Gail Simone: “I’m really excited to score this interview. A little personal story first.
When I was a kid, there were so few female writers of superhero comics that each one seemed like an event, and I would root for them to succeed and follow their careers. When Mindy Newell was given the job of working on Wonder Woman, that completely delighted me. Then her run was cut crazily short before she could even leave her mark. Somehow, at the time, I got the impression that she was never intended to be the ongoing writer.
Many years later, when I got the Wonder Woman job, there was this crazy little firestorm of publicity (contrary to opinion, almost none of it came from DC), where we got the front page of the NY Times art section, a dozen major papers, tv appearances, the whole shmear. And the news was, “WONDER WOMAN GETS FIRST FEMALE WRITER.”
I knew that wasn’t exactly correct, so I kept correcting everyone, “No, I’m the first female ONGOING writer.” But then I spoke to Kurt Busiek and he said I was STILL wrong, that Mindy had absolutely been pegged as the first female ongoing WW writer (to get credit for her work, anyway, but that’s another story).
So now, I was going on these interviews and every single one started with the question, “So what’s it like being the first female Wonder Woman writer?”
And every time I would say, “I’m not, I’m the first ongoing, long-term female WW writer…”
Guess how many papers published that correction?
You got it. Not a one.
Later, I connected with Mindy online at facebook, and she was incredibly kind and gracious while I gushed at her. I have apologized for the ongoing/not ongoing thing about a million times and she has been wonderful about it. But it still feels bad to me. First, I can’t abide getting credit for stuff I didn’t do. Second, it feels like people are trying to pave over history, because the REAL pioneer was Mindy, back when being a female writer in comics was darn near impossible.
I’m delighted to have this interview with someone who is a real inspiration to me.
I hope you enjoy it…it’s brutally frank and fascinating, and I don’t think this story has ever really been told.
One note…we ARE trying to keep this board at a pg-13 level, but because of the importance of this story, we’re running it just as Mindy sent it to us. So if righteous cussing offends you, you are warned, okay?
Here we go.”
1) How did you end up being the ACTUAL first ongoing female writer on the WW book?
Back in the day—hmm, 1984 or thereabouts—I was one of Karen Berger’s “fillies” in her stable of writers in the New Talent Program. I honestly don’t know who suggested it—it sure wasn’t me. I think it was Karen, or perhaps it was Paul Levitz. Maybe it was Marv Wolfman or Len Wein. Anyway, it was about this time when plans were hatching for the [superb, imho] relaunch of Wonder Woman by the absolutely wonderful, nobody-can-touch-his-talent, charming and amazing George Perez. So the then-current Wonder Woman series was running down—I think there were only about 3 or 4 issues left—and I got a call from the editor, Alan somebody-or-other…isn’t it awful that I can’t remember his name? Although I do remember what he looked like—tall and lanky, with black hair and a full mustache—asking me to come in and talk about finishing up the book.
Frankly, I was amazed. WONDER WOMAN? Me? Also very excited. And flattered.
Important fact here: I had no clue I was the first woman to be asked to write the only female cornerstone hero of the DC universe.
2) I know that feeling! So, what specifically did you most hope to bring to her stories?
Oh, boy, a loaded question.
What I wanted didn’t matter. Alan told me —no, decided—what I was to write. He was big into Mayan civilization, theology and myths, and that’s the story he wanted to tell. Maybe he liked the idea of two great “pagan” civilizations clashing, as Wonder Woman represented the Hellenic Period.
But I had no interest in Mayan culture at the time—or was it Aztec? I’ve kind of pretty much wiped out the memory of working with Alan, because it was so rotten. (Read on.) Oh, and by the way, I still tend to get the two mixed up, except that I know about the Mayan calendar, which is ending in November, 2012, which according to some means that we’ll all be ending, too, thank you, History Channel *smile* —
Anyway, Alan didn’t give a damn about what I thought. He didn’t even give me a chance to talk about Diana and Steve Trevor and Etta Candy. He just wanted to tell his story, his way.
But this was my first chance at writing a regular series, plus I was a “nice Jewish girl” who hadn’t grown up yet, so I tried to go along with him….I mean, he was the editor, right?
It was a disaster. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I couldn’t spell the goddamn name of the god who was the antagonist. I didn’t give a fuck about spelling the name of the god who was the antagonist of the story. I thought Steve Trevor was a nebbish, a mama’s boy, a disgrace to the Air Force, a man who made it to Colonel by ass-kissing the higher-ups, a humiliation in uniform, the perfect pisher.
