This week sees the end of the relaunched Red Sonja’s first arc, with Gail Simone and Walter Geovani drawing the story to a – likely rather bloody, one would imagine – conclusion. The last few months have seen Simone redefine the character whilst blatantly having a load of fun with it. There’s been singing, there’s been fighting – there’s been all sorts of things going on.
And with those things coming to a head this week, it seemed like the perfect time to have a chat with her about the first arc, her writing on the series, and where things are headed next. Read on!
The images below are from this week’s issue of Red Sonja – issue #6.
Steve: You’ve written primal characters prior (some of Catman’s stories come to mind) but how have you found the experience of jumping wholly into the genre for Red Sonja?
Gail: That’s an interesting question, it raises fundamental issues about the human condition as portrayed in fiction. What makes a character ‘primal?’ I have to give that some thought.
But I do like the way you can use a past or fictional setting for these tight little morality plays. It’s like the original Star Trek series…you use a specific setting as a way to talk about truths in our own lives.
Anyway, shorter answer, I love it. I knew I would enjoy writing Sonja, I had no idea I would love it this much. I do love the idea of Sonja on horseback in the desert, with only a sword, against the rest of the world. That’s kind of my central theme as a writer put into one character.
Steve: The sword/sorcery genre as a whole seems to be revitalised right now, from Game of Thrones right through to Brian Wood’s work on Conan at Dark Horse – what do you think remains the key appeal of the genre?
Gail: There’s a certain lack of good manners that I find appealing. Sonja’s not the most polite person around. I enjoy the courteous characters in Lord of the Rings, but Sonja is most definitely not that.
And it’s monsters and brutal warriors and quests for treasure and honor…who doesn’t enjoy that?
Steve: How easy has it been to find your voice with the character? You’ve said before in interviews that she can come across as aloof or distant, so did you approach her with the intention of moving away from that persona?
Gail: A lot of great writers approached her as kind of cold-blooded, and I get that, there’s fun in writing an icy-gazed, imperious fighter.
But I did want to go the opposite way. My Sonja fights too quickly, drinks too much, and when she’s lonely, she finds someone comely to answer that call, as well. She’s hot blooded, check it and see.
It’s nice–with superheroes, there is a lot of resistance to making them less than perfect, which is the death of drama every time. With Sonja, I think people always knew that this Sonja, who sometimes dances on tables in taverns, was always just under the surface.
Steve: This first arc has been, on one level, about deconstructing the character and working her out, hallucinatory parents and all. Also: drinking songs. How do you write the drinking songs, in particular?
Gail: It’s a way to draw a sketch of the culture behind the characters. Sonja is there for a soldier about to die from the plague, and he sings a song about honor and standing guard for his king. Later, when Sonja thinks SHE is dying of the plague, she sings the same song, but the words have changed, so the singer is telling her king to go screw himself.
That says a lot about both characters, and it’s fun to do, as a bonus.
Steve: We’ve also seen several new characters come into her world – in particular her new ‘bodyguards’ and her first opponent, Dark Annisia. How free have you been to create and build new characters for Sonja to interact with, and can we expect to see any of the characters stick around into the foreseeable future?
Gail: This is the best part, Dynamite and the licensor have been absolutely wonderful about this. They specifically asked for me to create ‘Gail Simone’ characters to populate the stories. They actually wanted the stuff I sometimes have to fight for elsewhere.
Sonja is at her most entertaining when she has someone to play off of, someone she is infuriating or enraging, in particular. We will see some of these characters again, I promise.
Steve: Dynamite recently expanded their line with Legends of Red Sonja, an anthology written by yourself along with various others creators including Devin Grayson and Nancy Collins. How have THEIR new stories influenced your take on the character, if at all?
Gail: Oh, all these women have inspired me, absolutely. That was the main reason I picked their names, they were all women who are heroes of mine, as creators.
And I say it again, I hear all the time that ‘not many women want to write comics,’ and it’s just such nonsense. I made the list of potential creators for the series in fifteen minutes, sent out the letters one afternoon and within a few hours we had one of the greatest collections of female writers ever assembled for a comic project all on board. I had only one name who had to decline for schedule reasons.
What I love about it is, it’s just name after name of my favorite female writers. So many said yes so quickly, there were a bunch I’d hoped to ask that we just could not fit in. And it was such a joy, not a cross word among all of us the entire time, nothing but support and enthusiasm and laughter.
My idea of Sonja is pretty ingrained in my mind, but I was definitely inspired by these women and always have been.
Steve: There have been a number of variant covers for the series, but as well as all that – there’s Jenny Frison, one of THE best cover artists around, doing the regular covers for the series [as seen above!] How did she come onboard Red Sonja?
Gail: I had this fun idea, what if all the covers were done by female artists? And so Dynamite had me make a wish list, and I put all my favorites on there, women like Colleen Doran, Nicola Scott, Becky Cloonan, Amanda Conner, on and on, and again, everyone jumped on board immediately.
Jenny is someone whose work I love, who I have been dying to work with for years. She was way up on the list, we are lucky to have her.
Steve: You’ve also now been working for several months with artist Walter Geovani on the series. How has the collaborative process been together?
Gail: I know this is starting to sound a little “I love everybody!” but Walter is THE key element to the book right now, in my mind. He’s a fantastic artist, a total professional, and a wonderful collaborator. He has great ideas and he puts them all on the page and every issue, he surprises me. No matter what I ask for, he can do it.
One of the most fun creative collaborations I have had in comics. Walter is very important to me. Anyone could write it and it would still be Sonja, but not everyone can DRAW her in a way that kicks as much ass as his version does.
Cover for Red Sonja #7, out in January
Steve: A new arc will be starting in January, with Sonja being hired on as a bodyguard of sorts. What can readers expect as we head into this new storyline?
Gail: This is a new arc, but it’s made up of six individual stories. Red Sonja has to collect the six greatest artisans of her age–the best chef, the best swordsman, the best courtesan, etc., to save the lives of a thousand people she doesn’t even know.
It’s a really fun story, dark in some issues, and genuinely farcical in others.
Many thanks to Gail Simone for her time! You can find her online on Twitter here, and the newest issue of Red Sonja, issue #6, is out on Wednesday. And thank you to Dynamite’s Nick Barrucci for arranging the interview.