Early last year, editor Lou Anders approached me about contributing a story to a superhero-themed anthology he was working on. According to Lou, he wanted to assemble a collection of serious superhero fiction, stories that evoked the dark grittiness of The Dark Knight or the depth and narrative texturing of Watchmen. He didn’t want tongue-in-cheek or satire. He wanted honest, prose versions of the types of stories being told by the likes of Gail Simone, Paul Cornell, Matthew Sturges, and Marjorie M. Liu in comic books. Interestingly enough, those four writers were just a handful of the amazing talent Lou managed to assemble for Masked. I knew I’d be in great company and figured it was a rare opportunity I couldn’t pass up, so I accepted Lou’s kind offer with the understanding that if my story failed to impress, he wouldn’t have to take it. I’d find a home for it here on this blog.
I’ve already covered the grueling, oft agonizing process of writing “Downfall”, a short story that, in the end, didn’t turn out quite as short as I’d hoped. It was one of those instances in which I knew where I wanted to end up, but had no idea how long it would take me to get there. After some ten months, I stopped work on the story (notice I said “stopped work” and not “finished” because, as I’ve also mentioned in previous entries, if it weren’t for Lou’s deadline, I’d probably still be rewriting it today) and sent it my editor’s way. To my relief, he liked what he read, which is why you’re reading “Downfall” in print and not in installments on this blog.
Anyway, as thrilled as I was to make my first prose sale, I was infinitely more impressed with the caliber of the other stories that made up the Masked anthology. Stories like, say, Gail Simone’s “Thug” which is at turns humorous, surprising, touching, and incredibly endearing. It blew me away – twice. The first time upon reading it and the second time upon learning it was her first published work of prose fiction. It was a pleasant surprise that really wasn’t all that surprising given the fact I’ve been a huge fan of Gail’s work on comic books like Villains United, Secret Six, and Welcome to Tranquility (to name just a few).
Today, it gives me great pleasure to kick off our Book of the Month discussion of Masked with this special guest blog by the marvelous Gail Simone…
I came to be a professional writer in an odd way, unlike most of the seasoned professionals who wrote most of the stories in MASKED. I was a hairdresser in the boonies of Oregon, and online comics fandom was really something I had never experienced. I had never been to a big convention, I’d never written letters, never hung around a comics shop. I started doing little parody pieces, making fun of everything in the industry, just to amuse my friends. Long story short, suddenly professional writers were reading my stuff and convincing me, almost forcing me, to attempt to go professional.
So I went right from being an annoying fan to being an annoying professional, and have written comics like the Simpsons, Justice League, Deadpool, Secret Six, Birds of Prey, Action Comics, and lots of other things. I love it. I adore writing comics, and fully intend to continue writing them even if there’s one of those video game apocalypse scenarios and zombie dinosaurs are always chasing me while I look for food and medi-packs. I’ve written comics and video games and animation and comic strips and more, but I’ve never written prose, not really.
Enter the great Paul Cornell, who is a hero of mine. I’ve loved everything he’s written, and he weirdly likes my work right back. He put me in contact with Lou Anders for this book, and when I heard the line-up of writers, and it was clear it was going to be quite a high quality item, I signed up. I have a habit of jumping in with both feet, or hooves, or whatever. And the response has been tremendous, so thank goodness it didn’t suck horrendously! Thank you, Paul, and Lou, for letting me learn on the job with this lovely anthology.
As for my story, I’ll just go ahead here and say SPOILER ALERT.
I do love comics, I love the industry, I love the shared universe ideal that comics have been doing for decades. I think it’s a big, wonderful tapestry, and that’s my favorite part of writing for DC or Marvel. Even when you are just writing a short story, it’s like you’re collaborating with geniuses and madmen, every single person that’s worked in that universe.
The downside is, the icon books, the poles our tents are pitched upon, were created DECADES ago. And some of the ideas that are central to these universes have been, or ought to have been, passed by by time. The idea that heroes are almost all straight, white, and male is one.
But there’s another that’s just as egregious and a little more subtle. In our industry, decades ago, disabilities and mental illnesses almost always translated to Evil with a capital ‘E.’ If a character was dumb, or had a genetic malformity, or was scarred, or had a disability, or mental illness, that was all shorthand, with VERY few exceptions, for being bad, shameful, hateful, murderous, crazy with a thirst for revenge and a disgust for society. Two-Face, the Penguin, the Joker, the Green Goblin, Dr. Doom, on and on. Even Luthor was a good guy originally until an accident made him bald as a teenager.
I mean, it made for thrilling stories for kids of the age, maybe, but there’s a definite meanness at its core, a definite fear of the unknown. A sort of genetic xenophobia.
So the story idea for THUG came to me reading about a brainless brick of a powerhouse henchman for the millionth time in some random comic. I had to think, why did someone like that choose to take the difficult path of perhaps getting beaten to shit by the Incredible Hulk or the Flash?
He wasn’t born that way. Something made him go that way.
And I suspect that something wasn’t a supervillain. I suspect that something was US. All of us, from kindergarten on.
WE might be the makers of the villains. WE might be their secret origins.
THUG is the story of one A. Becker, a huge, developmentally disabled metahuman who is treated very badly by society, and learns to fight back, not so much for revenge, but because finally, almost anyone would in his situation.
It’s told with massive intentional grammatical and spelling errors, which was surprisingly tough to do on a computer where I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the spell check. Just keeping in mind all of THUG’s little bad English habits was surprisingly complex, at least to my prose newbie mind.
It was a joy to be part of this book. The quality of the stories make me proud to be included.
I hope you enjoyed the story too, and thank you to Joseph for including us in his book talk.
A big thanks to Gail for taking the time to drop by. But her work here isn’t done yet! Now, we turn this blog over to you, dear readers. Feel free to start posing questions for the following contributors to the Masked anthology:
Gail Simone (“Thug”)
Paul Cornell (“Secret Identity”)
Matthew Sturges (“Cleansed and Set in Gold”)
James Maxey (“Where Their Worm Dieth Not”)
Daryl Gregory (“Message from the Bubblegum Factory”)
Mark Chadbourn (“By My Works You Shall Know Me”)
Marjorie M. Liu (“Call Her Savage”)
Lou Anders (editor extraordinaire!)
And yours truly (“Downfall”)
Finally, I was going to address some of the “fan” conspiracy concerns in today’s mailbag but got sidetracked by prep on The Hunt, spinning episode 20, and this blog entry. As a result, my diminished snark capacitors are only running at forty percent tonight. So, instead, these super-secret production pics will have to tide you over…