Wonder Woman Gets a New Voice, and It's Female
"I was a hairdresser until a couple of years ago," Gail Simone said. "It took me a long time to admit that I was a professional writer."
Ms. Simone was talking about her rise from hairstylist to online commentator to professional comic-book author. This month she added a new title. With the publication of issue No. 14 of Wonder Woman, which hit stores two weeks ago, Ms. Simone has become the regular writer of that amazing Amazon's super-adventures, published by DC Comics. She is the first woman to serve as "ongoing writer" (to use the industry's term) in the character's 66-year history.
It's an assignment that will only increase Ms. Simone's profile. It's also the latest move by DC Comics to push Wonder Woman, the company's third-ranked hero, behind Superman and Batman, into the spotlight.
During a telephone interview from her home in Florence, Ore., Ms. Simone was effusive when discussing Wonder Woman. "She's just the best kind of person," she said. "She was a princess who didn't need someone to rescue her. I grew up in an era — and a family — where women's rights were very important, and the guys didn't tend to stick around too long. She was an amazing role model."
From early on, Ms. Simone said, she was an avid reader, her habit aided by unreliable television reception. The shows that made it through were "boring, or golf," she said. The first comic books she remembers came from opposite ends of the spectrum: wholesome Archie and the creepy House of Mystery.
"I was able to skip a lot of English classes by challenging the courses" and showing that she had already mastered the material, Ms. Simone said. One of her favorite classes was conducted during a teacher's free period. "He would assign me reading material like 'The Hobbit' and ask me to a write a story using that style and my own," she said. Ms. Simone graduated from high school when she was 16.
At the University of Oregon, which she attended for two years in the early 1980s, her majors were creative writing and theater. She credits the theater studies with improving her craft. "You had to know your character inside and out, from the time they were born, even if you were only playing five minutes of their lives," she said.
In 1999, during what she described as "a rough patch," she was advised to try something creative. She went down a list: "I can't draw. I can't really sew. Well, I used to write." This led her to create "Women in Refrigerators," an online chronicle of the suffering experienced by female comic-book characters. The site (unheardtaunts.com/wir) garnered attention, which led to a modestly paid humor column on comicbookresources.com, a Web site that was read by many industry professionals. Still, she didn't give up her day job.
"I was broke and starving and basically needed to figure out a way to make a living," she said. "Hairdressing was still a creative type of career." Growing up poor taught her to have a backup for artistic pursuits that would not earn her enough money.
In relatively short order she began writing The Simpsons for Bongo Comics, which led to the humor book "Killer Princesses" for Oni Press. That begat Marvel's Deadpool, about a wiseacre mutant mercenary, and Birds of Prey, an all-female team for DC Comics, which naturally led to an encounter with Wonder Woman. Ms. Simone said she enjoyed writing that character more that almost any other. Still, it was a challenge.
"Any time you take these characters that have been around for 50 or 60 years, especially when you come, as I did, from hairdressing, it's really daunting," she said.
Unlike Ms. Simone's relatively straightforward rise to the top, Wonder Woman's recent history has had some bumps. Her comic book was restarted last year by Allan Heinberg, a television writer best known at the time for "The OC" on Fox but who now works on "Grey's Anatomy" on ABC. But the five-part story line, which began in June 2006, was plagued by delays and only recently concluded in September as a special issue.
Next was Jodi Picoult, a top-selling novelist who contributed a five-part story line that was tied to a separate comic-book mini-series about an attack on the United States by Wonder Woman's people, the Amazons. The book shipped on time but shed some readers.
Despite the complaints, Ms. Simone believes that fans will better appreciate the spectacle and literary touches of Mr. Heinberg's and Ms. Picoult's stories in collected form. (The collected version of Ms. Picoult's story went on sale two weeks ago.)
Still, Ms. Simone acknowledges the frustrations of the delays and false starts. "It's really important to get some energy and velocity into the book," she said. "We plan on being on time."
Ms. Simone's first story line will involve a previously unmentioned attempt on Wonder Woman's life on the day of her birth, and is planned for four issues. It will be illustrated by the husband-and-wife team of Terry and Rachel Dodson and will be followed by a two-part story illustrated by another artist to allow the Dodsons to keep pace with the book's monthly publication cycle.
"We have the first year and the second year mapped," Ms. Simone said. "I plan on being around as long as they'll have me."