Gail Simone puts down older designs as "dated"
A new year brings new looks for three of the most famous female heroes on the Dynamite Entertainment roster: Red Sonja, Dejah Thoris and Vampirella. All three are recognizable characters with decades of history in and out of comics, and all three have received contemporary reinventions that are considerably more modern and noticeably less cheesecake-y.Oh right, go ahead with that cliched claim of "boldness", why don't they. It's not bold so much as it's tedious, and adds nothing to the story. If the "outfit" for Red Sonja is meant to be worn in snowy weather, that's fine, but if they intend for that to be the norm in nearly all instances, that's ludicrous. And Simone's following answers are no better:
The revamps were headed by frequent collaborators Gail Simone and Nicola Scott, with the former providing new story paths for each character, and the latter illustrating bold redesigns. [...]
CBR News: Gail, how did your involvement in this movement to reimagine and redesign Vampirella, Dejah Thoris and Red Sonja start?I think that's a pretty cheap defense there, hiding behind supposed difficulty by retailers to sell the stuff. Point of fact: nothing is an easy sell these days, even stuff that isn't cheesecake. Think of how many folks still read Sports Illustrated for the hot models. It shouldn't be that difficult to see that cheesecake itself is far from a drawback. The problem is the pamphlet format and the hefty price marked on many modern books. If more tales went straight to paperback and hardcover, which could even save money, there'd be an easier time selling a lot of the books in wider markets like bookstores.
Gail Simone: The short answer is, I love the pulp heroines and I want others to love them, as well. And the long answer is, I have loved the pulp heroines my entire life, and I want others to love them to the ridiculous degree I do.
The truth is, all three of these classic characters had their looks designed decades ago. I love 'em, I have nothing against cheesecake and I have a real affection for classic looks of characters. But they do present a bit of a wall for many new readers. If you are used to manga and video games and someone gives you a comic with almost any Golden Age hero, there's so much there that is a barrier to you jumping in. The look, the style, the dialogue, the designs… it can be charming, it can be quaint, but it can also make the characters look dated.
I'm not saying that's the case for everyone, but we heard it a lot, and it makes it a harder sell for retailers. So that's all a factor. I think of it as part of a natural evolution… the Beatles never wanted to make the same album forever.
But the biggest one was simply wanting to polish the characters up a bit and do something fun and visual and exciting. That's always my motivation, what new thing can we offer with these amazing characters?
And about that Beatles analogy: I guess that means Superman's costume is dated too? They first tried changing it in 1997, and nobody liked it. Even the erasure of Kal-El's red tights for the New 52 hasn't been popular, nor in fact has the way several DC heroes were made to look like they're wearing plastic armor. Even the change of Spider-Man's costume to black during the original Secret Wars was nothing to write home about, nor was the switch of outfits made to the X-Men in 2001. Yet Simone is basically saying the famous designs of yesteryear are worthless, and insulting the intellect of many entertainment seekers.
One of the things that struck me about "Swords of Sorrow" is that, while a story starring female heroes written by all women writers, many people might see the covers featuring a lot of barely clothed characters and not make it to the actual story. When did it strike you that it was time to change up these characters?Well good luck with that. In this age, everything's selling very poorly compared to movies and music.
Again, I have a way higher tolerance for cheesecake, if done with charm and humor, and balanced out with some decent eye candy of other kinds especially, than a lot of people do. But almost no characters from decades ago have made it to this point without an updated look. Batman's a robot or something right now, I mean, art is alive. How many times has an updated version of Sherlock been presented? Seems weird to me to leave only these three characters in a bubble forever.
For me, it was never about taking away the sex appeal, or we wouldn't have asked Nicola Scott to do the redesigns. She draws some of the sexiest people and outfits in comics. And we wouldn't have chosen the writers we picked, who also are known for bringing the heat in their work.
All of us like comics that have some spice to them.
It's a chance to do a blockbuster update, those can be a lot of fun.
And if that's supposed to mean Power Man & Iron Fist's outfits are throughly dated, I don't agree with that either. You know she's screwing up when she suggests Batman became dated because his alter ego's a human. And Spider-Woman Jessica Drew's original outfit, while not cleavaged, was far better than the recent redesign saddled with very poor artwork.
