Presenting our Women in Comics:
Jesse Snavlin: Colorist for San Hannibal, Writer of The Fowl
Interviewed by Tall Brunette
(All Article Photos by Chelsea Gaya. circaxophotography.squarespace.com)
In a bustling neighborhood off East Sandy, I counted myself extremely lucky to have missed the afternoon commuting traffic. Jesse and I navigated my relatively large SUV through tiny streets, increasingly filling up with fuel efficient cars and perturbed bikers. We gabbed during the commute about her recent move and how much she adored her new ‘babies.’ These, of course, being a hoard of tomato plants at the bottom of the stairs that lead to her new apartment, which I would later help arrange furniture in.
She lead me to a quaint, authentic Japanese restaurant rumored to be her favorite, with deceivingly strong happy hour drinks and incredible ramen- of which we shared a large bowl.
(This little gem of a place also features the most amazing toilet I’ve ever had the pleasure of using- with a warmed seat, four bidet settings, and +20 healing. Just saying, shout out to the soul quenching and cleansing powers of Maru.)
Originally from Farmington, New York, 29 year old Jesse Snavlin has had a tossed salad of life, moving west to Denver, and eventually following her grad program to Portland, where she met her co-creator and fiancée, Dan Schkade. (His las name pronounced as if Sean Connery were asking to be beamed aboard the Enterprise.)
Armed with a Masters in Publishing, and a B.A. in Creative Writing, Jesse’s a clear candidate to find herself in a quaint apartment in SE Portland surrounded by colors, cat toys, and Diamond Comics boxes full of flammable treasure. All this, of course, when she’s not working her day job at a popular comic book shop across the river, or her part time geeky Pub Quiz gig, allowing her to express both her genius in the literal trivial, and suppressed power hungry goddess which, when ignored, tends to present in the form of a wildly romantic, untamable asymmetrical hair cut that most of us ladies lack the courage to attempt, let alone, own.
Ambiance aside, I’ll admit, I wanted to talk to Jesse for a few reasons. The first is because she seemed cool, and I was correct. The second reason was because she has a big hand in creating a comic that I find to be fascinating. The third reason, and the entire point, however, was because she has a vagina and she writes comics. And seeing as how this is a feminist publication, and I write a segment called “PDXX POW: Presenting our Women in Comics,” this sassy gal who hands me my comics every week totally fit the bill.
I’ll be honest, I threw some alcohol in her and got to the real gritty on how she feels about being in the comics industry right now, her projects San Hannibal and The Fowl (San Hannibal #2 set to come out this Wednesday, you can get it at your local comic shop!) and even some respectfully endearing animosity toward double standards in the industry right now. And to broach all this, I accessorized her with a martini of some kind that had cucumber and courage in it, I tossed out my intro to break the ice.
TB: With the PDXX Collective beat I’m covering, I just want to talk to and with other women about comics. I want to write about female characters, I want to hang out with chicks who like and love comics, and I want to start a conversation that is all encompassing. I don’t think I mean it in a watch-dog sense as so many feminist publications seem to lean toward. I know that Janelle Asselin’s name is all over the blogosphere and Nerd-nets right now with her column about rape threats received after reviewing a comic, which to me was surprising that so many people are acting shocked about it. Because if you’re a female in the gamer or comic world, it sadly feels like the standard set. Same thing with the NSA shocker. Who is surprised we’re being spied on by the government, really?
But, I felt like it was time to join this conversation and ask other ladies around as well what they think about all of it. Comics. Art. Characters. Lettering. Line work. Inking. All things in the industry, and not solely in a defensive way.
JS: Well, I don’t know if it’s all being broached defensively, I just think there’s an absence of the middle ground. Like, the conversations that are happening are literally… it’s just awful that… I can’t….. Okay… (sigh)
I DEFINITELY think people have been pretending. Men have been pretending that there are not rape threats flying out when women state their opinions. There can’t be people who don’t notice these rape threats that are hanging out in the comments section and think it doesn’t exist. There has to be some sort of pretending going on when everyone is all of a sudden ‘WHOA!’ lambasted by the fact that these are happening!
What happened to Anita Sarkeesian when she reviewed video games? They made apps where you could punch her in the face!
That is a necessary conversation.
But in the middle of that, the only people that are talking about creators in a sense of like “Hey! what are you doing with your art? What do you think about art? What do you think about art? What are you doing with your layout and writing?” is Comics Alliance. But they stay away from the hard stuff too, so it’s hard to find something all-encompassing.
Even Kelly-Sue [DeConnick] when she does her writing panels at conventions, people ask her “So what’s it like being a woman in comics?”
