Mary H. K. Choi Goes Crazy With ‘Lady Deadpool’ [Interview]
With a Deadpool movie on the horizon in 2012, there's no lack of the Merc with a Mouth lately in Marvel Comics, as the wise-cracking assassin gives even Wolverine a run for his money as the most omnipresent character in the Marvel U. He's even inspired his own family of 'Pools: Dogpool, Kidpool, Headpool, and of course, Lady Deadpool. Deadpool's female counterpart makes her headlining debut this Wednesday in a one-shot comic, where the reclusive TV and junk food addict starts wreaking a little havoc of her own when the one thing she loves most in the world is taken away -- her cable TV.
The issue features art by Kenneth Lashley and also marks the comics writing debut of Mary H.K. Choi, a former women's magazine editor and current contributing writer at the men's magazine "Complex." We talked with Choi about what it's like to arrive at Marvel Comics as a writer, a lady, and a relative newcomer all at the same time, and why she wants to write Marvel women who can go just as balls-out crazy as the boys.
ComicsAlliance: So, you've got your first comic, "Lady Deadpool," coming out soon. How did that happen?
Mary Choi: My brother [artist Mike Choi] is obviously really good at comics, and I know the people that he's known for years. I was actually in media and publishing before he got into it; he had an existential crisis in an elevator while he was working in finance, or maybe it was marketing information systems? And I was just like, "Listen! You want to be in comic books! I work at a magazine! And I'm never going to make any money! Let's make no money together." So he quit his job and pursued that.
I was writing my own magazine ["MissBehave"] and everything sort of caved in and collapsed upon itself because it wasn't a "sustainable business model" or something. [laughs] Who knew! It's sort of heartbreaking, because when you pan out and think about it terms of national security and widget making and clothing and health care, there is something distinctly vanity project-esque about running a magazine. And I'd had my heart broken repeatedly; half of my curriculum vitae is like, "Just kidding! R.I.P! Psyche!" ...Then [Marvel editor] C.B. [Cebulski] approached me and was like, "Have you ever considered writing for Marvel?" It's just one of those things things where it's like – yes, of course, I pray about it every night. [laughs] You're so never so vainglorious or ego-tastical... But in my mind I was like, of course, are you kidding me? And they said, how do you feel about Lady Deadpool?CA: How do you feel about Lady Deadpool?
MC: Victor Gischler was already working on "[Deadpool:] Merc with a Mouth," and he already had these ideas about how that world would splinter into these one-offs [like "Lady Deadpool"]. And coupled with Deadpool's gonzo bananas shoot-from-the-hip type stuff, I knew that I would have an opportunity to write really good female dialogue. And because I work so much in non-fiction, like op-eds, you don't get to do that, ever. That's the part that was so enticing and intoxicating... When I started wrapping my mind around how to parse information sequentially, what shape it was anatomically and what you have to convey – the discipline of it is so different. When I started unlocking that puzzle, it was like undoing this really big knot in my head... I thought I'd just be like, oh, this is gonna be so easy. Box, box, box, dialogue, dialogue. But it wasn't like that at all. It's like math. You have to do so many mechanical things. So that was really illuminating on that end.
CA: I think a lot of people look at comics and imagine that they're a lot easier to write than they actually are.
MC: I was one of them. I was like, "High five self! 360! Yeah!" But it's really not like that.
CA: Is "Lady Deadpool" officially part of the year-long Marvel Women initiative?
MC: I can't really speak to the language – whether it's Marvel Women or Women in Marvel or Women in Comics or a special week or month. It was like, here is the information you have: She's a girl. And that they wanted the dialogue and [the book] to speak to female interests. But it's not like oh, she's getting her folate! She just sounds like a girl... People can be so asterix-y about it being this femme one-off [comic], and how it's girl-centric, ovary femme femme femme. This bizarre sense of "here, let me make this perforated blind around you!" But for me, dude, it was just such a dream...
The thing for me is – and I said this even as I was launching a girls' magazine – I think it's really Victorian when you get into this notion of females being these moral centers. This idea that they gear towards good. There are [female] villains and bad people, but even then, in a lot of fiction their Achilles heel is something like forgiveness or yieldingness or whatever, and I think that's really f**king tired. If I'm going to talk to a girl reader and invite her in to what I want to talk about, it might be a little frivolous or silly.
The conceit of my book is that Lady Deadpool is a shut-in feral crazy lunatic person who overeats and has major body issues. And she only goes outside because she's a total Luddite and doesn't have a computer, internet or phone, and her television breaks down. She's not pursuing some moral anything. It's not like she's a baddie, either, and she's planning some nefarious machination. Her TV broke, so she go outside. Even her crazy is just bats**t, it's not hormonal or insular. She's not in some sort of clinical depression commercial. She's just nuts, and selfish, and wants television because she wants to watch her food network shows.
CA: It's funny, because you get a lot of "crazy" female characters in comics, but not usually that type of crazy.
MC: Yeah, cause the crazy's usually this misty-watercolored memories kind of crazy. Where it's like, "My babies!" Or some kind of huge loss. Or some power than cripples their senses.
CA: "Broken, shattered woman goes mad!"
MC: Yeah, it's all brittle, shattered women, or like, this madness that is beautiful and filigreed. [laughs] There is another flatter, not-all-that-complicated crazy that also exists, and this is what I'd like to explore. The fact that I was given the opportunity to do that – if it's because I was a chick or whatever, I already have, like, five asterisks next to my name. My brother's in comics. I work in media. I'm a lady. I'm an Asian lady! But I was really interested in this shape of problem. Comics are really old school... The fact that someone ultimately draws each freaking drawing – that's beautiful to me. It's almost proto-print. There's this nobility and this romantic aspect of it that's totally intoxicating and intriguing for me.
