Comics Trailblazer Mindy Newell on Catwoman Marvel and Beyond

first_imgStay on target Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. Looking through many of the comics you got to write like Wonder Woman, Amethyst, Catwoman, and Lois Lane. Was that in part because you love those characters, because you’re a woman and people felt that’s what you should be writing, or a mix of both?  Obviously, I have an affinity for women characters, but exactly how much of that comes from my gender, I can’t tell you. It’s more about “am I excited about the character?” For example, if Marvel came to me and said, “We want you to write a Scarlet Witch series,” I’d have to really think about it—she’s never excited me, and I wouldn’t know where to start. On the other hand, I’d fly over the moon if given a chance by DC to weave an Adam Strange tale.  In particular, when Len offered me the Tales of the Green Lantern Story assignment, I never even thought of having a woman as the lead; it was an idea I had of an “anti-hero” in the Hans Solo mold, someone with no interest at all in becoming a Lantern, which excited me.      Bottom line—for me, and for any writer—it’s the connection that matters. Hell, look at J.K. Rowling. The kid’s name isn’t Hannah Potter.   You also did work for First Comics, Marvel, and more. What was it like working for these different publishers?   Cat Yronwode and Dean Mullaney approached me about writing The New Wave for Eclipse Comics. What a failure that was!!!—and entirely on me, not on Lee Weeks (my artist) or Cat and Dean. What can you do, sometimes you strike out. The trick is, moving on—Tom Brevoort would tease me about it once in a while when I was his assistant editor at Marvel…I would try to laugh while “squinging” and say to myself “move on, move on.”   Which brings me to Marvel …   The first time I submitted something to Marvel, it was a “What If?” story. Not sure what year it was, but it was after my entry into the New Talent Program, and after Return of the Jedi had come out—so, late ‘83, ‘ 84? Quite possibly it was even ’85.  Anyway, Return was a pretty big disappointment to me, especially after Empire, and to get the taste of Ewww-oks out of my mouth, I popped in my VHS—remember them?—copy of Empire and as I watched the climactic scene of what I think, im-not-so-ho, is the best of the original trilogy, I got to thinking …“What If…Vader had gotten to Luke as he was hanging from Cloud City before Leia, Lando, and Chewie had gotten there?” After all, in perhaps what is the weakest plot point of Empire, does it really make sense that the Millennium Falcon reached Luke before Vader, or at least one of the TIE fighters on patrol around Cloud City?      Anyway, that was my jumping-off point. I saw in my head Leia, Lando, and Chewie watching in horror from the cockpit of the Falcon as Luke was “rescued” by Vader, and though Leia and Chewie we’re all for going after him, Lando overriding them because the Falcon was being barraged by TIE fighters, and making their escape from Bespin. I sat down and wrote out that scene, and then it led to Leia being driven to go to Dagobah and meeting Yoda—Han and Chewie coming with her—and not only being trained, but learning the truth of her heritage. And then going to rescue Luke, who by this time has been corrupted to the dark side by Vader, not only because of his battered physical and emotional state, but also because, well, after all, Vader is his father, whom Luke has always “hero-worshipped”…  And in the final confrontation, Han dies (because I had read that Harrison Ford had begged Lucas to kill of the character—and aren’t we lucky that he didn’t, because 30 years later …) trying to save Leia who is battling both Vader and Luke, and in the end, Luke cannot bring himself to kill his sister, and from there it pretty much ended like the movie …That’s all from my memory, believe it or not. I no longer have the original synopsis.So I sent it off to Louise Simonson—I believe she was the editor of Marvel’s Star Wars comic in those days—and she either called me or sent a letter, either way, she was incredibly terrific, explaining that although she loved the story, she couldn’t use it because Star Wars was a licensed property and everything had to go through Lucasfilms…and that was my first experience and my first glimpse into the world of licensed products.   Cut to years later, 1989, and I was invited to UKAC (London) thanks to the Catwoman mini-series. I came down to breakfast at the hotel, and Mike Grell was there, whom I knew, and he was sitting with Tom DeFalco, Editor-in-Chief at Marvel.  Mike invited me to join them, Mike introduced me to Tom, and we got to talking, and I remember Mike telling Tom that he should hire me. There was a little bit of talk about it, then we moved on, finished our breakfast, and said, “See ya later.”  UKAC was in September, and in May 1990 Mark Gruenwald—one of the best ever, gone from us waaaay too soon—called and asked me to come in for an interview for an assistant editor spot.  I don’t clearly remember clearly the sequence, but one thing led to another, and I was hired. The weird thing was, I didn’t have an exact position, if I remember right; I shared an office with Kelly Corvese in a small suite of offices that included Marie Javins, Renee Witterstaetter (and Rob Tokar, I think), helping all of them out for a while, and then I became the aforementioned Tom Brevoort’s assistant editor in the “Special Projects” division under Bob Budiansky.      