Kelly Sue On Reviving Ghost And Promoting Carol Danvers [Interview]

Earlier today on Multiversity, we released the latest episode of our young podcast The Hour Cosmic featuring the wonderful Kelly Sue DeConnick as a guest star. On the show, we ran our episode with our regular installments, but as our conversation with Kelly Sue evolved in discussing reboots/relaunches/rebranding/revitalizing, we realized something — the potential for fans and readers to hear all of the wonderful things Kelly had to say about her plans on “Ghost” and “Captain Marvel” are much higher if we gave it to you in text. (Not that you don’t listen to the show, but.. well, you know.)
So we transcribed that portion of the podcast, edited it a bit with Kelly’s input so that it would read better as a text interview, and we now present it to you as such. You can still download the episode to hear Kelly talk about the Mercury 13 and how silly the Punisher is, but for those of you looking for a good reason to pre-order “Captain Marvel” and “Ghost” … well, we’ve got a treat for you.

Check after the cut for our chat with Kelly Sue, and be sure to subscribe to The Hour Cosmic for future installments with additional guests.

Let’s talk about the idea of rebooting characters or reimagining characters, or revitalizing characters, or resurrecting characters — the idea of how you keep characters that have been around for a while viable and interesting and take new approaches. I’ll start us off by being not the contrarian, but I want to say I’m the type of person that never fully understands why this type of thing takes place, I guess. Let’s say I’m reading Ms. Marvel; I was a huge, huge fan of Brian Reed’s last Ms. Marvel run, and that for me was the first solo Ms. Marvel story I ever read, so that’s the quintessential Ms. Marvel. Now we have the new book coming from you which is a little bit different than Reed’s, and it’s Captain Marvel.

It is Captain Marvel, but it’s the same — if we’re talking about something that I’m working on right now that falls into this category, Captain Marvel wouldn’t be it, honestly. She’s taking a new name, she has a new costume and a new look, but she’s still Carol. We’re not changing her history. Whereas with Ghost, the book that I’m doing at Dark Horse, with Ghost we are taking some names and character concepts and starting from scratch.

I knew Dark Horse was actually planning the Ghost thing for a while because back at NYCC this past year, they actually had a Ghost thing they were showing off. It was an upcoming adaptation I think, but while talking to the guy giving the presentation he was basically saying, “Yeah, they want to do more Ghost, they’re just trying to figure out how to bring Ghost to a brand new audience that might not know anything about Ghost.” We talked a little bit today via e-mail about the terminology used for rebooting and reimaginging and those things, and I think “rebranding” is kind of what you’re doing with Captain Marvel, with Ms. Marvel still being Carol Danvers but now Captain Marvel, but obviously with Ghost that sounds like it’s from the ground up reworking. Can you talk about what’s different?

She’s in Chicago, not in Arcadia. She has a consistent supporting cast. It’s a little bit more of an ensemble book. It’s a little more supernatural mystery, a little less sci-fi, though you could absolutely argue that there’s a scifi component. She’s got a couple of dudes she’s working with that are the hosts of a cable late night television ghost hunter show. I was working thematically with the idea of truth seekers, so one of them is a disgraced investigative journalist. He’s one kind of “truth seeker,” and he’s fallen to this point where he’s working on this crappy cable show with this other guy, who’s this super enthusiastic/kinda dumb dude who genuinely believes in ghosts and thinks that he’s doing scientific work. He’s kind of an Ed Hardy’d up “ghost bro,” and he’s always buying new equipment to measure heat signatures and radiation and whatnot. One of these pieces of equipment that he gets his hands on actually works and it brings this woman into our world. She’s this amazing looking woman in white. She comes in mad as hell, but not knowing her own story. She doesn’t know who she is or why she’s there or what happened to her, so they team-up to solve this mystery together.

I’m having a really good time. Phil Noto is extraordinarily gifted, so there’s that.

There’s always been some jokes built in there somewhere, but she’s obviously a very striking image, regardless of Adam Hughes’ original costume.

We wanted to keep the feel of the costume since it’s so iconic, but update it a little bit, have it make sense in context. This is the same conversation I’ve had about Captain Marvel too–it has to make sense for the character. The new costume’s still sexy, it’s still revealing, but it makes sense for the character in the modern day, in the current context.

They were trying to universe build when they first came up with Ghost because she’s part of that Comic’s Greatest World line, so I think that she looked more like a what a superhero or superheroine looked like at the time, and it doesn’t sound like that’s what you’re doing at all.

