After kicking off her run on Red Sonja earlier this year, Gail Simone decided to share the love for the red-headed warrior with other female writers.
Legends of Red Sonja, the comic event that launched this month, is pulling together stories from a team of all female writers to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the character.
The five-issue comic kicked off with a framing story by Simone, which set up a premise that allows each of the participating female writers to tell a completely stand-alone tale about Red Sonja — and they often feature work by female artists too. The creators come from comics, novels and video games, and include Devin Grayson, Carla Speed McNeil, Nancy A. Collins, Marjorie M. Liu, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Blair Butler, Tamora Pierce, Leah Moore, Rhianna Pratchett, Nicola Scott, Mercedes Lackey, Meljean Brooks and more.
Legends of Red Sonja #2, which is due in stores December 4, features stories by Simone with artist Jack Jadson, Meljean Brook with artist Mel Rubi, and Tamora Pierce with artist Cassandra James.
Both of Simone's guest authors for issue #2 are best known for their bestselling novel series — Brook for her Guardians and The Iron Seas books, and Pierce for her Tortall and Circle books. Y
In our ongoing series of interviews with the women of Legends of Red Sonja (see our interview about part one here), we talk to Simone, Pierce and Brook about what's coming in issue #2.
Newsarama: Gail, you came up with the premise behind this series. What's the story behind how you came up with the framing sequence of the "Gray Riders," and what does it offer you and the other riders for your story?
Gail Simone: Well, I wanted a platform for our stellar cast of writers to be able to build their stories on. The idea of an unstoppable force is very compelling, particularly when chasing someone like Sonja, who doesn't believe in the unstoppable force.
The Grey Riders are a brutal, tough band of killers and mercenaries, all hired to kill Sonja for a crime they believe she committed. They won't stop, and there's too many to fight all at once. While they are chasing Sonja, it gives our writers a chance to tell all kinds of stories, 'legends,' about the She-devil. It's just good fun.
Nrama: How did you guys divide up the stories and come up with them?
Simone: Mostly, it was a lot of trust. I know these writers, I know what they can do. I am the de facto story editor, but I never needed to prompt ideas, these women are idea machines, one and all. Once I had the final list of creators, I gave them the overall framing skeleton, and the characters involved, and told them to go wild.
They each came up with a plot idea, and a number of pages they thought it would take. Once the stories came in, I put them together each issue by theme, for cohesion's sake, and we did some slight tweaking together to show a timeline progression.
There's this myth that women can't work together without tearing at each other, but I have to say, we never had a cross word, never anything but fun and admiration for each other. It was absolutely lovely. Editing that many writers on one book should be like herding storm clouds, but it just wasn't, everyone was incredibly cooperative. For the amount of creative firepower we were harnessing here, I can't believe how much fun it all was.
Nrama: OK, Gail, what can we look forward to in issue #2?
Simone: Oh, man. First, hugely popular and talented romance/dark fantasy author Meljean Brook gives a really deep, wonderful story. She's clearly spent so much time thinking about the world of Sonja and her story in particular, it could easily have been a novel of its own. And then we have one of our biggest coups, the giant of fantasy fiction, Tamora Pierce, doing a story that's fun, smart, and so real, it just shows why she's a goddess of fantasy prose. It's gorgeous.
It's so fun....I've been at a bunch of conventions and I keep having people come up and they're thrilled to see their favorite prose writers, like Tamora, Meljean, and Mercedes Lackey, working on this book together. These women don't need to be guided on how to write Sonja; they've been writing kickass heroines for years. They literally wrote the book on the subject.
That mix of prose authors and comics is one of the things that made me the happiest on this very special project.
Nrama: Tammy and Mejean, how did you get involved with this project?
Tamora Pierce: Gail Simone invited me, and I was happy to plunge in! She always has the best ideas, and the line-up of writers and artists blew me away. I couldn’t pass up the chance to be part of something like this!
Meljean Brook: Gail Simone asked me and I said yes...which is a very short answer to a very long love affair with female heroes, Gail Simone's work, and comics. Before the offer came, I knew about Gail's Red Sonja reboot and was already excited for it. So when she e-mailed asking if I was interested, I didn't even have to think twice. I was in.
Nrama: Why did writing Red Sonja interest you as a writer?
Brook: Aside from the challenge of writing a comic book script -- I'm a prose writer, and a long-winded one to boot, so the shorter format was completely new to me -- heck, it's Red Sonja! I can't say whether I was more excited to tackle her as a writer, given the opportunity to tell a Red Sonja story, or as a fan. It's impossible to separate the two for me. While I was growing up, Red Sonja's character this revelation to a girl searching for warrior women in her fiction, because they were far too few and far between. And now, I can see her influence in several of the heroines I've written.
