Shelly Bond, Kristy Miller, and Brian Miller talk Femme Magnifique
Femme Magnifique is a recent successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $97,447 to publish an anthology of comics about inspirational women from history and the contemporary world. The Kickstarter was run by Kristy Miller, the VP of Development at Hi-Fi Colour Design; Brian Miller, a comic book colorist and the founder of Hi-Fi Colour Design; and Shelly Bond, the former executive editor at Vertigo and the current editor of the Black Crown imprint at IDW. Hi-Fi has colored many bestselling comic books, like Harley Quinn, Batman: The Dark Knight, and various Doctor Who comics for Titan ,and Bond has been the editor or assistant editor on such comics classics as Sandman, Lucifer, Fables, and iZombie.
A couple big reasons for Femme Magnifique’s appeal as a KickStarter is the all-star lineup of comic book creators, like Marguerite Bennett, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Gerard Way, Kieron Gillen, Annie Wu, Mags Visaggio, and many more. There is also the variety of women featured in the book from historical figures, like Harriet Tubman, Ada Lovelace, and Hatshepsut to more modern women, like Broad City‘s Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, Michelle Obama, and Bjork. Actors, musicians, scientists, politicians, writers, astronauts, and even cartoonists are represented in the pages of Femme Magnifique. A few I personally am looking forward to are Gail Simone and Marguerite Sauvage‘s Kate Bush story, Gerard Way and Marley Zarcone‘s (Shade the Changing Girl) Joan of Arc comic, Chynna Clugston Flores‘ (Blue Monday) story about Rumiko Takahashi, the creator of the manga Inuyasha, and Tini Howard (Skeptics) and Ming Doyle‘s comic about the Beat poet and artist Diane di Prima.
I had the opportunity to chat with Kristy Miller, Brian Miller, and Shelly Bond via email about the inspiration for the Femme Magnifique Kickstarter, switching from creating fiction to non-fiction comics, the role of the anthology in the current American political climate, and most of all, about the amazing women whose stories will be told in this anthology.
First, I asked Shelly Bond about the inception of the Femme Magnifique project.
Shelly Bond: The idea for Femme Magnifique was simmering for a while, but crystallized in early November thanks to two quite disparate events that occurred back-to-back.
Of course, the first one is obvious: discovering the outcome of the US presidential election. I had just returned from a convention in the U.K. We sleep with the TV on so while I was enjoying (?) a fitful slumber I was rudely awaken from my jet-lagged haze by what I thought was a Black Mirror version of the news. I couldn’t believe my eyes or ears. Clearly, it was a devastating, missed opportunity for women.
The second event occurred on the following night. I had a ticket to finally see Roisin Murphy, my favorite female frontwoman, perform live — at LA’s legendary El Rey Theatre no less. There’s no magic quite like a seeing a singer/performance artist whose lyrics are clever and insightful, replete with poetry and bombast. Bowie would have applauded her seamless, onstage costume changes, with resplendent masks that would look at home on a Dave McKean comic-book cover. The show was at once mesmerizing, decadent, discordant — but it was the crush of the enraptured dance crowd that ultimately sold me on bringing Femme Magnifique to life: A group of people coming together in art and appreciation.
I couldn’t wait to put out a call-to-arms within the comic book community, to turn the onslaught of anger about the Trump election results into positivity. So, we could become a fortress of knowledge. And change.
The following day I reached out to fellow comics pros Brian and Kristy Miller of Hi-Fi Colour Design, and we agreed to put our skills to good use and turn this social and political firecracker into Femme Magnifique, which is nothing but a celebration of women. Dreamers, achievers, glass ceiling crackers, fearless innovators of our history.
Next, I asked Kristy Miller and Brian Miller several questions about the role they played in Femme Magnifique.
Graphic Policy: How did you all get involved in the Femme Magnifique Kickstarter, and what day to day role do you play in the project?
Brian Miller: The election result came as a shock. I didn’t know what it would mean for my friends in the LGBT community and for women’s rights, but like many I was concerned. Frustration and anger weren’t the answer, and I was wondering how I could use my talents to effect change in a positive way. When Kristy and I spoke with Shelly, we knew Femme Magnifique could be the voice of positivity for women, who are feeling threatened or oppressed by the incoming administration.
