Interview: Kelly Sue DeConnick and Captain America and the Secret Avengers

Posted by Jennifer Smith

Anyone who’s read this blog for any amount of time knows two things: I love the work of Kelly Sue DeConnick, and I love Captain America and the constellation of characters that surrounds him. So when I heard that DeConnick would be writing a one shot for Captain America’s 70th Anniversary featuring the Black Widow and Sharon Carter, I just about jumped through the roof in joy.

Longtime readers know that the hard-working DeConnick has been making a name for herself in Marvel through her work on the Sif and Rescue oneshots, various anthology pieces, and most recently the wonderful Osborn miniseries. To coincide with the release of her newest project, Captain America and the Secret Avengers #1 (on sale March 30th), I sat down with her to talk about that issue, her Marvel work in general, and other things that fill her with enthusiasm.

Captain America and the Secret Avengers cover

First of all, Kelly Sue, thank you for taking the time out of what I know is a crazy schedule to answer some questions. You may have noticed, from our constant praise, that all of the Fantastic Fangirls are huge fans of your work, and it’s an honor to get the chance to talk to you about this project.

Oh, pish. Thank you! I love the FF.

Osborn #1 coverFor those who might not be as familiar with your work as we are, can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Sure. I live in Portland, Oregon with my husband, Matt Fraction, two kids, two dogs and two cats. I held a bunch of different jobs from make up artist to medical assistant, but for roughly the last ten years I’ve been a writer. In comics, I’ve written the English adaptations of a whole slew of different manga series, as well as some original English language comics, most notably for IDW and Marvel. I am probably best known at present for the Marvel series OSBORN, though apparently it’s ‘criminally under-appreciated,’ ‘flying under the radar’ and ‘deserving a wider audience,’ which are, you know, meant to be compliments but sort of bum me out.

(It’s like when someone emails to tell you that they went to their LCS on Wednesday and your book was ALREADY SOLD OUT!! They mean it as a good thing so you have to thank them, but it is really anything anyone wants to hear. It’s not good news.)

Page 1, Cap & Secret Avengers previewNow, you’re working on a oneshot for the 70th anniversary celebration of Captain America, Captain America and the Secret Avengers, starring Sharon Carter and Natasha Romanov. How did that project come about?

I had worked with Lauren Sankovitch on a short called GIRLS’ NIGHT IN and she approached me with the Sharon/Natasha project.

Though you’ve done a ton of great work in the past year, one of the stories that really got me excited was your Age of Heroes #3 vignette about the Avengers liaisons to new top cop Steve Rogers. Sharon Carter, Maria Hill, and Victoria Hand all have a lot in common on the surface, as non-powered female former S.H.I.E.L.D. agents working closely with the Avengers, but you really did a fantastic job of showing how different they really are through their interactions with each other and their varied approaches to a crisis situation. With this oneshot you’re once again dealing with two characters with surface similarities, Sharon Carter and the Black Widow. How do you approach these kinds of characterizations and interactions?

I’m really pleased with that little piece–thanks! I’m glad you liked it too. Brad Walker was wonderful.

Dirty little secret: I actually based my characterizations of the women on core characteristics of their Avengers counterparts. I used Iron-Man for Maria, Cap for Sharon and, instead of Thor, Loki for Victoria. So Maria’s the thinker and the tech side, Sharon’s first to action and Victoria ends up saving the day through trickery.

Page 2, Cap & Secret Avengers previewYou’ve written Black Widow once before, too, in your Enter the Heroic Age short story, and in other interviews you’ve explained that some of the plot points from that story will be carried over into this one. What can you tell us about that plot, and what draws you to this particular story?

Essentially, Sharon and Natasha set out to stop this young assassin-in-training Tatiana from becoming Sharon and Natasha.

That, in a nutshell, is what I wanted to say. For as awesome and badass as Sharon and Natasha are, they’re also… not particularly normal or healthy. They’ve been, over the years, lethal broken dolls. Maybe if they had a chance to change that trajectory for someone else, they would. Particularly Natasha, who had little say in her own career path.

Have you historically been a fan of these characters, or others within the Captain America universe? If not, how did you find your “in” into their minds and their world? What did you like about writing them? What did you find challenging?

