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To become super, heroes have to start with the basics. Two-time Eisner Award-nominated comics writer Kelly Sue DeConnick creates plights and quests for characters spanning universes—like Marvel and DC universes. Her continuation of Carol Danvers’ story in Captain Marvel, and later, her consulting role on the 2019 movie with Brie Larson, ignites a recognition among non-comics readers; but for those who collect volumes, or cosplay as the prisoners of Bitch Planet, Kelly Sue DeConnick is known as an industry veteran and a master of dialogue.
She’ll be speaking at Portland’s upcoming Cre8con on September 27th, which explores the creative process across all creative industries. In advance of that, Kelly Sue shares how she makes people up, and into superheroes.
How do you approach creating your characters?
I don’t really have a methodology for creating characters. I just kind of start imagining, then ask questions and listen to the replies. I sometimes write scenes I have no intention of using just to hear how characters sound in my head.
It’s a little different when you’re writing pre-existing characters and trying to find their voices. I do more reverse engineering for that, but it still basically comes down to questions. Two good ones to start with are, “What do they want?” and “Where does their pain come from?"
What's your process for developing stories as single issues that then grow into full series?
A lot of panicking. Daydreaming about working a 9-to-5 or joining the circus or whatever.
Single issue and first issues are very different animals. Some of my strongest writing is single-issue stories. I think that’s because of the discipline required. First issues are different. First issues are about selling a hook and setting a tone.
What are some ways collaborators can tap into each other's creativity?
Put pieces on the table for your collaborator to run with. Pick up on what they’ve added, and build on it.
For example, there’s a little boy in Aquaman named Royal Whitmore. Robson Rocha drew Royal with bulging cargo pants pockets. I imagined what Royal might have in those pockets—some shells, a broken pencil, Pokemon cards, a sticky grabber from a gumball machine…and an epipen. That last bit surprised me. What’s he allergic to? Is that why his mom’s so nervous about letting him out of her sight? Is the fact that she never lets him out of her sight what makes him so determined to explore?
Look at how much we’ve learned about Royal already.
How is the creative development experience different from building upon an existing story concept versus originating one?
Try to write everything like you own it, in terms of taking risks and asserting creative authority. But you know, it’s a shorter runway to learn the voice of an existing character than it is to invent one whole cloth. That said, you have to honor what’s already been done and work within the limitations of the license holder. My husband likens the two processes to working out different muscle groups, which is a metaphor I find appealing.
What do you wish the creators of female characters would consider more often?
Our basic humanity.