilessly whenever we were at the grocery store checkout line. There surely must have been comics elsewhere in the store on a spinner rack or something…but I never saw them, or if I did I don’t remember them…so I was I guess the laziest kid alive in that I only wanted the Archies which were within arms length!

What inspired you to become a writer and when did you begin writing?

Kelly: I have been writing in some way shape or form for about as long as I can remember. When I was extremely young (6 or 7 perhaps?) I used to write these little stories – I primarily remember ones about some mermaid sisters – and then I would staple the stories together like a book, with a construction paper cover, then I would cut out a hole in the front and draw a picture of the “star mermaid” of the book on the first page. So yeah, I was making “die-cut covers” before I even knew such a thing existed. I suspect when you’re making your own books at seven then you’ve a pretty clear idea of what you want to do in life!  I was also in some silly “my dream” assembly in fourth grade and we had to make t-shirts that said what our dream in life was –my t-shirt was god-awful ugly but it had a picture of a book and it said I wanted to be a writer.

Like anyone I got a bit lost along the way though.

I have written all my life – including writing comic scripts and screenplays (all terrible) in my notebooks during French 2 and French 3 in high school, which explains why I know so little damn French. I had fits and starts along the way, and like many my biggest problem was discipline. I think I didn’t get REALLY serious about writing until I was about 25. I started really working on projects then that even today I look back on and see they have merit and could be reworked into something real – unlike the stuff that came prior to that – which is mostly dreck. I also started trying to publish, short stories and poetry in my mid-twenties. So that’s when I think I started to get serious, but I’ve always done it.

What advice can you give aspiring writers?

Kelly: Well, the “never quit” thing is old as dirt, so I’ll use that and add a caveat – “pick one thing.”  I, like many artist types I know have interest in a lot of different types of art. I want to write novels and short stories and comics and blogs and all sorts of things and for me the end result was nothing was getting finished. I had a filing cabinet full of things that were 75% and sometimes even 90% complete, but you can’t do much at all with that. So it’s useless. I really started to get traction and get noticed when I decided to make one project (at the time that was THE GIRL WHO WOULD BE KING) my priority above all else. I think doing that was the only way I finished. Since then I’ve become more disciplined and it’s easier, but for new writers I would say, “getting to ‘the end’ is the thing…and don’t let anything else get in your way.”  ☺

Tell readers a little more about The Girl Who Would Be King and what inspired this story.

Cover for THE GIRL WHO WOULD BE KING Illustrated by Stephanie Hans

Kelly: THE GIRL WHO WOULD BE KING is basically the story of two teenage girls with superpowers that are coming into their own both as women and as superpowered beings. They have different things driving them, and as a result, very different agendas which bring them into serious conflict with one another. It’s an action packed story, as any superhero type tale should be, but I hope it’s also very personal and emotional. The story is told from both girls (Bonnie and Lola) points of view in first person and they’re drastically different, but they have these deep similarities too. I have honestly gotten a wonderful response from everyone that has read the book – so I hope it will deliver for readers – especially after such a rewarding Kickstarter experience thus far.  

Originally the book was going to be a screenplay (with an entirely different name) and it was going to be a Bonnie and Clyde reimagining. But partway through writing it I realized I didn’t want to write about a traditional love story, or about the boy character at all, and that I really wanted to be writing prose, and about superheroes, and about two chicks – so it eventually became about Bonnie  Braverman and Lola LeFever, superpowered chicks destined for a brutal collision.

You’re also one of the hosts of the 3 Chicks Review Comics Podcast along with DC Women Kicking Ass blogger Sue and formally Maddy from the blog When Fangirls Attack!  How did the podcast come about and what can fans look forward from the podcast?

Kelly: You know, I had been writing She Has No Head! for a long time and I wanted to keep doing it but I was getting burned out and I thought that rather than subbing in a second column about something else that I should bring in some other ladies to talk with me.  I decided to bring in some other ladies to talk and it turned into such a wonderful thing – especially for me in helping me really embrace what’s so wonderful about women in comics. Like many women I sometimes feel competitive with other women, especially in a small industry like comics, but making friends and being a part of this wonderful community has really changed that dramatically for me.  

Are you working on any other projects?

