Real Interviews: Kelly Turnbull Part 2

Part 1 of the interview can be found here.

Nerdcenaries: Now you are also a comics person. You did those Justice League redesigns with the characters in Wonder Woman style costumes which were to quote Chris Sims “a hoot”.
Kelly Turnbull: Ahaha, man, that really blew up, it started as just kind of a back-and-forth between a friend and myself. He was lambasting people airing their grievances with Wonder Woman on the cover saying that DC fans were always going to find something to complain about (which is true enough, honestly) and I did that to illustrate what exactly it was that people had the problem with regarding Wonder Woman on that cover. With both got a ton of shit for that one, he had people telling him he was a sexist pig and a misogynist and all sorts of things like that (which couldn’t be further from the truth, he’s a really nice guy) and I had people telling me I was exploiting gay men and sissy shaming and hating on women who wanted to be effeminate and all that.
N: That is the nature of the Internet and even parody.
KT: Really, I just wanted to convey the idea that it was a silly pose by comparison to the dudes she was posing with. I think enough people got that, though. A lot of people asked why there was so much complaining over Wonder Woman, saying that she was far from DC’s worst handled character. I think she tends to be put under the microscope in respect to this sort of thing because she’s kind of historically been treated like a barometer for DC’s attitudes towards feminism.
N: I think the problem is really with one guy’s design of her. Jim Lee does some really poorly thought out designs that lack aesthetic qualities.
KT: Oh, I’m just saying why I think people tend to set their sights on Wonder Woman above all others.
N: Ironically though I keep hearing that the Wonder Woman series is one of the more solid comics that DC is doing.
KT: She gets more scrutiny because DC has proven that they’re not afraid to meddle with her character to make her more of an “empowered woman”. I saw a documentary on the company once saying that she was briefly depowered because DC thought women would be more impressed by a female character who didn’t need magical Amazon powers to stand with the boys. Then promptly changed her back when they realized people were upset to see the most recognizable female super hero of the day gone average mortal. I’ve seen this kind of waffling with the character cited as the reason that her story and personality aren’t as solid and iconic with the average Joe off the street as Superman or Batman’s are, but I couldn’t prove or disprove that for you.
N: Well Superman is Truth, Justice and the American Way. Batman is Justice Through Fear (Somewhat). Wonder Woman is nobility and honor through bravery (or bondage) but I don’t think she has an easy to classify ideal like Superman or Batman do, though neither do most of the other characters. I think that Wonder Woman just suffers more because she is the female character and with no established, or at least heavily established, characteristic, she becomes “the female”.
KT: Exactly. Well, here’s an observation of the character from The American Scholar in 1943; “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”
N: And yet that is a heavily Eurocentric view. Though I would love to see a stereotypically mythological/godly Wonder Woman using her powers to just mess with people, sort of like the Kate Beaton Surly Wonder Woman.
KT: Heh. As Marston, I think he was her creator put it “Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world” I feel like from the get-go there was a lot of pressure put on her to represent feminist ideas and, as you said, “be the female” in a boy’s club. Kate Beaton surly Wonder Woman is great because “surly” is more of a personality than “girl”
N: Now, what print comics are you reading these days?
KT: I actually just got my hands on the Major Bummer collection Dark Horse recently put out. It was kind of an AU DC thing from back in the 90’s. As in, DC originally published it, but it has nothing to do with the DCU. It is probably the best super hero comic I’ve ever read
N: Some of their best work has nothing to do with it. I personally love the Elseworld’s stuff.
