It’s week two of our interview series leading up to the publication of Wonder Woman Unbound, where we talk to cool and interesting people about their favourite versions of Wonder Woman and how she relates to their particular fields and interests. This week we’ve got Kelly Thompson!
Kelly is the author of The Girl Who Would Be King, a novel about two teenage girls with superpowers, which was funded with a massively successful Kickstarter in 2012. Her new book is Storykiller, a novel about the Last Scion, the only mortal who can kill the fictional characters who live among us. Her Kickstarter for the project was funded in less than 72 hours, and is now moving towards some exciting stretch goals. You should definitely go check it out and pick up a copy of the book; Kelly is a great writer, and she’s got a slew of fantastic artists who have done full colour illustrations for the novel. Kelly also has a regular column, “She Has No Head!”, at Comic Book Resources, where she also reviews comics, she co-hosts the comics podcast “3 Chicks Review Comics,” and she contributes to Lit Reactor as well.
Kelly took a break from writing bad ass female protagonists to chat with me about the ultimate bad ass female protagonist, Wonder Woman:
Tim Hanley: What was your very first encounter with Wonder Woman?
Kelly Thompson: Well, I have no memory of this, but my mom assures me that I was a proud owner of Wonder Woman underoos, so my first exposure must have been very young. I don’t really remember the television show as anything I saw in real time – I think I must have been about 3 when it ended its run, so that makes sense. I’m of course aware of it after the fact, but I was not some hardcore Wonder Woman fan as a child.
I also didn’t start reading comics until I was 15/16, so I think my awareness of her was just that of anyone aware of an icon for most of my young life. I read her comic from time to time when I first started reading comics, usually because I’d be drawn in by a great cover. Adam Hughes was drawing a lot of Wonder Woman covers around that time if I recall correctly. But none of the issues I read stuck with me. I don’t know if I just happened to pick mediocre issues, or there was some other problem but for a long time I didn’t connect with her at all despite the fact that I WANTED to connect with her.
I started reading some of her runs in earnest later in life (my late 20’s and early 30’s) but it wasn’t until Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman run in 2008 where I finally started clicking with the character. Simone wrote her with more of a sense of humor than I’d seen in past iterations and something about that allowed me to relate to her a little more and start figuring out how awesome she was. After Simone’s run I went back and read a lot of other stuff (some of which I had read before) and fell totally in love with the character – most notably Greg Rucka’s great Diana stories stood out. To this day when I think of the Diana I adore it’s the Greg Rucka and Gail Simone versions of the character.
TH: What is your favourite version of Wonder Woman?
KT: Got to be the Greg Rucka and Gail Simone versions of the character. Ironically, I think my PERFECT Wonder Woman would be some strange hybrid of those two versions of the character. I’m not a huge fan of the Diana Prince secret identity persona that gets so much panel time in Simone’s stories and I prefer how Rucka portrays her as publicly out and in a more political sphere, which I find both interesting and realistic. At the same time, I would prefer Rucka’s version of Diana with a more developed sense of humor, as she is in Simone’s books, as I feel it softens her and is almost unexpected for the character.
Alternately, I was blown away by the Robert Valley Wonder Woman short we all saw last year. It was unbelievably stylish, badass, and smart, while being undeniably cool with inspired retro visuals. I would embrace the hell out of seeing more Wonder Woman like that.
TH: After enthusiastically reviewing the early issues of the New 52 Wonder Woman, you announced you would stop reading the series. What made you stop?
KT: Wow, how do you summarize the massive post I wrote about why I stopped reading New 52 Wonder Woman into a bite-sized answer!? Here goes nothing! While I was impressed with the creativity that Brian Azzarello brought to his Wonder Woman, and enjoyed the voice of his version of Diana, ultimately his vision of her world was too distressing, and too much a blow for the feminist in me (and Wonder Woman lover) to stick with it. This was made doubly difficult because Cliff Chiang is not only one of my favorite artists working in comics (and a hell of a guy) but he was turning in unbelievably good work on Wonder Woman and easily the best art of the entire New 52. So not supporting that was incredibly difficult.