And it is hard being a woman in comics. I’m so, so, so small on the totem pole, and even I have had extremely sexist and diminishing experiences already.
But my opinions on art and comics rarely center around that.
And I’m rarely asked.
When I express them, I’m almost always shouted down. So there is no journalism right now that’s regularly just saying “Hey! You are a lady in the industry! What do you think of this thing?!” And not “Do you think this is a sexist thing?”
It’s “What do you think of ….timing? What do you think of… coloring? How about line work? How do you like line? What’s your favorite line?”
TB: Well on that note! Why don’t you give us a good breakdown of your current coloring and lettering project, San Hannibal. Can you break it down for me and the readers so they get a good idea of what you’re working on?
JS: Ok. My best elevator pitch is;
San Hannibal is a neon noir about a modern Phillip Marlow, who does not throw a punch, hunting down sex traffickers in , well, L.A. Essentially. San Hannibal is a lot like L.A.
Dan wrote it and conceived of it, but he wrote it when he seas seventeen. So there’s a lot of me in there saying “Eh, you probably shouldn’t say that when talking about sex trafficking.” or “That character probably should be male, or that character should probably not be black.” He was seventeen and in San Diego.
It’s main purpose is to take down all of those tropes that have existed for so long in pulp.
Dan’s a huge Shadow fan, but recognizes that he is a racist, sexist ideology that promotes consciousness vigilanteism.
TB: Dan, or The Shadow?
JS: The Shadow. But Dan recognizes it. So he wrote San Hannibal as a way of saying “The Shadow is not a hero. That man is not a hero. If you’re gonna write noir, your detective can’t carry a gun and blow people away, he can’t bury them, you know?”
JS: Why? Because human life is precious. Even as a sex trafficker, you still got a family. You still got parents. Even if you are a low person on the totem pole, you still matter.
It just… it doesn’t really promote a heroism that matters. Pulp its self is just beyond the pale sexist.
So every character in San Hannibal is supposed to represent an abused trope in Pulp.
TB: Ok. So he’s subtly turning those characters around in his work in a subtle way.
JS: Yeah! And it’s good. At least I think it’s good. I think it’s a good thing.
TB: So as far back as you can remember, what was your first artistic and writing inspiration? What was your gateway drug that you think lead you here?
JS: Well, way back when I was a fat lonely girl in school, or at least I was treated that way, my escape was this anime called Shouju Kakumei Utena, or ‘Revolutionary Girl Utena.” When I was eleven, I would watch the dubbed tapes, because they only had VHSs of them, all the time. And eventually, went out of the way, back when there wasn’t really any way to pay for things online, I actually sent a check to a guy to send me a bunch of subtitled VHSs of them. And then you know how it goes, ten years later, everyone is dressing up like Utena at conventions and things, but… there is something about the visual language in Utena that cannot be duplicated.
Combined with, well, I had an early interest in philosophy. And apparently we still believe in Plato as our basis of what defines good. Which blows my mind because we base our cultural morality off this guy in 5000 BC Greece who decided what is good and bad. And when we looked around at what was visually keeping that very archaic goodness in our lives, I realized it was comics.
So, I suddenly was very determined to write a goodness that was more nuanced. Utena, I think, displays a lot of that.
(Insert girly chatter about my obsession with Sailor Moon and first anime loves, girly giggling,chatting about middle school homework mutually covered in doodled anime eyes, ordering another martini, kids crying in the background, a toast to having a fun time, and excitement over food arriving.)
(…by the way, it was established in that interim that Sailor Jupiter was always my favorite. Jesse claimed the hipster route and said the Star Fighters were always her favorite. She also really liked the androgynous characters, which becomes somewhat important later in the interview.)
TB: So what are some things that have happened in the process of getting your comic published that have surprised you or caught you off guard? Or maybe had hoped that someone would have warned you about this process of getting published?
JS: How absolutely expensive it is.
In comics you basically have to start as a self publisher. There’s no way you can get in to comics without publishing your own stuff first.
Even Dan had to basically put together a twenty-two page San Hannibal submission to hand to publishers before they would agree to publish it, and then they would insist on it being different anyway. Um, so web space, labor, time. And I really wish someone would have told me how narrow you have to design your marketing.
Because marketing, like, the comic audience, even the super liberal “lookin’ for anything” kinda audience, is really only going to look for three or four keywords. And it’s so dominated by superheroes, which, my projects outside of San Hannibal are all super heroes. That’s not actually the problem to me. The problem is that it is SO dominated by superheroes that if you write things like romance or even character interactions without action, editors will reject them and say it’s boring.
So I wish someone had really been public about how talking is NOT ok. Ever. Like ever, ever.
