Emma Caulfield knows how to get your attention. Whether she’s lighting up the screen in scene-stealing performances in television (most famously, perhaps, as Anya on Buffy the Vampire Slayer), film (Darkness Falls), and online (Bandwagon) or subverting your expectations by dropping previous webcomic Contropussy with collaborators Camilla Ransten, artist Christian Messey and letterer Thomas Mauer, she’s always doing something interesting. Now, Caulfield, Ransten, Messey and Mauer have reteamed for Ripped, a new webcomic that asks “Who is the Ripper?” but does it in a surprisingly fresh way. We caught up with Caulfield (who has appearances pending on “Prime Suspect” and “Once Upon a Time”) to ask a few questions of our own.Newsarama: Emma, I'm sure some of the fans that know you from television and film might be asking, "Why comics?" What drew you in?
Emma Caulfield: Why comics? Well, we needed to explore these characters in our crazy brains and we were wisely advised that this medium would allow us the freedom to do that. We began with Contropussy, which recently was acquired by IDW, and now with Ripped. Full disclosure, we didn't know anything about the comic world when we began, but that has changed a lot since then.
Nrama: With Contropussy, was it strange for you as a well-known presence in another medium making the transition over to creating comics?
Caulfield: I didn't find the transition to be difficult moving from one medium to another. In fact quite the opposite. I found that my fellow geeks are welcoming regardless of the medium.Nrama: As a creator, what influences you? Any particular favorite comics or other works influence your approach?
Caulfield: What influences me? God, if I knew the answer to that I would never be without inspiration. I am most moved by striking visuals and music, ideally combined. I think comics have given us some our greatest heroes and anti-heroes. Part of their greatness came from writers having the luxury of time in developing their many, many levels. I know that I like to challenge people and I know that I don't like to repeat myself. I wait to have something to say and hope that there will be people there to listen.
Nrama: Tell us about Contropussy. How was that experience, and what did you learn about the form during the making of that series?Caulfield: Well we were playing around mainly...just having fun. We were like kids in a candy shop with no one putting rules and restrictions on us. That was something I had never experienced creatively so I embraced it fully. Contropussy was a big learning curve for us in many ways. We were being introduced into a world that could have frozen us out but didn't. Simultaneously, we were learning how to navigate that world without alienating anyone. The format took a minute to get used to as well. We had only ever written screenplays which map out their beats quite differently. In many ways the comic format has become my favorite in which to write.
Nrama: Now that you have the band back together for Ripped, how did the ball get rolling on the new series? And why did you choose a Ripper story in particular?
Caulfield: Camilla and I wanted to tell the story of Ripper with fresh eyes and propose theories that hadn't been talked about before. We are also surrounded by friends who have varying degrees of psychic abilities and how and why they can do what they do is endlessly fascinating. To give Ripper as a story point the background of a psychic university, seemed like a natural evolution in the story we wanted to tell. Plus, we like to explore the dark, thematically, and who better to do that with than good old Jack?Nrama: You have quite a large section devoted to your Kickstarter friends on the site. Please explain how you brought Kickstarter into the process, and what that's done in terms of the creation of the series.
Caulfield: We used Kickstarter to raise money to make the comic. It was pretty simple really. We knew we had to do things differently this time around and everyone's rates had gone way, way up since we first worked together. I whored myself a lot to get that money (laughs). In fact I'm STILL putting those incentives together as we speak. Thankfully we had so many people want to help us bring this to light and our thank you section reflects that.
Nrama: What's the work process like for you and Camilla? Does the whole team plot together, or do you have a definitive flow for the step-by-step?
Caulfield: Camilla and I work seamlessly together. She is the most prolific writer I have ever met. We bounce ideas off each other. Then one of us writes for a little bit and then the other one takes over. We do that for as long as it takes for us to finish whatever it is we are collaborating on. Once she and I have the story mapped out and the strips written (we call them episodes actually), we hand them off to the rest of our brilliant team who make our words and ideas come to life. It astonishes me weekly just how gifted Christian Meesey is as an artist and Thomas as a master of finding places to hold all our words. And we like to say a lot!. In the end, we try to be at least two to three weeks ahead of the dropping dates, just in case other things come up, which they always do.
Nrama: How long do you expect Ripped to go? Do you have a projected end-date in mind for the series, or is it open-ended? Could the audience influence that?Caulfield: We have written out in broad strokes a four season arc for this. We have always viewed this as a television series that ran four years so in that sense, yes, it has a strong end. We want the audience to be really invested in these people. Without a rabid base, we won't be able to do anything with this. It will be this great concept that went nowhere. Hopefully, that won't be the case and we will build a loyal audience that pushes us and the story forward. You would think it would be a hit right? Ripper, psychics, period, gore, part history but mainly crazy fiction. I know I would watch this show and read this comic, but I am biased.
Nrama: Much has been made lately about the number of female creators in comics. Do you feel an added responsibility or pressure as a female creator?
Caulfield: Sadly the number of female writers/creators is tragically low in comparison to our male counterpoints in all creative genres. There's this notion that there aren't as many of us out there. I think the powers that be comfort themselves with the false belief that women just don't have the drive that men do to pursue that line of work. That's total bullshit, if I may be blunt.
The fact is that we aren't given the opportunity to show what we can do. I know that women are becoming more vocal and are having more of a presence in the comic world, and while that is great news for women, it really is great news for everyone. I mean, I can't tell you how many men have said that Ripped is so dark, edgy and violent that they are shocked two women wrote it. For us it's like, you have NO IDEA how far down the rabbit hole we can go. You just have to be willing to let us show you. We really can talk about things other than our periods and whether the guy is going to call. Although we can talk about that for hours (laughs).
As far as pressure, I feel pressure all the time to prove myself. I have to. For every one opportunity I get, my male counterpart gets 10. If you bring a man into a meeting, the suits naturally direct their questions to him as if he is the final say. It's quite defeating really. The only thing I or any female writer creator can do is be good and hustle and hope that the audience gives us a chance. And really we all, men and women alike, live and die by the audience.Nrama: You took part in a lively discussion on Twitter that was kicked off by editor Janelle Asselin. Everyone agrees that new readership, particularly female readership, is vital to the ongoing health of comics. In your opinion, what can the industry do to increase the amount of female readers?
Caulfield: Yes, that was a lively discussion. And a fun one too... I think if the industry wants more female readers, they need to promote the female writers/creators that are out there. Entice them. They have to be willing to eat crow a bit and show up for an audience that has been ignored. In the end, it should only be about the work and not about who created it. It's nowhere near that point right now, but it's my hope that one day it will be.
Nrama: Before you go, what do you want the readership to take from Ripped?
Caulfield: Both Camilla and myself want our readers to be excited and engaged in a way that they feel like they know Jack the Ripper better than anyone else. We want them to see our history in a different way and believe for a minute that it could have gone down the way we are suggesting. We want that water cooler product, you know? That back and forth debate about who Ripper really is and WHY they think they have figured it out. A modern spin on the oldest "who dun it" tale and you're left scratching your heads and screaming NO WAY! Is that asking too much? (laughs)