How the West Was Written 

Talking Comics with Kelly Sue DeConnick

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KELLY SUE DeCONNICK is a Portland comic book writer known for her work on the Marvel Comics titles Avengers Assemble and Captain Marvel, as well as Dark Horse Comics' Ghost. Currently, she's also writing the creator-owned series Pretty Deadly, which layers magical realism with elements of a traditional western to tell the story of a spooky assassin who just happens to be Death's daughter. In addition to diverse characters and a complex storyline, DeConnick's lyrical writing gives the series a uniquely fantastical, folkloric quality. The first collected volume of Pretty Deadly was just released; DeConnick was kind enough to answer some questions about the book.

MERCURY: How did you come up with the idea for Pretty Deadly?

KELLY SUE DeCONNICK: My artist [Emma Ríos] and I very much developed it in tandem. It's not really an elevator-pitch book; it's a very rich world. Our original intentions were to set it in a straightforward western, but that isn't what the book wanted to be as it unfolded. We've always felt we were discovering the story more than making it, so there's a lot that we discover along the way. We know how the story ends, but we are finding more details as we put them down on the page.

Do you find that you were writing about real issues behind the veil of magical realism?

I just lost a family member after a long battle with cancer, so I don't think it's coincidental that so much of the book is about the cycle of life and death. [Pretty Deadly] revolves around the idea that life is not ours to hold onto, and that's how it should be. In issue four, the beginning parable is a hummingbird trying to stay in flight in the rain; later I realized that was the universe hitting me with a snowball in the back of the head. I didn't sit down to write a story about life and death; I was writing a western about a really kickass woman, but this is just how it turned out.

What can we look forward to in the second arc of Pretty Deadly?

The second arc will center more on Ginny, now that our world is established and Ginny is out among people. When Death wasn't doing his job, things fell to hell, almost literally, and now it's up to Ginny to restore order.

What's Bitch Planet going to be about?

Bitch Planet is a riff on the exploitation genre of the 1970s. It's a book about women in prison in a sci-fi satire. It should come out in November.

Do you think comic book culture is becoming less of a boy's club and more inclusive?

Yes, and I don't think that's an aberration. There's no reason comic-book culture needs to be a niche storytelling medium. Can you imagine if we thought that way about other art forms? Like if we thought only men watch movies, or only women read novels? Comic books are a storytelling medium and there is nothing inherently masculine about stories. The main style of comics in our country is superheroes, which are often depicted as masculine, but even then there's nothing inherently masculine about heroism or fantasy.

Do you have any advice for people who don't read a lot of comics, but want to, and aren't sure where to begin?

Find a great store, and for Portland readers, boy are you in luck, because we have no shortage of amazing comic book stores. Go to a store and tell them what you're into and they will help you find a starter book. If you enjoy stories there is a comic book for you.

How do you think Carol Danvers is different now that she's Captain Marvel, as opposed to Ms. Marvel, the original character title?

Carol is as Carol ever was. That's the beauty of these iconic characters. When she was named Ms. Marvel that was a progressive title for her time period. In the feminist movement of the '70s, using "Ms." was progressive as opposed to Mrs. or Miss, which denoted marital status. In the years since, it's become dated to have a title expressly about her gender, and with Carol I'm thrilled she's moving to a place where she is no one's adjunct. And I love that Kamala Khan is picking up the Ms. Marvel mantle from Carol and is not the female equivalent of a male superhero.

Do you have any advice for aspiring comic book writers?

Start. Pursuing any creative endeavor is intimidating, because nothing is as good on paper as you imagine it to be in your head. But taking the first step is not any less daunting than never taking that chance, so go ahead and start because it's not gonna get any easier.

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