But in issue #7 when Azzarello decided to portray the Amazons as liars, rapists, and murderers, it was a bridge too far for me. While there is certainly room to interpret the general myth of Amazons that way (there have of course been many interpretations and stories about Amazons over the years) the take Azzarello took was in direct opposition to what the DC Amazons have generally been, and SHOULD be. It was a particularly tough cross to bear in a New 52 that felt very anti-woman. I didn’t call my post about this issue, “Is the Destruction of the Amazons the Destruction of Feminism at DC Comics?” for nothing! Additionally, from a character point of view, even if I could have gotten past the treatment of the Amazons, it couldn’t understand how Azzarello expected us to believe that Diana was so good and heroic if raised by absolute monsters. It either made her galactically stupid (for not knowing the truth of where and what she had come from) or it made her complicit. Both were unacceptable to me on every level.
TH: Have you read another issue since then?
KT: No, actually, I have not gone back to Wonder Woman, and that has sometimes been very difficult. Especially with Cliff Chiang just killing those covers – and interiors. I admit to flipping through a few issues in my shop to see what was going on, but no purchasing and no actual reading more than a panel or two here and there. Just gorgeous stuff. In a lot of ways what they were doing in Wonder Woman made it a nearly perfect book for me – one that I could really invest in and be excited about – but I just couldn’t do it after issue #7. A real shame all around.
TH: Do you feel protective of Wonder Woman’s legacy? More so than with other characters that you love?
KT: I do feel very protective of Wonder Woman’s legacy. Absolutely. I’m sure some would say unreasonably so. I think I am protective of many comic characters I love, and especially female characters who are rarely as protected as their male counterparts. But yes, I’d say I’m more protective of Wonder Woman, if only because she is THE icon female superhero. She’s been doing on her own for a long time. There are no other female characters that come even close to what she has done – headlining her own book for 73 years, being a legitimate IP, an icon that people know on sight the same way they know Superman or Batman, showing up in other media with regularity – no other female character even comes close. And so that legacy needs to be protected and continued. Scores of male characters have managed this, but she’s the only woman. It’s a big deal.
TH: You wrote two superpowered female characters with mythological origins in your novel The Girl Who Would Be King. Did Wonder Woman inspire or inform the book at all?
KT: Superheroes in general informed a lot of TGWWBK, but Wonder Woman was definitely a primary source of inspiration of course. I think while I drew from mythology and superhero stories pretty generally, with some specific nods here and there, when I created Bonnie and Lola in TGWWBK I wanted to create two women that had a chance at standing the test of time as fully functioning complex interesting women with superpowers in the same way that Wonder Woman has. Bonnie and Lola will never have the iconography that Diana does (and they can of course never catch up since they saw publication in 2012, not 1941) but Diana is so magnificently complex that I was certainly aiming for that same level of complexity for my own heroines.
TH: Finally, if Wonder Woman were to leave Paradise Island and come to our world for the first time today, what do you think she’d find most surprising about it?
KT: I guess it really depends on what version of Wonder Woman shows up. If it’s the New 52 Diana then it’s probably a very different surprise than Greg Rucka’s Wonder Woman. To be honest though, I think any GOOD version of Wonder Woman would be pretty surprised (and disappointed) by the lack of equality between men and woman, even in 2014. Even in countries (like the US) that think they’re pretty ahead of the curve when it comes to gender equality, we still have a ton of problems with everything from equal pay to sexual harassment. And in countries where it’s much worse for gender equality, women still can’t drive cars and can be stoned to death for being raped…the inequality is just astounding, it feels like the dark ages sometimes. I think these things would come as a pretty big shock to a woman raised solely by powerful independent women.
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Big thanks to Kelly Thompson! Kelly is @79SemiFinalist on Twitter, and you can learn more about her many projects at her website.
The interview series continues next week with Janelle Asselin, and look for the next Wonder Woman Unbound preview panel this Monday. Wonder Woman Unbound itself is out this April!