Interview with Kelly Thompson 6/25/12

The beauty of this blog is that we don’t have to be objective. We get to interview and praise the creators that inspire us. And, we don’t have to be shy about it.

A little less than three years ago, I sent Kelly Thompson a simple e-mail, asking her to take an interest in 5 Minute Marvels. I had no idea what an incredible talent and friend I’d uncovered. She responded to me with unfettered zeal, getting behind 5MM immediately. From there, she has never stopped encouraging me, listening to me, supporting my daughters, kicking me in the rear (when needed) and fueling my passion for comics. And, I am not alone. There are so many others who’ve have found her to be a confidant and an inspiration — from her monitoring of the “zippiness” and “unzippiness” of Black Widow’s Costume to her passion to make her novel, The Girl Who Would Be King, happen to her insights in her column on Comics Should be Good and her 3 Chicks Review Comics Podcast. She truly *cares* about comics, those who make them and those who read them. Take it from me. THAT MATTERS.

I’ve learned a great many things since deciding to stop reading comics and jump into learning the process of how comics are made and taking the plunge myself with Golden Rule, a webcomic with Tara Abbamondi (to whom Kelly introduced me). One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is how many amazing people make comics. I had no idea that delving into my love of comics, I would make so many friends. And, Kelly is one of the very best. She’s been with me virtually every step of my journey with creating comics. She’s someone I’ve come to trust with my ideas and my opinions. And, that’s a rare thing, indeed.

In short, Kelly’s brilliant. I am proud to be her friend. And, I am even prouder to support her endeavors, most notably, her Kickstarter project for The Girl Who Would Be King, which started today. 

Thursday’s Kelly’s birthday. I think she’s going to wake up to a fully funded Kickstarter and the realize that she, herself, is the girl who would be king.  – Tim Miner: 6/25/12

DBP: When did you fall in love with comics? What *is* it about comics that hooked you so deeply? What aspect are you most passionate about?

KT: I came to comics very late in the game compared to many. I was 15 – almost 16 I believe – when I read what I think of now as my “first” comic. In truth, however, I was reading Archies very young and loved them…begging for them in the grocery check out every time we went. I’m sure it drove my mother mad. I loved them so much in fact that when I stayed over at one friend’s house for the first time she had a collection so huge that all I wanted to do was sit around reading them. She never invited me over again. Shocker.

In fairness, I only ever wished to go over there again so I could get my greedy hands on her Archie collection. There were probably spinner racks in the grocery store with non-Archie comics, but I have no memory of them. And, I didn’t know what a comic book store was, or what a monthly floppy was until I was 15. My younger brother, Scott, and I had discovered the X-Men Animated Series and had fallen instantly in love. It transformed us. And a few weeks later Scott and my brother David came home waving comic books in the air, Scott saying “It’s the superhero from the show!” And, indeed he was holding Uncanny X-Men #290 which had Storm on the cover. This became my first comic – although technically it was my brother’s – but guess who has it now? Yup. My second comic was X-Force #3, which my brother David had brought home. Unlike Scott and me, David never really took to comics, no matter how much we tried to force him.

I would say what spoke to me about comic books were two-fold. One, I had found something in superheroes (and especially female superheroes) that resonated somewhere deeply within me. Two, I had wanted to be a writer, and to some degree an artist all my life, and this, to me, was the perfect blend of those two things.

When I was younger, I would try to pause cartoons and put tracing paper on the television and try to trace them (this did not work well at all, as you can probably imagine). I also made my first handmade books when I was very young. It was a series about mermaids and after writing all the stories and stapling them with construction paper covers (front and back like a real book) I would then draw and color the main character (some pretty mermaid) on the first inside page and then cut out the construction paper so you could see her from the outside. Basically, before I even knew what a “die-cut cover” was, I was trying to make my own.

So, realizing that this was an actual thing that people could do for a living – and DID do for a living – was huge. And my whole life rather instantly shifted. It’s also where ALL my pocket money went for the rest of my youth.

DBP: What creators inspired you when you were younger? How about now?

KT: I don’t know if I have a great answer for that because I was just so unaware when I was younger. I mean I loved things like Batman: The Animated Series and I think I WAS inspired by that, but I didn’t know I was being inspired by Bruce Timm, you know? Since I cut my teeth on 90’s X-Men comics (and then some mid to late 80’s stuff as I devoured back issues) I was a big fan of Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri as artists of the characters I loved.

