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Interview: Kelly Thompson

Kelly Thompson, novelist, columnist, blogger, and reviewer, could talk about women in comics and publishing for days. Deciding that she'd self-publish her first novel, The Girl Who Would Be King, she set up a Kickstarter campaign, aiming to raise $8,000. She not only met that goal, she exceeded it to an amazing degree: the campaign ended with over $26,000! Wowza. Those funds allowed Kelly to not only publish her book, but to also commission some fantastic illustrators and create an upgraded hardback edition that includes full-color illustrations.

Before any of that happened, Kelly was once a young girl enrolled in - rather, she was enthralled by and possibly wishing she was enrolled in - the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning. Comics drew her in and led her to the career path she's on now.

You've contributed to a multitude of blogs, podcasts, and more related to comics, writing, and entertainment. What books and graphic novels are currently on your nightstand or desk?

Oh man...this is a long list because I either tear through a book in a day or two, or I read a bunch at once. Interestingly, tearing through it doesn't necessarily mean I preferred it to a book I read just depends on my mood and workload. I think on my nightstand right now are: Kelly Link's Pretty Monsters, Susan Palwick's Shelter, Lish McBride's Necromancing The Stone, and I'm slowly re-reading Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, mostly for research purposes (but of course it's awesome). I also I just finished a friend's self-published zombie novella The Last Safe Place on my Kindle, which was very good.

I tend to not keep graphic novels by my nightstand as the light is usually too low to fully appreciate them if read in bed, but I've got Night of 1000 Wolves and Terry Moore's complete Echo on deck. The three best monthly comic books I'm reading (by a good distance!) are Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja, Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, and Stumptown by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth.

Any DVDs stacked up with the books?

I've been on a horror movie kick for October - kicked off I think by FINALLY seeing Cabin In The Woods - which was AMAZING. I've also been re-watching 28 Days Later, a favorite of mine and recently saw the new version of Fright Night which was pretty damn good.

I watched Fright Night because David Tennant was in it. He was brilliant, as always. Back to animated stories: What first attracted you to comics as a kid?

I'm actually from that fairly large group that found comics through the 1990's X-Men Animated Series. Not long after seeing (and loving) that cartoon, my brother saw some of those characters on a comic book and brought it home with him. And then I read my first comic book. And then I was in love. Or perhaps more accurately obsessed - I'm sure that's the word my parents would use - and they wouldn't be wrong! I mostly read X-Men comics at first, everything I could get my hands on and then slowly branched out. Superhero comics are what I cut my teeth on, and something I deeply love (obviously, I wrote a whole book about them!) but these days I'd say I split my comic buying pretty evenly between superheroes and more independent non-superhero comics.

What drew you (no pun intended) to pursue a degree in Sequential Art at The Savannah College of Art and Design?

I actually first went to The University of Arizona [first] to study Graphic Design. I went for two years, and I really enjoyed a lot of things about going to a big school like that, but partway into my second year and while taking my first true Graphic Design class I was also kind of secretly taking a night class on comics run by the owner of the local comic shop (Capt. Spiffy's) and it just dawned on me one day that I was just never going to be that great at Graphic Design because while those kids wanted to eat, sleep, and dream Graphic Design, I wanted to eat, sleep, and dream comics. So I looked into the Joe Kubert School and The Savannah College of Art & Design (which at the time - 1996/97) were about the only Sequential Art programs out there. Eventually I went to SCAD because I still wanted to go to a more traditional college, rather than an art school. I got offered a small scholarship, took a year off to go home and earn some money and buy a car and then started up at SCAD in 1997.

Good for you! How did you land your gig at ComicBookResources, writing the column She Has No Head! about women in comics?

Brian Cronin, the fine gentleman that runs CBR's Comics Should Be Good blog, sent me an email one day in 2009 after reading some of the stuff I was writing on my own blog (1979 Semi-Finalist) and said he thought I should come over and do some writing for him. I of course jumped at the opportunity, and since he was letting me decide what I wanted to write about, I figured writing about women and comics was what I was passionate about and so the obvious choice, and thus She Has No Head! was born.

In about March of 2011, CBR needed a fill-in reviewer for their main site while someone was on vacation and they let me give it a shot. I became a regular a month or so down the line. Reviewing comics is sometimes tedious to me, but it has taught me so much - both about what works and doesn't work in comics, and about learning to work with editors, and writing shorter cleaner copy.

Congratulations on your debut novel, The Girl Who Would Be King.

Thank you!

You're welcome. Have you always wanted to write novels?

I have pretty much always wanted to write. I have a very early memory of being perhaps 7 or 8 and writing my own stories about a family of mermaids. But instead of just writing it down I ended up stapling it all together with a colored construction paper cover like a book - and then I cut out a circle from the cover and drew a picture of a mermaid inside. That's right, I was doing "die-cut" covers before I even knew what they were! (smiles) So yeah, I was pretty set on it from an early age. Like anyone, I got really distracted with a lot of other things along the way (including comics - though I don't like to think of them as a distraction of course) but I eventually found my way back, and it never really was far from my mind.

Your novel employs a dual narrative. Which of the two main characters came to mind first, and how quickly did the other follow?