In addition to coloring some of the stories in Femme Magnifique, I’m also helping with the layout and design of the book and much of the behind the scenes work on the Kickstarter campaign. When you are crowdfunding a graphic novel anthology, like Femme Magnifique, the Kickstarter campaign can become a second full time job. I’m so thankful for the fans and contributing creators who have helped get the message out about the campaign. If it were not for their tweets, Facebook posts, and helping to keep Femme Magnifique at the forefront, I don’t think we would be as far along as we are today. It’s been thrilling to see the outpouring of support so far.
Kristy Miller: Shelly was the driving force of starting this project. She came to Brian and me with the idea, and we immediately jumped on board.
I joke that my role is the voice of reason. Shelly and Brian are visionaries and artists, who want to do as much as they possibly can creatively. I want to know how much is it going to cost, what are the deadlines, is that even possible? I am handling the back-end business aspects and things like contracts, money, trafficking the art etc. The not-so-glamourous-but-keep-eveything-in-order side of things.
GP: Why should comic book fans pick up Femme Magnifique, and what can they expect from the book?
BM:I hope many comic books fans will take a look at Femme Magnifique. There are incredible stories in the book written and drawn by fan favorite creators. I believe if you enjoy Michael and Laura Allred on Batman ’66 and Art Ops, you will love their story about Jane Fonda in Femme Magnifique. Fan favorite writers, like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Alisa Kwitney, Matt Wagner, Gerard Way, and others, are each contributing unique stories about women, who inspired their lives and enhanced their journeys.
Anyone who is a fan of Gail Simone’s writing for Red Sonja, Deadpool, and Batgirl will be delighted with her story about Kate Bush in the book. Bringing the visuals to these stories is a roster of artists including Brian Stelfreeze, Marley Zarcone, Tess Fowler, Elsa Charretier, and Sanford Greene just to name a few. There are so many talented creators contributing to this graphic novel anthology, and I believe all comic book fans will be thrilled to own a copy.
GP: Kristy, how did your background as an archaeologist and anthropologist inform your work on Femme Magnifique?
KM: I have taught a variety of college classes on women in history and women in other cultures. I am always amazed when my students have never heard of women I think of as household names. Women, like Hatshepsut (Egyptian Pharaoh,) Pauline Cushman (American Civil War spy), and Margaret Mead (Cultural anthropologist), should be role models for everyone, yet many have not heard of them.
I ask my students to compile a list of their favorite/most inspirational woman in politics, music, science, history, the women’s movement, their family etc. There are a lot of blank lists. Why can you think of 20 men in those roles, but are hard-pressed to think of one woman? I am also a PhD candidate in Education, and I created the Teacher’s Packet reward level for the Kickstarter. I will be writing curriculum based on Femme Magnifique that can be used in a variety of classes and for a variety of ages.
Femme Magnifique will showcase women as the role models they have always been. Hopefully, we will share the lives of some women that you may not have known about before. Not only are we spreading the stories of these women, but we are also sharing the medium of comics. Comics can be a hard sell, not fine art, not literature, but in Femme Magnifique, we will show you that comics are indeed both.
GP: Brian, how did your background as a comic book colorist inform your work on Femme Magnifique?
BM: Shelly, Kristy, and I all agreed color should be an important aspect of Femme Magnifique. Part of that meant inviting a handful of other colorists to join Hi-Fi on this project. While Hi-Fi is comprised of female and male flatters and colorists, we wanted to be inclusive and bring in some talented people who we had not had the opportunity to work with one-on-one previously. I’m proud to say colorists Tamra Bonvillain, Kelly Fitzpatrick, and Rick Taylor will be joining Femme Magnifique along with Hi-Fi to color these inspiring stories based on real women.
When it comes to coloring the individual stories, our goal is always to serve the story the writer has crafted and complement the artwork. In my mind, the color should never distract from the story or overwhelm the art. When we get it right, the color is good, but also subtle. It doesn’t shout unless needed, for a special moment in the story, or perhaps an effect like a flashback. I also believe it will be key for each story to have a color palette that suits the subject of the story and the time period. The color choices for the story of Brenda Starr creator Dale Messick set in the 1940s will be unique when compared with the color selections for Joan of Arc. When the book is complete, the stories should flow from one to another naturally, without shocking the reader, yet each have their own distinct flavor. This is the challenge we attempt to answer when coloring a large graphic novel anthology like Femme Magnifique.
