Welcome back to Newsarama’s Wide World of Webcomics, our continuing look at the best of the web…with a look at one of the worst heroes out there.
The Non-Adventures of Wonderella chronicles the self-absorbed, profantity-filled stumbling of Wonderella, pretty much the most inept female superhero ever. Along with her mentally-vague sidekick Wonderita, she fights an often-ending battle against world threats, interrupted by her desire for alcohol, guys, and other things that occasionally result in the world getting blown up. Of course, her fellow heroes and villains – from pre-programmed archenemy Hitlerella to her disproving mom to her occasional mentor Dr. Shark, aren’t much better off, but watching them is always hilarious.We got Wonderella’s creator Justin Pierce to talk about his creation, the state of female superheroes, and more.
Newsrama: Justin, how did you first come up with the concept for Wonderella?
Justin Pierce: It started during one of those geeky "Which superhero would win" arguments among a few of my friends. As most comic nerds know, the psychology of these heroes matters as much as their powers in these match-ups.
When Wonder Woman came up, I realized that Wondy didn't have distinct character features when she wasn't being Wonder Woman. Clark Kent is affable, Bruce Wayne is haunted, Peter Parker's awkward, and so forth -- you just know these things automatically. But Diana Prince still feels undefined, despite being a 70-year-old character.
So I went with a parody character (Dana Price) who represented the off-the-clock persona of a super heroine who'd simply been around forever. As time progressed, that laissez-faire attitude crept into Wonderella herself, and that's really when the comic started to find itself!Nrama: How do you feel you've evolved as a creator since it first started?
Pierce: I think I've gotten better as a concise storyteller. My foremost task is creating a complete story that's as satisfying in one page as most stories are in a series of pages. That usually means I have to put a gag or some other punchy element into almost every panel, but I like that challenge.
Nrama: For that matter, has Wonderella herself evolved? ...at all? Maybe a smidge?
Pierce: I think it's gone both ways. She's grown more adept at effectively taking
care of business without having to work that hard. Whether that's an asset or a liability is up to the reader. I've always been a big believer in Larry David's "No hugging, no learning" philosophy. There are often lessons, but they're usually ignored by Wonderella.Nrama: And of course -- how has the medium of webcomics evolved since you started doing strips?
Pierce: When I started this, there were a lot of webcomic creators who assumed you
could bang out a few strips and monetize yourself into a media empire overnight. Nowadays I think that myth's been shattered, and you're left with creators who create comics purely because they want to create comics, without any preconceived notions of fortune and fame. That's a good thing.
Nrama: I'm morbidly curious as to how you put yourself in the state of mind to write a character like Wonderella. What dark part of your soul must you tap into to know how she'd react to a given situation?
Pierce: Wonderella has actually developed on her own as a character really well. Most of my friends would tell you I'm not much like Wonderella, but I know how she'd react in a situation, so I basically "drop" her into a zombie invasion or Watergate and see how it turns out.Nrama: And how does your illustrative process for the strip work?
Pierce: Usually I'll storyboard the comic first as stick figures. Then once I'm satisfied, I roughly draw the characters on the page and replace that with vector artwork. It can be a long process, but it's the best way to ensure I can pack everything I want into a page.
Nrama: Obviously, there is much controversy over the depiction of female supeheroes in many mainstream comics, specifically with regards to their sexuality and violence being inflicted upon them.
What do you feel are the biggest problems with the depiction of female superheros in many books, and who would you characterize as some of the best and worst examples of these? Wonderella being of course the worst female superhero of all.
Pierce: A fundamental problem with super heroines is sexuality (a character who sees herself as sexual and isn't afraid to show it) versus sexualization (a sex object created purely to titillate readers).Starfire's first appearance in the New 52 was an unfortunate example of the latter. She-Hulk would be a good counterpoint -- she's sexy and she's had a lot of sex, but it's on her own terms and that's not her main characteristic.
Violence against women is often some sort of misplaced power fantasy, but it's also a lazy writer's technique when they can't motivate a male character in some better way.
Wonderella sidesteps both of these by being neither a sexual object nor an offshoot of a male character. She's not the perfect role model by any means, but she is her own person and that itself, unfortunately, subverts most typical super heroines.