I loved working at Marvel. In reality, I had taken a pretty big pay cut when I came onboard there, but it seemed like the very opposite—as if I had gotten a huge raise. I was just so happy. As Joseph Campbell said, “follow your bliss.”    I worked with Tom on Deathlok and the Marvel trading cards collections and the hardcover editions of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s Kid Cowboys of Boys Ranch. I also wrote a Deathlok story inspired by Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” which took place in Serbia during the war there, with Deathlok in the role of the monster, and John Higgins doing the honors as artist. Unfortunately, it never saw print, because that great book by Dwayne McDuffie, Gregory Wright, and Denys Cowan was cancelled. I also edited a collected comics version of the Marvel Heroes trading cards.   The best assignment given me at Marvel was as editor of NFL Pro Action, a licensed kids magazine in conjunction with (duh!) the NFL, which Bob Budiansky always teasingly said he assigned me because “I was the only one in the Special Projects who was as nuts about football as comics.” The best way to describe Pro Action is to say that it was like Sports Illustrated for Kids, only of course it centered on football, while the Marvel side of it contained articles about the company, it’s characters, and its creators; every issue had a self-contained comic within it, as well as Fleer trading cards. The first issue featured a photograph of Troy Aikman going back to pass and Wolverine tearing through the cover about to sack him. (I came up with that idea, very proud of it.) The premiere comic story featured the X-Men and the Los Angeles Raiders’ Howie Long going up against Calistro and the Morlocks. It debuted at the 1994 Dallas Cowboys-Buffalo Bills Super Bowl in Atlanta, where every fan found it on his or her seat at the Georgia Dome along with other “swag.” A nice perk for me: as editor, I got to go the Super Bowl that year. (But there’s a “sidebar” to that story. See below.)   I also wrote a “public service” Daredevil story about the danger of kerosene and fire prevention for the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association, and two Black Widow stories, one for Marvel Comics Presents and one for a Daredevil Annual.   As for my adventures with First Comics … Howard Chaykin called to ask me to dialogue over his scripts on a few issues of American Flagg! and I was glad to help him out. You have mostly been out of the comics scene as a freelancer for over two decades. What led to that decision?  When the greed of Wall Street got the better of Marvel, it led to the near-collapse of not only Marvel, but the entire industry; at Marvel specifically it caused layoffs, and I was one of the casualties. This was, what, 1996? I already knew I was on the list, thanks to “a little birdie,” so I was prepared when it was my turn for the phone to ring.    Which brings me to this: I was told after my own particular axe had fallen that “people” were saying “how maturely and quietly I took the news” and “how surprised they were.” That was what surprised me—I mean, really? People expected me to go nuts and throw chairs and generally go insane (as one person actually did)? Is that what they really thought of me? People with whom I had worked for 5, 6 years?  Many of whom were not only co-workers, but friends?   That hurt. A lot.  And it also brings to mind something else that was told to me in my early days at Marvel. That people were saying that I had been hired because I had slept with Tom DeFalco.     Really? Seriously? (I’d always thought it had to do with that breakfast at UKAC, where Mike Grell had put an idea into Tom’s head.)       The other, more important question, is why? Why would people say that?  Although the comics industry has always been perceived as “He-Man Woman Haters Club”—I reference The Little Rascals for those who don’t get it, go ahead and google it—there have always also been women. Whether it was the Big Two or the independents, there were women. Just to name a few, and in no particular order…the late and beloved Flo Steinberg. Marie Severin and Glynis Oliver. Karen, Marie, Renee, Louise. Amanda Connor and Martha Thomases and Alisa Kwitney. Bobby Chase and Jo Duffy and Ann Nocenti. Dawn Guzzo and Virginia Romita. Trina Robbins. Cat Yronwode. And so many others whose names I cannot think of right now but whose faces I clearly see. But with everything that’s going on right now with the outing of the sexual harassment and misogynist activities of men in the public eye, some obnoxiously obscene, and with my own experiences with The Letter, I do find myself wondering …How many, or did any, of these successful women have their own “The Letter” horror stories? Did any of them ever have to deal with bullshit rumors? Were any of them pegged as “bitches” or “difficult” or whatever?  