Womanthology is a large-scale anthology that showcases the works of women in comics. Writer, editor, and journalist Bonnie Burton talks with Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon about her multi-faceted involvment with Womanthology, balancing writing and editing, and staying busy with Star Wars!
This interview was conducted on March 22, 2012.
Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics: Womanthology started with a single tweet asking if there were any female creators who would be interested in creating a collection of work. How did you become involved with the project?
Bonnie Burton: My close friend and artist Jessica Hickman sent me an email shortly after the tweet about Womanthology went out and asked if I would be interested in not only contributing a story (with her as the artist) but also be one of the editors. I’m a big fan of comics, and have always wanted to work on more comic book projects as a writer, so it sounded like the perfect opportunity to do something I love for a good cause.
BD: Over 150 writers and artists were paired together to work on collaborative projects, and five editors were assigned to oversee the teams. Being that you served as both an editor and a contributing writer on Womanthology, how did your experiences differ with each respective role and was one more challenging than the other?
BB: Luckily, I edited quite a few creative women who had an amazing work ethic — both the professionals and the amateur artists and writers all had fun with their stories and were excited to collaborate. Very few divas got in the way of making some truly entertaining and beautiful comics. That’s the one thing I wish more women would realize — that they can work together without having to worry about cattiness or mean girl behavior. Women work well together when they’re allowed to be heard about their ideas. I had a lot of fun editing so many different kinds of stories.
Writing my own story is a bit more solitary. In my case, I was using the lyrics from a song by Samantha Newark (the voice of Jem from “Jem and the Holograms!”) Her lyrics served as the text, and I came up with the story, characters, scenes, and cute twist at the end. Working with Jessica Hickman is always a thrill, because she’s so talented and we already share a kind of creative shorthand since we’ve worked on other projects together before Womanthology. She instantly understood where I was going with my “Lost Treasure” pirate girl story and made the comic even more beautiful than I had imagined.
BD: The theme of Womanthology is being heroic, and all of the stories and art in the book are different interpretations of that idea. How does your contribution represent heroism?
BB: My “Lost Treasure” story is about not giving up on a friend. Letting a friend know that you will not abandon them just because they have lost their way, is heroic to me. In my story, you don’t realize the pirate girl is searching for a lost friend until the end because I wanted it to be a surprise, but I think the lost at sea concept is a good metaphor for helping a friend who may need help getting back to where they need to be. Heroes don’t always have to wear capes and jump over tall buildings in pursuit of bad guys. Sometimes heroics involve simple acts of kindness and showing compassion.
BD: One of the many amazing features of Womanthology is a section of the book devoted to recognizing female creators in the past. Are there any specific female creators that have inspired your work?
BB: I’ve always been a fan of Tarpe Mills and her Miss Fury comic. The comics from the ’40s — especially noir mystery and crime comics — hold a special place in my heart, and Miss Fury was one of my favorite characters. I even dyed my hair black with blue highlights once to emulate her signature look! I also love that she put her own cat in her comics. It’s only a matter of time before I turn my own mutt into a superhero sidekick! Mills was such a trailblazer in comics — not only creating her own comics, but her comic had a FEMALE LEAD character who was a hero instead of a victim. Mills’ heroic Marla was stylish and strong, but her nemesis had the coolest name ever — Baroness Erica Von Kampf. If I ever become too famous to book at hotel room under my real name, that’s the fake name I’m using!
Another amazing female comic book creator who is still dominating the comic book industry — and who inspires me to write strong, sassy female characters — is Gail Simone. We were lucky enough to have her contribute to Womanthology, which makes this book even more amazing. Gail’s talent for storytelling and character building inspires me to go above and beyond the usual stereotypes and cliches. When she wrote for the Birds of Prey comic book series, she made readers think of female superheroes as more than just spandex-wearing lovelies who kicked bad guy butt; they were complex, complicated characters who didn’t always get along or do the right thing. Gail’s stories stick with you for a long time, and inspire many of us to write realistic female characters who have their own ideas, challenges, and dreams.
