Fan-favorite writer Gail Simone discussed her career and current projects with DC Comics Executive Editor Dan DiDio at Comic-Con International in San Diego on Sunday morning. Before taking questions from the audience, DiDio asked a few of his own.
Simone told about how she broke into comics writing. "I was doing a silly little parody thing and sending it to people in the industry, and they liked it and sent it around to other people, and that led to You'll All Be Sorry," she said, referring to her acclaimed humor column for Comic Book Resources, which ran from 1999 to 2001. "It was probably some of the most fun I've ever had. It was just so fun. Nobody knew who I was; they didn't know if I was a man or a woman for real, some people even thought I might be a DC editor in disguise. It was just a lot of fun, and I guess eventually it the right people's attention." Among those people was cartoonist Scott Shaw!, who referred her to Bongo Comics. Shaw! suggested several times that Simone should contact the publishers, assuring her that she would be an ideal writer for the Simpsons comics. Finally her resistance was worn down after Shaw! said "I already told them you were going to call." But Simone was not entirely convinced; "I never ever thought I would be writing for money. I was a hairdresser. But finally I thought, 'is anybody ever in my life going to ask me if I want to write for the Simpsons?' So I called."
Bongo was not the only publisher that was aware of Simone's work on YABS. Joe Quesada was also a fan, and he offered her "Deadpool." "Joe said he wanted it to be laugh-out-loud funny," Simone explained. She became the regular writer on "Deadpool" through the concluding issue, then launched the title that followed it, "Agent X."
Then DC editor Lisa Hawkins called and said they were looking for a new writer for "Birds of Prey," Simone explained, "I wrote a pitch, got hired, but they didn't want that pitch, so we started over.
"I'm a lifelong comics fan. I had the whole 'towel and safety pin' thing. I remember going down to the 7-11 in my little town to get a Slurpee and a comic. I've always been a fan ever since I could read."
Before taking over "Birds of Prey," Simone was a fan of the book. "I have always been a big fan of Batgirl. When I was a kid I was the only one in my entire school with red hair, and having Barbara have red hair, I really identified with that. I always followed her story."
In addition to "Birds of Prey," Simone discussed her other current projects, which are "Secret Six" and "The Atom" for DC, as well as a new book called "Tranquility" and a revival of "Gen 13" for Wildstorm.
BIRDS OF PREY
Simone definitely wants to revisit the history between the Joker and Barbara Gordon, but the problem has been the availability of the villain. Turning to DiDio, she asked, "Dan, can we have Joker for a while?" To which DiDio replied, "I'll talk to Grant… he just told me he's going to shoot him in the face."
Addressing more immediate stories, Simone teased, "'Birds of Prey' #99 and #100 have big changes in them," suggesting that readers will be surprised. Other future plans for the series were also discussed, with Simone disclosing that "there may be a conflict with a team that has a Six in their name."
An audience member asked about Black Canary's status as the third-best fighter in the DC Universe, inquiring as to who the #1 and 2 fighters might be. Simone said "I don't know. They could fight it out and we'll see."
Talking about Catman's popularity after the "Villains United" mini-series, Simone said, "I wasn't surprised, because I knew that people who knew who Catman was before would find that interesting, and once I saw Dale's art, I knew everyone was going to love him."
Discussing the differences between Secret Six (a team of sometime super-villains for hire) and her other characters, Simone explained, "The Secret Six characters are more bent. I come from a theater background, so I build characters from ground up; I think about what happened in their life that bent them, whether for good or bad…I think about how they fit together. You have to have the right personalities, the right mix."
"Atom's been a blast," said Simone. "Grant is one of the geniuses of comics, so to have any chance to work with him is really an honor for me."
Simone discussed the evolution of the new book. "I had submitted a pitch for a Kid Flash story that involved a weird town full of strange things, which was similar to the version of Ivy Town created by Morrison for the Atom," explained Simone. "So I took stuff from Grant's pitch, meshed it with stuff from the other pitch, and came up with something that was kinda fun and bizarre."
