Interview: Women of BOOM! – Penelope Gaylord
It’s Thursday which brings us a new interview and our 20th “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.
Penelope Gaylord is a cover artist and inker who has worked on such titles as Adventure Time With Fionna and Cake, Adventure Time, Fanboys Vs. Zombies, and the recently launched Loki: Ragnarok and Roll!
Graphic Policy: How did you get involved in the comic book industry?
Penelope Gaylord: When I met my then-boyfriend/now-husband, Jerry Gaylord, he really opened my eyes to the possibility that being an artist could actually be a job. Comics was a natural industry that we wanted to be involved with since it’s been a huge influence in both of our lives. After my first taste of being behind an artist alley table at a comic con, it just felt good.
PRG: No, I don’t really recall reading a lot of comics growing up. But the stories were always around me. I was definitely exposed to Superman and DC superheroes and the X-Men through tv/movies before I read any of the comics. When I got into high school, that’s when I started reading manga (Japanese comics) because it was really just starting to make its way into the U.S. From there I started to appreciate the medium more. I definitely read them now, both manga and American comics, but just a select few.
GP: How did you come to work with BOOM!/Archaia?
PRG: When my husband Jerry Gaylord got the penciller job for Fanboys Vs Zombies, I volunteered to be his inker because we love to work together. When we went to San Diego Comic Con two years ago, I got to meet the BOOM! family and they were just the coolest people I’ve ever met. Honestly. There’s a bit of an expectation of editors being somewhat aloof and almost pretentious when you meet them for the first time, at least in my experience anyway. But all the editors at BOOM! were extremely friendly and down to earth. After getting to do an exclusive cover for Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake #1, I got to talk with Shannon (editor) and Whitney (asst. editor) and shoot them some more ideas which got me more work with them.
GP: How would you describe your job for people?
PRG: Not as easy as it looks. =) Yes I get to draw for a living, and believe me that’s a dream come true. But just like any job, it has its good days and bad. You definitely have to persevere through the bad days because the good ones are so worth it. With being a freelance artist, you really have to work hard to make sure you get more work. More work means more bills paid but it also means less time to do other things. You don’t have a supervisor to keep you in check, you just have you.
GP: For people who want to pursue a career in what you do, what advice would you give them?
PRG: Be sure that you really really really want to do this. And I can’t stress that last “really” enough. Anybody can draw, nobody can stop you. But to make a career out of it, you have to be willing to work HARD. Like I mentioned before, being a freelance artist means you have to work harder than everybody else. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid and you can’t pay bills – it’s that simple. You have to be ready to show your work, then show it some more. You have to be willing to learn new techniques and grow as an artist. You’ll have to draw some things that you really don’t want to, but you have to anyway. Always be ready to take some rejections and corrections. But with perseverance and a really strong support system from family/loved ones, it’s absolutely possible and you won’t have to worry about being categorized as a “starving artist.”
GP: Did you have a mentor to help you break into the industry? Do you mentor anyone yourself?
PRG: I don’t think I had an actual mentor who knowingly helped me break into the industry. Jerry definitely kept me focused because of his determination to break in. But when we were first starting, guys like Jonboy Meyers and Sean Galloway were really the first ones that spoke to us on a real level. They weren’t secretive about how they broke in like most of the other artists we’ve met at the time. These guys understood where we came from and where we were trying to go as artists and really pointed us in the right direction. I suppose that qualifies them as my mentors.
As far me mentoring someone, I don’t think I am. I’m a terrible teacher in my opinion. But if I can spark someone to follow their artistic dream, that’s all I can really hope for.
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?
PRG: Yes I do, but not AS difficult as it used to be. As with anything in our society, the established norm is tough to break. Though the comic industry seems to have taken huge leaps in progress in the past couple of decades, it’s still very much a man’s world. Someone like Gail Simone has been extremely important in seeing women gain high recognition and respect from her peers, but she is ONE in an industry of many men around her. There are so many factors to look at, definitely too much to write here. But basically, when you see the age demographics of those that read comics and attend comic cons, it’s easy to see why it’s still very much geared towards men. The comics that were out during the Bronze Age and earlier were very much geared towards boys. And now those boys are men buying comics. Now I’m no history buff so I can’t tell exactly when, but at some point the focus shifted to include girls and women into comic readership. That, however, has been too recent so there’s not as many grown women buying comics YET. Webcomics seem to really lend itself well to female creators and younger audiences that, many times, are also females. These ladies are able to write/draw their own stories without any pretense, and readers (both men and women) really respond to that creative freedom. I think it’s really just a matter of time before women take a more dominant role in the industry as long as we continue to do what we love – whether it’s writing, drawing, or editing. There’s simply too much talent to hold back.
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?
PRG: I think the great thing about BOOM!/Archaia is that they’re willing to open their eyes to NEW possibilities. They’re not interested in the same stories that everyone has told, you can get those anywhere. They want truly unique and different approaches to the medium and I think that’s why the diversity is so great with them. They don’t promise brand new stories but hire the same writers/artists/editors to work on them. When you look at a title like Adventure Time, BOOM! has really taken it to so many different tangents. We can all be grateful for Pendleton Ward, that much is certain. But BOOM! has given the audience new stories with Marceline and the Scream Queens, Fionna and Cake, and recently Candy Capers with very strong female creators at the helm! Even when you look at the different variant covers for their books, they’ve really given artists creative freedom with their take on established characters. It just opens up the titles to all sorts of readers. It’s this fearlessness to open the doors to new storytelling that I think allows BOOM!/Archaia to be so successful in creating diversity in the industry.
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?
PRG: I don’t think I’ve ever really dealt with a heavy dose of discrimination/harassment from being a woman in the industry. This may have something to do with being in a studio with three guys and we’re always together at comic cons, I can’t say for certain. I think the main form of discrimination I’ve had to deal with have been from people that come up to our tables at artist alley and just assumed that out of the 3-4 people there, I am the one that just collects the money. Always happens to me, not the other guys. I don’t think they do that maliciously, they just see a woman in a table of three other men and they figure I’m somebody’s wife just there to help out. It doesn’t make me angry so much as it’s just a nuisance. I think when that stops happening, I’ll know that women have become a dominant force in comics. I don’t make a big fuss over it, I just tell them I’ll gladly take someone else’s money and smile. I’m very choosy over my battles I guess.
The other form of discrimination I’ve faced, to a lesser degree, is how surprised people are that I drew the pictures that are in front me. It’s no secret that I like drawing sexy pin-up ladies so maybe that’s surprising to some. But again I don’t make a fuss. I just smile and tell them I drew that. Hopefully if enough women just smile confidently when asked if they drew the pictures that are in front of them, people will stop asking and just know.
GP: What advice do you have for women looking to break into the comic book industry?
PRG: Do you! Draw what you like to see, write what you want to read. It’s that unique vision that you have that makes you an asset to the industry. It doesn’t have to be anything like what’s been established, just do you! You’ll be surprised at how many people really appreciate that individuality.