Also, I wish someone had told me about lettering. That people were more open about how to letter. Because lettering is hard as fuck. …And letterers deserve more respect, just sayin’.
TB: So what has been the hardest part of this process for you?
JS: Keeping your collaborators on their deadlines.
For San Hannibal, I’m the letterer and colorist. Which means I get the pages last.
If Dan is late, I still have to make that deadline. Which means usually toward the end of every month I don’t sleep for a week. And it is very, very difficult to like … be.
It’s hard to stay on top of it because he is the primary writer and creator. If he falls off deadline, or the publisher doesn’t send me something in enough time, or if I ask a question and I don’t get an answer in enough time, I’m the one that bears the brunt.
I definitely manage our partnership. San Hannibal probably wouldn’t have been picked up if I hadn’t initiated behind the scenes and pushed him to complete requests and accept the offers and do it on time.
There’s just a lot of frustration with being in a collaborative deadline situation.
TB: What’s been your favorite part of all this?
JS: Well, one, is getting to see your partners and cocreators succeed. Because as a letterer and colorist, people don’t really care about you. And I’m totally cool with that.
But I got mentioned positively in a review and it was really exciting.
And I’ve gotten to speak to a lot of people in the industry, like Jordie Bellaire!
TB: I love her!
JS: Yeah! I actually saw her at a signing. And I said “Oh my God! You’re my favorite! Wait, your’e on like fifteen books, what the hell is going on, you’re gonna die!”
She said “Well, I have this really efficient system.”
And I said “Wow, really? I’m a colorist too!”
And she said “Oh really? Send me your pages.”
So I sent her my pages and she said “well…..”
So of course I’m not anywhere near an Eisner nominated colorist, ok? Of course I’m still a newb in the industry.
But she said “Ok. I’m gonna help you. Here’s your homework.”
So basically I’m like an over-seas intern now.
And things like that wouldn’t have happened unless I put myself out there with San Hannibal.
So that’s been so fun.
We’re having a signing with the DeFractions [Matt Fraction (Hawkeye, Sex Criminals) and Kelly Sue DeConnick (Captain Marvel, Pretty Deadly) ] and I got to email Kelly Sue personally and say “You know, Dan will nanny your children, why don’t you come to our store?”
And that was something that was totally fine with her!
So that kind of stuff is really, really exciting. It’s a fun perk.
TB: So what or who are you reading right now that your’e really enjoying?
JS: Hey! I WORK IN A COMIC SHOP! So I have a lot of comic exposure.
So my favorite authors are, and this is a standard now you know, the DeFractions, right?
And I never liked Dan Slott until Silver Surfer. So I might go back and read some Spiderman. I don’t know.
TB: What do you think of the new character, Silk?
JS: No. Just no.
I think it’s a poor way to ratchet another female character into a series that has been notoriously like Mary-Sue-ish about their characters. And I don’t like her concept at all. Big boobs, webs, and pointy hips.
But Silver Surfer is amazing!
Legendary is really good and really enjoyable.
I’m really excited for Ms. Marvel every week. Kamala Khan is a wonderfully perceived character. And *SPOILER WARNING, I’M SORRY* the fact that they shoot her in the stomach at the end of issue 3. And lots of people have done the storyline between having a cape and mask and having and identity, and how do those mesh and OH MY GOD.
But until you shoot someone in the stomach and she’s gotta tell her mom about that? This is the first time I’ve seen it directly challenged, where her life is literally at risk. And that was the last page of an issue.
PHENOMENAL writing on that book!
And the artwork is, well, the coloring could be darker, but I think it’s lighter because it’s a teenage book. But other than that, I think the artwork is amazing. Really, really, really good.
Moonknight is one of my favorites.
Warren Ellis, one of the best ever.
Originally a guilty pleasure, but I no longer have to justify it. Ellis is one of my favorites of all time. Super witty guy. Love his writing in comics, love his persona out of comics as well.
One more book I wanna mention- The only DC book I’m reading right now- Superman Wonderwoman is FANTASTIC!
Yes, part of it is that it’s just a really good romance book, and there have been romance books before…
TB: Oh man! Yes! It’s so good! But I mean, I picked it up and rolled my eyes at the clerk when I put it down to pay for it at the shop. Like “yeah, ok, I’m a girl, make fun of me for buying this. I’m ready…”
JS: Yeah, but at the shop, it’s mostly MEN pulling it! It’s one of the best Superman books being written right now. They get Superman, and they should get the main title to him right away.
TB: Well, in the spirit of a Feminist publication, I gotta ask- what are some things you’ve encountered in this business in particular that you don’t think you would have if you were a man? And they don’t have to be bad instances either. They can be good ones too.
JS: Well, for one, at the level I’m at, I wouldn’t be giving this interview to begin with.
