Some of the best-known female DC characters are not only beloved comic books characters — like Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn, Batgirl — but they’ve evolved into icons of feminine strength, spirit and smarts.
The new hardcover book DC Women of Action, out later this month, showcases a slew of DC’s best-known female characters while also putting a spotlight on the behind-the-scenes women who have developed DC’s cast of characters over the past 75-plus years of comic book publishing.
Fontana not only researched the backgrounds of these fascinating characters, but she interviewed some of the women who brought them to life in comic books. And beside Fontana’s descriptions of each characters, DC Women of Action features illustrations of each one that were drawn by female artists.
Newsarama talked with Fontana about the book’s development and inspiration, and what readers can expect from the collection, DC Women of Action.
Newsarama: Shea, where did the idea to pull together all the women of DC come from - was it something DC wanted pulled together? And then they contacted you to write it?
Shea Fontana: Yeah, it started over in the DC camp somewhere. They knew they wanted to do a book all about the female heroes. I believe Stars Wars had done a similar thing about a year ago.
But DC has some of the most amazing and well-known and universal female heroes in the entire world, so it’s really right that they should do this kind of book.
Nrama: Let’s talk about how you pulled it all together. Were you like a curator? Or did you work with an editor that guided that?
Fontana: It was a little of everything. When they came to me, they knew they wanted about 50 profiles - I think in the end, we’re at about 52 or 53. We ended up adding a few.
So I came up with a list of who I would go for and they had a couple swaps in and out that they wanted to get in there.
Once you start thinking about the DC Universe, you know who the top ones are going to be. It was the others that it was a bit more tricky to decide. And then when we started looking at the behind-the-scenes real people to include in the book, it was even harder because we could do an entire book of these incredible women who’ve been at DC and worked on these characters.
It was very tricky to pick the ones that we thought would stand out and who had the most impact.
Nrama: Yeah, that’s one of the more interesting aspects of the book - the variety of information. It’s not just a book with female superheroes.
Fontana: Yeah, we have a pretty broad overview of the best female characters - or at least the most impactful female characters in the DC Universe. That includes heroes and villains, and some anti-heroes and people who are in between. So we have Wonder Woman and Big Barda and Granny Goodness, and Jessica Cruz, Supergirl, Batgirl and all the supporting great female characters in those casts.
It was really fun to go through the entire DC canon - not just one part of the universe.
But it’s not just the characters. We also have editors, colorists, artists, writers who have worked on these characters as well. So starting way back in 1942 with Dorothy Woolfolk, who was one of the first female assistant editors at DC.
And then we come right up to current times with people like Gail Simone, Nicola Scott, and Louise Simonson, who are still doing a lot of work for DC.
Nrama: Reading through the entries that you wrote for each character, there were a lot of quotes from creators who had worked on those characters, describing them. Did you conduct interviews with them?
Fontana: Yeah, I was really excited to bring to the book these interviews with creators, so we have quotes from people like Mariko Tamaki on Harley Quinn and Supergirl, and Gail Simone of course, and Marguerite Bennett. They had incredibly smart things to say about the characters, and it was great to reach out to these people. I know some of them professionally, but I got to learn more about what inspired them about these characters. I think that’s a unique perspective that you get that you don’t normally see in these sorts of books about characters in comic books.
Nrama: The book includes some beautiful artwork too.
Fontana: Yeah, I wasn’t as involved in the artwork — that was more on the editorial side — but I have to say that I was blown away by the artwork in this book, from Jen Bartel’s cover, which is just this incredible celebration of these female heroes to pieces by people like Stephanie Hans, who has this great Batgirl piece that I’m just in absolutely in love with.
Elsa Chang has characters she did in her kind of fun, quirky style. Irene Koh has an amazing Katana. We have some really, really great artwork. And it’s the kind of thing where you want to get a frame and have a print of.
Nrama: Did you do a lot of research for this and make sure you got everything right about these characters?
Fontana: I hope we got it all right! There was certainly a lot of research done, and everything was fact-checked through our DC library, who I think knows every single thing about the DC Universe.
Nrama: It seems like a project of passion for you.
Fontana: It was. It was my first kind of “non-fiction” piece of work. I’ve certainly worked on a lot of these characters from the comics side or the animation side. But to actually get into the history and figure out, like, who created these characters, why they were created, and how they have evolved throughout their history was so interesting.
Nrama: Would this be something you’d be interested in doing again, for a different collection?
Fontana: Absolutely! It was so interesting to get into the history from the comic book side. Like, I thought the evolution of Lois Lane was so amazing - from her start as a kind of 'Rosie the Riveter' reporter who got sidelined for awhile (when her book was even called Superman’s Girlfriend). So it’s interesting how she evolved through the ages. And in the ’70s she came back with this feminist perspective and really took charge again. So that was something I really enjoyed and I certainly wouldn’t mind doing again.