I love the old series. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t. There was a lot of really cool off-the-chain stuff that was happening there, like, “What, she’s in a little town in her mind??” Some of the sexuality stuff was annoying to me, but that’s my bag. There were some fantastic things, too! Some incredibly imaginative and crazy stuff in the old series that really spoke to the kind of thing you could only do in comics. Oh, and now we’re in this town in her head, but also there’s this devil, you know? Yes! Yes. More of that, please. I love that!

Ghost was a good comic. Everybody puts their heart and soul into what they’re doing. You try to walk this line, wanting to promote your own take without crapping on what came before, you know?

I don’t think you’ve said a single bad thing about the old book, by the way. I think it’s clear that you like the old book, but it’s the same way — you can’t look at a book that’s got a little age on it and it’ll have stuff in it that stands out as, “Wow, I can’t believe that was there!” It’s just different.

Switching subjects a bit, tell us a little about the process of pitching for Ms. Marvel. Is it something you’d been working on for a long time, was it something that Marvel put out that they were looking for pitches for this?

This is a question I get asked all the time, so I really should figure this out. Let me see… May 2010.

Wow. And was this a character you had a particular affinity for?

(Pause) No. Did you see me deciding whether or not to lie about that?

I was trying to decide what characters I wanted to pitch on, and Matt said, “you should take a look at Ms. Marvel. They’ve been looking for a new take on the character.” I think I’d read a couple of Reed’s Ms. Marvels and I liked them, but I hadn’t read a lot so I didn’t have a real good sense of her as a character. I’d kind of experienced her as Blonde Female Superhero #7. So the first thing I did was I read her wiki page, and I couldn’t figure out what her power set was and I thought, “Oh, this is not going to work.” Then I picked up the reprints of the first Ms. Marvel series and I fell in love. I was so smitten with that that I went on and read all of Reed’s run and was like, “Oh, okay. That’s my girl.” I grew up on military bases; my dad was in the air force. He wasn’t a pilot in the service but he’s a pilot as a civilian, and pilot culture is very important to me and has always been very meaningful to me. The metaphors of flight are all so incredibly rich– and I am terrified of flying!! I’ve never even flown with my father.

My dad and I used to go to airshows and it was a big bonding experience. I love the Blue Angels, and there was a Dutch helicopter team that I absolutely adored as well. This is a thing I’m invested in. I’ve made model airplanes with my dad and painted them and put decals on them and stuff, but I am scared to death every time I’m on a plane. Anything I’ve got mixed emotions about on that deep a level is ripe territory for fiction. I was just totally in, and as we’ve discussed — I don’t know if you’ve noticed this about me, but I have some gender issues and she began as an unapologetically feminist character, much more so than anything we put out today. That was a thing that they took head on; Gerry Conway gets big props for that, and I love that. Yes! More of this, please!

I think redesigned look is really neat, the McKelvie suit, because I like that she’s got short hair now —

Here’s the thing though! It’s actually not short! It’s short-er, but the thing is that all of these different artists are working on it, and there’s actually an artist working on it right now that you don’t know about, but everybody’s take on the hair has been a little different. The first sketch of the hair came from Joe Quesada and it was gorgeous and very feminine, but it’s not a hairstyle you see people walking around with very often, so it’s not an obvious go-to. Everybody’s take is very different. The idea is that it is slicked back when she’s in uniform on the sides to allow for the helmet to come up should she need it. When the helmet is down or when she’s just in her Carol Danvers duds, the hair is pretty conventional – just down. Shorter than what you’re used to for Ms. Marvel, and the McGuinness cover is really short. But with Dex Soy, the artist on the main title, it’s very long – – like a horse’s mane! Interestingly, there has been a swell of positive reaction to the flight suit and a lot of negativity about the hair.

It certainly looks aerodynamic. When she flies, it just slicks back like a fin. I actually like the look of that a lot.

I like the callback to the old Captain Marvel and the Kree look, and I like it for the Mohawk warrior idea. But it’s hair. It grows. I can’t judge people for being so invested in the character that they get upset about her hair. That’s great! I love that you care so much that you get upset about her hair. If it’s ugly to you, I’m bummed about that. I wouldn’t want my favorite superhero to have ugly hair. Wait until the artist you like is on it and then you’ll love it.

I’ll throw in that the only thing that I miss is the domino mask, just because I like domino masks.