I wrote five drafts of this script, several of which were sizable rewrites. I suppose I’ll have to leave it to the reader to determine if I was successful at all, but yes, I most certainly found it challenging. Probably the most challenging comic script I’ve tackled thus far.

Lauren and I talked a bit about finding their voices and her tip with Natasha was to remember that she’s a cold war Russian character at her heart. That was helpful, I think.

Page 3, Cap & Secret Avengers previewYou’ve collaborated with quite a few artists at this point, including Emma Rios on Osborn, Jamie McKelvie on your first Black Widow story, and now Greg Tocchini on this project – whose art, from all the previews I’ve seen [see images in this post!], looks gorgeous. What have your collaborative experiences been like? How have they differed, and what have you learned from them?

They’ve each been unique experiences. Jamie was already a buddy of mine, so that was a comfortable collaboration from the start. Emma and I have now worked together on multiple issues, so we’ve grown quite close and we’re talking about doing a creator-owned book together as soon as possible. As much as I love what Greg’s doing, he and I haven’t actually interacted at all. (I’ve also worked with Brad Walker, Ryan Stegman, Adriana Melo and Andrea Mutti over the last year.)

I guess what I’ve learned in general is to get out of the artist’s way as much as possible.

A few more general questions before we go:

Page 4, Cap & Secret Avengers previewIn the past you’ve primarily worked in manga adaptation and original stories, but with your Marvel work you’re facing the challenges of working within a shared universe, giving you more freedom than an adaptation but less than something purely creator-owned. How have you approached this new challenge?

The hardest, most humbling thing I’ve learned is that I don’t write fast enough. There used to be a rule of threes–FAST/NICE/GOOD–you needed to be two out of three to keep working. I think these days you need to be all three. I’ve had my misses, but for the most part, I’m pretty good. And I’m sweet as pie. I’ve got to get fast if I want to keep working. Cold, hard truth.

With my manga adaptations I had a page count I had to hit every day and that was how I managed my workload. I’m going to have to set myself up with something similar I think for original work. An amorphous “two-to-three weeks to work on this” isn’t panning out for me because I find myself going through false-starts and rewriting chunks to death before I’ve got a complete finished draft. I think I need to plan the whole project from the get-go in order to keep up the forward momentum. (My strategy had been rough outline, then try to script 4 pages a day. Sounds doable–and is–but I didn’t factor in enough time to outline and would end up rewriting my four pages borrowing time from days ahead, yadda yadda yadda.)

I get the most work done when I’m able to stay up over night and work while the babies are sleeping. Unfortunately, I can’t do that too often. Physically, it’s just too much for me. I get up anywhere from 5am to 7am with the kids and as I’ve been breastfeeding one kid or the other since September 2007, I don’t think I’ve had 8 hours sleep in a row for more than 3 years.

Bitch, bitch, moan, moan. I know. I need to get it figured out. And I will. I just hope I get it figured out fast enough.

You’ve caught me at a moment when I’ve just finished one project and I’m about to start another. I have a plan. Cross your fingers for me.

Our fingers are most definitely crossed!

Page 5, Cap & Secret Avengers previewYou’re very active on Twitter, using it to share your thoughts and interact with colleagues and fans as well as your friends and family. How do you think Twitter has changed the comic book industry, particularly in terms of transparency, accessibility, and networking? How does this differ from your experiences with message boards and other, earlier forms of the comics internet, which I know you’ve also been a part of?

You know, I love Twitter, but I don’t think I’ve exactly figured it out for myself just yet. I don’t have the time for social networks that I used to have before we called them social networks and before I had kids.

When I think about how much time I used to have…

But yes, Twitter. It amuses me. It’s my guilt-free internet because it demands nothing and promises nothing. I don’t feel like I have to “catch up” on my twitter feed if I miss it. I read it when I feel like it and let it scroll for hours at a time and never go back.

Brian Bendis was making fun of me the other day, saying he can tell when I’m having a rough work day or a rough day with the kids because my twitter feed reads like a cry for help. I laughed, but it got me thinking about how my feed is received/consumed. I tend to think of twitter as a steam valve, a place I can scream or laugh into the ether, but every now and again I am reminded that my feed is read by a great many people who don’t know me. Their entire concept of who I am as a human being is formed by that feed. So then I go back and look at my feed and I wonder what kind of a portrait that paints. Never mind how accurate it is, is it appealing or interesting at all?