Responding to a question about the prior history of the Atom in Ivy Town ("a weird town with a lot of science gone wrong"), Simone remarked, "I've been thinking a lot about the time pool lately."
The artist for the first six issues of "The Atom" is John Byrne, with whom Simone had worked during her run on "Action Comics." Asked about working with him, Simone remarked, "John is very opinionated; a lot of artists are opinionated, and I'm okay with that. Actually, I think John Byrne is brilliant and his forceful personality is part of that."
"I can go further with the sexy in Wildstorm," Simone remarked, pointing out the difference between writing for "Gen13" as opposed to her mainstream DC work. Although she had never read the series "until they asked me to write it," Simone quickly developed a fondness for the characters and found stories that she wanted to explore. When asked if she was writing a new origin for the group, she explained, "I'm not really redoing the origin; I'm starting the story at a certain point," and went on to say that the characters are beginning to remember their earlier lives, and they may discover that some of what they have been told about their origins may not be the whole story. Her primary concern was to get them away from "the babysitter" and let the team go out on their own as independent teenage heroes.
"Tranquility" is a new series set in a retirement home for superheroes. "Maxi Man was a librarian, and in his younger days he had a secret magic word that changed him into the most powerful man on Earth. There was an accident, and he can't remember his magic word. He spent the rest of his life reading dictionaries from every language, trying to find his word." Simone described another character, a woman who creates elaborate and complicated gadgets and machines.
"It's really fun, because we get to tell stories that take place in present-day Tranquility, and then we get to do some flashbacks to their glory days, and a lot of really fun art stuff that's '40s and '30s."
Simone also addressed a number of other topics over the course of the panel….
A young female reader asked if there would be more Gus Beezer stories. Simone made a sad face and "aww…" sound, then said regretfully that although she loves Gus Beezer, there are no plans to do any more stories in that series, but went on to say that she would very much like to do another project along similar lines with a different character.
What would you like to do? "I would like to tackle horror," revealed Simone. "I love EC horror. I like things that have black humor." She also has some ideas for Wonder Woman, though she has never written a pitch for that series.
The inevitable "what's it like to be a Woman in Comics" question was asked, to which Simone replied "The only time it comes up is when people ask me about it." Turning the discussion to other women in comics, Simone remarked enigmatically, "Amanda Conner wants to do something really inappropriate with me." She declined to elaborate, though DiDio joked "we aren't talking comics here."
In response to questions about the Women in Refrigerators website, Simone explained that "the whole purpose of that website was to open up conversation, and it did change things, and that was really important; it's like, you don't want to have every single character being killed be of a certain ethnicity or sexuality or whatever." Asked if she had been mischaracterized or misrepresented in other people's interpretations of the WiR site, Simone remarked that some people do approach the site with an agenda and assume that she has an agenda, and she really doesn't like that.
Dan DiDio acknowledged that Simone creates a lot more new characters than other writers, and "from my standpoint, Black Alice is a character that was created for 'Birds of Prey,' but we've been able to use her in many other stories. That's exciting to me, and that's why Gail is so important to DC."
Two questions were asked about topics specific to the regular visitors to the You'll All Be Sorry forum; the first concerned Simone's decision to insert one of her fans into a "Birds of Prey" arc after he assisted her with research and dialect for the scenes set in Singapore. At the conclusion of the story, Simone had the character gunned down by the villain of the piece, and he followed up with "Gail shot me" remarks in his posts for several months afterward, causing a panel attendee to ask, "Do you regret shooting YoGo?" Simone replied, "I regret nothing." The second question referenced a recurring joke about men who carry their wallets in their front pocket, which has appeared in "Birds of Prey" on a couple of occasions. All she would say about that is "all you guys who carry your wallet in your front pocket, if you don't know what you're doing, I can't help you."