"Where are all the comic books starring female characters," I have often heard fans ask. Sure, women might be in a team, but how many have their own solo books? And when they do have their own books -- how long do these books last before they are cancelled all-too-soon?
Where are all these female solo comics? They are at companies like Dynamite Entertainment, which publishes titles starring such iconic female superheroines as Red Sonja, Vampirella, and Xena; fan favorites like Painkiller Jane and Athena; and now the newest butt-kicking woman on the block, Jennifer Blood, whose first issue blasts its way to stores in February!
Starring a suburban housewife who suits up with artillery and body armor to obliterate bad-guys in her spare time, "Jennifer Blood" is the brainchild of Garth Ennis (who of course writes another Dynamite smash hit "The Boys").
The first part of a month-long spotlight on "The Women of Dynamite," we chatted with Ennis about Jennifer Blood, strong female characters, working with independent publishers, and lots more!
MTV Geek: Some early buzz surrounding "Jennifer Blood" describe it as a "Female Punisher." Do you agree with that comparison?
Garth Ennis: Not a bad one, if only for convenience' sake. My starting point wasn't too far from "Weeds meets the Punisher". That said, the two characters are pretty different, and not just because of Jen's "civilian" life- which is something Frank lacks completely. Jen is a much more human character with a wry sense of humour, and even though she does some pretty extreme things, you'll see that her story is somewhat lighter in tone. And, finally, Jen's beef is with one particular criminal outfit - whereas Frank has declared war on all crime.
Geek: While Jennifer Blood seems like she can majorly kick ass just as hard as her male counterparts, do you think there are fundamental differences in the portrayals and/or styles and/or life choices of tough female versus male characters?
Ennis: The quick answer is yes, you can have female versions of whatever characters you or your publisher choose - just stick the same outfit on a woman character and give her the same behaviour and reactions as the male version. It'll be made to work whether it works or not, which is something we've seen again and again.
In more precise terms, again, you'll see that JB is a pretty light-hearted story - not at all a serious examination of a female vigilante. You will see her employ a certain no-nonsense approach when committing acts of unspeakable carnage, with a lack of drama and complete disinterest in fuss that could, I suppose, be reminiscent of the way a housewife/mom might go about her myriad daily tasks. But that's something I find funny more than anything else, the complete contrast with the kind of macho posturing we normally associate with such characters.
Regarding the specific notion of a female Punisher, I don't really believe you can have anyone else like the Punisher at all. Frank's one of a kind, an inhuman rock who's managed to do a complete scalpel job on his emotions and somehow keep going. I wrote a sorta-kinda female Punisher story during my run on the max book, but the point of that was to show that no one can come anywhere near Frank in the Punisher stakes. Man, woman, vegetable or mineral, you'd have to be in a pretty wretched place to begin with, and your ensuing voyage into Frank's territory would utterly destroy you. Where he goes and what he does is not for human beings.
Geek: Jennifer Blood seems like she has it all -- a cozy domestic lifestyle in the suburbs with her family, and an outlet to fight crime and really let loose. How does she balance these two aspects of her life? How does she justify to herself maintaining these dual roles? Is this a case of “split personality” or something much more controlled and deliberate?
Ennis: Neither, really, she just happens to be good at compartmentalising. This is something she feels she has to do, and afterwards she reckons she'll be able to go back to suburbia and live happily ever after. One week of slaughter and out. Which I just think is funny, really; one minute she's reading the kids a bedtime story (although she doesn't, because she's already drugged their cocoa), the next she's loading the guns and priming the hand grenades.
Geek: You’ve written some strong female characters in books like Preacher, Goddess and Bloody Mary. What is it like returning to another one in Jennifer Blood?
Ennis: Tulip was always fun to write in Preacher, I liked her enormously. Bloody Mary was okay, but she was a pretty cold piece of work and doesn't really resonate with me today. Goddess was dreadful, proof positive that you shouldn't smoke pot before you start writing- though it did have nice art. I like to think I've been reasonably consistent with Female characters; Cindy in Crossed was a pretty tough cookie, and the Night Witches took no shit from anyone. They also killed lots of Nazis, which should earn them a gold star in anyone's book.
Geek: What is it like working with Dynamite on “Jennifer Blood?” Do you feel they give you a great deal of creative freedom?
Ennis: Total. There's nothing I can't do. To put it in relative terms, I'd say the creative freedom at Marvel Max was about 95%; at DC Vertigo about 60-70. But here I can do whatever I want.
Interestingly, I've found that working for a smaller publisher I have to be much more involved in the day-to-day running of things. I work very closely with Joe Rybandt and Jason Ullmayer to ensure that each of the books comes out looking its best, that the artists are on time, the colour looks good etc etc. I take an interest in everything, from cover designs to back cover copy on the collections. It's something I really enjoy doing, not just because Joe and Jason are so good at their jobs and easy to work with, but because for a control freak like me this level of involvement is manna from heaven.
But there's a serious point here too: at an independent publisher you can't just sit back and coast along, you have to take responsibility for what you're doing actually working. Everyone carries their own weight: it's not like doing Hitman for DC ten years ago, where I could rely on the sixty superhero books they put out to soak up the late shipping and duff sales on my funny little cult hit. Can't have that sort of thing going on here, and to ensure it doesn't I get stuck in along with everybody else.
Geek: What’s next for Garth Ennis?
Ennis: First of all Christmas and New Year, which means two weeks of extremely welcome overindulgence. Coming up there's The Boys, hitting its penultimate year with the Butcher miniseries spinning off in the summer. There'll be a Crossed ongoing series, for which I've written the first three-issue arc- Jacen Burrowes is drawing that one, so happy-happy-joy-joy. And I'm doing a war series for Avatar that'll pretty much follow the Battlefields format, with several short stories all collected after their runs.
And beyond that there's all the stuff that- as usual- I just can't talk about at the moment.
Can't wait for February for "Jennifer Blood" #1? Check out our preview below! And don't forget to check in throughout the rest of the month for more spotlights on "The Women of Dynamite!"