Mary Choi Details the LADY DEADPOOL Experience

Mary Choi on LADY DEADPOOL One-Shot

Mary H.K. Choi is more than the writer of this month’s Lady Deadpool one-shot from Marvel Comics. Talking to her, with rampant asides and idiosyncratic slang abound, is about as close to talking to the actual Lady Deadpool as can realistically be accomplished. So, yeah, Choi’s a pretty perfect choice to pen the first solo adventure of the female alternative reality version of motor-mouthed mercenary Deadpool, out July 21 and with art by Kenneth Lashley. It’s Choi's comic book debut, but she’s got an impressive background in publishing, as editor-in-chief of women’s magazine Missbehave, which ran from 2006 to 2009; a contributor to blog The Awl; and a current senior editor for Complex, a male-targeted magazine co-founded by fashion mogul Marc Ecko. And yes, the fact that her brother is X-Force artist Mike Choi certainly doesn’t hurt, as she readily admits.

Last week, we caught up with Choi over for a gleefully circuitous phone chat about the process of crafting her first comic book, the considerable creative influence of snacks, and in what ways writing Lady Deadpool was like a certain terrible Gwyenth Paltrow flick.

Newsarama: How did you come into working in the world of comic books? I know it was in part, probably, due to your brother being a big shot X-Men artist.

Mary H.K. Choi: What are you trying to say? (laughs) Definitely there is an existing conduit of nepotistic awesomeness there. But it’s really weird, actually, because at this point I’ve been in magazines for over eight years. I launched my own magazine for girls a couple years ago, I’ve been an editor-in-chief, I’ve done pretty much every career lane in publishing outside of the ad side, or marketing. So editorially speaking, I’m kind of a mercenary. It was weird, because I’ve known Mike’s friends for so long, and his fiancée is Sonia Oback, who is an incredible, estimable artist in her own right; so several of their friends and colleagues are in the area, seeing as how I’m based in New York. I’ve gone to hang out with the Marvel dudes. I guess it just didn’t occur to either of us to pursue my writing for comics. It certainly crossed my mind in a lot of ways, like I knew eventually that I would be doing creator-owned projects with Sonia and my brother, because the three of us comprise a pretty nimble little cottage industry. When the Marvel thing came about, they were kind of like, “Hey, how do you feel about doing …” and I was just kind of like, “Oh my God! I would die!” It really was pretty organic, I think. It wasn’t like I was angling, and I didn’t have like a big dry-erase board with little pictures and little dotted lines, “OK, this machination is in full boil, and blah blah blah!” It was kind of an ideal situation in that Axel Alonso was my editor. The writer of the most recent Merc with a Mouth Deadpool seires, and the entire sort of continuity of that whole Deadpool clan-slash-family thing, Victor Gischler, both of those guys made themselves incredibly accessible to me, and they were both incredibly welcoming and rad and sagacious; they were really just champs about the whole thing. The process ended up being me spazzing out a lot, but I think the end project belies my retardation.

Nrama: Even though you do have a lot of experience in publishing and in print and in writing, there’s still a leap there, to go from journalism…

Choi: It’s quantum. This level has absolutely nothing to do with any previous experience I had. I was already experimenting with movie scripts, and TV pilots, and different episodic things like that. So the form wasn’t completely alien to me. The part that’s really bizarre is that, as a writer, you stay in your lane and you sort of assume that you can suggest things, like “close up, blah blah blah.” But when you’re writing a comic, because of that visual element of it, and certainly, the final artist has a great deal to say in it as well, but you get to be your own DP. And that’s freakin’ bananas, if you think about it, because it’s not something I’ve ever done. I don’t mean to sound douche-y, but when you’re doing your own mise-en-scène, that’s just a lot of different elements of information that I, going into it, just truthfully and very naively, had no idea about. I was like, “woohoo, high five, I get to do dialogue, I love dialogue, dialogue is fun.” Just like, every other component of it, I didn’t understand — building 22 pages as a nugget of information, and how much story that is, I didn’t know what that felt like, at all, going into it. It is a very disciplined form of storytelling, and you can’t really meander on some bullsh*t self-indulgent tangential sh*t like you can in a blog, or even a narrative feature. With this, it really is a puzzle. That sort of metronome beat was really hard to wrap my mind around. My next one is probably going to be faster, and less arduous, and I’ll probably be infinitely less spastic about it, but I know it’s going to be hard.

Nrama: I can imagine when you start, with a background in journalism, you’d have the temptation to be dialogue-heavy, and not really be thinking about how to move from place to place.

