By Anupa Mistry
Deadpool, the Marvel franchise about an anti-hero with a disfigured visage and penchant for pithiness, has been given the butterface treatment. Lady Deadpool #1 hit stores last week, an official one-shot comic book where the reclusive anti-heroine emerges—horny and borderline feral—from junk food-fueled hibernation after her TV stops working. Helping Lady Deadpool keep it real is first-time comics writer Mary HK Choi, former editor of Brooklyn pop culture mag Missbehave and current contributor to Complex and TheAwl.com.
At Comic Con as a debutante and covering the expo for Complex, Choi chops it up about writing, women in ink and why comics are like the opera.
Q: You’ve said your foray into comics happened after childhood. What was the first comic book you read?
A: I remember reading Arkham Asylum when I was really small, only because my brother had it. It was a really, really beautiful book; creepy and enigmatic and the cover was very beguiling. I remember being young enough to be completely spooked out by the whole thing. But then, as far as sort of a real entree, I sat down and read Preacher. That whole series had a good and substantial long run, so I sat with that and ate its brains out. I think at that point I was good and hooked.
Q: So given the fact that you were old enough to form opinions about these things, did you care about the portrayal of female characters in comics?
A: I did care. One of my favourite, favourite, favourite, favourite comic books to date is Zero Girl by Sam Kieth. To me, that was a very realistic, poignant, but not precious, depiction of a chick’s coming of age story. And after that, I read this series called Alias by Brian Michael Bendis to which a lot of people are like “J-GAR!” and I’m like, “No, it’s something else!” The character’s name is Jessica Jones—I love how pedestrian that is—an alcoholic private investigator who has a huge backsliding, fall-from-grace because she was previously a super heroine and had these great, altruistic motives and now she’s just cobbling and cajoling a living together and is a mess. It’s incredibly dark and her psyche is sort of wounded, but it wasn’t stereotypical or flat. It was very nuanced and studied. A lot of people just assume that it’s all these bulbous-glanded chicks with 18-inch waists, but I came into it so late that, blessedly, other more realistic avenues had already been explored and more complex aspects had been available to me.
Q: And that approach is clearly something you applied to Lady Deadpool.
A: Totally. And these are two women I’ve mentioned who are not unorthodox in their appearance, in the sense that they’re not laced up or buttoned up. They’re just sort of figuring things out and in transition. But, if you look at it, there are other very statuesque, more ubiquitous-physique ladies who are totally badass and totally developed in their characters, too. Take someone like an Emma Frost—that’s a pretty actualized character, AND she’s a freaking bombshell. She looks amazing, and in white no less.
Q: What does Lady Deadpool have that we haven’t seen before?
A: The original Deadpool is completely out of his tree. He’s a complete lunatic, he’ll say whatever and it will be totally linear vis-‡-vis his own mania. So there’s that huge disconnect, and a disjointedness to his response to actual stimuli that the reader sees or that anyone who is interacting with him sees. Lady Deadpool is hot, badass, has a bodacious body, but I actually really like the fact that, the way I wrote her, she comes off like a total meathead. She’s very open and crass. I didn’t want the translation of Deadpool’s temperament to the female gender to be like, “Oh, you know, she’s dry!” and “Rapier wit!” I didn’t want it to be meta and ironic because she’s a chick and therefore more graceful in her humour. I wanted her to be exactly like Deadpool, but with female wants—when she sees a guy, or has an opportunity to binge eat, she would just be really into instant gratification. I like that she kind of talks like a dude which, if anyone meets me, they’ll see the parallels in how lazy I was in writing her dialogue because it’s the shit I would say.
Q: So how did you hook up with Marvel in the first place?
A: They approached me. It’s no secret that my brother, Mike Choi, is a comic book artist and he’s been very well received and has been doing it for quite some time. I did fall within the scope of being previously published. But I think there was talk of a meeting where an editor I’d never even met mentioned my writing, as far as they had read it on The Awl blog, so my name started circulating.
Q: What was the character development process like?
A: That’s the thing that’s so rad. I’m writing the first Lady Deadpool one-shot. So while Victor Gischler had explored that this person exists, there wasn’t a lot in terms of what her personality should be. I’m incredibly lucky and blessed that I surreptitiously waltzed into that nexus. It was totally footloose and fancy-free. So with that much of a loosey-goosey XY, I chose the setting as New York in a one-room apartment with the major crux of the incident being that she can’t get her TV to switch on. Because that’s just hilarious: to take it so myopic that they’re like, “You can do ANYTHING!” and you’re like “Alright, I’m going to do this.” With that in your crosshair though, you can really talk about her.
Q: What was the biggest writing challenge when it comes to going from media to fiction?
A: Figuring out how much you can get away with saying in 22 pages. There wasn’t a set beginning and an end, so I got to do whatever I wanted. It was kind of like an out-of-body experience. I have no muscle memory or cerebral memory for what curtailing my story into 22 pages feels like. So you overshoot: you cast this impossibly wide net, with holes and tears and dredge up so much crap like toilet seat, old boot, all this crap you can’t use. The first thing I did was sit and write every personality quirk I would need for all the characters, and then I cobbled their interactions. It’s kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure, except it’s got a bajillion pages and you’re constantly flipping and you don’t know where you’re at.
Q: Why are comics so important?
A: That made my heart lurch. They’re important. I’m going to go in here. The thing that blows me away about comics is that some person sits down, and hunches—they may or may not have lumbar support, I don’t know—and with their hands and brain, they draw an entire piece of art for every snippet of words you’ve committed. That’s, like, kind of beautiful, and it’s heroic and it’s romantic. At the end of it, it’s like opera dude. It’s important. It’s broke if you think about it in terms of money, but someone sits down and makes you a piece of art work, and does it over and over again for each page. And then does that over and over again to tell you a story—and that’s just sick to me. And the fact that it’s print, you know? I will try to make a magazine until the day I die, to cantankerous mocking and derision from all bean-counting people. Give me something I can hold—and that’s no detraction from the comic book apps and the iPad, it’s the future. But this is an art form and it’s so noble and important and a wonderful unifier, and it’s a great way to get a story.