The “Milkfed Criminal Masterminds” panel on Saturday in Hyatt Centennial I began, as a way to make sure everyone, from all walks of life, felt included and welcomed, with a group sing-along of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” This is indicative of how husband-and-wife comic book authors Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick treat their fans, and their writing: inclusion and support for marginalized communities is a huge facet of life for them.
Once everyone was welcomed in song form, the duo took questions from the audience, teasing new and upcoming works, and of course talking about current books. One book that many of DeConnick’s fans have been being teased about for two years now is working-titled Parisian White and is a collaboration with Bill Sienkiewicz, an artist who has nearly 40 years of comic art in his portfolio, and someone who DeConnick is beyond excited to work with. The little more she could tease was about the concept involved, being “set in Paris in the 1920s… it deals with color in a literal sense, kind of plays with the idea that the thing that you look at and see as red is anything but red … and it deals with celebrity and addiction… and identity.” She doesn’t know when it’ll be in our hands, but it’s being worked on, so hopefully soon!
Fraction’s work on Sex Criminals as a vehicle for talking about identity and mental health issues, especially for men, was brought up by a fan, who offered Fraction a heartfelt thanks for writing about a subject not often enough touched on. Fraction also was asked about how much of his real-life he draws from while writing Sex Criminals (a hearty “oh, I’ve had sex!” was the immediate reply), and he explained that he has “shamelessly plundered” stories from friends personal experiences, fictionalizing them just enough, because they are personal, but they are “great, great stories.” This led to an aside from Friday night, while DeConnick was waiting for Fraction outside, how he “drove by, actually ‘hanging out the passenger side of his best friend’s ride’,” to catcall DeConnick that “I’ll see you later girl, we gonna to have sexual relations!” The delightful interaction of this duo is always a draw for their fans, beyond their books, and it showed as we were treated to stories like this one.
We got an update on the in-progress series of DeConnick’s, Pretty Deadly. She just got some pencils from Emma Rios, Pretty Deadly’s artist and co-creator, and they are partway through the second issue of the third arc. The second arc is set in WWI and the theme is “luck.” The third arc is a 1920s Hollywood noir murder mystery with a theme of “art,” while the fourth arc is set in the time of Vikings landing in North America, with a romantic/love story, and finally the fifth arc is Great Depression era, with a theme of “hope.”
Fraction was asked what the thinking was behind some of his gender-related choices in Ody-c, specifically about creating a third gender. Ody-C is a retelling of Homer’s Odyssey, set in space, and started out as a story that Fraction wanted to write for his daughter, then realized the story point was somewhat “inappropriate for children.” But he ran with it anyway, doing a genderflip of the characters so they are mostly women and a few men, and he then created a third gender, a class of people to be used as breeding chattel. He wanted to work with a story that was sort of drawn from a world akin to The Handmaid’s Tale, but not aimed at women to do all the heavy lifting. As he researched and wrote, he found an explosion of gender studies he wasn’t expecting, as even the first tellings of histories wrote women with an “asking for it” mentality, and he wanted to flip this on its head. He put a lot of thought into certain aspects of the story, such as how would you dress a man to emphasize his quote/un-quote attractive for breeding attributes (a la a woman’s breasts, or “birthing hips”) and was looking at chaps to frame the butt, or what’s the equivalent of cleavage on a man (fill in your own ideas here).
A part of both Sex Criminals and DeConnick’s Bitch Planet is a letter column that has grown into their own important section of the books, for the readers. “It’s such a magical, amazing, resilient place, we’ve had proposals, and marriages, and hookups, and people coming out… realizing they’re not alone,” said Fraction. For Bitch Planet, the letter section is “sometimes a bonus feminist magazine that comes with their comic, and sometimes it’s a comic that comes with their feminist magazine,” and DeConnick is cool with that either way. “You are not alone, you’re not crazy, your frustration is warranted, these conversations are hard, and we should have them.”
One of the things that both of them are very good at is raising up voices different than their own.
DeConnick said of Bitch Planet that, as the cast is mostly black women, DeConnick is a white woman, and the artist, Valentine De Landro, is a black man, it is “important somewhere in the book, (they) are stepping aside, to let black women speak,” so they bring in people in all the ways they can, allowing themselves (and their readers) a chance to “listen at least as much as we speak.” They are hoping to, as they do hardcover editions after three trades, to try and put new letter/essay content into those hardcovers as well. Fraction described their role–as they both write characters that are marginalized in ways neither of them are–as that of a parade grand marshal; “get the f*ck out the way, let the people in the costumes through,” as their role for ushering forth voices that are diverse and need a place to be heard.
Both write challenging stories, and were asked if it is a trust of readership, that people will read what they give us, or do they just write what they want, no matter the situation? DeConnick loves her readers, and meeting/talking to them, but “I can’t let you in my office.” The work of writing itself, she focuses on the writing for her artist, and she hopes that her “capital-T True” writing will come through to the readers. But she cannot allow them to be the reason for her writing, as it would break her creative process. They do absolutely trust their readers, and they can do the books in the way they do because they know they have reader support, but during the process, it’s about the story and the art, nothing more.
The panel ended on a high of secret-telling, but secrets don’t go on the internet, and devoted readers stuck around after for duck-face selfies with DeConnick, as is tradition.