Kelly Sue DeConnick on her feminist comic,”Bitch Planet,” and its same sex storylines

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*Some images are NSFW*

The feminist sci-fi women’s prison comic Bitch Planet was already a tour-de-force at the first issue. Those “noncompliant” tattoos you’ve been seeing around? That’s where they’re from. As of Issue #4, the same sex couple we were waiting for was introduced and it looks like there’s only more awesome ahead.

While we’re counting the minutes until we can see what happens in Issue #5, writer Kelly Sue DeConnick was kind enough to take some time out of her packed schedule to talk to AfterEllen.

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AfterEllen: Congratulations on Issue #4 of Bitch Planet! It’s thoroughly enjoyable.

Kelly Sue DeConnick: Thank you very much!

 

AE: I’d been dying for you to get some same-sex content in there so we could feature the book.

KSD: Well, you knew it was coming! Renelle and Fanny are the only characters we’ve outed at this point, but no doubt they’re not the only two in the prison… But they’re important to our plot. Fanny and Renelle are significant characters going forward.

 

AE: So probably more queer-lady storylines…? It is a women’s prison. What are you going to do?

KSD: [Laughs] Yeah. This is a tough one, too. I get asked all the time about this and about trans representation… It’s coming, but I also don’t want to tell people that. I totally understand why people ask me that question–I’m not being critical of the asking. Representation is vital. I get that. But I don’t want the most important thing about these characters to be gender identity or their sexual identity. Straight characters have the luxury of getting to be just people in a story, not carrying the weight of entire groups of people’s experiences. I want the same respect for our non-cis or non-straight characters. I want to make sure I know who they are and I’m writing their whole person, not just putting forth their gender or sexual identity as character. I’m a straight white woman—no one would ever write me and mistake my straightness for character, you know? That I am attracted to men is a tiny bit of what makes up me. I would feel like it was such a false portrayal of who I am. That said, oppression and bold defiance of oppression can certainly skew that equation—because no one tells me I can’t love who I love, I have the luxury of not having to fight for that part of my identity… Oh, lord. What I am so inelegantly trying to say is that it’s a balancing act. Yes, we have queer women and trans women in our book.

 

AE: That’s actually one of the things I love about Penny. I saw a review or two that treated her as The Overweight Character. But when you read the book, what stands out is her personality. She’s actually the funniest character.

KSD: Yes. Penny is strong as shit. And there was no way to not deal with her weight, because it’s the thing that most offends the Patriarchy. It’s the reason that she is so maligned. So there was no way that her weight wasn’t critical to her backstory. But there’s a lot more that you’ll find out about Penny and her family and her relationship to the events that got us where we are. She’s funny and she’s strong as shit, and everything will hinge on her eventually. But she also comes from an important place. I don’t know what else to say.

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AE: Can I ask where you got the idea for the series?

KSD: It’s so hard to say, really. There’s no moment where it springs fully formed into your head. I was coming up with a whole bunch of pitches. Just brainstorming a page of two-sentence pitches. And I ended up not doing anything with them for that particular project, but I kept adding to them and keeping it as my running idea list. I had the ridiculous title Bitch Planet, and I had “gladiatorial women’s prison.” I think that’s about all I had on there. And then I met [Bitch Planet illustrator Valentine De Landro] at Fan Expo, and we corresponded a bit about working on something, and we tried to get things to line up for some work-for-hire work, and the calendars never worked out right. And, at some point, we realized that we don’t have to wait for someone else to do this project. We could just do something. So I sent him this list of ideas to see if there were any sparks. And he wrote back that he liked a few here and there, but the one he was really responding to was Bitch Planet. OK, Bitch Planet it is! So then we had to figure out what the hell it was. And during the first period where I was really trying to brainstorm it, I was at this point where I was taking lot of heat online for my perceived feminist agenda. And I thought, “If I’m going to be accused of being an angry feminist, honey, you ain’t seen angry yet. Let me show you. Let’s steer into this curve.” So then it became all about getting out of our comfort zones. And taking some risks and going where we were afraid. Val will tell you that sci-fi is really not his jam.

 

AE: That’s surprising. He draws it so beautifully.

KSD: Right?!

 

 

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AE: On that note of being uncomfortable: There are dark comics out there, but I don’t think I’ve seen one that’s dark in the way that Bitch Planet is. And then there’s a feminist essay in the back of each issue. Was that hard to sell?

KSD: The beauty of Image [Comics] is that I don’t have to sell anybody on it. Once Image approves your book, it’s your book. So you do with it what you want. I’ve given them a heads-up for nudity and sex, and they just laugh at me. “What, do you think you’re going to shock us?” I don’t have to clear anything with anybody. It’s just me and Val who are the ones who have the final word. Our team is respectful of each other. We’re kind of a big team and everybody puts their thoughts out there, but there is never any “Oh, I don’t know about this feminist thing…” Fuck it. We’re doing it.

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