• BABScon Interview: Jeremy Whitley (MLP Comic Writer)

    It's not every day that we're able to look into the minds of the MLP comic staff. While we've spoken to Jeremy Whitley in an EQD podcast a while back, I managed to meet up with him at BABScon for round two. After the break, check out our discussion on the differences between pony and other conventions, whether or not we're in the age of the bad-ass female character, and Jeremy's writing style with his other comic: "Princeless".

    Question: Well we’re at the end of the convention. Sunday funday as they call it. How was the convention for you?

    Jeremy: It was fantastic. This is actually my first pony centered convention. With my comics I’ve done tons of other conventions, but it’s interesting to see the personality of Babscon to be way different from other comic conventions.

    Vicodin: There’s definitely a lack of rude behavior at these conventions, and you have more fans that are passionate about the comics that you create.

    Jeremy: It’s much friendlier and much more of a community than other comic conventions sometimes. Even being in the vendor room all weekend, everyone has been very chill and respectful. Everyone seems like they’re happy to be here, as opposed to battling between vendors.

    Vicodin: Well you can also tell with the morale of the vendor hall. When you walk into a hall, you can tell if a vendor doesn’t want to be there. And at Babscon, it looks like everyone wanted to be there. They’re passionate about what they’re selling, so they can provide the best “customer service” for people who are looking at your stuff.

    Jeremy: Exactly. I’ve sold a lot of pony books this weekend, but people are very interested in "Princeless" and my other books as well, which is awesome.

    Question: Ah yes, I was actually wanting to bring up "Princeless." I bought the first compilation and I noticed that it’s very direct with how it wants to take down the stereotypes surrounding females in comic books (chainmail bikinis and etcetera) by simply putting those characters in those scenarios and taking them to the extreme. Is this how you intended to write the story from the beginning? Do keep in mind that I’ve only read the first few issues, so I might have the wrong idea.

    Jeremy: I think that a lot of what I do in "Princeless" is examining the tropes of older comic books, which have some issues that I noticed as I grow older. When I see things that people throw around in fantasy and fiction that I feel are tired tropes, I feel like I want to make a left turn or do something that’s unexpected with the characters.

    I know someone who grew up with superheroes and I grew up with X-Men, but I still feel like I can see some of these issues regarding female characters and point at them while still having fun. It’s not my desire to make a preachy book or make others feel guilty about their enjoyment of these tropes. I just want to shine a flashlight on the tropes that we’re used to seeing, but are also kind of ridiculous in a vacuum.

    Vicodin: Yeah, I noticed that the main character is very firey and tomboyish, so this is the perfect type of personality to play alongside tropes such as chainmail bikinis. She’s a knight that’s ready to save all her sisters, but she’s given a chainmail bikini and expected to not get cut clean in half.

    Jeremy: Yeah, she’s on a quest. It’s not a girl quest, or anything gendered about it. She’s just happening to do things that are usually stereotyped towards men. Girls get locked in towers and boys save the princesses. With a character like that, you can basically point out how dumb this all is.

    Question: There seems to be a, for lack of a better word, counter culture regarding female characters and how they are portrayed within media. They have been able to save themselves over the past few years. It seemed to kick off with Frozen, Brave, those sorts of stories. Do you think that these stories of the bad-ass princesses saving themselves would have worked a decade or so ago? Is this the age of the bad-ass female character?

    Jeremy: I think that we’re in an age of the complex female character. I feel that we’ve always had bad-ass female characters that ran into fights with chainmail bikinis and kicked ass, but they haven’t had the power or story. They seem to be written in a male centered perspective. We’re getting to a point where we can tell interesting stories with women in different roles. They can be complicated like in the cast in MLP, where they fulfill a variety of different roles both in their town and as friends. But you can also have characters like Jessica Jones who is a swearing, drinking antihero who is self-destructive and somewhat of a terrible person, but still a hero. She will sacrifice herself to save somebody, which is still heroic.

