The Birds of Prey
Writing the Birds of Prey

An Interview with Gail Simone

by Jennifer A. Ford

Birds of Prey Secret Files #1Gail Simone — creator of the thought-provoking website Women in Refrigerators, “You'll All Be Sorry” humor columnist at ComicBookResources.com, writer of Marvel's Deadpool and Bongo's The Simpsons, co-creator with Lea Hernandez of Killer Princesses — claims to be “busier than poo!”

Aand who can argue with her? With her first issue of DC's Birds of Prey selling out in 24 hours, returning to YABS for a stint of fun, and riding the message boards interacting with her fans, the new BoP scribe would seem to have little time for answering my questions.

But she did! So, here's the interview without further ado:

Birdwatching: What first got you interested in comics as a fan?

Gail: Actually, I can't recall exactly the first comics I'd read...possibly Archie and that sort of thing. But the book that got me hooked was a cliffhanger story. It had everything the current thinking says is bad; lots of characters, a big crossover, a continued story, etc. But it really caught me. It was a JLA/JSA team up, and I really wanted to know who these characters were. I instantly liked Black Canary, which makes the BoP gig even cooler.

BW: Do you remember the first comic book or character you read?

Gail: See above...I did get hooked on JLA for the longest time, then Titans. Used to be a huge Batman fan.

BW: I first encountered your work way back on your Women in Refrigerators site. How did you go from serious, socio-gender commentary to the "You'll All Be Sorry" column on CBR? How many steps between these two milestones am I missing?

Deadpool #66

Gail: None, really. Both began as emails to friends, and snowballed, but I'm not sure I'd characterize WiR as the weighty site you're claiming it is. I think it's fairly obvious that I didn't expect anyone to see the site as dreary and angry. YABS was an accident...I wrote some funny pieces for friends, they got circulated as spam, that led to offers from sites.

BW: You've taken a very interesting route from serious website creator to humor columnist to Bongo Comics writer, Marvel comics writer, and co-creator of Killer Princesses, and now BoP writer — is BoP going to be funnier now?

Gail: I don't know...Chuck does hilarious Bongo stories, Terry and Gilbert always have strong humor elements. I think the Birds have always had some humor...I don't plan to impose massive gags on the Birds' structure. They have funny moments, but it's because of who they are, I hope.

Women in Refrigerators Logo

BW: When you created WiR, did you ever think you'd be writing a book starring two of your highlighted victims let alone writing comics at all?

Gail: No, no, not at all. I had no aspirations of becoming a comics creator. It's something most of us fantasize about, but I never imagined it happening. And I'm looking forward to having our girls victimize others for a change.

BW: Black Canary has been completely rebooted to her original health and abilities by her dip in the Lazarus Pit. Is this a WiR victory?

Gail: No...really, I don't think WiR had any huge impact that way. But I do think Chuck wrote Canary as her own character, and that's where the victory lies. We intend to go even a little farther. Canary definitely has some repercussions of those stories in our first arc, but this is very much a different Dinah. I've been calling it The LAST Dinah Hostage story, and that's how it's going to be as long as I'm writing the book.

BW: Do you think you'll be addressing this situation (Canary's several previous depowerings; Barbara Gordon's paralysis) in the pages of BoP?

Gail: Yes, absolutely. I used to do volunteer work at a crisis center, and not to get too heavy, but these things ARE survivable. That in itself is far more heroic than being able to lift a tank. That's part of what makes them so amazing to me.

BW: How familiar are you with the backgrounds of the Birds of Prey characters?

Gail: I've made an effort to get educated. My goal is always that continuity should be an asset, not a roadblock.

BW: One criticism I've had with the title so far is the lack of an apparent mission statement — in other words, Oracle seems to pick missions with no real overarching theme or purpose and has involved the Birds in some ethically very dicey cases. Are you going to try to clarify the teams' motivations at all?

Gail: Oh, yeah, and it turns out, Oracle's got different ideas of methodology from Dinah. It's fun stuff!

BW: Apparently due to the fact that Dixon wrote both titles, several of the BoP bad guys have come over from Nightwing, though the Birds do have the Ravens and a few people from the pre-monthly series (though we've yet to see any of those promising baddies such as Braun return). Any plans for developing more of a Bird-o-centric "rogues gallery"?

Gail: Great question. Yes, starting with Savant and moving right along. If we get our way, one DC villain will be focusing on the Birds for a good while. I won't say who it is, but he's bad news, and you shouldn't CROSS him.

BW: Will Green Arrow and/or Nightwing (or their alter egos) be playing any role in the book?

Gail: I've said this a lot...it seems to me that it's very easy to unbalance this book, by bringing in powerful characters every other issue. We'll definitely be talking about both, and they will appear, but we're going to focus on our core team for a while, as well.

BW: I believe that anyone who read Devin Grayson's Arsenal miniseries (along with all of us early Bronze Age Green Lantern / Green Arrow fans) has been dying for Roy Harper to guest star or play some role in Birds of Prey — any hopes?

