In her inaugural #ComicBookLove article, PHS Editor Corrina Lawson looks at comic book writers who took chances on characters and stories they believed in. But did it pay off?
It’s a risk every time someone decides to create a story and share it with the world. The decision that your imagination can have something that speaks to people always feels like jumping off a cliff, at least for me.But some creative risks have higher stakes than others. Those are the projects that no one thinks will succeed, that conventional wisdom says there’s no audience for, that might even be career killers. And, still, creators keep taking those risks.
Take Beau Smith, a long-time comics writer. Back in the mid-1990s, he created a character called Wynonna Earp. The female descendant of Wyatt Earp, Wynonna fought monsters and demons as a member of the Black Badge division of the government. But Wynonna’s road to publication was rocky. She was created in age that didn’t feature many female leads in comics, especially in the direct comic market. Wynonna first appeared in the pages of a comic from Image Publishers (now known as the publishers of The Walking Dead)which should have been a triumph but Smith wasn’t entirely satisfied with the way she was handled in her first series in 1996:
'The editorial powers that be along with those bankrolling my paycheck wanted me to "get on board" with the heroine that could fight like Stallone and look like Pamela Anderson craze that was going on at the time. Needless to say, we argued a lot on that. In the first four issue mini-series, the editorial and payroll office got their way with Wynonna’s outfits. Don’t get me wrong, I like sexy as much or more than the next guy with a heartbeat, but there’s all kinds of sexy without looking like a stripper in need of more hairspray. I wanted to exhibit a more real and strong sexiness through personality, actions and deeds. Hooker with a badge was not the path I wanted to take. Anybody can write overt sexy, I wanted to write covert sexy. I got to do that in the second Wynonna Earp series at IDW Publishing and even more so with The Yeti Wars, by working with artist and long time friend, Enrique Villagran.'
Smith took Wynonna Earp to IDW, which published several Wynonna Earp miniseries in the 2000s. That’s when I first found the character and interviewed Smith. While it was a great comic with an awesome lead character, it didn’t quite break through to readers outside of comics.
Then Hollywood came calling, in the form of showrunner Emily Andras, and the television Wynonna Earp was born. There have been three seasons of the show so far and the fourth is filming right now. The show also gave rise to an entire fan community called “Earpers,” who promptly dubbed Smith “Papa Earp.” The Earpers are one of the most engaged and supportive communities online.
Sometimes risks can take twenty years to fully pay off, as with Wynonna Earp, and sometimes they can make a splash right away. Take the creation of Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, at Marvel Comics, Kamala was created in 2013, with her first comic appearance in 2014.
Her creators were Sana Amanat, Stephen Wacker, G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Jamie McKelvie. In so many ways, Kamala’s existence went against all the conventional wisdom in comics. New characters don’t sell well. Female leads don’t sell well. New characters of color supposedly don’t appeal to the comic audience either.
But Amanat, a Marvel editor who is Muslim-American, wanted to see people with her background reflected in the comics she loved. Wilson, who converted to Islam as a young adult, was instantly attracted to the idea. Alphona came aboard for the art. And the new Ms. Marvel was born. I remember well when the comic was announced. The vast majority of the comic readers on the comic forums I frequented (who were mostly straight white men) pronounced that the new Ms. Marvel would never last and had her canceled at three issues.
Instead, Kamala Khan instantly became a sensation. Why? Because there were readers out there hungry for her story, hungry for tales of a typical Pakistani-American teen who unexpectedly gains powers and struggles to master those powers and help others. In so many ways, she’s this generation’s Spider-Man, an engaging every girl readers loved. Ms. Marvel: Volume 1: No Normal hit the graphic novel bestseller list in October 2014. The series has won numerous awards, including a Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story in 2016.
Not bad for a book that wasn’t supposed to last six issues. Wilson left the comic in January 2019 but Ms. Marvel survived with her current series, The Magnificent Ms. Marvel.
Inside the Marvel Universe, Kamala Khan was inspired by the previous Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers, who took the name of Captain Marvel in the comics in July 2012.
Captain Marvel was a series that wasn’t supposed to amount to anything either. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, working off a fantastic costume redesign by Jamie McKelvie, said she expected Captain Marvel to be axed after six issues, so she put everything she loved about the character and everything she wanted her to be into those first six issues. That gave rise to the fan movement called the Carol Corps, Captain Marvel eventually received a second series with DeConnick, and, well, you know the rest of the story as, that’s Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel on screen for all to see. (You can even catch DeConnick’s cameo in the movie.)
The one thing these three projects have in common is they went against all the conventional wisdom about what the audience wanted. And yet all these creators believed that their characters and their stories would find readers who loved them.
The biggest risk I ever took as a creator was with a story called Love’s Inferno. Why a risk? Because it’s a BDSM paranormal poly romance. I don’t normally write any of those romance subgenres except paranormal, so I wondered if this tale was out of my skill set. Yet, these three characters and their story, of how three make a family, kept calling to me. Eventually, to get the voices out of my head, I wrote the story, rewrote it, and, since I could find no publisher for it, self-published it myself.
Last week, I was informed Love’s Inferno had finalled in the Prism contest sponsored by the Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal Chapter of the Romance Writers of America. It still hasn’t sold many copies since I published it in November 2018 but I’m content I told the story as best as I could. I fervently hope the readers who need that story have found it.
And, for those writers reading this, that story you’ve been wondering if you should write because you don’t know who’ll read it? Write it. Someone out there needs it. And readers, if you’ve found a story you adore, that speaks to you, even if it doesn’t speak to anyone else, give it some love with a review or a mention on social media.
After all, you never know, you might find yourself in on the ground floor of a phenomenon like Wynonna Earp.
Do you have a favorite comic book character or storyline you're glad the writers took a chance on publishing? Is there a storyline or character you wish someone would take a chance on that hasn't been done so far? Join the discussion on our Social Media using #ComicBookLove
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