KT: Alien college students are doing a thesis on the effects of introducing super powers to a closed environment like Earth. They select a group of people they feel will do the most good for humanity, but accidentally send the “Mr. Incredible” type frontman hero superpowers to a 98lb nerd who works in an electronics repair shop instead of the teacher-lawyer-humanitarian they’d originally intended. So the skinny nerd kid wakes up out of the blue as a seven-foot musclebound super human and the story basically follows how much it sucks for him to have super powers. The aliens want the device that gave him the powers back so they can give it to the man it was intended for, but the only way to take it back requires tearing his heart out. He has absolutely no desire to be the hero they want, but he has no plans to relinquish any organs. Needless to say hilarity ensues, but I don’t want to give the whole thing away.
N: That sounds pretty solid. And there is apparently a trade for it as well.
KT: I’ve also really been trying to turn people onto European comics a lot lately. I’m honestly surprised they didn’t explode on the scene stateside the same way manga did.
N: I think it is the mentality of “the mysterious east!” vs “where my smelly grandparents came from” to a degree. Though we have the Tin Tin movie coming out which might help.
KT: It might have something to do with the sparse updates or companies being more apprehensive about something that needs to be printed in colour on quality paper VS something they can print in black and white on newsprint. I think most comic fans are familiar with Blacksad, it certainly seems to be one of the most highly acclaimed and widely recognize European comics making the rounds in the states. Even Blacksad has met production hiccups when it came to translation because the producers were worried it wasn’t selling enough copies in America
N: With that said though look at Oni Press – Scott Pilgrim exploded, The Sixth Gun is being optioned as a series and so are a lot of other nonhero books like Chew.
KT: 2:29:23N: I think part of it comes from the Superhero Only mentality in American comics and the fact that manga has a wider variety and a lower price.
N: Sales is definitely another thing though.
KT: European comics have been translated by Heavy Metal for years, so I wonder if that might have something to do with people forming some preconceived notions about it. Like, the idea gets around that it’s inherently trashy or X-rated because of the reputation Heavy Metal has.
N: A lot of the industry is negatively affected by what people incorrectly think about comics.
KT: I’ve heard comic distributors air their frustrations with the way Heavy Metal manages their translated material as well, though, so their poor track record of publishing collected paperbacks could be another nail in the coffin. I’m going to throw out Skydoll as an example because it has hands down my favourite art in a comic to date. Up until recently, the only way to obtain translated Skydoll was by buying the Heavy Metal back issue that ran it a few summers ago. So it’s this gorgeous comic that by all rights you should be enjoying in a big luxurious hardcover or something like that, but the only way to get your hands on it was in a magazine full of ads with an unrelated airbrushed pinup girl on the cover.
N: I worked in a comic shop and it was always a weird thing placing Heavy Metal for that reason. Though if nothing else we’d cover up Guns and Corpses with Heavy Metal.
KT: I was so happy that Marvel acquired the rights to publish the translated version in the States, they’ve finally got it out on shelves in the collected edition it deserves. So everyone can go buy it now and show their support and we can maybe get more stuff like it…
N: As we start to wrap up, is there anything you’d like to plug?
KT: Hm, I think the only American comic I’m still keeping up with these days is the Goon, all of my love to the things that come out of the mind of Eric Powell. He is a credit to Indie comics. And on a webcomic front, I’ll urge everyone to read the Meek. I’m sure most people have heard of it by now, but if you haven’t read it yet, go at it. It’s probably my favourite online comic to date.
N: Well Kelly, thank you for your time and I’d definitely like to get you back on to talk more.
KT: No problem! It was definitely a pleasure!