I have never really paid attention to rumors and gossip—in one ear, out the other, y’know? And what you need to know will be eventually found out—but there was always something about working at Marvel … I’m not saying that anyone was overtly mean to me, but I have to admit that it was at Marvel in the early ‘90’s that I really started becoming aware of how hard it was being a woman in the industry. Though, and I must stress this: I never felt “discounted” in the Special Projects division—Tom B. and Bob were never part of that bullshit; in fact they both went to bat for me more than once—nor by Ralph Macchio, who gave me the two shots at Black Widow. But I often felt “discounted” by many of the editors on the “main line.” Meaning, generally speaking, it sometimes felt as if many on the editorial staff didn’t take any of my creative skills seriously. (Or did they believe that total bullshit about me and Tom DeFalco?) Eventually, I pretty much stopped asking about writing assignments, and just went about my business. But there was one time that it all really did get to me.Remember before, when I said I got to go to the ’94 Super Bowl? It wasn’t because of Marvel. Marvel wouldn’t send me. After all, who was I? Just the Marvel-side editor of the magazine. The magazine that was part of the swag placed on every fan’s seat in the Georgia Dome. The magazine that Howie Long held up to the camera on FOX NFL SUNDAY because inside its cover was a full-length comic book story featuring Howie fighting alongside the X-Men (and which, Howie said on air, impressed his kids more than his football and television career.When the NFL heard about this great dis—more specifically, NFL Properties, Inc., the licensing arm of the football organization with whom I worked putting together NFL Pro Action—well, first they were shocked. Then they did something about it, paying for my entire weekend at the Bowl. Including hosting me at a Michelin five-star dinner, where I sat with writers from Sports Illustrated and other giants of the football and sports journalism world.  And when people from Marvel saw me there in Atlanta…Boy, was their face red.Nope. No way. They ignored me. And there were a few other things that happened, over at DC—this interview is bringing up memories that I had thought I had tossed out—DC didn’t send me to UKAC in 1989. I was invited to be a guest there by the backers of the convention, because the Catwoman mini-series was a huge success in Britain.  That was fine, and I was excited and honored.  But what I remember clearly was the surprise that everyone displayed in seeing me there, though of course I had told them; and even more importantly, I had no invitation to the DC party, a big event—I didn’t even know about it until one of the British creators said to me, “See you tonight, right?” IIRC, this was said in front of Karen, who then got me an invite, without which you could not get in. It was very weird, being feted during the day by fans and by the British creators whom I was meeting, and then being figuratively and literally shut out by people I had known for six years at night. Again, by people I had considered friends. It was, to say the least, upsetting. But I was in London for the first time. So I filed it away—“I’ll think about it tomorrow,” said Scarlett—and, when I wasn’t at the convention, went to the Tower and Buckingham Palace and Kensington Gardens and Piccadilly Square and Harrods, and did all the touristy things one does when in London for the first time. Then, a few months later, at 666 Fifth, I stopped by Julie Schwartz’s office and asked him about the possibility of my doing another story for him. I don’t want to remember this.He said:  “Move on!  Nobody wants you here!”  “It’s not personal, Sonny, it’s business,” said Michael Corleone. But … All of a sudden I was 12 years old again, and the new kid, out of place and all alone and nobody liked me. The depression, which had always sat on my shoulder whispering in my ear, laughed.  “I have you now.”  And things fell apart, but that’s a story for another time (And which, hopefully, you will be reading one of these days).Anyway, I have wandered a lot in answering this question, but the upshot of this is that when I was laid off from Marvel, I wanted to go out with my head held high. It wasn’t the first time in my life that things had fallen apart (and it wouldn’t be the last), but the important thing was, to get up and keep walking. I had a child to take care of.  I had a “me” to take care of. Of course, I was upset. Sad and angry and bitter. But, okay, it was over. If comics didn’t want me, it was their loss. It had been fun while it lasted, but, oh, well … another door would open. The depression could laugh all it wanted. It would not have me this time.  You’re still on the comics scene as a columnist at ComicMix. What led to you going that route in the comics community?Between then and years later, I had nothing to do with comics. I didn’t even read them. Oh, I would occasionally go to my local comics shop and pick one or two up, but I never bought them.     As for paying the bills–eventually, I returned to nursing full-time. It was “eventually” because, after I was laid off from Marvel, I did all sorts of odd jobs, some of them interesting, most of them not. I just wasn’t ready to go back to nursing, a profession in which (like comics, I suppose) your whole heart must be.    In September 2001, I was working for the retired Senator Frank Guarini as his administrative assistant (a retired Senator is never really “retired”—I remember taking calls for him from Karl Rove and Nancy Pelosi) in downtown Jersey City. His office had a gorgeous view of the World Trade Center towers. So I had a bird’s eye view when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower at 8:46 A.M and United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower at 9:03 a.m., 19 minutes later.  It wasn’t as if I had an epiphany at that moment: “I must return to nursing.” But a few days later, I was sitting outside about to have lunch; the roast beef sandwich was on my lap and an unopened, cold can of Diet Pepsi was on the bench next to me when a young, exhausted, dirty fireman, obviously just coming from the site, walked by me.     “Hey,” I said.He just looked at me with a blank stare.  “Take this,” I said, holding out the Diet Pepsi.   “No, that’s okay.”“Take it.”“You sure?”“Yep.”He stepped over, took the Diet Pepsi, and chugged it down in about 5 seconds.  “Thanks.”   “Thank you.”He walked off.  I never saw him again. A few days later I handed in my notice. I told the Senator I was returning to nursing.   “I get it,” said the Senator.But comics seemed to be playing hide-and-seek with me in one way or another. I came home from work one day just two short months later, where my daughter told me, “You’ve got a message from some Brit.”   Curious. The only “Brits” I knew were from my comics days. I played the message. It was from someone named John Higgins. The name seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Anyway, I called him back. He was in New York, and he was inviting me to a “get-together” of DC people. I agreed, mostly I was curious. Who was this guy?   John and I got together that night, and a relationship began which led to marriage. I wasn’t exactly in comics, but I was on the periphery; although John and I did work together on a story for 2001 A.D., “Faces,” my heart wasn’t in it. Writing it was like, as the proverbial saying goes, pulling teeth.      John and I broke up, and again I thought, “That’s it.”But … “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,” said Michael Corleone.    Blame Mike Gold. Or bless him, depending on your viewpoint.   Out of the sky blue a few years later, Mike called me and asked if I would like to go to the MoCCA Festival. I hadn’t seen Mike in a very long time, and I had always liked and admired him, so I agreed. It was fun; more importantly, I had fun again with comics, impressed by the many independent comics creators who so obviously loved the medium, and my heart, which had for so long been frozen, started to melt. Just a little, but there was a thawing.      Mike and I stayed in touch. I started reading the occasional comic. I started browsing the web for comics news. Yeah, I was definitely thawing. And then, one day in the early summer of 2011, he asked me to write for ComicMix. My first column appeared on July 18, 2011, “Back in the Saddle Again.” And I’ve been riding ever since.  Is there any character you’d like to write that you didn’t get a chance to, or one character you’d love to go back to?There is one special thing I would change if I could get into the TARDIS and go back.  It was a mini-series about one of Abigail Arcane’s ancestors that I had proposed to Karen and on which she had given me the go-ahead. It’s one of those “what might have beens,” but it was completely my fuck-up, and I wish it had never happened…but if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.There’s a Sue Storm, a.k.a. The Invisible Woman story listed in my “Stories” folder that’s been lying dormant for years. I’d love to get my keyboard on Catwoman again. I’d love to “report” on Lois Lane again. And I’d love to “fly” with Supergirl.  And someone on Facebook recently suggested that I revisit Jenesis, the character that started it all for me. Hmm … (What was that question about my affinity for women characters again? *smile*)Joe: Before we wrap up I have to ask you, what did you think of the Wonder Woman movie?Just as Vivien Leigh seemed to be the living embodiment of Scarlett O’Hara, Gal Gadot walked off the “four-color” page to become the living embodiment of Princess Diana of Themyscira.  Her performance, im-not-so-ho, saved, and will continue to save, the DCCU.Par for the course for a Wonder Woman! Here’s the second and final part of my interview with comics trailblazer, Mindy Newell! If you missed part one you can check it out here. For this final part, we discuss her work on Catwoman, at Marvel Comics, and beyond!You’re also the first woman to write Catwoman. What was that like to you? Did you get to do what you wanted with the character?Mindy: Was I really? I didn’t know that!It was pretty cool. My first swing at her was in Action Comics Weekly #’s 611 – 614, a four-part story, “The Tin Roof Club.” To tell you the truth, I think it’s better than that Catwoman mini-series with my name on it. By the way, I came up with the title of “The Tin Roof Club” because that’s how I’ve always thought of Selina. “What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?—I wish I knew … just staying on it, I guess, as long as she can” Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  With that in mind, my biggest disappointment with the Catwoman mini-series is that DC wouldn’t allow Selina to deliberately kill her pimp. I don’t know why. The guy was a fucking pimp, for Christ’s sake! The whole idea of her murdering the bastard was that it would cause Selina to forever remain that “cat on the hot tin roof.” Stuck, y’know? So I had to write it so that it was unclear. Which was total bullshit, of course.I also made a mistake in involving nuns and Selina having a sister who was a sister.  (“My sister, the sister,” as Father Mulcahy would say on M*A*S*H.) It was supposed to be an homage to Frank Miller, not only because of Batman: Year One, but also to his work on Daredevil, in which Matt’s Catholicism played such a strong role. But I think it would have been stronger, and more interesting, if I had stuck to my own roots and made Selina Jewish—after all, “Selina Kyle” could be just a “street name” to disguise her origins.     Basically, I guess what I’m saying is that I wish I could do it all over again—or have another crack at her. ‘Joker’ Gets Eight-Minute Standing Ovation at World PremiereReview: ‘DC Universe Online’ Soars on Nintendo Switch last_img read more