KELLY SUE DeCONNICK on CAPTAIN MARVEL, Catharsis, Returning to Her Creator-Owned Comics

Kelly Sue DeConnick and family
Kelly Sue DeConnick and family at Captain Marvel premiere
Credit: Milkfed Criminal Masterminds
Kelly Sue DeConnick and Brie Larson
Kelly Sue DeConnick and Brie Larson
Credit: Kelly Sue DeConnick

On Monday, Kelly Sue DeConnick was able to see Captain Marvel's big screen debut - seven years after she herself helped the character shed her Ms. Marvel moniker to become the hero she was meant to be.

While this movie hits theaters, DeConnick is at a new stage herself - returning from self-prescribed 'fallow time' away from comic books for DC's Aquaman, followed with Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons and the return of creator-owned projects Pretty Deadly and Bitch Planet.

In the second part of our interview (part one here) with the Portland-based writer, DeConnick opens up about her time away, what she's learned, and what's next both professionally and personally.

Credit: Phil Jimenez (DC Entertainment)

Newsarama: This return to corporate comics – and monthly comics – is after you did a stint in television on Emerald City and Redliners. Now you’ve got Aquaman, Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons, your creator-owned projects like Pretty Deadly, Bitch Planet, and some other unannounced ones I presume.

I can only see what’s announced, but this seems like the most comic book work from you in some time. Is it intentional for the pendulum to swing back into comics writing?

Kelly Sue DeConnick: Absolutely. A little of that… but also, just... I had a tough year. And … some of it was energy switched to TV stuff, which I enjoyed and still going on. My plate is more full than it’s ever been… to the point I’m having minor anxiety attacks.

Nrama: Oh no…

Credit: Emma Rios (Image Comics)

DeConnick: I had a difficult last year, creatively.

I think the … I hesitate to say this – the election kind of knocked me on my ass. I had to re-evaluate a lot of things; I had a lot of people to support, and to help keep together, and in doing that sometimes I forgot to put my own oxygen mask on, as the saying goes.

We had some family stuff to handle - we had to move. It was a lot.

But I feel the clouds parting, and my productivity is going way up. Both Pretty Deadly and Bitch Planet are moving along. Bitch Planet is moving very slow, but new issues of Pretty Deadly should be solicited very soon.

We’d very much like to get out there, but I think also it’s okay to have fallow time. It’s okay to not talk when you have nothing to say. I get to the point where I’m sick of my own answers – sick of my own voice. I just need to listen, and when I have something to say it has some truth or meaning to it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

I think for me, personally... I would rather be quiet than not know what to say. To make something that feels like filler, bulls***, or doesn’t have a point of view is …. not what I want to do.

Credit: Valentine De Landro (Image Comics)

My Aquaman book is not in the least that. Because of Bitch Planet, people have this idea I’m entirely political; and while personally that’s very important to me, Aquaman is not political. Bitch Planet is very personal, and very political, and I won’t apologize.

With Aquaman, I’m working very hard to make it be about something; to have mythical resonance, to have meaning, and to have a capital ‘T’ Truth to me.

Sometimes you have to have a bit of fallow time, so you can come back with things to say – questions to put out there.

Nrama: Well, I’m glad you’re back.

Your previous comics work has carried some weighty themes and subtext – I assume relating to what was on your mind at the time. Away from your workdesk, what’s on your mind as far as life and pop culture?

DeConnick: Personally, I’m really interested in tragedy right now. [Laughs] In the Greek sense, I mean.

Credit: Joshua Middleton (DC)

I haven’t always connected to it.  I haven’t understood the concept of catharsis.

I’m less interested in simple, moralistic stories that suggest bad acts are always punished and justice prevails. But I think the thing that I have always missed or that I'm too late in understanding in tragic stories is that characters are all that matters, ultimately.

The only thing that you can control is who you are and the choices you make. How you’ll react to these things that happen, and whether you stay true to your character and to your ethical core, is ultimately all you have. There’s a beauty and a grace in that I didn’t see for a very long time. I’m not suggesting you should betray your ethics if the situation calls for it, but rather there was a time in my life where I’d have said “that’s story’s just depressing!” and I don’t see it that way now – it’s more complicated than that.

So that’s what I’m personally interested in. I don’t know that it’s found its way into my work at the moment.

I was talking to my husband the other day –

Nrama: Matt Fraction. For those unaware.

DeConnick: Yes, and we were talking about how we have different engines for characters, particularly in the dominant genre of superheroes. I’ve talked about this in other interviews, but I look for where a character’s pain comes from and that becomes my story engine. If I can connect that to their gift, even better.