Yeah, they’re kinda hot. I like them as well, and there was one of Jamie’s takes that had a domino mask. But it looked like Nightwing-y to me. Something about the way it was designed, but then the helmet idea came up. I think that came from Quesada as well — the hair and the helmet, so you don’t need both. The other thing is, her secret identity is not such a secret. It’s out, so there’s really no reason to wear the mask. She had a blog talking about a superhero, so.. when you’re blogging about it, it’s out there!

The Nightwing comparison is interesting to me on two levels. Obviously the mask thing, I can see how that would come out looking a little bit Nightwing-y, but Ms. Marvel started as somewhat of a spin-off of Captain Marvel and then it took forever to get her to come into that role — almost like Dick Grayson introduced as Robin then becoming Nightwing and eventually becoming Batman temporarily. Was there a fear taking over this book that it wouldn’t be a permanent title change?

You know, that is so not a thing I can control. I have to not worry about that. I am sure that if this is a disaster, she will go back to being Ms. Marvel and back in the black swimsuit and we’ll forget this ever happened. The only thing I can do is write the best book I can write, write as personal of stories as I can, write things that I care about and hope that people like it and that it speaks to them. I’d love it if she stays Captain Marvel because I think she’s earned it, but there is nothing I can do beyond what I’m doing already to ensure that that happens.

It is good to let go.

I like that you said that she’s earned it. Obviously she’s been around longer than any of the characters called Captain Marvel before her, so she’s kind of carried the Marvel name in the books.

She got her powers from Captain Marvel and he’s gone. If somebody’s going to pick up that mantle, it’s Carol. She’s earned it, she knew him, she respected him, she shares his DNA. That’s Carol’s — she should be the one to do that. Not for anything, and I talked about this in another interview as well — I love Ms. Magazine, I’m a subscriber, I use Ms. as opposed to Mrs. as my title, but the name did feel dated to me. It made her feel like an auxiliary character, and its interesting because I tried to decide if it’s my own sexism at play because we don’t use the name Mr. Fantastic anymore, but did I feel like Mr. Fantastic was a auxiliary title? No, because there was no Captain Fantastic.

That actually brings up an interesting point. I think a lot of conversations about comics today often revert into discussions of about the economy and where comics stand in that economy. So I guess an interesting question would be, economically speaking and outside of how it works in the story, do you think it’s better for a book to be called Captain Marvel than Ms. Marvel?

I don’t know. This is kind of like — I have a good friend who is a musician, Mike Doughty, and he tells this story of being rather rudely asked why he didn’t just, I dunno, write hit songs or something. Why didn’t he try to write one that was trying to be a hit? It’s like, what? Everything we’re writing we want to be a huge hit! I’m not making non-commercial choices on purpose. I’m making a bet here that we’re going to be successful. We talk about the economy, and I’ve gotten myself in trouble talking about this but this book is approved as an ongoing, and ongoings these days are not what ongoings used to be, you know? I’ve seen ongoings get turned into mini-series before they ever come out. This book… if we get to six issues, I’m gonna be happy. If we get to eight, I’m gonna be thrilled. If we get to twelve I’m going to be out of my mind! That’s just kind of the reality of the marketplace. I’m not trying to do anything to keep me from that goal, and we didn’t change her costume because we don’t want people to buy the book.

Obviously there’s a lot of discussion, especially in the last couple of years, about the role of women in comics — and I mean not the role literal real-world women writing comics or drawing comics or working on comics, but the idea of the face of women as comic character. Do you feel like this is kind of a response to that in any way? I’m more or less thinking about the idea of DC and the New 52 relaunch and the hooplah that had been going on about the lack of women creators and characters. How do you feel like your book fits into that?

Well, it has been in the works for longer than that. I just looked up the first e- mail I had in that file and it’s dated May 2010, and that is not the first e-mail that was sent, just the first one where I thought this might become a thing. Though, remember when I paused and decided not to lie? Axel Alonso got asked in his Axel-In-Charge column at CBR if the book was a response to the call for more female-led books and he said not directly, no. I would’ve lied! Yes! Marvel – YOUR Universe! We heard you and we’ve answered. I guess that says something about Marvel’s level of integrity, Axel’s level of integrity and mine. Good thing I’m not in charge.

Even if it’s not a conscious effort to put forth a female character, I think for some reason this book has been branded as that book just from reading comment sections, though I think that’s kind of a good thing, actually. I’m sure it puts some pressure on you.