And as for Diana: okay, here’s another secret. I had always hated her. Well, not her. The way she was portrayed. She was the most powerful woman in the DC universe, and all she did was whine about Steve. No, she was definitely not an icon for women in the later part of the 20th century.
An aside here, Wondy fans. Whom did I love? Kara Zor-el. Supergirl. Think about it. A twelve-year-old girl was Superman’s secret weapon. How many times did she pull his Kryptonian ass of the glowing green fire? Now that was role model for a young girl growing up during the Silver Age—besides, Superman must have known that Diana was a mooning weenie, even if she was a founding member of the Justice League. Did he ever call her to help him out? Uh-uh!
So I was unable to write Diana the way I really wanted to—as an interesting dichotomy: a superbly intelligent, supremely physical young woman who didn’t know shit about life in the “real” world. A royal princess who was waited on hand-and-foot while growing up who now found herself in a nation that had rejected royalty at its birth. The only baby “born” in a civilization of women who had isolated themselves from “man’s world” 2000 years ago. Of course she would be “pro-life” and “anti-abortion.”* And as for men? How would she react to a world where women were just starting to break the glass ceiling, where they made 70 cents to every dollar a man earned? How would she understand a country that went nuts just because Hillary Clinton didn’t want to just stay home and bake cookies? And what about relationships? Frankly, I thought her background would lead her to be a lesbian. But that could also bring up lots of different things: nature vs. nurture, genetic disposition vs. environment.
And if she was attracted to men…okay, there was Steve. (What a jewel.) Could make for some interesting situations as she started meeting more men—of the mortal kind, of course. Until she came to New York, the only men she had ever had any kind of relationship with were her gods.
I started hating the whole assignment. I felt I was turning out crap. I was embarrassed. I was sad. I worried about my future as a comics writer. And finally, I was, and got, fed up.
And Mt. St. Mindy blew.
I firmly remember the day it happened. I was arguing with Alan. And something simply exploded.
“FUCK YOU!!!! I DON’T NEED THIS SHIT! I QUIT!!!!”
I slammed the door as I left. I walked out to the elevator. I pushed the button. I was fuming. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
I was done. **
And then Marv Wolfman came out to the elevator lobby and talked me down. (Should I bless him or curse him? *smile*) He must have thought that I had talent and/or a future as a writer; he convinced me to keep going, not to quit, and he got me to go back into the office. He even got me to apologize to Alan. A miracle, I must say.
Seriously, I thought (and think) of myself as a professional, and so, I finished my
obligations to Wonder Woman and Alan.
So I finished the run.
And my reputation as a “difficult bitch” began.
*This has nothing to do with my own feelings. For the record, I am firmly pro-choice.
**Little did I know that I was not done with Wonder Woman!
3) WOW. I honestly had NO IDEA about all of this! I’m guessing I know already, but what is your all-time favorite WW story written by another author?
The first story arc of George’s relaunch. ‘Nuff said!
4) Did you have regrets leaving after so short a run?
See #2. If you can’t remember that far back, the series was ending to prepare the way for George’s relaunch.
But I don’t think I would have stayed on with Alan as the editor, even if the series had continued. Hard to be definite about that, though…I was a different person back then. These days? NO FUCKING WAY!
As for the period when I was writing over George’s plots, the one reason I left was because George wanted to return to “full duties.” I gladly gave way to the master.
5) I think most would have, in your position! So, what have you been up to since your days on WW, and would ever consider coming back to comics again?
I continued to freelance for DC while working as an RN. I don’t remember the exact time line, so please forgive me, but I started getting work from other editors. I remember Len Wein gave me a TALES OF THE GREEN LANTERN CORPS to do; I also did a little SUPERMAN story for the late, legendary Julie Schwartz.
Then things really started rolling for me when it was decided to give THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES (Long Live The Legion!) the same relaunch that had been given WONDER WOMAN. Legion writer Paul Levitz and editor Karen Berger decided to let me script over Paul’s plots for the Legion before the big kick-off. (Jeesh, I hope I’m remembering this right.) That was an incredible experience! My proudest and best work on that series was a little “knock-off” 8-page back-up titled “Triangle,” a lovely (if I do say so myself) little tale of female unity and “right back at c’ha”—sisterhood is powerful!—against Sun Boy, definitely the most chauvinistic—or perhaps the words are egotistical and hedonistic—of all the male Legionnaires. It even appeared in the BEST OF DC DIGEST for 1985. (I know, because I just pulled out my copy.) Then followed AMETHYST, PRINCESS OF GEMWORLD and the AMETHYST mini-series with Keith Giffen.
