When it comes to favorite female comic book creators, Gail Simone tops my list. Her work on Birds of Prey and Secret Six earned her that spot, but it’s her present work on Batgirl and her commitment to the characters she writes that puts her in that top spot for life. In an Emerald City Comic Con panel on Batgirl and diversity in comics, Gail Simone (along with Dark Horse Comics Associate Editor Rachel Edidin) took an hour to answer questions and speak about the character that meant the most to her, and why she’s so committed to creating a diverse group of characters in her work.
Fans of Simone have likely heard her story of why she was drawn to Batgirl as a hero before, but she took time to address why she cares about the character so much. “I have been a fan of Barbara Gordon from the time I was a very little girl,” Simone said. “She was a cool character with red hair and didn’t take crap from anybody. She was smart, and that was the first time I ever really felt that I identified with a character, personally.” She’s not the only one to identify strongly with Barbara Gordon. After Babs was shot by the Joker and bound to a wheelchair for years, she became one of a small handful of heroes that disabled comic fans could identify with, and the only one that was a woman.
To say that the decision to take Barbara out of the wheelchair and put her back in the Batgirl outfit was controversial is an understatement, and Simone addressed why she’d never done it prior to the New 52. “I didn’t know how to do it,” she explained. “I definitely thought it would be a disservice to the character and to readers to have her just all of a sudden appear out of the chair, walking like she was before she was shot in the spine through some comic-magic-voodoo-time-warp type of situation.”
Nevertheless, when the call came to put Barbara back into the role of Batgirl, Simone rose to the challenge. Instead of writing off Babs’ time as a disabled person and the tragedy that caused it, she embraced that part of the hero’s life and took the opportunity to tell the story of a young woman trying very hard to overcome a terrible trauma. “To me, her character, the stuff that’s important about Barbara Gordon, is still there,” Simone said. “With Batgirl, we’re definitely exploring the Gordon family tree a lot, and I think it’s a very important part of Gotham City. There’s some rotten fruit on that tree, and there’s a lot of stuff going on in there.”
Gail Simone also addressed her approach to creating such fully realized and complex characters. “Anytime I write a character it takes me a certain amount of time thinking about that character and what they were like when they were born, what their family was, what the defining moments of their life were,” Simone said. “Even though it may not be there on the page for the reader to see, I know it so that I can figure out how they’re going to react in different situations.”
She added, “Wonder Woman is the toughest character I’ve ever written, probably by miles. I’d written Superman as well, but Wonder Woman is a whole other level. I spent eight months between saying yes to writing Wonder Woman and writing the first words on the page. I needed the research, I needed to find a tone, I needed to find a voice.”
A number of people who took to the mic to ask questions expressed their gratitude to Simone for changing their lives with her writing. “In a good way,” one woman said. “You’re getting a lot of Secret Six love, and as a lesbian, Scandal and Knockout and Liana were the best thing to ever happen to my comic book reading. What made you decide to take that chance with Scandal, and what made them let you run with it?”
Simone answered, “My whole thing, ever since I started writing comics, was to try to get diversity into mainstream comics, because we have a very diverse audience. With Scandal, I felt that it was important to know her as a character or person, before revealing that, so she wouldn’t just be a lesbian character.” She continued by saying, “I felt that it was important for readers to have their own reaction when it was revealed. I really wanted her to be a whole character and this was just an aspect of her character.”
And when asked where she gets her story ideas and inspiration, Simone responded, “They come from everywhere. Being a hairdresser, hearing a lot of people’s deepest secrets.”
Simone finished her panel by teasing some upcoming projects, including an upcoming graphic novel with Ethan Van Sciver. While she wouldn’t make a formal announcement of the project, Simone called the graphic novel “literally the best work of Ethan’s life.” She’s also working on a young adult project that may not be comic book related and hinted at a future project involving fan favorite character Cassandra Cain.
Keep a watch here at ComicBooked.com for more news on Gail Simone and her excellent work as it’s released!