Real Interviews: Kelly Turnbull Part 1

The interview with Kelly is longer than usual so I’ll be posting half today and half tomorrow.

Nerdcenaries: Greetings Kelly Turnbull of the online webcomic Manly Guys Doing Manly Things, how is life treating you?
Kelly Turnbull: None too bad, just getting back from a late night at the studio.
N: The studio where you are working on Good Vibes?
KT: Six Point Harness, yeah. We wrapped up production on the first season of Good Vibes a couple months back, so we’ve been keeping busy with other assorted smaller projects like ads and web shorts.
N: I finally caught the first episode of Good Vibes the other day. It’s sort of like Rocket Power post-puberty.
KT: Yeah, when I was explaining it to people before it was readily available online I was basically saying “Simpsons plus Family Guy Plus Rocket Power”. I think it was originally meant to be for Fox, but something happened and MTV took it over. The powers that be have said they’re happy to have the show on MTV, you can get a little more risque with the humour over there.
N: Yeah. It pushes the bar more than Fox would seem to allow and they are a lot laxer these day. But now you also work on Manly Guys Doing Manly Things which is your online webcomic. How would you describe it without mentioning that it is a video game comic?
KT: “What space Marines do when the job is over” That’s my elevator pitch for it, I guess
N: Haha.
KT: The first comic is pretty much the best summary I could give it, “a temp agency for ludicrously macho guys”. At least that was the idea when it started, it’s kind of strayed from there a bit. Focuses more on the agency as kind of a clubhouse these days. The guys don’t seem to be doing a lot of work
N: Yeah, it turned from a bit more of a gag-y video game related strip to more of a character driven piece in a lot of ways.
KT: It was originally meant for The Escapist’s webcomic contest, so I figured I’d do a really game-gag-driven concept. If I’d won, I would have probably stuck to that formula, but since it’s mine to do with as a please I try not to let myself get bored drawing a lot of fanart. Commander was kind of conceived for an Original Character tournament where I planned to go into rounds drawing my entry for every round as “Commander Badass wins by applying logic to the outlandish character he’s up against” So he can be repurposed for any situation where the characters he’s dealing with are really over-the-top Bravado.
N: Now one of the ideas in your comic is manliness is not necessarily about being overly muscular and violent but it’s more about confidence. Do you think that the entertainment industry has sort of confused these ideas in the way that strong female characters and female characters who are strong are confused?
KT: Very much so. I think things are starting to get better, but I feel like so many ACTION GRRL properties feature a character who’s whole schtick is WATCH ME PROVE HOW EXTRA BADASS I AM BECAUSE I’M A GIIIIRL
N: And then they tend to die.
KT: It’s like the motion picture equivalent to the “Gamer girls”, who think that they’re some kind of rare loch ness monster because they’re girls and they also like games.
N: All you need to do is go to art school or be social to find girls who like games.
KT: I feel like when you make a character with the one-note personality that “she’s a girl but she’s also a badass so it makes her extra badass”, it’s kind of perpetuating a patronizing stereotype that it’s terribly unusual for girls to do cool things.
N: Though on the opposite there are still the overly feminine characters and little space between.
KT: Yeah, I don’t know why it is, exactly, but it seems hard to fabricate a girl who is not one stereotype or the other, and can stand alone as an interesting person on her own right. It’s very easy to do with male characters, but for some reason it’s like when you sit down to write for a woman there’s some kind of “girl membrane” you have to get through before you can do anything else. I think a big part of it is people don’t take the time to flesh them out in their own rights, just “character is female” okay, personality done. You have to look beyond “this character is the mom” or “this character is the girlfriend” and give them the same treatment you give the guys. “Who is she, what does she want out of life, what’s her social status, what’s her education, what’s her job, what is she afraid of, what are her habits”, that kind of thing.
N: There are still stereotypes that come into play when writing where I guess you could summarize it as “writers see women as having less range”.
KT: That’s what I like about the girls in Dragon Age, I mean, people can complain about DA2 all they want but I can’t think of a more fleshed out “tough girl” character in a video game than Aveline.
N: I know Rick Remender mentioned for every main character he has this 100 Question sheet for figuring out and fleshing out characters. Most people have 1 multiple choice question instead. When I was in school we had a drama class that included a section where we had to invent a character. The “test” was we had to sit in front of the class and answer anything he asked us about them. so you had to know your character in and out, like they were your sibling or uncomfortably close best friend. Like “what colour is their underwear?” “What kind of a relationship do they have with their mother?” “How do they feel about pets?” Inane things that you might not think are important, but are actually quite telling of what a character might act like in their day-to-day life.
N: “Where do you hide the bodies?”
KT: I think that personal understanding is the big difference between designing a character and designing a gimmick with an avatar attached to it.
N: My roommate back at college who studied game design commented there were people who could draw 40 different characters but the characters had nothing that spoke in their design and that is some of it.
KT: Back in high school I saw a rant someone had written, I think it was largely aimed towards the furry community, but it was talking about how boring it is to see people come up with a 3/4 presentation pose and then draw everything standing exactly like that. Saying that they would see galleries full of extremely well-drawn, extremely boring pictures of different characters all doing the same thing. That really stuck with me, so I’ve always made it a goal of mine to give characters some personality, like doing something or standing in such a way that you get what they’re about. Posture, body language, and a simple prop or two can speak volumes.
N: What is your opinion of the series One Piece because that series has an amazing amount of variety in design.
KT: I enjoyed it back when I read it in high school, but I kinda drifted away when I stopped buying Shonen jump. Great art for sure.