And there was LEGIONNAIRES THREE, a mini-series I scripted over Keith’s plots. Another great experience. (I remember I got a lot of shit from some Legion fans because I had Imra (Saturn Girl) break down in Garth’s (Lighting Lad) arms, and they felt that the “Iron Butterfly” of the Legion would have simply taken control right then and there and gone out and whupped the Time Trapper’s ass. Excuse me? The woman’s baby has just been kidnapped by their arch-nemesis. I had to explain this?)
And there was the LOIS LANE mini-series, which I loved doing, and which was sort of Lois’s last hurrah before the big John Byrne SUPERMAN kick-off. I was disappointed, because I wanted to do more stories about Lois as an independent reporter and woman, but it was not to be.
And there was CATWOMAN. Let’s not go there.
And then, of course, there was my second go-round with WONDER WOMAN.
Working with George on WONDER WOMAN was absolutely sublime. He was doing the plots, but it was definitely a partnership. The highlight of our work together, imho, was in “Chalk Drawings.” It was ostensibly about Lucy’s suicide, but George and I decided to not focus on Lucy herself; instead, it was about the aftermath of Lucy’s final action. And with the beautiful artwork of Jill Thompson and Romeo Tanghal, I believe it deserves to be a classic.
I also did work elsewhere, notably with Howard Chaykin on AMERICAN FLAGG!
I had never done any work for Marvel, but in 1990 I had met Tom DeFalco, then Editor-in-Chief at Marvel, at a convention, and I remember talking to him about maybe jumping ship as a nurse and trying my hand at editing.) A few months later I got a call from the much loved and much missed Mark Gruenwald asking if I interested in coming on board. I was burned out as a nurse, and dragging myself into work each day was becoming more and more difficult. I mean, I would get into work at 7 A.M., drink my tea, look at my wristwatch, and say to myself, “Oh, good, only 7 hours and 45 minutes to go.”
So, even though it meant about a $20,000 pay cut, I did it. And it felt like I had been given a $20,000 raise, because I was so happy. (Follow your bliss—Joseph Campbell)
So I stayed at Marvel, working with Marie Javins and Tom Breevort and Renee Witterstater and Bob Budiansky. I was Tom’s assistant editor on DEATHLOK and MARVEL MASTERPIECES, and, being the only football geek in the Special Projects division, was assigned as editor on NFL PRO ACTION, a football glossy magazine sort of like “Sports Illustrated for Kids” produced in association with the NFL. I was in heaven. Went to the Super-Bowl in Atlanta that year, the Cowboys against the Bills. Met a lot of professional football players, some of whom I remembered watching on TV as a kid. Mostly they were all terrific. A few were nasty.
Then, in 1996, the clock struck midnight at Marvel.
I was laid off.
I was a single mom. I needed a job with benefits. So I went back to nursing. And comics just sort of fell away from me.
I also lost the desire to write. Don’t know why. Just did. The only thing I did between 1996 and now was “Faces,” a six-part series for 2000 A.D., co-written with British artist John Higgins, who also handled the artwork. I have to tell you, it was like Sisyphus rolling that damn rock up that damn hill. My heart still wasn’t in it.
Then, about two years ago, my writer’s heart woke up again.
It had been a long time, so I enrolled in Fiction I at the Gotham Writer’s Workshop. Then I took Fiction II. Then I took Children’s Writing I, which also encompasses the Young Adult genre. Y’know, “Twilight.”
Now I’m enrolled in Advanced Children’s Writing. I’m working on a YA novel. Slow going, not only because I’m a perfectionist, but also I’m still working full-time as an operating room nurse. So it’s a page here, a paragraph there. But I’ve got about 3 ½ chapters done.
And would I work again in the comics field?
The “difficult bitch” would love to return!
P.S.: Kudos and many thanks to Gail Simone, for asking me to do this and for always being in my corner!!!! YOU ROCK, GIRLFRIEND!!!!!!!
Me, again. I want to thank Mindy for her amazing candor and strength of will. Let’s hope we see her return to comics, and SOON.