Women in comics are so rare still, not so much in web comics but in the published industry, that our careers go very quickly compared to men.
If we are judged well enough by the ominous cultivated culture of ‘they,’ then we are good enough for everyone! All the time!
It’s actually really awesome!
And we’re never called sexist! And we’re never called racist!
Which is totally fucked up because so many female writers can border on so many ‘isms’ in their writing! But people will never call out the big girls on their ‘isms’ in their writing because they’ve made it! Like Gail Simone. No one will ever call her out on anything she writes because she’s GAIL SIMONE. And because she’s a female. And there aren’t very many of us.
Bad things that have happened are things like, a certain publishing company hired my male partner and just assumed I’d come along with him because I’m his woman. But I was the writer for this project. So I’m the one who should have been hired- because that’s etiquette.
But instead, they just spoke with him and said ‘of course your partner will come on.’
..because I’m a lady and I apparently just go where my man goes.
Um, at conventions, of course people will look at my boobs instead of my work, or they’ll only talk to my partner instead of me directly.
With San Hannibal, there was a male name attached to some coloring, so any coloring I did was disregarded by some reviewers.
I am not super skinny, so I’ve been called ‘ugly’ at conventions, which I don’t think anyone would do to a guy. I’ve had to wear makeup at conventions to have editors take me seriously.
Again, I’m not willing to name names, and I don’t normally wear makeup. But I’m a queer female as well. So if I mention that I’m queer, there’s one or two incidents where I’ve been treated to lovely slurs. Because obviously, someone who’s engaged to a male can’t possibly be a “fucking fag,” or a “fucking dyke.”
So that’s something that don’t think would happen to a guy as much.
TB: You don’t think that would happen to a guy?
JS: I think due to the climate in Portland right now, it probably wouldn’t happen to a gay guy here. I do travel a lot to different areas though, so maybe it’s climatic or demographic specific. Maybe this one isn’t so much about gender as it is about surprising people.
And I think on that note, it is easier for me to talk about my sexuality because I know that people are going to give me shit for my sexuality anyway. So it really doesn’t matter.
TB: What’s your advice for women looking to break in to comics?
JS: Just do it.
The web is your safe space.
You’re going to get rape threats.
And oh! I got my first rape threat and you know what that means! I’m officially in the industry now! YAY!
(joint cheering, glass clinking, and clapping between myself and Jesse. Distinct slap of a high-five.)
I did it, yay! Right of passage!
People are gonna give you rape threats, no matter what you do. They’re gonna critique you twice as hard.
If you don’t like a certain character who happens to be a boys club favorite, you’re gonna get shot down and threatened.
If you say anything about feminism on the whole, they’re gonna shoot you down.
If you say anything about womanhood on the whole, they’re gonna shoot you down.
If you say anything about manhood on the whole, they’re gonna shoot you down.
And if you write a man, they’re gonna ASSUME YOU’RE A MAN.
…do it anyway.
It doesn’t fucking matter. Just do it anyway.
Say what you want anyway.
Try not to be a dick.
I’m sorry Gail Simone.
Don’t go taking down Bendis or anything, because you know, Bendis doesn’t deserve it.
You know, I have opinions on the industry that for some reason I’ll say in an interview, but I’m not gonna throw on my Twitter account.
But go do it. Just go do it.
It’s gonna be time consuming, and hard, and expensive. But if you don’t just go do it, you’re never gonna get in.
The boys have to get in that way.
The girls have to get in that way.
The dogs have to get in that way.
So just go do your comics and forget about it.
And whatever you do, don’t think of yourself as a woman in comics.
That’s going to make everything worse. All of your pages, your writing. Just think of yourself as a person in comics. Just think of your characters as characters.
I’m writing a trans-gendered character who is my love interest for the vigilante in the Fowl.
Antoinette is a Male to Female transgendered character.
I don’t think of her as ‘That transgendered character who is named Antoinette.’
I think of her as ‘Antoinette, who happens to be transgendered’
You have to think of yourself that way.
I am Jesse, who happens to be a lady in comics.
If you think of your characters, your minority characters, your people of color, all characters like that- If you think of them as who they are as human beings instead of what they are, your writing will be stronger.
If you can’t think of them as who they are instead of what they happen to be like? You need to challenge some ideas inside of yourself.
If you only think of yourself as a ‘woman,’ and if you’ve been hurt a lot because of that, you need to take care of yourself and get some things figured out before you try to get in to an industry that is sensitive and also harsh. And as a woman who happens to be in comics, it is going to be harsher on you than anyone else.
*REDACTED: after the publishing of this interview, some quotes have been requested to be altered or redacted by the interviewee.