But, I think tastes really change. For example I remember really disliking the Jae Lee art in the WildC.A.T.S. mini-series that came out in the 90’s, both my brother and I hated the art. Now, I look at that art and it’s so awesome. I love Jae Lee. I’d read almost anything Jae Lee draws. I think the first comics writer I remember really being inspired by and in awe of was probably when I was about 20, and it was Terry Moore. He was doing something I wasn’t that familiar with and it felt so beautiful and different and real to me.

Brian Wood never ceases to impress me with the stories he chooses to tell and how he tells them, Greg Rucka has written some of my favorite stories ever, and I suspect he will continue to do so. Jeffrey Brown is incapable of putting out a book I don’t instantly fall in love with. Chris Ware is the god of comics as far as I’m concerned. Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, Alison Bechdel, Brian K. Vaughan, Warren Ellis, David Mazzucchelli, Ross Campbell, Gabrielle Bell, Fiona Staples, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Becky Cloonan, Amy Reeder, Phil Noto, Kathryn Immonen, Stuart Immonen, Faith Erin Hicks, Kate Beaton, Rebekah Isaacs, Stephanie Hans, Meredith McClaren…I could go on forever!

DBP: Enough about other creators – let’s talk about your journey. What did your family and friends say when you told them you wanted to attend SCAD to be a comics creator?

KT: I actually went to the University of Arizona first. I had looked at the SCAD catalog, but it had seemed so far, and foreign. I had been on a college tour to some California schools (Irvine, Santa Barbara, UCLA, Davis, Berkeley) and then randomly, and I can’t really remember why, Arizona State and the University o Arizona. Though I desperately wanted to go to Berkeley, (don’t ask what happened there) the college I had actually liked most next to Berkeley was the U of A, so that’s where I ended up, studying Graphic Design.

I was an okay Graphic Design student, but,  one day I realized I was never going to be the best because the people in that program like fanatically loved it. And, while they were home thinking about graphic design, I was thinking about comics. I even started taking a night class from the local comics shop (Captain Spiffy’s) about comics. It was awesome…and my favorite class by far. By the middle of my second year I really wanted to transfer to SCAD. My parents were incredibly amazing about it. I was asking them to spend a fortune sending me across the country to study comic books. I managed to get a small scholarship, which helped. And, that was it. I was going.

My parents, who are incredibly lovely people, have never cared much for comics, and I think they always secretly hoped I would grow out of it. So, I don’t know how they found it within them to send their oldest child (and only daughter) to a college to study comics of all things … I can only assume that they are amazing and selfless people that wanted to give me as much of my dreams as they could.

DBP: That’s amazing. I think every creator needs a strong support system and a lot of internal drive to keep creating. You’ve been working on The Girl Who Would be King for years. What keeps you going?

KT: Ooh. This is a tough one. I think two things have helped me not give up. The first one is that even though I have worked on the book for years, there were always these little indicators that the book was good and it was going to happen and that I just needed to be patient.

When my writing group read it and thought it was great … that was a moment that gave me huge energy. When a friend read it and sent it to an agent he knew and when that agent wanted to rep me, it was like a sea change.

Cover to “The Girl Who Would Be King” by Stephanie Hans

When another agent also offered and I ended up with competing offers, that gave me miles of confidence I desperately needed. With how much better I saw the book get in the revision process with the help of an agent, and when we almost sold it — well, those things all reminded me that I was on the right track. They were things I tried to remind myself about when that horrible voice that lives inside every artist tried to take over and tear me down.

And now, so far into the process and actually doing a Kickstarter (which launched on 6/25/12)
of all things to help get it out there, still I’m surprised when someone reads it and really responds to it. The most recent example was Stephanie Hans who did the cover for me and she not only read the whole thing, but said these wonderful things about it. Those moments are just like the greatest reassurances that I have done something good that other people might love and respond to.

The other thing was a decision I made back in 2007, when I was struggling with finishing the novel. I had all these balls I was juggling and nothing was getting completed. I had a comic book mini-series I was writing, a blog I was doing, a daily comic strip I was producing, and these novels and short stories I was trying to write, not to mention a full-time job and nothing (except the full-time job) was getting done. So, I told myself I had to pick one thing and see it all the way through. And I picked the novel.

Now, as anyone that follows me online knows, these days I’ve got my hands on way more than one thing, but that rule really helped me get to “the end” (multiple times) and recognize my attempt to be a full time writer as the ultimate goal. Keep your eyes on the prize, I guess would be a WAY shorter way to say that!

