KELLY SUE DeCONNICK has written enough stories to swiftly sense when a narrative isn’t going as planned. And so it was during the collaborative process for Pretty Deadly, when she and artist/co-creator Emma Rios decided during their first story layout that their Western tale wasn’t headed in the right direction.
Pretty Deadly, their joint title published by Image Comics, was intended to read like homage to Sergio Leone’s sharpshooting spaghetti Westerns. But the creative duo, who first met while working together for Marvel Comics, decided that what their new tale was missing was something otherworldly.
“There’s no real way to explain it other than, the story just didn’t feel right until we embraced the mythological aspect of” the title, says DeConnick, who is known for her fan-favorite run on Captain Marvel for Marvel Comics, as well as her popular creator-owned title Bitch Planet for Image. “That’s when it was like [Pretty Deadly] now feels like our own thing and this is our story. Suddenly the passion was there.
“We’d not intended to have talking animals or rivers of blood initially, but once we found them, we said: ‘This is our story.’ ”
Those bloody rivers and the narrative voices of animals weave into the starting point for readers embracing Pretty Deadly’s idea that death is not just something, but rather someone — someone who can fall in love and feel the repercussions of such an emotion just as any mere mortal could.
When looking for fuel to feed her creative fire, DeConnick says that she looks toward things that scare her, or for something that she has really strong, perhaps even conflicting views about. Love and death naturally appear on that list every time.
“Love and death are the most basic forces in human life. We are all going to die and we have to all come to terms with it at some point,” DeConnick says. “We are all going to lose someone we care about. No one gets through unscathed. [That is] the price of being human. You can avoid thinking about it for a while if you want, but it’s always there.”
To create Pretty Deadly, DeConnick and Rios mostly communicate electronically — DeConnick is based out of Oregon, and Rios works from her native Spain — so they chat often via email, Slack and Pinterest.
For Rios’s part, she says that Pretty Deadly has been simultaneously intense and rewarding.
“Pretty Deadly is a difficult book [to draw], and it’s always challenging,” Rios tells Comic Riffs. “But Kelly Sue and I are really close after all this time working together. She is so inspirational to me, and I love her and trust her so much, which makes working together a joy always — no matter how much we end up struggling from time to time, due to schedule or looking for solutions to plot and development.”
DeConnick says that working with Rios has been an “incredible experience,” and that it was her husband, star writer Matt Fraction, who convinced her that it was worth checking in with Rios and to see whether she’d like to collaborate on a creator-owned project.
“The thing is, this is very much a creative partnership. We developed this book in tandem,” DeConnick says. “I have the last word on words. She has the last word on pictures.
“The thing about Emma is that she doesn’t need a writer. Emma is a very capable writer on her own. But there’s a thing that happens in a partnership, where you make something that isn’t either one of you. So this isn’t an Emma book, this isn’t a Kelly Sue book — this is an Emma and Kelly Sue book.”
DeConnick thinks that there’s never been a better time for her to dive into creator-owned works like Pretty Deadly. It is important for writers and artists to own their own properties when the opportunity presents itself, she says. And she considers herself and Fraction quite fortunate to have a significant audience interested in the stories they tell.
“I’ve probably taken on too much right now, just because there’s so much I want to do, and I want to take advantage of the fact that right now, they’ll let me do it,” DeConnick says of the seemingly limitless opportunities to create her own comics.
“This industry is a very tricky balancing act. Everybody has an invisible expiration date on their forehead, and you have to plan for that,” she continues. “You have to keep yourself honest. You have to keep following your passions so you don’t get stale and they don’t tire of you any sooner than they’re going to anyway.”
As far as DeConnick is concerned, the writing is on the wall when it comes to working in the comic-book industry; Steady work and popularity are not promised. For motivation to help her launch, and hopefully profit from, creator-owned works, she points to the fact that charities have sprung up to aid comic “titans of previous generations” who are now in need.
“As much as we may love the people that we work with at Marvel and DC and the experiences that we’ve had there — and it’s been a tremendous honor — corporations don’t love you back and they won’t pay for your retirement,” DeConnick says. “We can forgive the folks from previous generations that didn’t see it coming, but I think we don’t have that excuse. And we don’t want to be a burden to the next generation of creators.”
Not to say that DeConnick doesn’t miss her mainstream superhero days. She’s especially sentimental when it comes to her time writing Captain Marvel.
“I love Carol Danvers very much. She was like a friend that lived in my head for a few years,” DeConnick says. “I tell myself: I’m not just writing [Captain Marvel] for the time being and that someday I’ll come back to her. But that might be a game I’m playing with myself just to make it not painful to say goodbye.”
As much as she misses Captain Marvel, though, DeConnick continues to tell herself that now is not the time for her to return to such corporate-owned titles.
“It doesn’t make sense for me right now as a breadwinner,” DeConnick says. “I’m not the breadwinner in my family, but I am a breadwinner in my family. It’s not wise at this particular moment in my career.”
But DeConnick won’t completely rule out a return to publisher-owned superheroes.
“There are other good superheroes that are important to me,” she says, “that I would love an opportunity to play with. “