Comic Book Day: Gail Simone Unleashes the Fury of “Red Sonja”
By Dan Casey on July 17, 2013
Gail Simone knows a thing or two about badass redheads. First of all, she’s one herself, which is the kind of real world experience that not every comic book writer can boast. Second, she made quite a name for herself for during her tenure on titles like Birds of Prey, the sublimely good Secret Six, and Batgirl (another butt-kicking redhead). Now, Simone is taking her considerable talents to the original awe-inspiring ginger, Red Sonja, the She-Devil with a Sword. The title, published by Dynamite, will pair Simone with Brazilian artist extraordinaire Walter Geovani to combine the tone and setting of Robert E. Howard’s Sonja stories with Simone’s knack for action and high adventure. To get a better sense of what sort of situations we can expect the She-Devil to get herself into, I caught up with Simone to talk about her affinity for redheads, making Red Sonja her own, and the ins and outs of Kickstartering.
Gail Simone: First, guys, let me say thanks for asking… I absolutely adore the Nerdist, the podcasts, I love the site, I love Chris’ comedy and the whole Nerdist thing. You guys make this hobby ridiculously fun. So, thanks!
Nerdist: Aw, thanks! We adore you too. You have a reputation for writing strong female characters and I’ve read that you’re a big fan of the sword-and-sorcery genre. Red Sonja seems tailor-made for someone like yourself. How did you get involved in the project and what excites you about the character? Be honest – was it because she’s also a redhead?
GS: I wish I could say no to that last one, but in a stupid way, it actually IS partly because she’s a redhead. I’ve talked about this a lot, but I came from a small, redneck community, and I was the only redheaded girl. Kids were pretty brutal about that. Seeing characters like Barbara Gordon and Red Sonja, redheads who were smart and could kick ass, it really did change the direction of my life.
It sounds so goony, but it’s a big reason why I am always on about representation in comics, because I know it can make a difference to people. It certainly did to me. But I wouldn’t have kept my affection for the character over the years just for her hair color. As I read her adventures, I became absolutely smitten by how sexy and violent and rowdy her stories could be. If you were reading JLA or Captain America, those characters all had a code. Sonja’s code was more along the lines of, “Get the fuck out of my way or you go home without your testicles.” I admit, there was something hugely appealing about that.
In some incarnations of Sonja, I think they tamed her a little bit… they made her into this aloof ice queen. They are terrific stories, I enjoyed the hell out of them. But I prefer a Sonja who gets sloppy drunk, who tells ribald jokes, who gets blood on her boots. I want a messier, rowdier, bawdier Red Sonja. In my book, they call her “the Devil” behind her back. I want her to live up to that reputation.
N: There definitely is something hugely appealing there. Red Sonja has seen many different incarnations over the years, from Robert E. Howard to Roy Thomas. Are you building off of any particular version of the character as a template?
GS: It’s a hybrid. Howard fans are aware that the Red Sonja we know didn’t really come directly from him; his character by that name was very different indeed. At the same time, the comics version was so clearly inspired by his work. She’s an amalgam, in a way, of the cool female asskickers he created. Howard was a bit of a proto-feminist, and some of his best stories have incredibly powerful and compelling female adventurers.
It’s the setting and tone of the Howard stories that I love. He had a capacity for impact with carefully chosen words that was really impressive. Reading Conan, you really feel the sand under your feet and the sun at your back. I want to capture that. But it’s the comics version of Sonja, at the center. This is a less experienced, but more deadly she-devil than we have seen before, I think.
N: Where in Dynamite’s existing Red Sonja continuity does she stand?
GS: This is all new stuff. I like to think it can stand beside the classic stories, but new readers can pick it up and be right there with the long-term Sonja followers.
N: Any hints you can drop about some of the fearsome foes she’ll be facing?
GS: She starts off facing a complete walking death machine, a warrior every bit her equal, a She-angel with an Axe, Dark Anyssia. They have a history, and it’s unlike anything they could have had in the old Marvel comics, I think!
N: From what we’ve seen so far, Walter Geovani’s art looks fantastic. How has working with him been thus far?
GS: He’s a doll. Just a doll. I have worked with a lot of great artists, including some of my heroes like Michael Golden, George Perez, and Jose Garcia Lopez, just to name a couple. I have been spoiled. What I love about Walter is his commitment. I asked for a minor tweak, he redrew the whole scene. He just is that kind of artist – he is dedicated to the story. I love that he bases these fantasy scenes in reality: you can see the rivets on the armor, you can see the joins in the woodwork. I hope he stays on the book forever.
N: You have a Kickstarter project with Jim Calafiore, Leaving Megalopolis. What’s the status of that? Additionally, what prompted you to turn to a crowdfunding site like Kickstarter?
GS: We are finishing up bonus material and putting the final bows on the package. It is the work of Jim’s life – the best art I have ever seen from him – and we hired the colorist that we feel is the best in the business, Jason Wright. It looks A-MAZE-ING. It did get delayed some… we started with a small black and white softcover project. It’s now like 120 pages, full color, with lots of bonus features, in hardback, all at no extra cost. It became the most successful mainstream comics project ever on Kickstarter, which is astounding. But growing the project that much has taken extra time. We are almost at the end and it looks absolutely stunning.
N: Many of our readers are content creators or aspiring content creators themselves. What advice would you give to them about using something like Kickstarter?
GS: I think being careful about scope creep, and making sure you have people around you who know the things you yourself do not know, those are key things. Jim and I are not publishers, we’re not distributors. And there had been few projects from comics creators that were this ambitious… we are feeling our way in the dark a LITTLE bit. Fortunately, Jim is a fantastic organizational guy, which is lovely, because I am the worst at that stuff, and this is a massive project.
N: What comics are you reading and enjoying right now?
GS: I love any books by Kelly Sue DeConnick or Marjorie M. Liu; it’s lovely to have successful, talented female writers doing great work in comics. I’m excited for Christy Marx taking over Birds of Prey. I adore Rachel Rising by the great Terry Moore. I’m also a stone cold Scott Snyder fan; the guy is a joy to read and a pleasure to work with.
N: Last question – what would be inside your ideal burrito?
Red Sonja #1 is in your local comic book store today. Tell Gail what you think on Twitter and let us know in the comments below!