Gold Town and Cabra Cini: Voodoo Junkie Hitwoman creator Sam Johnson spoke to me about his latest creation Ruby Kaye, aka Geek Girl, a Heathers- style social diva made superheroine after a game of strip poker gone awry. After winning a pair of dorky glasses, Ruby soon discovers that, along with the specs, she has inherited superpowers, and erm, super-klutziness.
Sam spoke to me about Geek Girl’s origin, where he plans on taking Ruby next and exactly why Ruby is more accessible than the morally ambiguous Catwoman and the all American Wonder Woman and why writing supergirls is way more fun than writing superboys.
When did you come up with the Geek-Girl concept? – It’s pretty neat, an insanely popular girl going from social heroine to geekdom…
Image’s Shadowline imprint ran a ‘Who Wants to Create a Superheroine’ contest last year, where (as a starting point) people were invited to submit one-paragraph pitches for supergal concepts. An early version of the Geek-Girl idea was one of two I submitted. I felt it was a really solid concept and it’s been developed and strengthened since then and is now firing on all cylinders!
That concept being, when ‘Little Miss Popular’ Ruby Kay lands a pair of super-tech glasses – invented by brainiac college geek Trevor Goldstein – in a game of Strip Poker, she’s granted flight, super-strength, and – due to a flaw in the glasses’ programming –super-klutziness.
How long have you worked on Geek-Girl?
Pretty much the last two years; Geek-Girl #0 is out now, and I’m working on the upcoming mini-series with a terrific artist, Pablo Martinena; there’s a preview of it in GG #0. We’ve got big plans for Ruby!
Geek-Girl is so much fun, with some hilarious one-liners and an overall tongue-in-cheek vibe. You collaborated with Sally J Thompson on it (who did the illustrations). Can I ask, do the illustrations or the script come first? I’m curious as to how the artwork influences the content and vice-versa.
The script came first. While Sally is normally more a slice-of-life artist, she illustrated Geek-Girl’s origin in issue #0 as it’s a character-centric story that introduces us to Ruby’s world and clique, and she did a great job with the facial expressions. The mini-series’ll see Ruby launched headlong into the world of tights ‘n’ capes, which is where Pablo’s niche lies.
What are your plans for Ruby in future issues of Geek-Girl? Where do you see yourself taking her?
Well, right off the bat in issue #1, THE biggest super-hero in Maine – where Ruby studies PR at Acorn Ridge college – gets her ass handed to her by a major new super-villain and Ruby has to step up. This is before Geek-Girl’s never even had a fight! (Although she does knock someone out in issue #0 .)
Ruby’s kind of fallen into the whole super-hero thing. She wins these super-power-imbuing glasses – but kind of on a drunken whim. It’s her friend Summer who’s really pushing her into using the glasses’ powers for good; Ruby just got them because she fancied having them and she ‘gets what she wants.’
But the next thing she knows, fashion student Summer’s made her a costume and she’s flying the skies looking for crime. Not that she’s entirely opposed to that idea, she loves the powers the glasses give her, but obviously she hasn’t experienced what it means to be a super-hero – and when she does, especially as she’s encumbered by the ‘super-klutziness – she’s gonna get a wake up call.
I was only thinking recently that there hasn’t been a superheroine who could beat up a hundred men in a bar-fight since Xena or Sydney Bristow or Buffy. What do you enjoy about writing tough girls?
A lot of the characters I write are strong female heroines and I find them fun and interesting to write. I don’t think the gap – and I would say need -in the market for these characters has been filled properly.
Doing research ahead of releasing Geek-Girl #0, I was looking into why there are so few super-heroines that have sustained a successful series, and if you look at the characters that are out there, you can generally see why. The most recognizable female super-characters are Wonder Woman and Catwoman; now, while these do well, they haven’t hit as big as your ‘Supermans’, your ‘Spider-Mans’, etc. And I think part of the reason for this is they’re hard to relate to. Ruby is a much more down to earth character, that I think people will be a lot more easily able to identify with, and I know from being on MySpace and Facebook that people are digging the ‘geek factor.’
What gets your creative juices flowing?
Any number of things. People talking passionately and enthusiastically about comics; watching a great movie/TV show; seeing other creative people doing their thing; a great idea striking. But generally just sitting down and getting on with it! [laughs]
Can you tell me a bit about your Voodoo Junkie Hitwoman Cabra Cini?
Cabra Cini, another female character of mine, is ‘The Bitch Packing Heat.’ An ex-crack-whore who discovered voodoo in searching for a way to take down her abusive pimp/boyfriend without killing him (although she wound up killing him anyway [laughs]). Cabra’s a sweary bitch that doesn’t take any crap from anyone and employs voodoo in the hits she’s hired to carry out. She’s made a couple of appearances in H!M Comics’ IF-X anthology, and I’ve got more plans for her; hopefully a one-shot coming… You can check out more on her at www.cabracini.com.
Who are some of your favourite comic/writers/artists on the comic book circuit?
Right now, I’m digging Brian Michael Bendis and Christos Gage. I’ve found the whole Dark Reign thing very enjoyable, and what Gage is doing in Avengers: The Initiative – you just don’t know where this book is gonna go – he brings tons of obscure characters out of the bag, the cast and direction keeps changing without you ever feeling it’s losing anything – and it remains fun and intriguing throughout.
I also have to name check Grant Morrison. His run on Doom Patrol is among my favourite comics and a big influence -including being an influence in the creation of Geek-Girl villain Mr. Mash-Up (who pops up in Geek-Girl #0) – and now the DP are back, I’d love to take a crack at them.
I love that theme – teenage girls who weave myths around themselves, though in Ruby’s case it just happens to be true! When Ruby confesses to her friends that she is a superhero, it backfires and she is left friendless. The world of teenagers seems like such a brutal setting – especially if you’re considered a geek. For Ruby, though, fertile ground for any number of adventures. Will there be any risqué storylines?
Well, she’s not entirely friendless – her ostracism from her clique actually makes the bond with her friend Summer (the only non-bitch) stronger, and things are gonna develop with waitress Mariella: someone she meets during issue #0. Ironically, Mariella is who college geek Trevor invented the super-glasses to impress – as he has a huge crush on her – and now it’s Ruby that has them and saves her from danger!
As for ‘risqué’. Yeah… there’s some ‘girl-on-girl’ action of a sort in the mini-series, coming from über alt. girl Nina Dante. Although it may not be ‘action’ in exactly the way bisexual Nina would like.
What advice would you offer someone who wanted to create a comic, but couldn’t illustrate?
Advertise on sites like Digital Webbing and Penciljack; get a good team that you have good communication with and that you can count on to deliver. It’s not easy to do, but it absolutely is do-able.
Sam Johnson, thank you very much!