Interview: Women of BOOM! – Meg Gandy

Meg GandyIt’s the fifth week of our “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.

Up this week is artist Meg Gandy, the artist on Archaia’s Spera Vol. 3 (out now, hint hint)!

Graphic Policy: How did you get involved in the comic book industry?

Meg Gandy: I started a webcomic after college. Not long after that, a small time publisher saw it and offered me a work-for-hire contract, which was simultaneously one of the best and worst things I ever did–worst because it was a truly awful experience. Best because once a few of the local writers heard that I was available to work, I started lining up projects.

GP: Did you read comics growing up? Do you read them now?

MG: I did when I was introduced to a comic worth reading. The Sunday papers with Calvin and Hobbes were good, and Disney Adventures briefly ran Bone. I had a babysitter that had a massive box of older comics, like Casper the Friendly Ghost, Richie Rich, Archie, that sort of thing. But I had never seen a comic shop, and the rare superhero comic that made it my way was invariably ugly and dull (it was the 90s). So I wasn’t a regular fan until high school, when I first encountered manga. I read tons of books now.

GP: How did you come to work with BOOM!/Archaia?

MG: Josh Tierney dropped me an email, so it’s more that I was working with him than Archaia. I had already heard of Spera, and been a fan of both Tierney’s and Archaia for some time, so I was thrilled.

GP: How would you describe your job for people?

MG: Long hours, shit pay, incredibly lonely, often tedious, crazy fulfilling.

GP: For people who want to pursue a career in what you do, what advice would you give them?

MG: Be good at budgeting and expect to be quite poor. Make sure you get some manner of exercise. Take your vitamins. Learn to like backgrounds. Pull out your favorite comics and study why they work so well. And draw, draw, draw. There’s really only one way to get good at making comics, and that’s to make comics. Start a webcomic. And kiss your social life goodbye.

GP: Did you have a mentor to help you break into the industry? Do you mentor anyone yourself?

MG: No, and no. I like the idea though, and I hear Sean Gordon Murphy is looking to do something like that for a few lucky people.

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?

MG: Having never worked for the companies people usually mean when they say “the comic industry,” I can’t speak to the issue personally. What I can say is the #1 obstacle to my working for them isn’t even if they want me, which I’m sure they don’t, but that I don’t want them. The books I want to make are not the books they want to sell. The stories I want to read and write are not the stories they want to give anyone. The characters I want to know about are not the ones they want to make. And working for them would mean compromising values I’m not willing to give up. And that’s not even addressing how badly work-for-hire contracts suck. If I’m going to be poor, it’s going to be on my terms, making the kinds of books I want to make.

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?

MG: There’s a number of things at play here–for starters, Archaia was originally founded to publish Artesia. This is a company founded only a little more than a decade ago to publish a fantasy book about a female character in reasonable armor, who made the leap from concubine to general, outlives her king and sets out to avenge not her king, but her sister-wives (some of whom assist her from beyond the grave). I found this book by chance in a musty, crowded used book store and through that, discovered Archaia. After Artesia, Archaia published things like Mouseguard, Cursed Pirate Girl, and of course, Spera. Fantasy is a culturally safe genre for women, so there’s already a reason for women to be interested. The overt sexualization used by other publishers to attract readers just isn’t common in Archaia’s line-up. And since the books are creator-owned, women get to keep what they create, rather than just hope to tack onto some other guy’s idea. I can’t speak for other women, but having NOT grown up with mainstream comics, the whole set-up of how they work kind of appalls me. And their PR is awful. The response to serious criticism is never “well if you think we’re racist/sexist, don’t read our books” because I will always respond “okay” and go and spend my money, and take my talent, elsewhere.

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?

MG: I’m not well known enough that anyone’s ever felt like I needed to be taken down a peg. I have seen the bullshit flung Kate Beaton’s way. She handles it with great hilarity and grace. I don’t know that I would be so kind about it.

GP: What advice do you have for women looking to break into the comic book industry?

MG: That you don’t really have to anymore. The most useful thing I ever did was start a webcomic. Writers and publishers can see up front what I can do and decide for themselves if they’re interested in working with me. I can self publish using any number of tools available on the web. If you’re willing to do the work, you can be in comics.