Hire This Woman: Writer Jody Houser
In the overwhelmingly male comic book industry, it has been a challenge for some editors and readers to see the ever growing number of talented women currently trying to make a name for themselves. With that in mind, ComicsAlliance offers Hire This Woman, a recurring feature designed for comics readers as well as editors and other professionals, where we shine the spotlight on a female comics pro on the ascendance. Some of these women will be at the very beginning of their careers, while others will be more experienced but not yet “household names.”
This week we're talking to comic writer Jody Houser. Houser has contributed to a variety of anthologies, including Womanthology and Womanthology: Space. She also writes and draws her own webcomic called Cupcake POW!
ComicsAlliance: What’s your background/training?
Jody Houser: I've known I wanted to be a writer for most of my life, so that was my focus throughout school. I studied English/creative writing in undergrad (with a theater minor) and got my MFA in creative writing from Emerson College. My thesis was a feature screenplay, but I also focused on playwriting and short fiction. Writing for comics is one of the very few things they didn't offer courses for at the time, sadly.
CA: How would you describe your creative style?
JH: My writing group would say “weird and often creepy.” Hopefully they'd mean the work! More seriously, writing comics feels sort of like a mashup of screenwriting and poetry to me, and I think both of those play into my style. I dig high-concept ideas, big visuals, character-driven stories. But I also love playing with format and structure, finding patterns, messing with time. The rhyme and meter of it, if that makes any sense. And I enjoy taking restrictions or challenges and making them work. There's going to be two artists on a story? Write a story that needs two artists instead of one that has two artists. I've joked that my business cards should say "story engineer" instead of "writer."
In less esoteric terms, I've been fascinated with superheroes, horror, fantasy and sci-fi since I was little. Those are the genres I'm drawn to in terms of writing. Even my "slice-of-life" stories tend to veer in that direction. I have a dark sense of humor and that often bleeds through. But I find it's the stories with a seed of hope that have stuck with me the longest, and that's something I try to include in a lot of my work.
CA: What projects have you worked on in the past? What are you currently working on?
JH: I've wrote a fantasy story called "Everwell" for Womanthology: Heroic (with Fiona Staples and Adriana Blake), a heist story called "Trinkets" for Womanthlogy: Space (with Sally Jane Thompson and Kathryn Layno), and a horror story called "Faceless" for issue of The Gathering (with Paula Cob). I contributed two stories to a zombie anthology called Dead Roots that was recently funded on Kickstarter ("Noteworthy" with Jack Tempest and "War Games" with Eric Canete and Nolan Woodard), and wrote for a few other anthologies that haven't been announced yet.
Currently, I'm working on a horror(ish) story for Thrillbent with artist Tanja Wooten that will probably ruin a few childhoods and a semi-autobiographical one-shot with Sally Jane Thompson that we plan to release digitally. I also have a few creator-owned miniseries projects in various stages of outlining/scripting that I’ll be tracking down artists for soon.
CA: Approximately how long does it take you to write a 20-page issue?
JH: Pretty much everything I've written is either much shorter or much longer than 20 pages. I have outlined and written a 20-page first draft in about five days, without the lovely motivation of a deadline. I think it depends on how crazy non-linear the story is, how well I utilize my work breaks and lunches for writing, and when it's due (the latter being the biggest factor).
CA: What is your dream project?
JH: There are definitely some life-long favorite characters I'd love to tackle, like Catwoman. And artists I dream of working with. And creator-owned books I really want to write. More than anything, I'm aiming for the dream career rather than a single dream project.
CA: Who are some comic creators that inspire you?
JH: There are so many brilliant books coming out these days that if you can't find something to inspire you, I don't know what the hell you're reading. Just off the top of my head, comic writers whom I've read something by in the past month or two that really struck me: Jason Aaron, Brian K. Vaughan, Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Mark Waid, Jeff Lemire, Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Dean Trippe, Kate Leth, Ryan Andrews, Emily Carroll... I'm sure I'm forgetting a ton. And that's just very recent and just writing-wise.
The artists, editors and other comic pros who I've been lucky enough to work with have been a huge inspiration, both in terms of improving my writing and deciding that I really did want to be a part of this crazy industry. I've really been lucky in terms of collaborators and I've learned a hell of a lot from them.
CA: What are some comics that have inspired you either growing up or as an adult?
JH: Batman Adventures, particularly the Mad Love one-shot, got me into reading comics. The 1990s Catwoman series was my absolute favorite growing up and I still have a huge soft spot for a lot of those issues. Age of Apocalypse and Kingdom Come were early reads that really made me love the scope of the DC and Marvel universes. I've always been a sucker for alternate universe stories.
Something really clicked when I reread The Killing Joke as an adult trying to wrap my head around writing comics, the transitions in particular. I find the way Thrillbent titles are expanding the idea of sequential storytelling fascinating. And as previously mentioned, the quality and range of books currently being put out by big-name publishers is very heartening.
Outside of comics, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the TV show) showed me that an audience could embrace a twisted sense of humor. And Millennium Actress (along with Satoshi Kon's other work) showed me how much fun it is to play with layered, non-linear stories.
CA: What’s your ideal professional environment?
JH: No background noise, thematic playlist for current project, tea within reach. I also like writing at my local comic shop (House of Secrets) even though it lacks all of the above. But they're cool with me camping on the couch with my laptop for an hour or two and I like comics far more than coffee.
CA: What do you most want our readers and industry professionals to know about your work?
JH: That it exists! Beyond that, I love a good challenge, making the puzzle pieces fit. I've learned not to brush off ideas as too bizarre/dark/difficult and to run with them when warranted. I thrive on deadlines. Most of my collaborators are still willing to talk to me after the project is over. Most of all, I want to tell awesome stories! And I'm in this for the long haul.
CA: How can editors and readers keep up with your work and find your contact information?
JH: The easiest way to keep in touch with me is through Twitter at @jody_houser. My main website is MindEclipse.com and it has information about and links to the projects I've worked on. Cupcake POW! has its own website at cupcakepow.com
If there is a woman you’d like to recommend or if you’d like to be included in a future installment of this feature, drop us a line at comicsalliance-at-gmail-dot-com with "Hire This Woman" in the subject line.