Bryant Dillon, Fanboy Comics President: What can you tell us about your academic background and experiences and how they led to your impressive resume of work examining various properties in the “geek” genre?
Valerie Estelle Frankel: Ah, flattery will get you everywhere. Let’s see: I majored in English then got a Master's in Creative Writing. The creative writing part was lots of fiction, which I rarely write nowadays. But, all that analysis of literature with its symbolism and deeper meanings at both universities definitely trained me for this. As for publishing, 2006-2009, I wrote and published a few goofy Harry Potter parodies, then an academic book on the heroine’s journey (and took much glee in telling people about both in the same sentence). Then, just before the first Hunger Games film, I wrote a book analyzing names in The Hunger Games. When no publisher wanted it, I self-published and sales went mad. Then, I realized I could analyze other big series. I also gathered a bunch of publishers who were interested, and now I have 35 of these books, with several different companies.
BD: Did you enjoy fantasy, sci-fi, or other “geeky” genres as a kid? What led to your passion for pop culture?
VEF: As a kid I read everything in the library’s kiddie section, though fairytale and myth were the big obsessions. There wasn’t really a big YA/teen literature category when I was the right age, but some nice library people just took a big sign that said Teen and hung it over the sci-fi/fantasy books. I read everything from Star Trek novels to Jane Yolen and was completely hooked. From crawling to currently, I’ve always read about a book a day, just for fun.
BD: Your latest release, The Comics of Joss Whedon: Critical Essays, is published by McFarland Books and focuses specifically on the Whedonverse’s presence in the comic book medium. Why did you feel this was an important and compelling subject for your next collection of essays?
VEF: I was at Slayage, the 6th academic conference for Whedon Studies. (Yes, this is a thing.) I presented a paper on Whedon’s X-Men comics and the heroine’s journey, and several other papers on comics followed. In the room we began discussing how there were only a few published essays on Whedon’s comics here and there, and the idea was born. McFarland publishes most of the Whedon criticism out there, and they had published my Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey, so I knew they were a good choice.
BD: Will The Comics of Joss Whedon: Critical Essays appeal more to Whedon fans, comic fans, or both?
VEF: Whedon fans have to be the number one audience here – many of the essays we cover are on Buffy, Angel, and Serenity continuation comics. And, Spike. Ah, Spike! There are also essays on Buffy, Doctor Horrible, and River Tam as comic book characters. Of course, we also have lots on Marvel – X-Men, Runaways, Avengers, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which I know have gone far beyond Whedon fandom.
BD: What can readers look forward to within the pages of The Comics of Joss Whedon?
VEF: Essays! Plus a few comics here and there. We have some really interesting viewpoints, as multiple authors explore how much Whedon is the “author” if he supervises comics or makes something like Avengers using others’ characters and franchises. The book takes a look at Comic-Con and more than a few looks at stories about storytelling. We’ve got explorations of the classic stuff – Marvel and Dark Horse comics Whedon wrote a decade ago. Lots of people don’t know about his one-offs, Fray and Sugarshock, or his comic in Stan Lee Meets the Amazing Spider-Man. There’s a full guide to ALL the Whedon comics in the back. And, we have the newest stuff – Serenity: Leaves on the Wind, Buffy: Season Ten, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. We have veteran Whedon writers and some very new to the fandom. And, we have contributors from all over the world.
BD: Do you have a favorite Whedonverse comic that you would recommend to others?
VEF: I thought he did a really nice job with Astonishing X-Men Gifted, Torn, Dangerous, and Unstoppable (as the trade paperback collections are known). His Kitty Pryde is a real loveable, courageous heroine much like Buffy herself. I also enjoyed his first independent comic, Fray, and his Wonder Woman film script . . . since no one wrote on those, I did it myself!
BD: What do you feel is the real importance of pop culture in our society, and why is it important to examine pop culture academically, as the essays do in your books?
VEF: Every party I attend has a Game of Thrones discussion off in the corner. We’re not arguing religion, or Literature with a capital L – we’re arguing who George R.R. Martin will kill off next (and yes, I wrote a book on that, too). Teens may be absorbing Roman philosophy about bread and circuses or rights for the people, but they’re doing it through The Hunger Games and Divergent. These are the books that teach us, the stories that move us. And, if you’re looking for philosophy, ethics, and life lessons for teens, Buffy is an awesome place to find it. That’s something else I’ve noticed – Buffy hasn’t stopped being popular. Vampire Diaries fans watch it, and all the library copies are always checked out.
BD: What are your feelings on the recent trend in the past few years of “geek” culture becoming more and more mainstream?
VEF: Those poor Doctor Who fans! I mean, the ones who stuck with it through the nineties, holding conventions and listening to audio adventures because there weren’t any new episodes. Then, suddenly, Doctor Who returns and their conventions are flooded with teens who want to meet David Tennant. It can be a shock for the outsiders to suddenly go from watching cult, black-and-white episodes in the basement to being at the top of the trends. But, I think the more the merrier certainly applies, since new fans and old buy my books, of course.
BD: The books you’ve released have touched on a ridiculous number of subjects that are close to our geeky, little hearts here at Fanboy Comics (Doctor Who, The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones . . . the list goes on.). What other books of yours do you think that our readers might enjoy?
VEF: For the fans of all things geekery, I’d probably recommend How Game of Thrones Will End (It’s guesswork, not spoilers.) or Sherlock: Every Canon Reference You May Have Missed in BBC's Series 1-3, which was extra fun to write . . . well, they both were. Katniss the Cattail: An Unauthorized Guide to Names and Symbols in Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games has always been quite popular – possibly because the eBook is less than a dollar. I also have lots on the heroine’s journey and lots on comics, including one on Wonder Woman and one on the Marvel Cinematic Universe and heroes’ journeys.
BD: Are there any genres or subjects that you haven’t tackled yet, but would like to?
VEF: Well, people always ask what book I dream of writing, and I point to my first published book, From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine's Journey through Myth and Legend. It’s written. I’ve done it. I tend to write whatever I feel like and go from idea to book quite quickly. (I’ve finished NINE this year, and the year’s only half done!) So, basically, I just need new franchises to inspire me. I’m sure more are coming.
BD: We at Fanboy Comics always like to ask our interviewees what they are currently a “fan of.” It doesn’t have to be specifically comic based or even timely. We’re just wondering what you’re currently enjoying in your life that you could recommend to our readers. So, what are you a fan of?
VEF: Everything! Sherlock, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Buffy, Firefly, Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5 . . . but don’t neglect the books. They’re the best part. Novels are my real obsession, though they only seem to truly break out when they become movies or shows.
BD: Where can readers find more information regarding The Comics of Joss Whedon: Critical Essays and the opportunity to purchase a copy?
VEF: Oh, it’s already out on Amazon, and the eBook should be out soon, too. There’s also a table of contents up here on the publisher’s site.
BD: Finally, where can our readers find you and your work online?
VEF: ALL the fan books are all up here or vefrankel.com. Stop by and see what’s next in fandom. It’s the decade of the geek at last!