Gail: I LOVED that series, and Devin and I are working very closely. She did a magnificent job outlining their relationship, and we'll definitely follow her lead. We'll see Roy eventually.

BW: Yay! Any plans to use Canary's JSA and/or JLA friendships in the book?

Gail: They'll be mentioned fairly frequently.

BW: Yay, again! Does Canary have a secret identity or not? And how do you see her as being seen by the world at large (i.e. semi-famous co-founder of the JLA or a "where are they now" kind of fame)?

Gail: I think Dinah cares less and less about her secret identity every day. She freely tells people, and if someone really wants to know, they can find out. Dinah's just not a very good liar, and I see her as someone who just isn't very accomplished at even the most innocent deceit.

BW: What's your take on Dinah Lance, the Black Canary?

Gail: Smarter than people think, compassionate and insightful, and getting more dangerous and skilled as time goes on. Sometimes the damaged glass shatters...in her case, she got stronger.

BW: What's your take on Barbara Gordon/Oracle?

Gail: Brilliant, but afraid of losing control, afraid of not being perfect. We play with her background a lot in this book. To me, I don't care what she's doing now, she was Batgirl once, and that doesn't fade just because she was injured.

BW: What is the most striking quality of Dinah Lance's personality and/or her Black Canary persona that you think has been underutilized?

Gail: She's often seen as an appendage, even to this day. Not only is that unfair, it's boring. Our Dinah can stand up for herself. She doesn't NEED Oracle, Batman, the JLA or JSA. She CHOOSES to help them. The key is, in many stories, we have no idea why she does what she does. By the end of our second arc, we'll know for certain why.

BW: And, what is under-appreciated about Oracle?

Gail: Great background...so much to play with. Her loved ones are mostly cops and superheroes, she's a former librarian (and possibly legislator). We see her usually as just the computer expert. But the computers are just tools. It's her inventive mind that's the real weapon.

BW: Are there any qualities you perceive either character as having that you haven't seen other writers highlight (and that you plan to highlight)?

Gail: I like all the previous writers. It's not just blather, I really do. So, I'm just going to say I'm doing my best.

BW: Dixon defined Oracle as someone who didn't want to be pushed. In early BoP stories she was often shown working out and she always used a non-electric wheelchair. However, this then got pretty outlandish when she was shown wheeling around Ra's Al Ghul's caverns in a hand-powered wheelchair (friends of mine with reason to know found this hilarious) -- So, does Oracle use a regular hand powered wheel chair, customized hand powered chair or a high tech computer controlled one (as shown in more recent stories) or all of the above depending on circumstances?

Gail: I see Oracle as someone who does like to do things herself, and doesn't want to be treated differently. But I don't see her being obnoxious about it. She'd use a powered chair when necessary.

BW: Do you feel the choice of chair would be important to her and why?

Gail: The choice of ANYTHING is important. Every choice a character makes is important. That said, I don't want her to have a Bat-chair with flamethrowers, really.

BW: This questions is inspired by the "I don't want to be a wallflower" motivation for Black Canary that was introduced by Mark Waid in JLA: Year One — Would Dinah stand out in a crowd and would she want to?

Gail: This is kind of funny. It's a little known bit of trivia. Mark and I have been friends for years, and when we first met online, he was writing JLA:Year One. He had every character down EXCEPT Canary, and he asked my thoughts on her, just as a fan. Because I'm semi-obnoxious, I sent pages and pages of notes, character bits and scenes and dialogue, to give my thoughts on the character.

He didn't use all of it, but he used quite a bit (and improved upon it all), so when people ask me if I agree with Dinah's characterization in that book, I smile, because I did in fact have a hand in it!

The wallflower thing, yes, it made sense, for Dinah at that time. You have to remember, Dinah pre-Ollie was all about her mother and the JSA. Green Arrow changed her outlook considerably. She doesn't feel the same way now, in my view.

Killer Princesses #1

BW: Do you see Dinah having an underlying ruthlessness the way the characters in Killer Princesses do even though her training was not as a killer? In other words, Batman has a unbreakable "we don't kill under any circumstances" policy. How hard-line is Canary?

Gail: We do discuss this. Dinah would kill, if there were no other choice and lives were on the line. But she wouldn't recover from it. Dinah's massively compassionate. She's got one of the biggest hearts in the DCU. So, like most of us, she'd do it if there were no other choice. But she'd pay a mighty price for it.

BW: Do you see Oracle as a control freak?

Gail: I see her as a recovering control freak. Remember, she's got the ultimate control freak on the speaker phone, and she knows how hard is life is to himself and those around him. She's smart enough (and has a loving support system) to avoid falling into that trap 100%. That said, sure, she can be a bit on-task.

BW: (My brother — also a huge YABS and BoP fan — helped me out with these questions, so this one's all his) :: Do these women ever laugh?

Gail: Baby, they laugh a lot. Keep reading!

Batman...or Wolverine?

BW: And I have to ask: Batman or Wolverine?

Gail: Batman by a mile, but I do like Wolverine.

BW: Thanks very much for your time, Gail, and welcome to the Birds of Prey!

interview posted: 22 June 2003