GP: For the most part, Hi-Fi Colour Design works on superhero comics. What have been some of the challenges and rewards of switching from telling the stories of masked heroes and Timelords to depicting real people?
BM: Hi-Fi has been fortunate to color a variety of super-hero, independent, and alternative comics over the years. We love coloring the Justice League, The Flash, or Spider-Man, just as much as we enjoy working on Doctor Who, The X-Files, and G.I. Joe. At the end of the day, our focus is on great visual storytelling, and being able to apply those storytelling skills to stories based on real people is incredibly rewarding.
As an example, while I was reading Cecil Castellucci’s script for “The Right Stuff”, featuring real-life astronaut Sally Ride, I was inspired to research more about NASA’s space shuttle missions than I ever knew before. Artist Philip Bond shared information about various women astronauts and the different space suits they wore in flight. This motivated me to dive deeper and look through hundreds of reference photos to see the colors and materials used in the space suits and read more about women astronauts. All of this information informs the storytelling in the colors for the story. It also allows me to better complement the words written by Cecil and the artwork drawn by Philip. Plus I discovered more about space exploration than I knew before.
This sense of discovery and being inspired to learn more about the amazing women in Femme Magnifique is one of the reasons I enjoy this graphic novel anthology so much. Coloring one story changed my life and inspired me to get outside my comfort zone and learn something new. I can only imagine how I’ll feel after I’ve colored 20 or more of these stories.
GP: Since Femme Magnifique is all about shining a light on inspirational women, what are some women that have personally inspired you in your own lives?
BM: I did not grow up with very many strong female role models in my life, but fortunately I have met many in the comic book industry, who have inspired me and and led by example. First is comic book colorist Adrienne Roy, who passed away in 2010. Her coloring work inspired me as a child and continues to influence me to this day. Her use of warm and cool colors for visual storytelling remains the gold standard for all colorists.
Cartoonist Paige Braddock inspires me with her strength and vision. She works in a corporate environment by day and creates amazing comics like Jane’s World and Stinky Cecil after hours. She’s a true role model for our industry. I had the pleasure to work with writer Gail Simone on Birds of Prey for several years at DC, and she set the bar for putting female heroes at the forefront in comic books. She showed readers the characters could be strong, smart, and sexy without being sexualized. Gail broke down barriers and opened a lot of doors in the industry. Readers and creators owe her a debt of gratitude for dragging the comic book industry kicking and screaming into this century.
Shelly Bond is more than a super-editor, she is a visionary. When you look back on her body of work, you see brilliance at every turn. I’m so grateful she has shared this with me on projects like Bite Club, My Faith in Frankie, American Virgin, and New Romancer. Read one of these stories, and you will understand how she sees the world, why she makes the creative decisions she makes, and why she keeps pushing for greatness and never stops. When you see the big name comic creators associated with Femme Magnifique, that’s all Shelly. She doesn’t have to convince, cajole, or beg anyone to be here creating this graphic novel anthology… We all want to do this, we all want to work with her again and again!
This list would not be complete without including my partner in Hi-Fi, and in life, Kristy Miller. She commands respect in our industry. Everyone in the industry wants to work with Hi-Fi because they know, with Kristy in charge, their comic will exceed expectations and meet the deadline.
KM: I’m lucky to have had many strong women in my life. My grandmother was a librarian and my mother was a teacher, both went to college and always told me I could be anything and do anything I wanted in life. I knew at an early age I wanted to be an archaeologist, but most people didn’t even know what that meant. The only role models they could come up with were Indiana Jones, and that guy who found King Tut. When I went to college, one of my advisors told me I should probably switch majors to history or mythology so I could stay home and maybe teach. That just made me try harder to become an archaeologist. I was on my first dig in the Middle East by age 22. There were a few mentions of women in my textbooks, but nothing substantial.
I will never forget, in 1994, a book came out called Women in Archaeology. It covered women working in various parts of the world and even the pitfalls of being a female archaeologist. I read that book cover to cover and wondered why no one ever told me about these women before. I want Femme Magnifique to be a book that girls and women can turn to and say , “See, I can do that.” or even better find that their career path isn’t mentioned in one of our stories but still be inspired enough by other women to know she can make it on her own.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this interview featuring some of the creators of Femme Magnifique!