Hard to believe? It's true. To pay the bills, Gail Simone was a hair stylist and to this day, her hair is pretty amazing. But her life path began in the theatre--that's what she studied in college. During her Creator Spotlight at the recent Wizard World Portland Comic Con to an intimate audience of 150 or so fans, Simone talked about how her need to be creative is what drew her to theatre, but not in terms of performance. She was always behind the scenes.
Life sometimes takes interesting turns and at one point, in response to friendly urgings, Simone began writing on comic book fan forums to express her creativity. And in classic Gail Simone style, she was fearless, funny, and noted with total candor how female characters would often end up dead, dying, sick, raped, or victimized (in other words, rendered powerless). The theme is pervasive in popular culture; it's actually where I began my career, too. Mothers seemed to die at an alarming rate in Hollywood film. From Bambi to Sleepless in Seattle, the absent mother was ever-present. Simone and other writers from the forums were feeling it in the comic book world as well. A small group got together and started a website in 1999 called Women in Refrigerators (WiR) after a scene in Green Lantern #54 featured the death of the male hero's girlfriend, whose body was brutally shoved in a refrigerator after her murder. The site featured a list of female superheroes who had been killed, victimized or otherwise stripped of independent agency. This is why X-Men has always been one of my favorite comics--a plethora of kick-ass women for more than fifty years!
Gail animatedly talked about how male comic book writers and editors who read her postings on WiR believed "Gail Simone" was a pseudonym for a disgruntled male comic book writer. That was interesting to me as a scholar who studies the socio-political in pop culture. Somehow, it was impossible for a woman to be as witty and clever as Simone. Besides, girls don't read comics! How pathetic. But it shows that, until relatively recently, the comic book industry has been a tight-knit boys club--and still is for the most part. I get to work with lots of comic book writers and artists and with the exception of less than handful of women, like Gail, everyone is male. And, point of context, women are more than half of the population, not just in the States, around the globe.
For the last twelve years or so, Gail Simone has been one of the few women writers in the male-dominated comic book industry. But Simone was quick to tell fans that it took years (about four) of writing at night and on weekends, and for free, before getting any paid gigs. Gail Simone constantly wrote in her spare time while working as a hair stylist during the day until the writing could replace her income from the salon.
Gail Simone is one of the hardest workers in the biz, and it's certainly paid off. If you follow Gail on Twitter, you know that there was a kerfuffle with DC in 2012. And thanks to her fans, Simone realized how important she was to the industry. It opened doors to creator-owned projects like The Movement and Leaving Megalopolis. And yes, there are some strong female characters in both. While Gail Simone was tight-lipped about the specific characters, she did give away that technology is going to be an important theme. That, and the abuse of power. Sensing a pattern? Good! Because strong female superheroes like Gail Simone are here to stay.
What's Gail working on next? Red Sonja! So stay tuned for more on Gail and all of her wonderful work, because yes, Gail Simone is #PopCultureProfessor APPROVED!
Follow Gail Simone on Twitter: @GailSimone
And, if you want to see Gail, and other talented comic book writers and artists like her, during the 2013-2014 Wizard World tour, check the website: www.WizardWorld.com
Or, follow WW on Twitter: @WizardWorld
Thanks to Gail Simone and her charming hubby (who live-tweeted our sessions--you ROCK)! I look forward to working with you both again soon.