Nrama: Okay, I have to ask. How much of Wonder Woman's comics have you
read, and what do you feel are the biggest challenges to doing that character well? And have you read the new run? It's darn good, there's messed-up gods and pants and stuff.Pierce: To be honest, most of the Wonder Woman stuff I've read is the old 1940-50s
stuff. I've always felt that was the most timeless fun, where she just fights an octopus one day for no reason. Gail Simone did a great job of blending those goofy elements into Wonder Woman's modern mindset.
I've only read a small amount of the New 52 stuff (I try not to read too much current Wonder Woman) but it's certainly a interesting take. Brian Azzarello's got some crazy stuff going on, but I think you need a long view before judging that. Cliff Chiang in particular is great at depicting the power of Wonder Woman without falling into the trap of cheesecakey butt-boob poses.
Wonder Woman's been totemic of gods, humanity, patriotism and feminism over the years, so there's a lot of directions you can go with her. That may be the biggest challenge - she means so many different things that it's been hard to hammer down exactly who Wonder Woman is.Nrama: Have there ever been plans to do Wonderella as a cartoon and if not, would you be open to such an idea? Or a Wonderella video game? 8-bit style, natch.
Pierce: Well, either would be amazing! I've never been approached by anyone, and
my ape-like brain isn't equipped to tackle the programming or animation on my own. I almost think The Non-Adventures of Wonderella would work better as an old-school adventure game, since so many of her problems are solved through conversations or Rube Goldberg devices.
Nrama: What's the biggest challenge in doing some of the recurring annual jokes on the strip, such as Devlin or the Leprechaun?
Pierce: I feel so bad for Devlin - he's been screwed over so many times by Wonderella in some way or other that I only use him when it really works for a story. The Leprechaun comics offer a different challenge -- I can literally go anywhere in them, but the top 1/4 of the page is always spoken for, so I need to wrap things up quickly.Nrama: Have you ever thought of doing some longer stories, with Wonderella or other characters?
Pierce: Oh, absolutely. I have two or three long-form Wonderella storylines I'd do if I had the time. I'd like to offer at least one as a bonus in one of the printed collections at one point.
Nrama: ) Something I've been asking everyone in this series is: What opportunities do you feel have arisen for creators with the advent of such new delivery systems as iPads and smartphones, and what do you feel both individual creators and larger companies can do to take better advantage of these opportunities?
Pierce: Portability and social networking go hand in hand now. You can either
shove a comic in front of someone's face using a smartphone or iPad, or reblog it to their own device.The best way to take advantage of that is by being open, by encouraging sharing. Ten years ago the best idea we had was blocking things off with a subscription wall like cable TV, but now the most successful operations work like public radio, where content is openly provided and you pay in because it's good, not because it's obligatory. If you lock things down too hard, people will still find a way to get it, but they'll hate you for witholding.
Nrama: What are some of your other favorite webcomics and creators, online and off?
Pierce: I count Tim Demeter, Kathleen Jacques, Ryan North, David Malki! and
Gordon McAlpin among my close friends in webcomics, though a lot of other people have helped me along the way.
Being a webcomic creator is a weird coupling of isolation and exhibitionism, so it's vital to have people who understand that as well as you do. My favorite comic for several years has been Achewood. I know it's gotten a lot of press and it's not the same as it was, but I don't think anything exemplifies what an online comic could be at its best like Achewood's “Great Outdoor Fight.”
I have a lot of others I read and follow, but that's almost its own conversation.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Pierce: I have written stories outside the comics arena that I'd polish up if I had the time. I also have an old comic series before Wonderella that I all but abandoned called Killroy and Tina. It would be great to take that on, but again, my time is not unlimited. And of course, it'd be great if I could do Wonderella as a full-time job, but it doesn't pay what I'd need to skedaddle from my 9-5 graphic design job.
Experience The Non-Adventures of Wonderella at www.nonadventures.com.
Next: Got a problem with deadly creatures? Call Lilith Dark! Then, we’ve got a two-parter with the creator of the epic SF Dicebox, Eisner-nominated Dylan Meconis on Family Man and more, Phineas & Ferb’s Eddie Pittman on Red’s Planet and much more!Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!