But this could be it for me. This could be my entire contribution to the Marvel Universe forever. I feel like such an honorary visitor. I feel like an interloper, like I don't even have the antibodies to stay in this universe for very much longer! [laughs] I'm feel very honored to be here. I have no agenda. I just love the comics industry... I found [comics] so late in life, but I feel like that sort of enthusiasm and nostalgia that people harken back to makes it feel really warm, and makes 60-year-old blue collar Italian guys from Queens ask me about the comic I'm reading on the subway. I'm only experiencing it now. If you can imagine discovering it and getting to create it at the same time – that's me. I'm doing somersaults. So when people ask me about the agenda of gender in the industry, I'm just like, "I don't know what you're talking about!" I am an unusual comic creator. I am probably part of an experiment. I hope it works out for me and them, and I hope I get to do it again.
CA: Women are still definitely a minority within superhero comics, and I'm curious about your thoughts as a relative newcomer. Have you ever felt weird or uncomfortable as a woman in comics, either on an industry level or a fan level?
MC: I'm 30. So, I'm not sensitive to things. I'm so dulled and calloused and shorn of so many different layers and husks. I'm a grown-ass person and I've been in publishing for over a decade. I commit words to paper and the internet for everyone to pick apart, so I think I tend to be a lot more cynical and dulled. I can honestly say that I haven't felt any barriers that were based on my gender yet. But also, hi, I only have my toenail in the pool. So if I put my whole foot in, I don't know if something would happen then.
CA: It's interesting to see your perspective and how it's different from mine, in the same way that my perspective is from a lot of women who got into the industry a decade ahead of me.
MC: Exactly! You've been into this much longer than I have. I'm really lucky, just standing on the shoulders of giants. All this s**t happened before I got here. And I have such a barfingly disgusting point of entry – to have this art talent scout who I'd already broken bread with and hung out with his wife, to have him welcome me into the hearth of the Marvel Universe. My f**cking editor was Axel [Alonso], and he was so nice.
CA: How natural did it feel to move into that in-universe world?
MC: Great... As a consumer, I love super-heroes. And the stuff that makes me really lose my mind is when [comics] draw on real-world folklore or mythology, like Thor. The thing that's so amazing about mythology is the morality plays aren't so black and white, and you can really make it play out however you want. You can interweave all these existing characters, and that's when sh*t gets really ill. That's when writers are just running around spinning porcelain dishes on wooden dowels, and it's crazy. I love when that happens in comics. It's total nerdgasm.
CA: If you have the chance to do more work in comics, what would you want to do? More Marvel stuff, or creator-owned work with Mike [Choi]...
MC: I'd eventually like to do both. Mike and I are actually pursuing three different creator-owned properties right now, and hopefully presenting them at San Diego. Because we're a cottage industry – all three of us write, Mike will butt in and consult a lot and draw, and Sonia [Oback] will color. And we'll all fight and argue about dialogue, layouts, who looks like what, and figure out the right way to do it. We have three different ideas that are bubbling slowly and arduously coming to fruition. It sounds all very three-headed hydra, but we're nimble and small. With creator-owned stuff, I like the idea that we can make it as long or as short as we want to. As far as working with Marvel again – I don't know if this is weird or bad or could construed as bad, but I'd happily never write a dude character for Marvel. I'd write dialogue for an antagonist character, but if I could just stay in the heroine lane – that sounds really narcotic – I'd be thrilled. There's just so much there. The wealth of resources. If I could write a marquee female character that's uncorked, that would be great.
CA: I'd say superhero comics has already got the writing of dudes covered pretty solid.
MC: Bros writing bros! [laughs] I'm just really not interested, and it's weird, because I've never thought about that until this very moment. I'm kind of – I'm a little weirded out about myself now. But I'd just so much rather sit with these female characters and unlock them. That sounds really vagina-y, for some reason: "Unlocking the female lock!"
CA: Will you unlock their hearts, too, Mary?
MC: And their wombs! Unlocking the wombs of female protagonists the world over! [laughs] No, I just think chicks rules. They're so weird, and so much fun to write. Ultimately that's kinda what bums me out. I don't want it to be like, "oh, you're relegated to writing female characters." Because to me, this is like, the nut. This is the sweet meat, the marrow. This is what I'm in for, and you can shelf me in whatever section of the pre-order catalog I go in. I don't care. This shaped problem is the problem I'm after.
CA: You not worried about getting pigeonholed as exclusively writing female characters --
MC: For me, it's like – oh my God, please pigeonhole me. Pigeonhole me and put me away. I can just create by myself. That sounds amazing, thank you. Let me keep doing it, and pay me enough so that I can eat morsels of food and have shelter, and I will go to town. That's my whole life. That's what my life has always been.
CA: See, now you sound like a comic book creator. You're in it for the love, not the money.
MC: I'm in it for the hos. [laughs] I feel really insulated from the politics of it. I don't hang out with comic book creators, and I'm not fist-shaking at people winning, because it's not zero-sum. It has nothing to do with me. Is that bizarre? I'm just this tiny, wobby, amniotic fluid-covered creature. I may not even live. My eyes aren't even open.
CA: Four out of five Mary Chois are eaten by predators before they reach maturity.
MC: We're delicious! [laughs]