Most of the time I come across as a harried mother of two who wants to share her coupons. Now, that’s probably more accurate than I’d care to admit, but is it serving me professionally? I’d lay money against it.

I always get emails after interviews thanking me for being ‘refreshingly honest,’ or whatever. So, maybe I’m overthinking this. But you know, while sharing my insecurities may make others feel more comfortable about their own, is it really helping me get to where I want to be? I don’t know.

Answering your questions stream-of-consciousness like this certainly isn’t breaking any new ground for me, is it?! Oh boy. I wonder if I’ll ever learn.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I’d say you come across just fine – professional, enthusiastic, thoughtful, and able to juggle all your obligations no matter how stressful they may be. There’s a reason my co-bloggers and I were so happy to get the chance to talk to you.

Now, most people working in the comic book industry were fans of comic books first and foremost. Have you had any memorable fan moments as a professional?

I made an ass of myself when I met Tori Amos. And I think I get a little lightheaded every time Howard Chaykin calls our house.

Comic Book Tattoo

We here at Fantastic Fangirls like to celebrate enthusiasm in all of its forms. What media, comics or otherwise, has gotten you excited lately?

Oh, let’s see…

I only watch two shows right now– CASTLE and WHITE COLLAR. Neither is earth-shattering, but I suspect both are better than you think. Oh, wait—Dr. Who. I’m very late to the DR WHO party and I was just thinking the other day that it might be my favorite show. I liked 2 of the three eps of SHERLOCK I saw quite a bit too. I wonder if there are any more of those…

Hm. That wasn’t much of a rave, was it? You caught me on a dour day. I actually need to shake this off and get excited about something soon. I don’t write well when I’m blue. (I write well when I’m angry. Maybe I should go read the news.)

I am really into Sergio Leone right now–I’m reading a biography called SOMETHING TO DO WITH DEATH. I’ve got a long plane ride coming up and I think the thing I’m most looking forward to about the trip is some uninterrupted time with that book.

Comics-wise, I love what Bendis is doing with SCARLET. And Fraction’s CASANOVA Volume 3 has me giddy with anticipation. Rucka’s STUMPTOWN is really good. I’m a fan of all things Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Steve Niles, either Immonen, Jen Van Meter, Jason Aaron, Jonathan Hickman…

But you knew I’d say all that, didn’t you?

I recently went back and watched The Incredible Hulk TV show pilot and you know what? It holds up. There’s an awkward montage, but other than that, I remain a fan. Solid acting, solid writing, the premise is well-conceived… good stuff.

I have a stack of DVDs here that I haven’t had time to watch, but am looking forward to: WANDERING GINZA BUTTERFLY 1 & 2, IRON MAN 2 (No, I haven’t seen it. I KNOW.) and some collections of music videos and short films by Chris Cunningham, Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry. For Christmas I got DVDs of the old WONDER WOMAN and THE BIONIC WOMAN TV series and I’m looking forward to those.

I loved TRUE GRIT.

Finally, is there anything else you’d like to plug, or any upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?

No, sadly, nothing I can talk about yet!

Thanks for asking, though.

And there you have it! Remember to pick up Captain America and the Secret Avengers from your LCS on March 30, 2011 — it’s sure to be a treat. And thank you again, Ms. DeConnick, for taking the time to share your thoughts with the Fantastic Fangirls! It was a genuine honor to interview you, and we all look forward to every bit of your future work, whatever that may be!

  • Caroline

    What a great interview!

    I’ll be all over that one-shot, and a creator-owned title by Kelly Sue and Emma Rios would absolutely rock my world. I hope that comes to be.

  • Monica

    Kelly, you gave a great interview! I’m a medical assistant at the UW, so it’s awesome to know that you were once an MA also. I loved the Sif and Rescue stories you wrote, and I’m going to certainly pick up your other comics. Also, White Collar and Sherlock are the two most recent series I’ve watched and I’m a big Doctor Who fan, so I suspect we’d have a nice conversation were we to ever meet.