Interview: Kelly Sue DeConnick

Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick: Iron chroniclers.

It’s no secret that we of the Department are unabashed fans of all things Invincible Iron Man— and that includes the transformation of Pepper Potts into armored heroine Rescue. Pepper’s adventures in her own custom suit have come to a (temporary?) end in the main title, but Marvel tapped writer Kelly Sue DeConnick— manga adaptation specialist, Sif writer, and IIM scripter Matt Fraction’s wife– to fill in some of Pepper’s heroic history in a new Rescue one-shot.

Rescue comes out today, and to celebrate, we’ve asked Kelly Sue a handful of questions about writing for Pepper, working for Marvel, and what might be next on her plate. It was a great chat, and we’ll be reviewing the book tonight.

JC: On the first page of the Rescue one-shot, Pepper Potts says something I’ve been waiting to hear for a long time– “I’m going to do what I do best. I’m going to clean up someone else’s mess.” Pep’s been Tony’s personal assistant, corporate CEO, and, as of recent issues of Invincible Iron Man, lover– but there’s always that tinge of codependency, of Pepper giving up her own desires to further Tony’s agenda, to their involvement. How do you understand their relationship? What experiences have you had that help you bring Pepper’s situation to life on the page?

KS: This is sort of a weird thing to admit, but I probably relate to Tony a little better than I do to Pepper. Not because I’m a wealthy international playboy and unparalleled genius (though… you know…), but because I’m embarrassingly familiar with junkie-brain; the addict’s mindset that I’ve seen best described as “the piece of shit at the center of the universe.” Tony may be a dry drunk, but he’s still a manipulator and an egotist. It’s a little horrifying to say so in a public venue, but I’ve been there, done that. I’ve been, you know, God’s most special snowflake who knew what was best for everybody, played people to suit me and hated myself for it at the same time. I call that period of my life “my twenties.” Not my finest hour. The difference–aside from the playboy thing–is that Tony probably *does* know what’s best on some level. I was just an ass. (Also, I’m not sure Tony’s plagued by self-loathing, you know? He may be an ends-justifies-means guy.)

Anyway, I was lucky enough to have not one but several Peppers in my life–people who cleaned up after me, gently nudged me away from the brick walls into which I was determined to crash and, when I couldn’t be dissuaded, bandaged me up repaired the masonry, you know? I can’t really speak to their motivation–maybe they were broken in a way that made that relationship work for them, or maybe they were just nurturing and generous. It feels like it’s not really my place to speculate with regard to my story, you know? Like, I need to take care of my side of the street and let them worry about them.

For fiction, though? Let’s speculate. As amazing and capable and smart and funny as Virginia is, I don’t think there’s a psychiatrist worth his or her papers who would describe her relationship with Tony as anything near healthy. I absolutely adore her and I get her dedication to Tony but yeah… the woman needs a 12-step meeting like nobody’s business.

JC: What was the genesis of the Rescue one-shot? How did you approach the pitch? Did you have to sell Marvel on the idea, or did they come to you specifically asking for a Pepper solo story?

KS: Both books spun out of the Women of Marvel initiative. Marvel invited me to pitch on Pepper and Sif–I hoped to land one or the other and somehow managed to get lucky twice. As far as how I approached the pitch? First I found out when within the context of the larger story my story was to take place, then I pitched what was interesting to me. I answered the questions I wanted answered.

JC: Ralph Macchio and Alejandro Arbona are the editorial powers behind the Iron Man books, and also behind Sif. We hear a lot about what it takes for people to break in at Marvel, but not much about what it’s like to work within the Marvel editorial process.

What sorts of feedback do you get from Ralph and Alejandro when you turn in a script? How do you work together to improve the final product? How does the give and take between editorial mandate and creative control work– when do you push a creative decision, and when do you accept the editor’s call even if you don’t agree?

KS: My interaction with Ralph has been fairly minimal. I suspect — and I don’t mean this to be at all critical nor particularly self-deprecating; it’s just reality — he’s got his plate full with bigger names, you know? On the other hand, I’ve worked with Alejandro quite closely. He’s given me feedback at every step in the process — from outline to final lettering pass.

I’ve been writing professionally for about 10 years and working in the comics industry for about seven, but I’m brand-new at Marvel. Alejandro has been an invaluable guide, helping me figure out how this genre works and suggesting tips, tricks and rules for how to get the strongest, tightest story down on paper. There’ve certainly been times when we’ve disagreed. I can think of one time in particular when he stood down and in the final lettering pass I realized he’d been right all along. (To his credit, he resisted the urge to say “I told you so.”)

I think we work well together. I think we make a good team.

With regard to when to push a creative decision and when to accept an editor’s call, man… I don’t know. It’s such a tricky channel to navigate. I mean, ultimately, Marvel is my client. My boss. In the end, what they say goes. On the other hand, my name is on the byline. Happily, we haven’t thus far butted heads too terribly much. (Honestly, I’ve seen a few editor-writer relationships that were antagonistic, but I’ve never had that experience personally. With one exception, very early in my “career,” I’ve been lucky enough to work with people who upped my game and made me a better writer.)

Of course, right now I’m being asked to title a story and I have one in mind that I love… and I’m pretty sure my editor hates it. She sort of sweetly told me to, “keep thinking.” Who knows? Maybe I’ll fight for this one! (Seriously, I love this title.)

JC: You collaborated with Jamie McKelvie (Phonogram, Siege: Loki) on a Black Widow short for this week’s Enter the Heroic Age special. Any chance we’ll see more work from both of you in the future?

KS: Jamie is awesome, isn’t he? I would certainly love to work with him again. I suspect that I’d have to get in line, though. (And possibly arm-wrestle my husband.)

JC: Are there any other artists you’d like to work with?

Ha ha! Yes, of course. Here’s the thing though: that’s like saying you have a crush on someone. What if they don’t feel the same about you? Well, that’s just humiliating. I’m going to play it coy and, you know, hang out by their locker until they notice me or something. (This is a technique that didn’t really work for me in high school, but I can’t seem to let it go.)

*cough* Chris Samnee, Tony Moore, Steven Sanders, Emma Rios, Noel Tuazon. *cough*

JC: Any other properties– DC, Marvel, or otherwise– you’d especially like to tackle?

Oh, I’m sorry to do this to you, but I’m loath to answer this one as well. I’ve learned this from watching Fraction — if I name a character that someone else is writing right now, it sounds as though I’m saying I could write that character better. If it’s a character no one is working with, well then, I certainly want to keep that information to myself. Don’t want to give anyone any ideas and get scooped, right?

JC: I’ve seen you talk about Japanese comics that have influenced you– Kazuo Koike’s Lady Snowblood sticks out in my mind– and about American comics and creators, like Walt and Louise Simonson. But what about conventional prose authors? I’ve seen you mention John Irving and Ayelet Waldman in discussions on Whitechapel and elsewhere; what writers really inspire you? What are you reading these days outside of comics?

My taste is all over the board. I am a great lover of Ernest Hemingway and Peter O’Donnell. Neil Gaiman and Anne Lamott. Joe Keenan. Nicholson Baker. Joan Didion. JK Rowling. Sinclair Lewis. Mary McCarthy.

My bedside table right now is mostly stacked with parenting books and research material on the suffragette movement. Oh, and Ellen Goodman’s PAPER TRAIL: COMMON SENSE IN UNCOMMON TIMES.

JC: Thanks so much for talking to us, Kelly Sue!

KS: I’ve really enjoyed this interview. Thanks.

(The Department also thanks Arune Singh, Marvel’s manager of sales communications, for helping us set up and conduct this interview.)

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