Let's look at the three characters individually, starting with Red Sonja, a character you've got a long history with. Given how long Red Sonja has had the iconic chain mail bikini look, how did you and Nicola Scott approach reinventing her while retaining signature elements? Since you're so familiar with the character, was it easy for you to recontextualize her in this way?What she doesn't make clear here is that Red Sonja was inspired by a character from one of the classic Robert E. Howard tales named Red Sonya of Rogatino. That's not exactly the same thing. And while the outfit with trousers the original character may have worn could be believable, that's still within the realm of fantasy, not the pseudo-realism Simone's clearly deluding herself with. Her comments on Vampirella, however, are even worse:
Oh, yeah. Again, I never thought of the bikini as "armor," and my feeling was that she lived in the Marvel version of Hyboria, where almost nobody wears any clothes. So the exposed flesh was never the big deal. It's just a look she's had for a long time, and it wasn't even her first comics look.
We went for something that had both a nod to her original costume, the one before the bikini, as well as some elements that would fit a more modern idea of fantasy. It's a bit more "Game of Thrones" or "Outlander." I think it looks just fierce, and it feels a lot more believable to me.
We gave her a cloak that she uses when she doesn't want to be recognized, so her famous hair is under that hood. When she takes it off, it's like Wolverine popping his claws. It's just kapow.
Vampirella has a very famous and distinct traditional appearance, and her new main look is a departure. What influenced this approach? And how do you see recasting her as a Hollywood celebrity shaping the character's motivation in a way that hasn't been seen before?Her word alone does not guarantee it'll be an entertaining story, and I don't take her alleged defense of history and eye-pop at face value. If Vampirella really needs an update, as she says, then by that logic, every pop culture character needs one, whether it be Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and even characters like the Swamp Thing. Baloney. What they need is palatable writing. If a change of costume design were done quietly, and at the wishes of the assigned writer, that's easier to work out. But it's still not as vital as the talent going into the scriptwriting, and she fails to comprehend that. She may not think so, but she's putting down Robbins' original design, implying it's just a dated dud. Oh, and who are these "lots of people" she's talking about? SJWs, perhaps? This was never intended to be 100 percent reality, yet she acts like it has to be.
Vampirella is the funnest one for me, in some ways. The truth is, I just adore here weird swimsuit outfit. So we had this problem. She needs an update, lots of people will never take her seriously in the old look, but I love that look for the history (it was designed by one of my heroes, the great Trina Robbins) and for the simple eye-pop of it.
So what we've done with Vampi is come up with a really interesting story that gives her essentially, a public identity, where she wears the classic outfit, and a private, more dangerous one, where she hunts in the new garb. It's just a ton of fun, and deals a lot with our weird, home-made media culture. It's smart, sexy, scary and funny, by the wonderful writer of Hellcat, Kate Leth, who is bringing a modern, indy feel to the book, and I love it.
Dejah Thoris is frequently seen as pretty much naked -- how do you see this new look impacting the way the character is portrayed and perceived? Did you see the most potential in exploring new terrain with her?Oh, just look how she and the interviewer muddle up everything about Burroughs' novels. And wasn't Star Wars cheesy too? Plenty of the best tales in comics are cheesy too, and nobody minded that. Once again, she's demonstrated how she has no ability to appreciate cartoonish storytelling. By her logic, the early Spider-Man stories are only dated and silly, and weren't worth the paper they were printed on. That's what she's basically saying. Even as she ostensibly defends Spidey's outfit in the following:
To be fair about Dejah, in the books, pretty much all the Martians are naked, or nearly so, in the original novels. But it's often been presented in a really cheesy way, and really, it's hard to present a great adventure story in comics form without it looking a little dated and silly.
These are famous characters in pop culture that have been around for decades and portrayed in a variety of media, and have very clear visuals associated with them. How significant of a step do you see it for the comic book industry as a whole for them to be re-presented in this contemporary way?Nope. Superman wasn't better for it. Neither was Sub-Mariner, recalling a time in the mid-90s when his look was updated with something like long, scraggly-looking hair. There have been some changes that worked, but only because the publishers didn't make such a fuss out of it, or try pandering to SJWs as today's jelly-spined publishers are. I will say that Daredevil's original yellow outfit wasn't great, but that wasn't because of the shape. Rather, it was because of the color. And quite a few of the costumes designed since the 1990s have been so forced, especially the ones "inspired" by Image ideas, that it shouldn't be any surprise they haven't fared well. Overall, Simone's defenses of these dreary changes are laughable.
I think it's essential. There are very few iconic comics characters that haven't had some type of updating. Spider-Man (brief diversional costumes aside) is one of the few exceptions. But almost everyone else has changed with the times, and was better for it.