Interview: Women of BOOM! – Guin Thompson
It’s Thursday which brings us a new interview and our 22nd “Women of BOOM!” feature, spotlighting the many kick-ass women that work at BOOM!, Archaia and KaBOOM! We’re focusing on everyone, editors, designers, writers, artists, you name it! We’re making sure to include the hard-working folks whose contributions are often overlooked in the process.
BOOM! (and KaBOOM! and Archaia) has given us unprecedented access and the chance to ask questions to their staff, and creative teams, to find out why the publisher is so successful in hiring women and their experiences in the comic industry as women.
Guin Thompson is a writer and artist whose graphic novel Beautiful Scars will be out through Archaia next week! The graphic novel which will retail for $19.99 tells the the story of Ridley Shaw as he explains to his granddaughter how he got each of his scars, each one gained through either a sad or uplifting adventure. Through his tales, his granddaughter learns how to tell her own stories and how to hold on to his through her own, magical re-telling. Weaving historical fiction and fantasy together, Thompson, who along with co-creator Durwin S. Talon remind us of the power of stories, both those from our imaginations and, more importantly, those from our own lives.
Graphic Policy: How did you get involved in the comic book industry?
Guin Thompson: I always loved telling stories, and always loved illustration. I tried animation when I was in college, but didn’t have the patience. Comics was like a revelation for me; I could tell a complex story in a very cinematic way, but could do it (mostly!) on my own. It remains my favorite medium for storytelling.
GP: Did you read comics growing up? Do you read them now?
I read some titles when I was young, like Archie, Peanuts, Garfield, the usual. I remember my family checking out the Asterix books from the library when I was young, and those were great. I still have vivid memories of early 1990’s Barbie comics. When I was in high school, I discovered alternative comics, and I was hooked for life. There was such a variety of storytelling and style. I think the catalyst for me was reading Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. It was heartbreaking, beautiful, and made me cry into my shirt at 3 am after reading it in one night. I decided that this is what I wanted to do, right then and there. I still definitely read comics; nothing energizes me more than going to a comics shop. It always makes me want to go home and work!
My wonderful partner, Durwin Talon, knew Mark Smylie from way back. Durwin and I came up with the premise for Beautiful Scars and wanted to see if Archaia would be interested. They have always done such interesting stories, with beautiful production values, and we felt our project would have a great home there. (This was when Mark was unloading books at GenCon out of the back of his station wagon!) So, we helped him break down one night after the con and all went to dinner. We pitched it over dessert and it was a go! It’s been so great to see the company grow and I’m so excited to be a part of it.
GP: How would you describe your job for people?
It’s hard work, but extraordinarily rewarding! I’m grateful that I get to do this. I’m also a professor, and when I teach my comics classes, I try to prepare them for how much work it is. It’s a job you do out of love. Or craziness. Maybe both.
GP: For people who want to pursue a career in what you do, what advice would you give them?
Learn to budget your time. Make things and show them to as many people as you can. Make friends with other people in the industry, it’s invaluable. Not just for professional contacts, but because they are members of your art family; no one else knows as well what you go through. Take advantage of every interesting opportunity that comes your way, but learn how to not be taken advantage of.
GP: Did you have a mentor to help you break into the industry? Do you mentor anyone yourself?
My partner really knew the ins and outs before I did. It was a great help to draw upon his expertise. And the advice, friendship and guidance of many wonderful comics pros was invaluable to me. I don’t mentor anyone one-on-one but I do teach. I think it’s important for us to share our experiences with others, and to give back. I find the comics community to be very open for the most part, very giving about their knowledge, and I want to be a part of that, since so many people were gracious and generous with their own experiences. That’s very important to me.
GP: Do you think women have a more difficult time breaking in and making it in the comic industry, if so why? And if yes, how do you think that can be overcome?
I think in mainstream comics, there is still a lot of bias for women looking to break in. There’s still this boy’s club mentality. I have read interviews that feel very threatened by the fact there is a demand for more diversity in their artist lineups, and to me, that means they know they’re not doing right. They complain that their readership is dwindling, but don’t want to include story lines “for girls” (which are really just interesting stories available to a wide variety of humans). Their solutions are tone-deaf, like revamping a character’s costume to be even more revealing, which only panders to the current readership, and doesn’t grow their fan base. (I’m aware it’s fantasy, but it’s a power fantasy for dudes about what is capable with their bodies, and what is capable of being done to women’s bodies). It’s very tiresome to read these interviews with editors and creators that go on and on about how women don’t read their books, it’s not their audience, women don’t want to create comics, blah blah blah, when clearly this is not the case.
I think the comics medium as a whole is changing and evolving every year and creators are pushing what is capable as an art form, which opens up a lot more space for different kinds of stories and voices. There are a lot more avenues for artists and creators who want to get into the industry other than the entrenched mainstream publishers. But if you are drawn to that kind of story, and really want to be an inker or a penciler or whatever for one of those companies, and you are a lady, you’re going to run into some flak. If your work is excellent, it shouldn’t matter, but it still seems to in some arenas. In others, it doesn’t.
GP: We notice that when it comes to women in the comic industry, BOOM!/Archaia has a lot of diversity present. Why do you think have they succeeded when so many other publishers struggle with this?
Really, it’s because of the stories. The range of stories and styles is stunning. It doesn’t feel like it’s by the company line; it’s really creative and interesting. I think anywhere that encourages and supports unique expression is going to have a more diverse range of storytellers. I’m very happy to be associated with it.
GP: We’ve heard horror stories concerning women in the industry, have you ever seen or been discriminated/harassed and if so, how did you handle it?
For the most part, I’ve been lucky. In my experience, the vast majority of people related to the industry are lovely and wonderful. However, I do not want to negate the very real experiences that some women have regarding sexism and harassment; I have just been lucky to not have encountered them. I have heard some horror stories from friends and acquaintances, and it just makes my blood boil. I’ve had people come up to me and offer their comments and want me to respond on behalf of all women, and I can’t do that. It’s dumb. I’ve had generic bad experiences, people taking the opportunity of my presence to rant at me about female characters, demanding I defend my place there because I can’t possibly be interested in comics. That kind of stuff. I don’t really engage. It’s not worth the energy.
GP: What advice do you have for women looking to break into the comic book industry?
Same advice as above. Just keep at it! A support system (whether it’s family, friends, other professionals, your partner, etc) is absolutely invaluable. Strive to make your best work, show it off proudly, seek advice and don’t give up!