Some other female comic book creators who have and continue to inspire me are Ariel Bordeaux (Deep Girl), Julie Doucet (Dirty Plotte), Sarah Dyer (Action Girl), Dame Darcy (Meatcake), Jill Thompson (Scary Godmother), Jessica Abel (Artbabe), Mary Fleener (Slut Burger), Serena Valentino (Gloomcookie), Emi Lenox (EmiTown), Jamaica Dyer (Weird Fishes), Katie Cook (Gronk), Jessica Hickman (Space Quint), Cat Staggs & Amanda Deibert (Hot Mess), just to name a few!
BD: What impact do you hope that Womanthology will have on today’s comic book industry and its readers?
BB: I get so annoyed when I hear my guy friends say that women don’t like comics. All my gal pals read comics more than most guys I know. I have piles and piles of comics in my apartment. If Hoarders ever does a comic book edition, I’ll be in it. So, it’s even more frustrating as a writer to hear people say that women aren’t interested in creating comics. Not only are we interested in creating comics, we already are — many of them can be found in self-published zines and comic anthologies, and even more recently — webcomics! The problem isn’t in that we don’t want to create comics, it’s that we are finding it difficult to get the attention of big publishers like Marvel and DC. Womanthology showed those companies, and many other well-known publishers, that not only are women creating comics but both women AND men want to read them. At the end of the day, it all comes down to supply and demand. If readers want more comics written with more unique perspectives, especially those from women, they will demand it and those comics will do well, which will in turn more money for the publishers.
I also hope that Womanthology inspires amateur artists and writers, especially girls, to get started on their first comic. The first rule for all art is to do it for yourself, then your audience will come. Write what you want to read, not what you think others will pay you to write. When you flip through the pages of Womanthology, you’ll see a lot of different styles of writing and art, which I hope triggers something in a would-be writer or artist to experiment and have fun with their own comics.
BD: Being that Fanboy Comics focuses on all things geek, I must share my excitement over your many writing contributions to the Star Wars universe. From acting as Senior Editor at Starwars.com to your work on books like The Star Wars Craft Book and Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Planets in Peril, how did Star Wars become a part of your life?
BB: It was being at the right place at the right time! I answered a random ad in Craig’s List 9 years ago for a job at Lucasfilm as a writer and community manager at StarWars.com and IndianaJones.com. I’d been a Senior Editor and Writer at @Home Network, Excite, Winamp.com, and later AOL, so this was a perfect fit for me, not to mention the fact that Princess Leia had been a personal hero of mine since I was 6 years old. Later, outside regular duties for StarWars.com, I started writing Star Wars books for kids. I’ve written two drawing books — You Can Draw: Star Wars (DK Publishing) and Draw Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Klutz Books), as well as a learn-to-read style book called Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Planets in Peril (DK Publishing). But most recently, my pride and joy book is The Star Wars Craft Book which has some of my favorite crafts I’ve created over the years, such as the Jabba the Hutt Body Pillow, Admiral Sackbar Bag Puppet, Chewbacca Sock Puppet, Cuddly Felt Bantha, Wookiee birdhouse, Emperor Appletine Doll, and an AT-AT Herb Garden Planter, to name a few. I’ve been drawing, writing, and doing crafts since I was a kid, so it’s fun to put all that creativity into books to share with the next generation of geeky girls and boys!
BD: In addition to being an editor and a writer, you are also a journalist, blogger, and founder of GRRL.com. You are officially the hardest working woman in the industry! How do you balance your workload, and do you find that you enjoy staying busy?