    Just a few years ago, I was talking to someone about this. I remember them saying that we have a bunch of female Conan the Barbarians. But Conan isn’t that complex of a character. He gets into fights and wins. What we need are more female Sherlocks. Sherlock, even as a hero, is a despicable person in a way.

    Vicodin: He was addicted to drugs.

    Jeremy: Yeah, he’s kind of messed up. I want to see more characters like that. We can have women who are straight heroes, but also characters who are impulsive, much like Adrian (in "Princeless"). I like to think she’s more of an Arthurian Knight. Whenever she sees something that’s wrong, she goes to fix it. Even if it isn’t the best idea.

    Relating back to MLP, I feel that shows are beginning to have a big variety of complex female characters. It shows that there isn’t a wrong way to be a girl. All the characters are girly in their own way, and none of them are wrong for who they are. They still stay as friends and (MLP) rewards characters for being themselves.

    Vicodin: The show rewards individuality, as opposed to poorly written shows in the 90s where a clique of girls were basically villains as a group, but never individuals.

    Question: You are a very prolific and popular comic writer, if "Princeless" and the MLP comics are of any indication. Is there anything that you notice within aspiring comic writers that usually leads them down the wrong path? Do they get so entranced within their world that they forget to put characters in it? Is it usually the other way around?

    Jeremy: I think maybe the biggest issue I see with aspiring comic writers and I’ve been guilty of it as well, is spending a lot of time waiting for somebody to tell them that they can write comics. You can’t depend on other people to tell you to do what you want or love. You can’t wait for your first pitch, because comic companies usually don’t take unsolicited pitches. It’s kind of the “dress for your job” idea. If you want to write for comics, you need to get started while you can. That’s how I started, with self-published works while I worked on "Princeless" on the side before Action Lab picked it up.

    If you spend a lot of time concerning about others hiring you, it’s very difficult to get anywhere. If you jump in and grab an artist for a comic, that’s the best cover letter if you want to get into comics. If you want to write a book, you usually hand over your finished book to a publishing company to show that you’re legit. That’s how I got onto writing the MLP comics.

    Tony Fleccs was familiar with my comics and he asked me if I wanted to write for the pony comic. With some of the comics that I previously wrote, I already had my foot in the door because he knew what I could do. Even though I sent emails back and forth to IDW and never got anything back, my previous comics is what got me on the MLP comic.

    Question: Finally, what kind of legacy do you want to leave with your comics?

    Jeremy: That’s a tough question. I think that… part of the reason that I got into writing "Princeless" in particular is that I wanted something that I could share with daughter. I wanted her to see positive messages from comics in the same way that I did. My daughter is a young woman of color, and she hasn’t seen many role models in comics or current pop culture, especially young ones. Even when they do exist, there’s no guarantee that the book or comic is going to be good. I wanted to fulfill that.

    I think that if I can have a legacy in comics, I want it to be something that can bring new voices and perspectives into comics. People who might not have seen comics as a place of interest might pick up "Princeless" or MLP and get interested as either a writer, artist, or consumer of comics. That widening of an audience and showing people that they can be part of the comics community is what I want as my legacy. I don’t want people to think that comics are a screwed up boy’s club. Comics are for everyone.

    I really think that comics can and has benefitted from having more diverse voices behind the scenes and within the comic fandom. The same goes for "My Little Pony". I’m here at Babscon and I see such a diverse group of people, who are here, happy, and comfortable. When I go to panels and see how people say that they were able to belong and share their experiences because of "My Little Pony", that’s incredible. If I can do that, either with "My Little Pony" or "Princeless", if I can make others contribute towards the comic fandom or enjoy it, then I’ve done my job.

    I feel that a healthy comic fandom will have both fans who idolize the comics that we’ve read previously, but also those who are willing to challenge those comics and add more to the community.

    And that's all I have this time around! Thanks for reading my interview with Jeremy Whitley and let us know what you think in the comments below! If you want to tweet at Jeremy Whitley to thank him for the interview, go for it! You can also tweet at me here. I'll see you guys soon!