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Interview: Women of BOOM! – Alethea Kontis (aka The Incredible Whirlwind of Beauty & Dynamite)

Alethea-027It’s the first Thursday of the new year and we’re kicking it off with the 10th “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.

New York Times bestselling author-princess Alethea Kontis has published everything from picture books to paranormal romance. Her recent fairy tale novel, Enchanted, was one of 35 titles selected for World Book Night 2014. BOOM/Archaia combined Alethea’s magically subversive poetry with Janet Lee’s Eisner award-winning art to create the colorful boardbook masterpiece that is The Wonderland Alphabet.

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

Alethea Kontis: By wonderful accident! One of my very best friends is a talented artist, and we have inspired each other for many years. I went on to hit the NY Times list. She went on to win a Eisner for Best New Graphic Album (Return of the Dapper Men). When Archaia asked if they could publish a collaboration we had previously done for a local gallery art show, it was an easy and enthusiastic YES!

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

AK: Absolutely! My parents thought I was afraid of the dark as a kid, when I was really up late reading Archie comics by the closet light. I collected Scrooge McDuck and Tom & Jerry and Little Lulu and Katy Keene (oh, how romantic and beautiful Katy was!). In middle school, it was all about Elfquest. In high school I had a boyfriend who was also a collector. He got me into Arkham Asylum, The Phoenix Saga, WildC.A.T.S, and John Byrne’s Next Men. In college it was Sandman. Ah…Sandman. To this day, rack comics and graphic novels are like comfort food.

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

AK: Remember how I said that best friend won an Eisner? That book, Return of the Dapper Men, was published by Archaia. It was a real honor to be asked to join the team.

GP: How would you describe your job for people?

AK: In most of the publishing world, I’m called an Author or a Writer. I like how Archaia classifies us as “Creators.” So many of us are creative beyond our major talent, and I think the title of “Creator” celebrates that. So I call myself a Creator…even if all I’m creating are messes.

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

AK: Never stop. Never stop working, never stop believing, just never stop. Do what you have to do to survive, but never stop doing what you love. Procrastination and Apathy are the true villains of the universe.

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

AK: My path to publication is such a windy and tricksy one… In a way, I started out in the industry. I worked as a bookseller and a librarian before getting hired on to a major book wholesaler. That’s how I got to know folks in publishing, on the business side of things.

On the author side of things, my greatest teachers/mentors were Orson Scott Card, Andre Norton, and Sherrilyn Kenyon. I would not be the Incredible Whirlwind of Beauty & Dynamite I am today without them.

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?

AK: The more I experience the comic industry (through attending conventions, panels, etc) I think it is more difficult for women to break in–largely because of subject matter. We could go on for ages about the boy-centricness of comic book story and images. But that hasn’t stopped women from breaking into the industry, as both writers and artists, nor has it stopped men from creating some really great material that appeals to women (thinking most recently of Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga).

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?

AK: It’s all about keeping an open mind and collecting misfits where you find them. It’s not a secret, but it’s something that a lot of the larger, older publishers have a difficult time embracing.

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?

AK: I’ve been attending conventions since I was a wee bookseller-fangirl at my first DragonCon in 1996 (my store manager made me go with her). I think because I essentially grew up in a con setting, I subconsciously adapted a lot of the traits people recommend these days for avoiding harassment (surrounding yourself with friends, speaking up, etc.). These days, I mostly just get “You are beautiful will you chat with me?” messages from folks via social networking, and those are avoided by utilizing the handy “Delete” button. But I’m always prepared for harassment, and I keep an eye out for my friends if and when I start to see warning signs of it happening to them.

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

AK: See answer 5: Never stop. Keep an open mind. Say “yes” to crazy opportunities and be ready to say “no” when it looks like you’re going to be overbooked/overwhelmed. Put yourself out there: You never know where your next opportunity is going to come from.

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