Kelly Sue Deconnick on ‘Sif,’ Sexism and Lady Snowblood [Girl Week]
The Asgardian warrior goddess Sif has typically played a supporting role in Marvel comics as the companion and millenia-long love interest of Thor, but she’s about to fight a battle of her own in the upcoming “Sif” one-shot written by Kelly Sue Deconnick. Although Deconnick has spent most of her time in comics working on manga adaptations like “Black Cat” and “Sexy Voice and Robo,” she also co-wrote “30 Days of Night: Eben and Stella” with Steve Niles, and her husband, Matt Fraction, happens to be writing “Thor,” which is a lot of Norse mythological comic book authorship under one roof.
The one-shot is also part of the Marvel Women initiative, and we talked with Deconnick — who is expecting a daughter with Fraction next month — for her thoughts on the sword-wielding Sif, the recent push at Marvel to highlight female creators, and the kind of heroines she wants for her daughter and herself.
ComicsAlliance: How did the “Sif” project initially come together for you?
Kelly-Sue Deconnick: Matt [Fraction] and [assistant editor] Alejandro [Arbona] were talking about these upcoming [Marvel Women] books, and I believe Matt suggested me to Alejandro for one of them. Alejandro then wisely blind-submitted my name to [editor] Ralph [Macchio], who didn’t know my connection to Matt. They asked me about it, and I just didn’t want to piss anybody off. So I said that I wanted to go for it as long as we told him once I’d cleared any hurdles, so that if he did feel like there were any nepotism issues there then he had time to call it.
CA: Were you concerned that there might be accusations of nepotism beyond that, given Matt’s role at Marvel?
KSD: I’ve been less concerned about it, because I feel like there are a lot of couples that work in comics. I have already seen it online after the book was announced, and I don’t care; people are going to say what they’re going to say. I can’t waste too much time thinking or worrying about what that perception is going to be. But it did feel good that they did it that way [by blind submitting]. So once my pitch was approved and I’d gotten the job, essentially, they told Ralph to make sure that it wasn’t a problem, and I think he was amused.
CA: How deeply into the history of the “Thor” comic were you before you landed “Sif”?
KSD: Actually, a number of years before I knew Matt, I had lunch with Walt and Weezy Simonson. We went out to a diner on a break from a signing they were doing, and Mr. Simonson, whom I find utterly charming, was walking ahead holding hands with his wife, and I thought, I totally want to grow up and be that.
CA: And now you are!
KSD: We could certainly do worse than being the Walt and Weezy Simonson of our generation. Anyway, we were talking about an issue of “Thor” – number 380 – and when we got back to the con he went to one of the retailers, found it, bought it for me, and signed it. Now, at the time I used to do a zine called “Lois” and I wore a necklace that said Lois, so he signed it “To Lois,” which I was not about to correct him on. [laughs] So when I got the “Sif” book, I pulled that issue out and put it on my desk. [Editor's Note: A day after the interview, Kelly Sue e-mailed me to let me know that she had just received a package in the mail from Walt Simonson -- containing another copy of "Thor" #380 signed "To Kelly Sue."] So I went back and read a lot of stuff, the Beta Ray classics, and the most recent Straczynski stuff. And talked to Matt about what he was doing. It’s nice to have that resource in the house.
CA: The writer of “Thor”?
KSD: Just to be able to go in the other room and ask him. And also just as a comics writer. I had him read my script before I turned it in, and he gave me a couple pointers. Things like, you have a few too many panels on this page. He pulled something off his shelf and pointed out that contemporary artists aren’t doing quite as many panels per page. I don’t want to apologize for it.
CA: Well, who wouldn’t do that?
KSD: I’d be stupid not to ask him to take a look at it. And we don’t always agree with one another on everything. We used to have a writing group that we called Cookie Club that met one night a week, and whoever’s project we were reading at the time would bring cookies. I remember that there was something that Matt wrote for a [Warren] Ellis anthology called “Night Radio” that never ended up happening. But Matt wrote a story called “Anodyne” that I quite liked, except that it was – the language was just profane, and I was completely distracted by it. It was like an old lady critique: [old lady voice] “You sound like you don’t know any other words!”
CA: What’s your take on Sif? A lot of who she’s been over the years has been defined by her relationship with Thor–
KSD: The thing is, she’s a warrior. She’s has shown herself to be a badass. And it bums me out to see her… The Loki taking her skin thing, without even getting into the metaphor, she’s cowed. And that bums me out. Did you see “Enchanted”?
KSD: I took a five-year-old to see “Enchanted,” and it was her first movie in a big theater. And I was so lucky to be there with her for that. It is not the greatest movie ever made, but when the heroine picks up the sword and gets to be the hero – I swear to God, I was five years old. My heart leaped out of my chest. … I haven’t read “Twilight,” but my understanding about it is that [Bella]‘s your classic wilting female torn between the two powerful men, and I’m not interested in that. And I’m not interested in it on a whole lot of levels. Whereas someone like Buffy [the Vampire Slayer] gets out there and does it.
CA: Well, there’s the end of “Buffy” Season 2 where she stabs her boyfriend in the heart and sends him to hell because she has to do her job.
KSD: There’s a heroine where I’d be comfortable — Matt and I found out that we’re having a girl, Tallulah, in April. And I freaked out about that. I freaked out. I cried in the sonogram room.
CA: Had you been expecting a boy?
