Sissy, from the Image comic Pretty Deadly.
Image is a comics publisher that puts out creator-owned stories—you’ve probably heard of The Walking Dead, Wanted, or Spawn, and maybe you’ve read Saga, the space adventure that’s been selling like hotcakes at comic shops. But Image is also notable for publishing comics that don’t shy away from featuring women as their protagonists, putting them in pretty stark contrast to the big publishers with whom they compete.
Image recently launched three brand-new titles that promise to bring a little more gender diversity to the world of comics, from a band of debaucherous lady adventurers to a time-travelling teenage cop. I read through these three titles and also talked with writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and illustrator Emma Ríos about their series, Pretty Deadly, which is a classic Western with an unusual lead: Death’s daughter.
This is an adventure comic that knows how to play around with tropes. It tells the story of an all-female adventuring group which includes a hallucinogenic-mushroom-eating “smidgen,” a reformed acolyte from the “blood-drinking, squid-worshipping sect of N’rygoth,” a dwarf that swaps ale for wine on principle, and an elf with a strained relationship with her necromancer parents. On the surface, it follows a familiar plotline for anyone who’s ever played a tabletop roleplaying game: the group is contracted to go on a quest to kill some goblins in a cave. But when they get there, they discover that someone is out to kill all of them instead. The only thing to do? Get drunk at the tavern, obviously. Told with plenty of gentle nudges toward classic fantasy games and even more swearing, guts, and booze, this is a purely fun and very adult take on the genre.
Read if... You want to relive your old Dungeons and Dragons days, only with awesome female characters and a lot more mature content. Issue number four comes out December 18.
In the future, 15-year-old New York City cop Dayoung Johansson will discover a crime against time committed by megacorporation Quintum Mechanics—and she’s the one that’s going to have to fix it. Dayoung travels back to NYC in 1986 and hits the scene with a splash (or rather, a crash). Things are a lot different in the past—no police-issue rocket suits, for example—but Dayoung doesn’t let that stop her from fighting crime while trying not to get caught by the cops herself. And there’s always that worrying thought that if she rights this crime against time, her own present won’t exist at all.
Read if... You're a lover of police procedurals, mysteries, capable teenage protagonists, and really cool rocket suits. Issue number three comes out December 18.
What happens when Death and Beauty have a child? Apparently, they make Ginny, a vengeful gunslinger whose face is marked like a skull and who can be summoned by those who’ve been wronged. A sudden cult hit, Pretty Deadly is a surrealist Western that blends legend, genre, and conventions into a captivating story about Death’s daughter. We also meet Sissy, a girl with a vulture cloak who tells us the story of how Ginny came to be, and Alice, the gunslinger sent to track down Ginny. The story is narrated by a skeletal rabbit speaking to a butterfly, which gives you a good idea of how strange, macabre, and magical the comic is.
Read if... You think the idea of blending Sandman with the brutal Old West sounds amazing. Issue number three comes out December 18.
I talked with Pretty Deadly writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emma Rios about their process and how they write female characters.
ARI YARWOOD: What is your working relationship like? Is it a collaborative process or a more linear one? Is it unique to be working with a creative team that is mostly female?
KELLY SUE DECONNICK: It is a very collaborative partnership, a very collaborative process. It’s also tough to characterize because the way we work changes with almost every scene. Sometimes I write full-script, sometimes plot-style, sometimes scenes develop out of a series of emails. It’s very fluid.
EMMA RÍOS: We normally work scene by scene, instead of with a full script. At the beginning it felt a bit crazy, but it's working really well because it allows us to let the art and the writing retrofeed each other more than in a regular, dividing tasks partnership. Sometimes background characters become important, or the relationship among others suddenly changes because of the tone, or the way they behave... it's really fun.
DECONNICK: And while I suppose it is unique to be working with a creative team that is mostly female, it’s not a thing we think about a lot. Or at all, really, beyond making a joke out of teasing our letterer, Clayton, that he's our ‘token male.’
There are a decent amount of stories about Death as a character (Sandman especially comes to mind). How did you develop the idea of using Death's daughter as the leading character and how do you think that changes the storytelling opportunities?
DECONNICK: Well, Death does appear in the story and that role will evolve as part of the larger plot, so… we are dealing with Death and Death’s daughter. It’s very much an ensemble cast, I think. The themes that keep coming up are confinement, capture… redemption… being limited (or captured or confined) by the way others see you… what else, Emma? Identity?
RÍOS: Yeah, I think identity is so important. Everybody is trying to understand their place in this world; especially Ginny, who is a character that fits really well with the idea of the "solitary hero in the west," that nobody surrounding her seems to understand. She's been forced into this system that doesn’t suit her, and prevails elevated in my head like a force of nature, kind of.
So far in the series, there has been no shortage of female characters with their own personalities and stories. Are you consciously creating a comic with fully-realized female characters or do you see this more as a product of the story you're telling?
DECONNICK: It’s conscious, I suppose. At least sometimes it is—Alice, for instance, was going to be a male character at first and then I decided to make her a woman for no other reason than I could. And somehow that made her feel more fresh to me—the big bad lady gunslinger isn’t something we’ve seen a lot of. I caught myself thinking, “But we already have so many women” and was immediately pissed off that that thought even occurred to me, so that pretty much sealed the deal. “Well now she has to be a woman.”
RÍOS: What's best is that everybody here has earned her role, and that’s irreplaceable. They are not women trying to play male roles and, in my opinion, couldn’t be more farther from being any kind of gender swap. They are there just naturally, bringing their characterization to the game, in a way that feels nuanced, and attached to their obvious female perspective. And you know what? Surprise, it works.
Related Reading: Four New Women-Created Graphic Novels You Should Acquire Immediately.