BB: Ha! I don’t know if I’m “the hardest working woman in the industry,” but I definitely have a hard time saying no to projects. The author of Goosebumps — R.L. Stine — once told me in an interview that he rarely ever turned down a writing gig. He’s written best-selling books, but also penned greeting cards, started a magazine, and wrote and produced TV shows. He inspired me to try new things as a writer, and that’s why I’ve written everything from Star Wars craft and drawing books, to an anti-bullying book for teens called Girls Against Girls. I’ve set a goal to write and publish one book a year, and so far I’ve been doing that for 7 years. I’ve written for magazines since I was in high school, so over the years my writing has appeared in Wired, Organic Gardening, Bust, Craft, American Teen, Star Wars Insider, and most recently I have a monthly geek girl column in the British pop culture publication – SFX Magazine. I also like to try different kinds of writing projects from TV scripts to advertising campaigns. As a writer, the best thing you can do is constantly challenge yourself. Sleep is optional.
BD: Can you give us the inside scoop on any upcoming projects in the works, or your plans for attending conventions in 2012?
BB: I’m working on another comic with artist Jessica Hickman for the ongoing Womanthology comic series. The comic has a space theme, and I can tell you that it will have a very snarky robot character. I’m also working on some other comic book projects, as well as a few book ideas. I’m writing scripts for one of my friends web series that hasn’t been announced yet; and I have plans to do my own web series, which will be fun since I haven’t had a regular web series since my “Ask Bonnie” show (look it up on Youtube!). I’m working with another friend on a Geek Girl art show that will happen around May. And, be sure to look for me as a guest on a couple of shows on Felicia Day’s new channel “Geek and Sundry” – http://geekandsundry.com
For those of you who like to read supernatural and historical romance novels, I’m in a book club/video show with Felicia Day, Veronica Belmont, and Kiala Kazebee called Vaginal Fantasy Hangout. We read a saucy book and then meet up on Google+ Hangout and stream our video show talking about the book. It’s been a blast to chat about these books, and it’s helped a lot of women and men openly share their love for smutty books about werewolves, ghost hunters, Victorian heiresses, and shape-shifters. Folks can find out more about it here: http://vaginalfantasy.com/.
As for conventions this year, I’ll be at Emerald City Comic-Con, San Diego Comic-Con, RoboGames, Bay Area Maker Faire, Geek Girl Con, Comikaze Expo, and hopefully New York Comic Con again. Star Wars Celebration VI is in Orlando in August, so hopefully you’ll see me there making Wookiee puppets with kids! If you ever spot me at a convention, please say hi!
The best way to track my every move is to follow me on Twitter here – https://twitter.com/bonniegrrl.
BD: What is the most important piece of advice that you can offer to female writers who aspire to work in the comic book industry?
BB: Don’t wait for someone to give you permission to create something — JUST DO IT. Writers write. It’s what we do. And, if you want to be a published author, you have to write something worth publishing. If publishers keep turning you down, then publish it yourself. There’s no need to wait for an editor or agent or publisher to notice you. You have to be your own PR team and get your work out to the masses, whether it’s doing a webcomic or a book or a webseries, then promoting it on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Google+, Myspace, newsletters, flyers, classified ads in the back of punk magazines — whatever it takes. Collaborate with your friends. Make new friends to collaborate with online. Go to conventions and show your favorite publishers your work. Write to your heroes and tell them how inspiring they are, then ask for advice. Whatever you do, just don’t sit there and wait for Fate to take action. It’s up to you to be a rock star.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for Fanboy Comics fans to find out more about you and your work?
BB: The best way to find/stalk/hug me is online. My web site is Grrl.com (though I will be redesigning it soon). I live on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bonniegrrl — and I’m on Youtube, Facebook, Google+, Goodreads.com, and even Myspace!
*Don’t miss Emerald Knight‘s Womanthology signing on Sunday, March 25th, 2012, at 1:00 p.m. Several Womanthology contributors will be in attendance, and proceeds from the sale of the hard cover book will be donated to Global Giving!
Fanboy Comics will continue to post all of its interviews with the Womanthology creators throughout the week. Click here for the latest interviews.