KSD: I had been wanting a boy. And it’s not because I don’t love girls. I love being a girl; I’m the girliest of girls. I will talk to you at great length about lipstick and dresses. I’m the opposite of a tomboy. I do not enjoy roughing it in any way, shape, or form. I like decorating. I take pictures of the lunches I pack for my son. I’m about as girly as they come. But. I think it’s natural to want for your children every advantage possible. And I believe that in this world, women are still handicapped in a number of ways. The everyday indignities of even contemporary American womanhood – and we’re better off than most of the world – they’re not things that I handle with any grace. They make me curse and get furious and cry and shake and want to hit things. And I don’t know how to teach my daughter to handle something that I don’t handle with any grace. So I don’t want to raise a girl who goes into the world with her fists up, but I kinda do. And so I flipped out. Because I’m twisted enough to feel that in some weird way, being born a girl means being born at a disadvantage.
CA: Well, it’s easy to feel that way when you’ve experienced those disadvantages first-hand.
KSD: When I was graduating from high school, I had a friend who was going to backpack through Europe afterw
ard by himself before he went to college. He was a dude. Everyone thought this was great. I thought that this was the coolest thing I had ever heard in my life. Now, my family could not have bankrolled this, but even if they had been able to, I never would have suggested it because they would have said it was not safe. And they would have been right. I’m still mad about that. You want to talk about holding grudges? I’m 39 years old and I’m still angry about that. Now, things have gotten better in my lifetime, and I hope that in Tallulah’s lifetime that more steps will be taken. But it’s something I have a lot of confusing feelings about, and a lot of them are feelings that make me angry to the point of throwing up.
And it’s not even just external. It’s also the way that we are taught, as women, that we must be charming first. That it is so important to be liked. It’s very hard for me to let go of that. I think I don’t have as much courage as I would like because there is a part of me that feels it is best to be charming and liked. And that the way to go about instituting those changes is not to be unpleasant – don’t be unpleasant, because you’re going to catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. And what you should do is somehow charm and distract and slip these things through. F— that.
CA: There are times when it seems like you’re expected to diffuse a situation, to smooth things over passively rather than being direct–
KSG: And when you do act that way, and you catch yourself at it later, you think, have I betrayed my ethics? Or did I just play the hand that was dealt to me? And there are no easy answers to those questions. We’ve gotten way off into more philosophical territory, but my pitch was essentially “Sif gets her groove back.” I was like, “I want to see Sif with a sword, killing things.” And so that’s what it is. It’s a story about Sif fighting an external enemy and the insidious doubts that get into your head. Getting that out in a really physical way, with slicing. It was really cathartic for me; I don’t know about anybody else… But bottling it up is a lot less healthy than just being pissed off.
…I love revenge films. I’m a Lady Snowblood fan, and we – Matt was supposed to have complete dominion over what Tallulah’s middle name was going to be because I had declared that [our son] Henry’s middle name was going to be Leo. Meiko Kaji was this Japanese actress who played [Lady Snowblood] and [those movies] are fantastic. She barely speaks. She just looks pretty and kills things. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that, you know, a sexually-appealing vengeance demon is an appropriate role model for young women, but I do think that being able to vent that part of the id is important. And not all characters are meant to be role models! Only portraying positive-thinking, upstanding and responsible women is just as limiting, isn’t it? What’s more important to me is giving fictional women roles center stage — be they villains or heroines or something in-between. In fact — and I don’t know what this says about me — I may be more interested in the villains.
Anyway, to go back to what I was saying before, when I was upset about having a girl and trying to figure out that out, Matt said that maybe what we should arm her with a middle name that has some strength to it. My name, Kelly, means “warrior,” and I was talking about how much I like that. My last name means “king,” so my [full] name means “warrior king,” and I just don’t think you change that. We entertaining a lot of different possibilities, and one of the top contenders we talked about Snowblood. She was briefly going to be Tallulah Snowblood.
CA: You’ve got a 6-page Satana story coming up in “Girl Comics” #3. Did you follow the follow the “Girl Comics” announcement online or see any of the initial responses to the series?
KSG: Yes, I did. I think on balance it’s a good thing. ["Girl Comics" editor] Jeanine [Schaefer] and I have talked about a lot of these same issues, and on the one hand – well, I’m not doing any more “Women in Comics” panels [at conventions]. But I want to see more women working in comics and more women reading comics. I started reading comics [as a child] because we lived in Germany and my mother thought “Wonder Woman” was a feminist tome. She never read the comics, clearly, but they were 45 cents at the [military] base’s Stars and Stripes. She’d buy them for me and dole them out like candy, and I loved them. Not really a feminist message at its core, but the best we could do at that particular time. Anyway, I was talking to an editor recently about about a project that he wanted me to pitch on, and he was saying that he wanted a book that he could give his young daughter. And I would like to be able to do that as well. Someone like Buffy, where we can have those flawed but strong characters that girls can identify with.
So I’m glad that initiatives like “Girl Comics” are happening, and you look at the creators involved and it’s a hella fine list. But there is a part of you that flinches at it, I think in the same way that people who get their jobs as a part of affirmative action might feel the need to prove that they’ve earned it. And I don’t think any of those women need to prove that they’ve earned it… But I think there’s an aspect of “Girl Comics” that isn’t just about giving these women jobs. The more important part of this is raising the profile of women in comics. That’s the bigger thing that’s happening with this book. I think there is an effort being made to groom some women, which is great, because I’ve certainly seen many men shepherded through that process. There are times when hearing “girl” or “sweetheart” can annoy the hell out of me, but there are more important issues of language being abusive and feminine pejoratives meaning weakness that I’m more likely to get pissed off about.