DBP: How has being a comics REVIEWER influenced you as a comics/novel WRITER?

KT: This is actually a fantastic question because I think it’s had a pretty massive effect. The more subtle effect is that I think looking at comics critically just naturally fine tunes your own work. When you roll your eyes at something someone is doing in a comic. I think it’s easier to remember not to do it yourself. And. looking at the work of others critically, I find really helps me to look at my own work more critically and better identify when it is bad or good.

DBP: What was the greatest day of your life as a creator? What’s the worst? How do both fuel you?

Wow this is tough! I’ve had a lot of awesome creator days lately. I think as of right now it’s got to be seeing Stephanie Hans sketches (and developed drawings) for The Girl Who Would Be King. It was one of those moments that I’ll just never forget. This idea of something I created coming even MORE to life. The idea of someone as talented as Stephanie liking something of mine so much that she could breathe such beautiful an emotional life into it.

Anything Stephanie would have done would have been gorgeous. She is insanely talented, but I do believe the fact that she took the time to read my book, and loved it, is what brings that extra something to the sketches and drawings she did. In the one posted on my blog now, I didn’t have to say, “oh, you forgot to add this, or “oh, she should look like this” “or you didn’t capture that scene how I would have imagined it”, because she got it all right. Down to the jewelry they were wearing…and it felt incredible.

I’d like to say “the day my Kickstarter became AMAZING SUCCESSFUL” but since we’re doing this review as it’s going on … I’m not there yet … but, hoping!

EDITOR’S NOTE – At time of publishing this interview, Kelly’s Kickstarter was already 45%+ funded – after just hours! Click here to see it’s updated progress or … better still … contribute.

I don’t think I’ve had a worst day yet in comics since I haven’t been really trying to be a comics creator that long, but I think as a creator in general it was a tie between realizing that the publishing house we thought was going to buy The Girl Who Would Be King, didn’t. Or, when after another year of revision my agent and I decided to put the book on the shelf. That was hard.

I think the greatest day fuels me because it’s like “comic crack” and nobody wants to stop doing crack (or so I hear)…the second day fuels me because nobody likes failing. It sucks. So it’s better to try again (and maybe even not fail) then to just give up…if you give up the story is over. If you keep going then you might still get your happy ending.

DBP: Comic book crack. 🙂 I like that. What’s your favorite idea for a comic you’ve had that may never see the light of day? I’m happy to cross my heart and swear to secrecy if you tell me. J

KT: Yup. You’re right…that’s too close! I have too many projects that I’m still hopeful about and haven’t pitched, but I suspect given some of my criticisms of Marvel and DC that they will never want to work with me. So I suppose I would say that some ideas I had for Batman (and of course for Cass Cain) will probably never see the light of day. Also, an awesome idea that Ross Campbell and I call “Mad Max X-Men” that I’d love to do with him someday. That seems like an unlikely dream too.

EDITOR’S NOTE 2: KT, I’ll respectfully disagree. After the world reads TGWWBK, something tells me they’ll know you can craft a great story and think a little differently.

DBP: In addition to The Girl Who Would be King, If I want to see more of your work, where do I go? What are you working on now?

Lola and Bonnie by Ross Campbell

KT: I have two published pieces right now – a short story written by me and illustrated by Stephanie Hans called “Superless Hero” in Womanthology (we’re the first piece!) and an essay called “I am Sisyphus and I am Happy” in the new book Chicks Dig Comics.

You can go to so many places online, but I’ll just say to my blog:
http://1979semifinalist.worpress.com

Also my website:
http://1979semifinalist.com The website has a detailed bibliography with links to all my work. that’s probably easiest!

I am currently working on a six-issue comic book miniseries called Heart in a Box with phenomenal artist Meredith McClaren, and we’re pitching to publisher’s now.

I have a new book (I’m not sharing the title right now – sorry!) that I’m submitting to agents since my old agent and I have parted ways.

DBP: Give me one creator you love that the world needs to know more about?

KT: Meredith McClaren. She’s crazy talented. I wrote about her in my “12 Fantastic Female Comics Creators of 2011.”

She’s absolutely someone to watch. In addition to some self-published work which you can buy here, she’s also got an ongoing webcomic Hinges. She goes to a lot of cons and is somewhat famous for her adorable superhero (and beyond) mini-card drawings (I have eight and they are AMAZING). She’s also the artist for the highly anticipated new Hopeless Savages by Jen Van Meter from Oni.

Heart in a Box panel by Meredith McClaren

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