Interview: Women of BOOM! – Kathleen Webb
It’s Thursday which brings us a new interview and our 26th “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.
Kathleen Webb is a writer and artist who has worked on Peanuts for BOOM! Studios imprint KaBOOM! as well as numerous books for Archie Comics!
Graphic Policy: How did you get involved in the comic book industry?
Kathleen Webb: I wrote a fan letter to Dan DeCarlo that I drew like a comic book (as if I was talking to him), and he called me in May of 1985 and said he wanted to help get me on at Archie because he felt I had potential as both a writer and an artist. I did some pencilling work on Betty & Veronica fashion pages, then in September he suggested I submit a script. I sent one in, had it rejected, sent in another, it sold, and the rest was history. I worked for Archie primarily as a writer for almost twenty-five years.
GP: Did you read comics growing up? Do you read them now?
KW: Oh yeah. As a small child, I read the comic strips in the newspapers–my favorites were Peanuts, Dick Tracy (I loved Moon Maid!), Brenda Starr, The Phantom and Blondie and Dagwood. My goal was to become a comic strip artist “just like Charles Schulz”–I wanted that as early as age 8. When I got older (around ten) I started reading more Archie titles, and other “teen” humor comics, like Millie the Model, Date With Debbie, Scooter, etc. In my high school years I got into superhero stuff–used to read Sub-Mariner, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. Later on I got into manga, by watching Sailor Moon on television. I still read manga–mostly girl’s titles, like Fruits Basket.
GP: How did you come to work with BOOM!/Archaia?
KW: My friend, Jeff Schulz, who used to work with me at Archie, suggested I try out for KaBOOM! on their Peanuts title.
GP: How would you describe your job for people?
KW: I used to put the words in Betty and Veronica’s mouths!
GP: For people who want to pursue a career in what you do, what advice would you give them?
KW: Make sure you have a day job! It’s not easy in this industry to make a living.
GP: Did you have a mentor to help you break into the industry?
KW: Dan DeCarlo of Archie Comics was my mentor. He and I would have long conversations on the phone (he was on the east coast, I’m on the west) about cartooning, drawing, etc. He was a big encouragement in my early years at Archie.
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?
KW: Hmm. I think it’s more difficult for a woman to make it in the comic industry if she wants to write what a friend of mine referred to as “talky girl comics.” Nowadays one would just refer to Japanese girl’s manga to make the point. The stories are more emotionally driven, and have less action and more character development. The American comic industry is geared more to male readers, if you’re referring to the stuff you find in the stores. As far as web comics go, there are more girl’s comics to be found, but they are more difficult to find in print. Now, with the advent of Kindle and the like, that may be a moot point. The other thing I’ve personally felt a lack of, is what I consider “all ages” material. Stuff that can appeal across the board, without be offensive. I’d like to see more of that, particularly from female writers/artists. As far as overcoming the obstacles to getting that kind of material out, I have no clue what can be done.
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?
KW: I personally have never had any kind of discrimination or harassment. Archie Comics treated me fairly (they were pleased just to have a woman on board as a writer!) and never acted like I was anything other than just a good writer that they wanted to make use of. I guess I never let my gender get in my way–it never occurred to me that a woman couldn’t be a writer or artist, since I was aware of females already in the industry (Dale Messick, Ramona Fradon and Marie Severin come to mind). And the few conventions I’ve been to, I’ve never been harassed at. Maybe I just don’t travel in those circles?
GP: What advice do you have for women looking to break into the comic book industry?
KW: If you want to do it, keep at it. If you can’t get into the “big leagues,” put your work online, either on a blog or sites like Deviantart or create your own web site. Learn all you can about your craft–how to use your tools, how to make the best use of computer tools. Read other people’s work and think about what you like about it–learn from others. If you go to conventions, don’t be afraid to ask questions of the artists/writers there. Do what you love, not what you think will “sell.” And learn from the past! Go to the library and check out the comic strip compilations of stuff like Steve Canyon, Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Prince Valient, Little Nemo, etc. Read Asterix. Find out why these strips were so popular and enduring. And don’t give up!