Pierce: I liked the chance to show Red Sonja from a more humorous aspect, as I was just coming of a rather grim project at the time. The touch of religion just showed up when I wasn’t looking.
Nrama: Meljean, you mentioned Red Sonja's influence on other female characters you've written. But among all the female characters out there, what's unique about her?
Brook: Perhaps not unique, but I think it is rare -- she's unapologetically herself, a warrior and wanderer. And I don't mean that she never admits to being wrong or regrets a failure, but that it never seems to be in pursuit of a different, ordinary life. Whatever the origin story, so often in comics the heroes and heroines perform these extraordinary deeds, and it's not just to save lives (which is awesome) but so that everything goes back to normal -- and so that they can, too. They're warriors because there is a war, and they're wanderers because they are searching for that place to settle down. In comics, the villains never stop and the job never seems to be done, so they never end up going back to normal, but I always get the sense that's one of the goals: to eventually stop fighting and to reach that point where they don't have to be a hero.
But I don't see Red Sonja as anything else. She's more than just a warrior and a wanderer, of course, but even if all the baddies disappeared from her world, she'd still be riding around, doing her thing, the She-Devil with a sword. It's who she is and I love that.
Nrama: Tammy, what did you find in the character that really stood out to you?
Pierce: Red Sonja is one of those multi-faceted characters who provides a new aspect for almost any writer. I’ve read most of the stories done for this series, and it’s wonderful how we’ve all managed to get something about her that either amplifies what is already there or finds a believable way to look at her that is different. She is exactly the kind of hero you see in the great legends, the ones in which the hero shows up either as the focus of the story or as a lesser character, the one who leaves a mark in her passing no matter what size part she plays. This is what we want from our heroes, something we can find only in the modern day when the hero is female. With this series, the writers and artists make it plain that Red Sonja fills the historic hero’s niche.
Nrama: Tammy, Gail mentioned that you're doing a story that's "smart, fun and real," and you mentioned humor in particular as something that drew you to this project. What can you tell us about the premise of your story?
Pierce: It’s fairly straightforward: Two travelers are in need of a guard to get them to their destination, and Red Sonja looks to be just what the doctor — or the goddess they and Red Sonja follow — ordered. Unfortunately, some nasty brothers have different opinions about who should have the job. Hilarity ensues. Not. As in any Red Sonja story, nothing is what it seems. Issues that should be straightforward are anything but, little girls have other toys than dolls to play with, and their mothers hide behind thickly layered veils for very good reasons.
Nrama: Meljean, what story did you decide to tell for the issue?
Brook: As much as I love Red Sonja, I'm not blind to some of the more problematic aspects of her history -- such as the whole "a man must defeat her before she sleeps with him" bit. So I thought I'd play with that, and send her on a quest with an arrogant barbarian who has every intention of defeating her.
And you don't want to miss Mel Rubi's pencils. They are just gorgeous. Writing a comic story is kind of a fangirl's dream come true for me, and I thought nothing could top being asked, but when I saw the artwork the whole fantastic process suddenly became a billion times more awesome. It's incredible.
Nrama: As long as we've got you guys here, is there anything else you're doing that you want your fans to know about?
Brook: I'm just always writing! I've recently wrapped up a dark paranormal romance series and am continuing work on my steampunk series, which is a lot of fun.
Nrama: Tammy, what have you been up to?
Pierce: Erm — working like a crazy person? I’ve finished my part of what will be The Tortall Companion Book, selections of useful documents to go with the universe of my Tortall fantasy novels. And I’ve begun work on my next book, also set in the Tortall universe: Exile, about one of my most popular characters there, who must somehow survive the rage of an absolute ruler and live to reach his full potential as a mage.
Nrama: Then to finish up, Gail, as readers head into issue #2, you've obviously been putting a lot of time and focus on coordinating all these stories for this series. What's the experience been like, working with all these other female writers?
Simone: I've said this a lot, but this is my dream list of collaborators...each of these women is inspiring to me in some way. Some were my writing heroes before I ever turned pro, and some are newer writers who came out of the gate bold and strong.
I have had a lot of dreams come true as a writer...I've gotten to work with artists I adored as a reader, I've gotten to write characters that changed my life as a kid. But I've never experienced anything quite like this, the sparks that fly when you get this many amazing female writers on this particular hellcat character. It's hard to even find the words, but for me, it's been magic.