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Thursday, September 15, 2022

Interview with Gail Simone at 2022 Ottawa Comiccon

Ottawa was graced with Gail Simone's presence from September 9 to September 11, 2022, at the Ottawa Comiccon and, naturally, we just couldn't resist the opportunity to meet her in person and ask about our favorite DC books she'd co-created and/or written. 

The weekend saw a steady stream of Simone fans lining up to chat with her and get comics signed, and we felt incredibly lucky to get twenty minutes of her time. Rather than transcribe the entire 20 minute interview (a lot of it was talking about Ottawa in general), I'm just going to jump to the good bits. Since, as per usual, my interviews are all over the place, I re-structured this article so everything made chronological sense.


Gail Simone: "I grew up in a really isolated area -- outside of a very small town -- so we just didn't have access to things. But we'd go to flea markets and garage sales when those things would happen, and I was getting frustrated with things I was reading as a young girl -- y'know, the fairy tales all had to have a prince come in so that you could live happily ever after, any adventures that happened were accidental because you couldn't go out and seek them on your own. Even though I love Alice in Wonderland, she still falls down a rabbit hole accidentally. Same with Wizard of Oz, she gets taken up in a twister and taken somewhere. And so, I was at a sale and I saw a cover of a Justice League comic and Wonder Woman was on it. I had never heard of her before, I didn't know anything about her, but I could see that she was a princess and seemed like she could make her own decisions and kick butt and didn't need to be in the kind of story that I was used to reading. I was between 8 to 10 years-old at this point. Then, when I was watching Batman '66 and Barbara Gordon came on screen, and this show left quite an impression on me. It was colorful, it was loud, and there was this really smart red-headed character -- and I thought "this is a world I could get involved in" and from that point on I just read everything I could." 

Yvonne Craig as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl in Batman 66


Simone: "I didn't really have anybody that I read comics with at the time, and I don't even know if anyone knew I read comics because I was a huge theatre nerd and a huge English literature nerd, and I had skipped all but one year of English in high school...but I read all the time, that's what I did. I read everything but I would put the comic behind the Hemmingway or Steinbeck so that no one could really see it -- it was my 'dirty little secret', at the time." 

Simone: "When I was getting ready to graduate from high school at 16 and I had to talk to the heads of the departments and answer questions, and the head of the English department asked me "Don't you ever read any junk? Do you only just read this stuff?" (implying Hemmingway, Steinbeck, Orwell, Twain, etc...) and I replied with "Oh no! I just love this stuff, I don't read junk!" [laughs] I never did tell them I read comics which now I wish I would've, but that's kind of what the state of people's opinions were at the time -- it would've been something else for people to make fun of me for, and in my heart I didn't want to be made fun of that for that."


Simone: "Where I'm from in Oregon we had an amazing comic book store at the time. Right around when I was  in college, I was a really big fan of Love & Rockets, ElfQuest, Frank Miller's Daredevil, Claremont's X-Men,... all of those things. I read a little sampling of everything, as I could afford it. Anything I could get a hold of. Libraries weren't carrying this stuff at the time. My buying and collecting was really sporadic at that time due to funds, I really loved the more adult and darker things that were happening: Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, Black Orchid, Hellblazer, Neil Gaiman's Sandman... all of that."  


Simone: "The Simpsons for Bongo Comics was my first actual comic book writing. I was writing a column online for Comic Book Resources (CBR), and it was getting a lot of attention in the industry... including with editors. Scott Shaw, who I'd made friends with online... I am a big fan of his Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew work... he was working for The Simpsons at the time, and he told me they were really looking for humor writers and that I should talk to them. He just kept talking about and bringing it up, and finally he told me he just gave them my number and they'd contact me. So they called me and asked me to write for them, and I was in shock. I just decided to try it because... well... how many times does someone get an opportunity like this?"

panel from a Simpsons story Gail Simone wrote.
Lil' Goodfellas from Simpsons Comics #50 published by Bongo Comics (2000)


Simone: "This was before and around the same time as my CBR column started. A group of people helped get that website together. I coined the name and a lot of people came up with the list of examples, and then the rest is history... it's now used in Hollywood and has become a trope. This was a direct reference to Green Lantern v3 #54 (1994) where GL Kyle Rayner's girlfriend is killed by Major Force and shoved in a refrigerator for the hero to discover. In the 90s I was reading a bit of everything when I could get my hands on it -- I'm not a collector and, because of the lack of availability in my area, I didn't always have consistent runs. So, yeah, I definitely remember Knightfall and Death of Superman. The death of Superman event was HUGE. But I was definitely not reading as many comics in the 90s as I was when I was younger, and that's when I sat down to wonder why...  because comics had always been a part of my life upon first discovering them. And then I started to realize that a lot of things were happening to female characters just to forward the male character's story. For example: Barbara Gordon was shot in the spine, and for a long time Wonder Woman was de-powered,...y'know, there was just so much going on like that. So I started asking the question "Is that why more women are not reading comics?", because my favorite characters weren't being treated very well during that 90s era." 

The infamous issue the website is named after.