Another thing, too… in writing heroes, you’re looking for ways to allow people to identify with them; that can be in showing them where their pain comes from, or what their aspirations are, and then to share that struggle.

For Carol in Captain Marvel, she’s just striving to do better. Get back up, and do the best you can. That’s a real thing – we’ve all had that day. “I’m going to get back up and do better next time.”

For Arthur in Aquaman, It’s a little different. He’s water-based, and there’s a buoyancy to him. For him and what he faces, whether it be the oceans, the world, or his kingdom, he’s trying to stay afloat; to keep that buoyancy, and be that cork in the ocean.

I think about it like this: both he and Carol are upward-facing characters. Some characters are more downward-facing, darker; Batman is an example of that, with Superman being his opposite. I played with that in Carol and Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman’s relationship – a light and dark pairing.

And Arthur is definitely light, upward-facing, buoyant. To stay in that place is a constant struggle – and that is pretty universal. I don’t think you need to be king of the ocean to understand that struggle to stay afloat, to ride the wave. There’s something interesting, human, and relatable about that.

Nrama: What fuels you these days in your life?

Kelly Sue DeConnick and family at Captain Marvel premiere
Kelly Sue DeConnick and family at Captain Marvel premiere
Credit: Milkfed Criminal Masterminds

DeConnick: Running out of time. I've reached some big milestones, and realized I only have a limited number of books in me. Also a fear-driven drive to get better.

My two mid-life hobbies are taekwondo and playing the viola. I recently took the test and obtained my brown stripe belt in taekwondo. I'm very terrible at the viola but am enjoying it.

My kids are a big part of my life.

I'm very interested in intersectional feminist issues. As a white woman, it is super important and incumbent upon me to engage in politics of race because we have historically behaved so abominably. I have contributed to the oppression of others, and its really awkward and uncomfortable - and a thing you want to run away from. But I think as an artist and as a human being, I have to go where I'm uncomfortable and take those risks. To try to learn, to try to be super humble... it's super awkward and it sucks, but its really important.

Those are the things I'm interested in.

Also, I want to write a novel someday.

Nrama: Someday? Why not start today?

Credit: Robson Rocha/Daniel Henriques/Sunny Gho (DC)

DeConnick: [Laughs] I have a lot of things to do today.

I'm also interested in pitbulls. The house down the street from ours is being worked on, and every time the workers go by our dogs freak out.

I'm also interested in this sort of collective overwhelm in this new age of technology; I don't know what to do with it. And mythology has always been an interest of mine. Between Pretty Deadly, Aquaman, and the Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons project I've been doing a ton of reading on mythology, which I love.

I also went to Paris with my best friend in 2018.

I spent some time revisiting my problematic faves; Ernest Hemingway is my favorite (but problematic) writer, which remains a weird fit for me.

What have I.... spin classes! I hate every minute of it, but I'm addicted. I particularly hate the music; the music is awful.

Also, sleeping. I read a book on how important sleep is. I'll never discount sleep.

Credit: David López (Marvel Comics)

Nrama: The co-writer of your last Captain Marvel project, Kelly Thompson with Captain Marvel & The Carol Corps, is coming full circle and writing Captain Marvel on her own. You helped her get her foot in the door at Marvel – how does it feel there to see her grow like that?

DeConnick: It’s great. I don’t want to… I don’t want to take any credit for any of Kelly’s work or accomplishments. She’s done it all on her own – I’m happy to see so many more women coming up the ranks of comic writers. We have a really supportive sisterhood which is a thing I can very honestly and genuinely say. I’m super tight with several women in comic books; I feel very supportive and supported.

I feel a sisterhood with Jen Van Meter, Marjorie Liu, Gail Simone, Willow Wilson, Kelly Thompson, Mags Visaggio, Cecil Castellucci, Erica Schultz, Tini Howard... It’s women like Diana Schutz and Gail, who are of my generation but worked so much earlier, that broke a lot of ground – and were very supportive of me coming in.

My only anxiety is that I'm forgetting to mention someone who's very important.

Chelsea Cain. I'm very close to Chelsea, and we live near to each other.

We're all very supportive of each other - but all very different writers, who make very different work. But we try to be on each other's teams.

And I feel that.

Nrama: Anyone else's 'team' you'd say you're on?

DeConnick: Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker, Chip Zdarsky...

My collaborators. Emma Rios is a friend and a beloved sister. She is a gifted comic writer, in addition to being a great artist. Pretty Deadly is my most personal project - I love it madly.

Valentine De Landro, my partner on Bitch Planet - the book I'll be known for forever. I would not be tolerable if not for Val, who constantly pushes me out of my comfort zone.

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