Kelly: Yes! I actually have a second novel that I’m sending out right now as I look for a new agent and I’ve also been working with Meredith McClaren on a pitch for a 6-issue comic book mini-series called HEART IN A BOX that we’ve pitched to several publishers. It’s a great project, so I really hope we can get someone interested in picking it up. The collaboration with Meredith has been so rewarding, I can’t even explain it, we’re in near perfect synch and it’s just wonderful.

Cover of HEART IN A BOX Illustrated by Meredith McClaren

In your opinion, what things have changed for the better in comics for women? And what things still need to be worked on and what can be done about them?

Kelly: I think the sheer amount of talent on display over the last few years has been staggering. There are so many fantastically talented women coming up in comics right now that it’s just an embarrassment of riches and I think that will naturally move the needle over time – but it does take time. I think the other major development is social media and the internet in general. Women are able to engage much more in comics and have their voices heard in ways that were more challenging in the past…this has evened the playing field a bit and given real rise to a powerful smaller voice in comics. I feel that the change is very natural and gradual at this point, as a less old-fashioned generation takes over – as both creators and writers – I think there will definitely be a day when we can’t even believe this was an issue – but it will take time and I do think that continuing to speak up is part of what helps move that needle as quickly as it can go.

How can those of us who love comics encourage young girls and older ladies who want to to draw, write, or just be involved in comics?

Kelly: I think sharing your passion for comics with young girls (and boys) is probably the biggest thing. A lot of people grow up thinking they can’t do a thing or be interested in a thing simply because they haven’t seen anyone else like them do it or be interested in it – that was definitely part of the reason I came to comics so slowly. Nobody introduced me to it; I had to find it myself. So encouraging a love of comics and what makes them so great is key, and searching out the kind of books that will work for them and will help them to feel a part of something rather than excluded from that thing is obviously a huge help. That’s one of the things I loved so much about Renee’s WOMANTHOLOGY project, had I seen that in a library as a kid it would have blown my freaking mind.

I’m also of course always a supporter of encouraging the artistic/creative side of kids as well. And saving up money to give them for when you’re successful in turning them into comics fiends and they have become poor comics creators would also probably be a good idea. 😉

Speaking of WOMANTHOLOGY, you contributed to the book as a writer, can you describe your experience?

Excerpt pages from Thompson’s Womanthology story SuperLess Hero. Illustrated by Stephanie Hans

Kelly: Sure. I mean I was incredibly lucky to get to work with Stephanie Hans, which happened because we knew each other a little bit through my blog 1979 Semi-Finalist and I was a huge fan. I think the biggest challenge of WOMANTHOLOGY for me was just limiting my story so that it could work well enough in four pages – not trying to do too much. I hope I was successful in that. The easiest part was everything else – I think, whether you like my story or not, we can all agree that Stephanie did ALL the heavy lifting. I mean, I put a “giant octopus destroying a city” in the script because I knew she could deliver something just awesome…and I was right…but the power of that story is absolutely Stephanie’s vision, which I loved from the instance I starting seeing sketches.

More generally, every single person I worked with for WOMANTHOLOGY was fantastic, it was this incredibly rewarding and positive experience from beginning to end. Rarely do you get the chance to look back on something and say honestly “yeah, that was 100% a positive experience” and it really was. I’ll always owe Renae De Liz for giving me that opportunity.

Who is one woman in comics that you admire?

Kelly: Just one? IMPOSSIBLE! There are so many, from people like Heidi MacDonald, Laura Hudson, Jill Pantozzi, and Sue (of DC Women Kicking Ass) out there kicking ass and taking names when it comes to comics journalism to artists and writers like Fiona Staples, Rebecca Isaacs, Sara Pichelli, Amy Reeder, Becky Cloonan, Emma Rios, Emily Carroll, Cassandra James, Faith Erin Hicks, Hope Larson, Gabrielle Bell, Katie Cook, Eleanor Davis, Renae De Liz, Cat Staggs, Jen Van Meter, Gail Simone, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Marjorie Liu, Kathryn Immonen, Mariah Huehner, Kate Beaton…there are just so many, I could never name everyone I’m in awe of…

If I had to pick right now, I would have to say the two I have worked with most closely so far and who have just blown my mind with their talent and charm – Stephanie Hans who did the cover and most of the illustration work for THE GIRL WHO WOULD BE KING, as well as illustrated my first published comics story –“SuperLess Hero” for WOMANTHOLOGY; and Meredith McClaren who has been an absolute dream to work with on my first major comics project, HEART IN A BOX…they’re just both stunningly talented and they surprise me without fail every single time in what they can do.

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