Choi: My original script really could have been a tiny neon Post-It note talking to tiny, other-colored neon Post-It note, and just like, “Words! Hanging out, being funny and sassy!” A bunch of dialogue does not a comic book make, obviously, on any level whatsoever — and you know what? That was a surprise to me, I’m not gonna lie about it. I couldn’t just bullsh*t Diablo Cody my way through 22 pages, and just be like, “and then she’s wearing a cute outfit …” That was just not going to fly. Part of me was hoping it would, and it just didn’t. I’m happy with the outcome. I actually got away with a lot of stuff, which is great.

Nrama: This is not only your first comic book, but also your first published work of fiction, right?

Choi: It is. As far as “this person has an inciting incident! And this is what she chooses to do!” that was totally, totally new. You could basically perma-fry your brain if you think too much on it. You could make the person do anything, and I definitely had a lot of moments where it was just like, paralysis by analysis. It’s like that horrible Gwyenth Paltrow movie, Sliding Doors. That narrative happening three beats apart, all at once, and A-B-C-D-E-F storylines rolling through your brain, and if you can’t train on one, and see where it goes and see if you like it, then you go nuts.

Nrama: I was always liked that movie, but I do see what you mean.

Choi: You know what? Can I be really honest? I also like that movie. It’s terrible in very many ways.

Nrama: It’s terrible in all the right ways.

Choi: No, totally.

Nrama: Another thing that I imagine must be a challenge involved with writing a comic for the first time is the collaborative process of working with a penciler.

Choi: That’s the thing, you can’t just write the script as in, “this is what the conveyance of information is going to be.” Without getting all Alan Moore-logorrhea on a script, where it’s like “oh, this page is a gatefold! Pull it out, and there’s 16,000 words on this one description!” That was a huge challenge, not to be overbearing or overwrought and to actually allow some, not like loosey-goosey interpretation, but — you know, how like everyone says, “well, if you’re writing a piece of fiction, you should be able to pitch it to people, and have them understand you, and get their opinions,” because ultimately you don’t have the luxury of having your final audience being just millions of you.

Nrama: Even though this is your first comic as a writer, I know you’re definitely a comic book reader. Did your brother influence your fandom?

Choi: He always loved comic books as a kid growing up, and the thing that was really challenging was that we lived in Hong Kong. We had like, two English channels growing up, and my parents are freaking immigrants, and they’re Asian, they were just like, “here, you’re going to be a doctor, and you, you’re going to be a lawyer, and it’s going to be grand.” They later on were very supportive with everything we did. I remember he had to hide comics when we were growing up, and seek them out from places that carried them, and there weren’t a whole lot of places, and they were hugely overpriced. When you’re a little kid, and you’re trying to foster a passion, that’s really, really hard. Comic books have always been around in my life, but I actually didn’t read them at all until I moved to New York, and was a grown-up. I was working at a graffiti magazine at the time, and actually I’ve worked predominantly in “male-centric” subject matters. I worked at a graffiti magazine, and subsequently I worked at a hip-hop magazine.

Nrama: And you’re now working for Complex, which is male-focused.

Choi: Totally. I’ve always been around dudes. It was something that they were really interested in. And I know it sounds super-lame, because it’s like, you ask the badass professional snowboarder, “how did you get in … “ and they’re always like, “oh, my boyfriend … “ There’s always some male entry point, and certainly mine was a male entry point, and I’m not going to lie about it. I will say that amongst my male writer friends, I’m probably the first to make a comic, so that’s really exciting. I had a bunch of friends who had a very thorough archive, and I just raided them. My brain is really, really fast, and I read really, really quickly, and I process information quickly, and so to have that many nuggets of information be pelted at you simultaneously, and for you to be able to control the feed and the velocity of it, that was incredible for me. It was a huge revelation. To this day, I read a comic so fast, that it’s like gorging. I have to read it again, so that I can really appreciate the art, and different things to notice, and Easter eggs, and all that stuff. When I came into it, there was already so much incredible stuff. People say that I’m not a “real comic book person,” because I only read trades. I’ll read a grip of trades. I just sit down and like, eat them. I love that. This is so weird, because it’s like explaining “walking” and “running” to a person, and being like, “Oh my God! I just started on Wednesday!” But for me I was like a full-grown person when I discovered comics, and it blew my mind. Like, all these people throughout history got together and made these for me? That’s so great. I’m really lucky.

Nrama: So when Marvel approached you about writing something, was Lady Deadpool the specific project they had in mind?