There’s a few things there. One, this book came into being out the sheer force of Steve Wacker’s will. Steve wanted a book he could give his daughter. That is why this book is in existence, because Steve made it so and he fought for it. I’ve received more time in the spotlight lately than I’m used to, and I’m not good at moderation or holding my tongue very much. I hope to get better at it, but I’ve seen some stuff taken out of context, I’ve seen some stuff misunderstood and seen some stuff that, well, you’re not going to please everybody. I’ve been called obnoxious and unapproachable, and obnoxious I’ll take but I’m not unapproachable. I am outspoken, have always been so and I very much unapologetically consider myself to be a feminist. I don’t think that’s a bad word. I resent how that has been taken away from me, how I’m supposed to be, “Well I’m not a feminist…” No! Yes I am! I have a daughter. I want my daughter to have every opportunity in this world that my son has, and for that reason I am a feminist. Before I had Tallulah, I was much more concerned with being liked, and now for her sake I don’t give a shit if you like me. I will fight so that she does not have to. I will try to handle with grace things that make me want to put my fist through the wall because I want her to have a better world. I want her to have more opportunities.

I knew my great-grandmother. She lived until I was in college, I knew her very well. I knew her as a woman. My great-grandmother was young when we got the vote. This is recent history, you know? I was a young Wonder Woman reading girl during the ERA movement. I remember all of that! We still don’t have equal pay, my son is still safer walking around in the world than my daughter is. I’m more comfortable with the idea of him driving at night than I am my daughter. They’re 2 and 4 so, happily, this is not an issue just yet, but still. This is a thing that I’m outspoken about, so thus, because that is part of my personality, that has become part of my “brand” or whatever — and now I’m writing a female lead book.

The other thing I’ve done is I’ve made an effort to reach out. There is an incredible community of comic book reading women on tumblr, and they are huge, HUGE fans of the Bat-books at DC. I love Gail Simone for fostering that community, and I would love to bring them over to Marvel, frankly. I think they should try some of our books as well, and if they would pick up Captain Marvel I’m OK with that!

At the same time, the smartest thing I’ve ever heard said on the subject was said by Marjorie Liu, which was–and this is not a direct quote–‘This was a business. We will have more female-led books when one breaks through and does really well. Then there will a flood of female-led books.’ We’re going to see more female comic creators when one breaks through and does really well. Then there will be a flood of female comic creators. (We’re talking in the superhero community, though, because obviously Kate Beaton has done all right for herself, power and prestige-wise.) We have had, I’d say, a couple of A-List female writers and only really two in the last fifteen years; I’m talking not in terms of quality but in terms of sales. It’s a business, and that’s what matters. That’s what matters to the guys that write the checks and make the hiring decisions – sales. That’s it. They’re not particularly sexist, they’re not setting out to not let girls in the clubhouse, they are doing what makes their business money. Because that’s their job! We need a breakthrough book, and I don’t know if Captain Marvel is going to be that book. I love this book, I love this character. I’m still relatively new on the scene, Dex is very new, so I don’t know. But somebody’s going to do this at some point, and I’m glad of that.

We’ve actually had a lot of conversations at Multiversity sort of on this point before, and Chad Bowers and I have often talked about how we’re so confused why there is twenty zillion Batman books, a handful of Superman and only one Wonder Woman book. I always felt that should’ve been something expanded upon, and when you have such a prominent female character like that you need to build out that brand. Whenever we discuss this topic, it all comes down to us agreeing, “Well, Batman is the one that sells the best, so of course there will be a billion Batman books.”

The direct market is literally set up to sell Batman. Batman is the unit of measure. When they do the charts, Batman is literally the unit of measure and everything is done in Batmans. Base is whatever Batman sells.

Which is a shame, because you’d think that the other Bat-books would just blow- up, but they don’t either. Where does Batgirl fall on that list? I don’t even pay attention to the sales charts anymore, but Batgirl, Batwoman and Catwoman, you’d think that those being Bat-books would be fairly successful female characters.

There are a lot of books out there that are somebody’s favorite book, but they’re just not books for me. That’s completely OK. I had to eat my words recently because when people are getting really upset about the whole reboot/relaunch… I don’t remember what term DC wants you to use for the thing that happened in September. We were in Toronto right after it was announced, and there were people who were upset about it in that “Marvel vs. DC” way, saying, “Yeah, aren’t you mad?” No. I think it’s a really ballsy move, and this is all fiction.