Bonnie Braverman was definitely the initial character. In fact, originally I wanted to write the books as a trilogy with the first being about Bonnie, the second being about Lola LeFever, the other main character, and a third that had both of them. But the first book with Bonnie never really worked without an antagonist - or another protagonist. So eventually I combined it into one giant book. I am really glad it worked out that way! I was very afraid to write Lola - she is - if you want to get down to brass tacks - is a serial killer. And I was nervous about people responding to her. But she ended up being incredibly easy to write. She's a very open and honest character and she just kind of lays herself bare, which is refreshing. She came to me very naturally, and judging by people's reactions to Lola (they love her!) I must assume they're responding to that same thing that I am. Bonnie, though I love her and have spent more time with her, since I began with her, is much harder to write. She's a little more complicated in her way and she's more introspective and even sullen. It makes her tricky.

Artists Stephanie Hans and Meredith McClaren contributed illustrations to the book and its promotional materials. How did you enlist their help?

I had been a huge fan of Stephanie's comic book covers (and artwork in general) for a while. We knew each other a little bit through my blog, and when I had an opportunity to partner up with her for a short story in Renae De Liz's Womanthology I jumped. Working with her was a dream, so naturally when I realized I was going to do this whole "self-publishing thing," I knew I was going to need a badass cover. So I went to Stephanie. I commissioned her to do the cover because she was kind enough to carve out some time for me and then when the Kickstarter went on to such crazy success I was able to pay her to do additional illustrations so we could have a hardback illustrated edition. She was so critical in getting people excited about the book.

Meredith McClaren is another insanely talented artist that I'm working on another project with - a comic/graphic novel called Heart In A Box - and she was just generous enough to donate some artwork to help me with the Kickstarter. She did some of her signature "itties" of Bonnie and Lola and then also did a "Lola Las Vegas" illustration. My super talented artist friend Ross Campbell also donated these beautiful Lola and Bonnie "heads" that have become magnets that EVERYONE wants. Everyone was so generous and wonderful. As the Kickstarter got going I also had some other fantastic artists offer to auction off original work - Fiona Staples, Rebekah Isaacs, Emily Carroll, and Cassandra James - it was just an embarrassment of riches!

Very cool. Frustrated by backlash about SelkieSun's awesome illustration of Batwoman, you created a Tumblr called There's The Door, Spaceman to celebrate, in your own words, "unconventional superheroine art." What have been some of your favorite fanart submissions?

Oh man, so many good ones have come into There's The Door, Spaceman. I guess I'd have to say some of my favorites have been The Jean Grey Phoenix one, just because she looks so unlike how Jean Grey is usually drawn.

Also this Jubilee, just because she looks so...I don't know..."angry joyful" at being a superhero?

But really...they're ALL awesome...that's the whole point, right? :)

Right. If you could hire a comic book character as your agent, who would you select and why?

Ha ha. Great question. Let's first gut reaction is to say someone like Jessica Jones (Alias) because I think we'd get along famously, but Jessica is kind of a f!!!-up, so maybe that's not such a good idea for an agent. Then I think maybe someone who is a bad@$$ that could scare the piss out of Monica Rambeau or Emma Frost...but maybe you just need someone super smart and Kitty Pryde or Misty Knight, or Barbara Gordon as Oracle. I realize now I'm only suggesting ladies...who would be a good dude agent...hmmm....maybe Dick Grayson (Robin/Nightwing) or Tim Drake (Robin)?

All great candidates! Do you feel as though the marketplace for writers and artists on the East Coast is different from the marketplace on the West Coast? How so?

This is an interesting question. When I lived in LA (from 2000 - 2005+) I felt really frustrated by the market being so much about film and television. It seemed at the time like everyone had a screenplay and nobody cared about books. Interestingly enough, possibly because I was living in LA at the time, TGWWBK started out as a screenplay. It very quickly morphed into a novel however, and I remember feeling very hopeful when I planned to move that NYC would be more "literary." I don't really know if that's true or not though. LA and NY are very different energies, but I have to admit, I love them both.

Who are some of your favorite artists and authors? Any genre, any format.

Woo. Another tough question. I think artists are going to skew mostly to comics and they're a lot of the people I have worked with and follow religiously: Ross Campbell, Stephanie Hans, Meredith McClaren, Fiona Staples, David Aja, Rebekah Isaacs, Ming Doyle, Becky Cloonan, Amy Reeder, Cliff Chiang, J.H. Williams III, Stuart Immonen, Kris Anka, Francesco Francavilla, Phil Noto, Mike Del Mundo, Jock, Emily Carroll...gosh, so many, I should stop before this becomes an unreadable block of text!

I think for authors I am actually a bit more picky but I always love Greg Rucka, Brian Wood, Neil Gaiman, Katherine Dunn, Gillian Flynn, Warren Ellis, Scott Snyder, Lauren Montgomery, and of course many to choose from.

What's next on your to-do list?

Well, I've got three big projects I need to be doing all at the same time - so that's a challenge. I have a new book (tentatively called Pariahs) that I'm working on for NaNo this year - it's a dystopian book with a matriarchal society at its core, I really love it, but I've struggled with it in the past so I'm hoping to just jam it out in a month and then start in on revisions after a good break from it. I'm working on a light re-write of a book I'm really excited about that I hope I'll be able to sell the traditional way this time! And I'm beginning to flesh out and revise the outline for the sequel to The Girl Who Would Be King. And then of course there are all the columns, podcasts, and reviews, and the big TGWWBK mailing...I need an assistant!

Maybe you could hire Dick Grayson for that job. Thanks for chatting with me!

Thanks so much for having me - you ask fantastic questions! :)

Visit Kelly Thompson at her blog and learn more about her book. Also follow her reviews and musings at LitReactor, Twitter, and She Has No Head!
Tags: books, graphic novels, illustrators, interviews

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