Choi: They came to me with the property. The nice thing is, I think they already had an idea of my voice. To me, to have that sort of fourth wall-breaking, smartass, total wisenheimer person to write, from a female voice, that’s my lane. The fact that they came at me with, “here’s a near-invincible person with no moral barometer who talks a ton and just snaps on people,” that is perfect for me. It might “lack gravitas,” or whatever, but that’s just not my style. I feel fairly confident enough in my intelligence that I don’t need to bandy it around 24/7. There are just so few ramifications, since it’s a one-off in an alternative universe.

Nrama: Since the character has only been in a handful of comics thus far, I imagine you had freedom to put your own spin on her.

Choi: I actually am incredibly fond of this character. I like that she’s neither good nor bad. And I like the fact that it’s not one of those, “oh, that crazy bitch, she’s harmless!” No, this one is full-on harmful. And volatile. And kind of a free-wheeling lunatic. To me, that’s so the nice part of it. I didn’t have to make her likeable because she’s “good,” I could just make her likeable because she’s funny. The thing about her that I like right now is that she’s bored. Even the scope of the story, her TV goes out on the fritz, and she walks outside and there’s a huge revolution because TV in America has gone out and we can “no longer afford it,” so it’s all about her television. I even like the scope of her goal being so small and selfish. I think that going forward, her goals are just going to grow, and become more complicated. She has many, many inner monologues — she basically has “head voices,” and there’s just chatting along all day to her.

Nrama: That’s kind of a classic Deadpool-type thing.

Choi: Totally! And the thing about the female version of that is that you can make the batsh*t crazy very, very specific to the gender, and I kind of like the notion of being unabashed about the things chicks are nuts about.

Nrama: You kind of touched on this, but other than the obvious anatomical ways, how is Lady Deadpool different than Male Deadpool?

Choi: Well, she’s horribly insecure. I made my Deadpool very vain. She gets dressed up, and all this stuff, and the fact that she has the double-edged sword of being almost totally invincible, the super-healing and all that, and then the knots, and calluses and horrible scar tissue — to me, I wasn’t going to mince around the whole, “she doesn’t care, because she’s badass, and strong and female!” She cares! It’s harrowing for her. She has this sort of ideal narrative, a hard-cut to this version of herself that’s totally alabaster and pure and beautiful and princess-y, and that’s not at all the reality. It’s not so blatant, but even to where she’s very delusional about how a guy that she has a crush on perceives her, I think that is a specific type of crazy. It can sound so pat, like, “there’s a love interest,” and everyone’s groaning, but for me it was like, “Well, sh*t. Thursday. What else are you going to do?” I thought that was just realistic. The sort of romantic angle, the person she was into, was never going to be a marquee, title, comic book person, superhero. I just made it some schmuck, and he’s a total a-hole, and she gets tangled up in him. She’s nuts in a very, to me, identifiably female way. I’m probably going to get skewered for saying that, and I’m so OK with it.

Nrama: So basically, it’s over-the-top and broad, but stems from real things you’ve observed.

Choi: Yeah, but it’s campy. People are going to be like, “ugh, these are histrionics,” and I’ll be like, “yep.” What do you want? That’s what I set out to do.

Nrama: Content-wise, was there anything you put in the script that the editors balked at?

Choi: They are incredibly, incredibly gracious people. There were a couple of things, like, “Um, hi, you can’t patently curse or swear with the big guns.” And I’m like, “Oh, right. Marvel!” There’s some pretty frickin’ sordid things in there, and they were just kind of like, “Whoa, this is nuts!” and then that was kind of it. I’m really curious to see what the fallout’s going to be, not to say that there is going to be any, necessarily. I’m super-curious to see if people are at all going to be hurling pitchforks.

Nrama: I’ve heard you’re obsessed with snacks.

Choi: I am obsessed with snacks. I know everything there is to know about snacks.

Nrama: It looks like that informs your Lady Deadpool story — on the cover, she’s eating pizza and surrounded by bags of chips.

Choi: She’s eating throughout the entire comic book. The descriptions are like “OK, she’s making a sandwich. She’s holding a sandwich, but please be sure the bread looks different, because this is a different sandwich.” A vending machine is actually a large part of one of the action sequences. I love snacks.

Nrama: Any more future comic book work in motion for you?

Choi: I just did an 11-page digital comic with Marvel called Shanna the She-Devil. That was really fun, because she’s like super-throwback, and wearing a pelt, and I was like “holy sh*t, give her to me!” In the future, I’ll be making announcements at [Comic-Con International in] San Diego, and also [New York Comic Con], I’m working on a couple of different things — my brother, Sonia and I are presenting three different properties. We’re trying to figure out how we want to distribute it, because, hello, technology.

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