Those stories that you love in your longboxes, they don’t cease to exist because they’re starting over from one. Nothing that you have, that you’ve read, that meant something to you changes at all because of this stuff. When we get obsessed with continuity, it’s like, “I liked it when my Coke can looked like this! Now you want to make it look like that!” It’s like we get obsessed with the cans and we’re sort of missing the point. The continuity is just how they sell you the books. The continuity is the can. It’s there to make you think you need to read all of the “ones” in this. Continuity doesn’t really matter; all that matters is that the story you read means something to you, that it affects you in some way. That’s ultimately what this is about. The story is what’s in the can. That’s what matters. Everything else is packaging, marketing. What matters is fiction, it’s words and pictures, it’s trying to elicit an emotional response in you. We’re trying to connect you in some way to make you feel human. That’s what all of these books are about. When you start getting all wrapped up in, “Yes, but now they’ve made it so that character that appeared in number seven didn’t appear in number seven,” yeah, guess what? It’s all pretend. As long as you still have those stories that speak to you, no one can take that away from you.

I agree with 99.9% of what you said, but as a fan what ultimately ends up frustrating people is when they end up reading the story multiple times. When you get something like the reboot of the DC universe just so they can do the same thing, so you can see Superman and Batman fight again for the first time or Wonder Woman punch Ares again for the first time, I think that’s what gets people, and they don’t know how to articulate their frustration sometimes.

The obvious saying is, if you don’t want to see it don’t buy it and they won’t make it. But the thing where I have had to eat my own words is that we all share this fan entitlement thing. We believe we know or we are owed something by the creators who are controlling the destinies of these characters that we so love. I’m not going to get into specifics, but there was something done recently in the universe of a character I care very deeply about, and I hate it. I don’t judge the storyteller for it, I know they’re writing the story they find to be the most compelling and this is the story they want to tell and that’s good, and I had to give myself this speech that I just gave you. I had to say, “Ok, all of those stories you love, they still exist. This doesn’t have to change anything for you. It’s all the same. That icon still has the same meaning and still represents the same things.” I was hyper-ventilating about it, and I thought, “Oh! Riiiggghtt.” Those stories that we read that produce this emotional attachment and made us feel connected are the reason we still continue to go to the comic book store because we love heroes. Superhero readers are an optimistic idealist people. We love the underdog, we love the struggle, we’re criers – men and women alike. It’s the same lizard brain that is commedia dell’arte, that is Shakespeare, that is Greek mythology, that is opera. It’s that same melodrama that people who are into this connect to, and it’s very viscerally human I think. It’s all modern mythology, and I forgot in my finger wagging how, “Oh, no! It’s easy to say when it’s not your character!” When it is the character you know and love and feel like is a human, that you have this attachment to, then yeah, you’re obsessed with the can! Now I can never think about that thing without knowing the other can exists!

Right. When fans get frustrated about continuity, I think continuity that is just the thing they’re able to touch. It’s the thing they’re actually able to pinpoint because it’s a touchstone in time or a pin on the board, but what they mean is the emotional thing of it that is offended, not the fact that they get somebodies eye color wrong.

When Fraction was working on Punisher, he was doing Punisher in the 616 and that is a really hard assignment, to make the murderer vigilante make sense in the crazy superhero world! He was writing it with a sense of humor because he’s a funny guy. It was a way to make the absurdity of that marriage work. Putting that character in that universe is just insane! There were some people who haaaaaated that, whose feeling about that was, “Frank Castle is not funny!” Well, guess what. He is, ’cause Matt’s writing him now and now he’s funny! YOUR Frank Castle doesn’t have to be funny, but Frank Castle is not a dude that lives in your living room. It’s tough, and I get it. I get it today more viscerally than I did two days ago.

I put out a call out on Twitter and seeing if anybody had a question, and @najalater wants to know if Carol and Spider-Woman’s awesome friendship will be featured in Captain Marvel.

Not in the first arc. That is not part of the plan, but I am aware of the shippers. They are two fantastic female characters and it makes sense that they’re friends, and I’ve seen the tumblr, I know you’re out there, and if I have a way to make it make sense in the story I totally will. That is not planned for the first arc, though, no.

That’s not where I thought that answer was going to go! I have not seen the tumblr! I assumed that it was piggybacking that’s going on in Avengers, because Bendis has really pulled those two together, especially during Fear Itself.

He writes them both very well, particularly Jessica.. but that makes it sound like, step off, Brian Bendis! But I love Brian, he’s bent over backwards to make my life better and I appreciate that.

About The AuthorMatthew MeylikhovOnce upon a time, Matthew Meylikhov became the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Multiversity Comics, where he was known for his beard and fondness for cats. Then he became only one of those things. Now, if you listen really carefully at night, you may still hear from whispers on the wind a faint voice saying, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not as bad as everyone says it issss."

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