Simone: "DC sought me out. I was at my first convention [San Diego Comicon] and signing at the Marvel Comics table (I had previously released a few Deadpool comics at the time), and Geoff Johns from DC came over and told me that he'd like me to meet the editor because they were going to be doing a Birds of Prey comic (because the television show was just about to come out). "I'd like you to meet the editor," he said, and I was like "Can you even go from a Marvel table at a convention to meet a DC editor?" Being from a small town, I didn't know the etiquette... so this was all very new to me. I ended up meeting Lysa Hawkins, who was the editor at the time, and got to know what they working looking for -- and the I pitched an idea. All from there, Birds of Prey happened."


Justin for DC in the 80s: "I was legit impressed with the amount of obscure villains that appeared in the Villains United series you wrote. We're talking C-level villains I haven't seen since the 1980s. At first I thought, wow she must have a pretty deep memory of 80s DC books and read extensively, but now I'm learning that you only read sporadically. So was that your first side quest at DC? Poring through the history of DC and reading all the Who's Who?"

Simone: [laughs] "Well... I have a decent knowledge of comics, it's just that I'm not the person who could say "in issue #102 such-and-such a character appeared"..  my brain just doesn't work that way. But the truth of that is I had a Suicide Squad pitch in at DC -- which I think every writer does because we ALL love Suicide Squad -- and they came to me and said "we're going to do a book called Villains United and we'd like you to write it? We like the way you're writing villains". I was so excited. This was going to be a really amazing assignment, I couldn't believe they were asking me to write a Suicide Squad-like book. So I started asking if I could use the Joker, the Penguin, Mister Freeze, and all of these other bat-villains in the series and the answer was NO to all of it. I thought to myself "why are they asking me to write a villains book when I'm not allowed to use any of the villains?"... and the answer was that they were being used elsewhere in stories. So, the stubborn part of me that likes to cause trouble [laughs], started thinking "How can I make this book interesting and about villains?". So I started thinking about who I could use that they wouldn't say NO to... and one of the characters was Catman." 

Catman went from a D-list bat-villain to one of the bad boys of the DCU under Simone's writing.

Simone: "I really thought that Catman could have the potential to be the best tracker/hunter in the DC universe because we didn't really have one at that time. So I pitched that. He'd been in Africa for a period of time and he's remade himself, and I gave them the pitch and they were like "whatever, Gail. This is weird." But then when [artist] Dale [Eaglesham] sent in a one-page art piece of Catman standing on a cliff in Africa, in barely-a-loin cloth, with his hair in the breeze, lookin' pretty fine [laughs], DC said "okay, now we get it." So they allowed that. And then I created Scandal Savage, Ragdoll Jr and the Parademon. So it was basically me trying to find a team of villains DC would allow me to use -- that was how the Secret Six happened."       

Justin: "How did you end up with Bane and the Mad Hatter?"

Simone: "Mad Hatter I asked for and was allowed him. For Bane, DC asked me to put him in. The film [The Dark Knight Rises] was going to be coming out eventually, and he needed to be used and built back up again. I did NOT want Bane. All I knew of Bane, at that time, was that he was a big, hulking guy that was on some sort of drug and he broke Batman's back. I just didn't see a role for him in the Secret Six. But they asked me to do it, and I kind of liked the challenge, and I thought "How could I write this character so he fits into the Secret Six and doesn't undo anything from his past characterization, but kind of builds on it?" So that's when came up with him and Scandal having that father/daughter relationship. I just wanted to add some texture to it. Now I love Bane and I love writing him."

Catman and Bane
panel from Secret Six #9 (2009)


Justin: "You wrote the All-New Atom series featuring Ryan Choi as the Atom. Just had to ask, was the Atom one of the characters you grew up reading as a youth? Did you ask for that project?"

Simone: "I didn't ask for it. Originally, Grant Morrison had a pitch in for it, but Morrison couldn't do it, so he actually asked them if they could get me to do it. And, I LOVE science. When I was a kid, if I wasn't going to be a writer, I was going to be a science teacher. I just loved science, and still do. So to be able to do a story about a town with a lot of weird science going on just really excited me. I didn't end up using that much from Grant's pitch, but I used some of it and just ran with it. I had a blast. And working with Mike Norton was amazing."


Simone: "This was something they asked me if I'd be interested in doing, and I love -- as you can tell by reading my work -- I love the psychology of characters, so I read the old issues and thought it was a pretty cool idea but wasn't real modern."

Justin: "Yeah, I remember her being a Lois Lane villain, and then later appearing in Booster Gold as a antagonist in the 80s..."

Simone: "I just felt that she needed a bit more texture and modernization. So, that's how we did that."


Simone: "Dr. Psycho [a Wonder Woman villain] has popped up in a lot of my stories. I like him because he causes a lot of problems and I like dealing with the psychology of his character so that he's not just straight-up villainous without a reason behind it." 

Simone: "Batman has great villains, and the best ones have a psychological component to them. I don't really have a favorite per se, but I was asked to write a Poison Ivy arc. I really didn't want to write Poison Ivy, either. It was just one of those characters that I didn't really have an affinity for. But then I thought "Well, what could I do to make me want to write her?" and then I started thinking about seasonal effective disorder and how it might affect Ivy with the plants and her powers and stuff, and then I was more interested in her. Now I love her. I'm writing her in other things and she's a great character to write. I just couldn't grab on to her until then." 


Simone: "I like the Firestorm character a lot and I liked what they wanted to do with him in the beginning talks of New 52, but it just wasn't working out the way I thought it would, so..."

We can't thank Agence Pink and Ottawa Comiccon enough for allowing us this opportunity to interview Gail Simone





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