Interview: Nicola Scott on Wonder Woman and more

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 Interview: Nicola Scott on Wonder Woman and moreby Verushka Byrow

[Wonder Woman has always been a part of Nicola Scott’s life, in fact it might seem like she was destined to work with the heroine’s, be as an artist or an actress. Scott came late to comics and in fact, it was the simple desire to draw Wonder Woman every day that set her on her path to DC.

Her pursuit of her dream is a study in determination and will cause no small amount of awe given the fiercely competitive industry she wanted to break into. Below Nicola discusses her Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman’s appearance in the upcoming Batman vs Superman movie, and how a failed Wonder Woman pilot set her on her path to comic success.

Nicola Scott will appear this week at the Supanova Pup Culture Expo in Sydney, AU.]

VB: There was a quote in one of your old interviews where you said that would be happy drawing Wonder Woman all day every day, so is she still everything you hoped for when you were growing up, or is she more?
NS: Well obviously my version of Wonder Woman in my head is not necessarily the fictional character as she is now. Wonder Woman’s look and stories are guided by a number of different people at any given stage. What tends to happen is that you start narrowing down who she is to you, what these characters mean to you, so I narrowed her down to what she means to me, and as an idea she hasn’t let me down. That is one of the reasons why I feel like I haven’t grown out of the character, because she still speaks to me on that really sort of nostalgic level, but also just as an adult. I like her life philosophy.

VB: What exactly do you mean?

NS: Oh, well, for the last, oh gosh, it’s got to be probably about 15 years there has been a version of Wonder Woman that has been quite aggressive. She’s not really the Wonder Woman I relate to, she’s more of a Xena Warrior Princess version of Wonder Woman. It’s a fashion, and it’s a trend in comics.
I see Wonder Woman, at her core, as quite compassionate. She has a lot of solidarity, and she is very inclusive, so despite being physically perfect, she’s more than that. She’s gifted by the gods in almost every aspect of her life — with her compassion, wisdom, nature, power, and beauty.

What makes her relatable or approachable, despite this perfection, is that she is incredibly inclusive, and welcoming, and nurturing, you know, she is a earth mother and I have a lot of time for that. She is a woman from a race of women where, there is nothing but solidarity. They don’t have to rise up against anyone, they don’t have to fight from oppression from anybody, they don’t have to compete for attention with anybody. They are pure solidarity and I find that a really lovely way to see female sisterhood and I think that is something she will always aspire towards.

I come from a female family sisters and cousins, all girls. The only men we have are the ones that have married into it and then they go and procreate more women. So I understand that dynamic of huge female energy and luckily my family is a very warm family, there is no sort of bitchy outsider. So I have always related to her in that regard quite strongly, and it wasn’t really until I was in high school, that I really started experiencing the separation that can be caused by competitiveness, elitist thinking and all that kind of stuff.

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I found that really disenfranchising for a while, until I started to realise that no, I can tell the world around me what I would like with the people I choose to surround myself with, with all the people whose attention I should encourage or seek myself, so my ideas relate quite strongly to that.

Q: That is a wonderfully pure version or pure thinking about her.

NS: Well, that is what I think she is. She’s not really a superhero like Superman is a superhero, she is a warrior by training, but she by the time she comes to face a war, she is not really a warrior by experience. So it’s her nature, in any confrontation, to try and settle it down, to try and talk it down, to try and compromise and suggest other options other than brute force. If that doesn’t work, which quite often it won’t, she will just defend people that need defending and try to stop harm being committed, and if that doesn’t work she will always try to take the most submissive turn.

So, if push comes to shove she will shove back and at the end of the day if everything is completely out of control and someone needs to be put down (literally killed) she will do that too but it is absolutely a last resort but she will do it. Superman and Batman won’t do it but she will.

VB: She isn’t afraid of making the hard decision when there is nothing else to be done?

NS: Exactly, and I have a lot of respect for that, she has the power to use brute force first, which is probably what Superman would do, but she will try everything else first. At the end of the day she is willing to go further than the boys will, if need be and I have a lot of respect for that discipline.

VB: Before you started work as an artist for comic books, did you have an interest in art in itself or was it always Wonder Woman and comic books you lean towards?

NS: I didn’t really know about comic books properly until I was in my late teens. I saw a few comic books in newsagents when I was a kid and some of them would have characters on them I would recognise, like Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman. And when I picked those up to look through, they were not the same version of the TV characters I was used to. I would find the continuity that they existed in a little confusing and very overwhelming, and really more often than not the comic book would have Hulk on the front cover, and I did not know who any of those people were. So cComic books didn’t really factor in my life until much later but art factored in my life from a very early age, because my mother and grandmother were artists, so the culture of art was very rich in my family.

My mother had a studio which had a big book shelf full of art books, so I was always looking at art books from a very young age and starting to relate to some artists and some themes more than others. I gravitated towards classical themed art, sculptural or paintings or anything like that. The culture of art was part of my family and because I think I had a natural instinct for it, my mother spent quite a bit of time teaching me bits and pieces. A lot of which went over my head at the time. But now that I am older it comes back to me, and I realise it has actually made a difference learning stuff so young.

I used to go along to life drawing classes when I was four, not because I was taking myself to them but because mum was going to them. Instead of leaving me at home she’d take me with her, and instead of giving me a toy to play with in the corner she would give me some paper, and some graphite to draw the model which I would, and more often than not I would go over the drawing she had done and put Wonder Woman boots onto everybody. Take all these naked fleshy forms and turn them into a super hero! The language of art was being discussed with me and nurtured in me from a very young age.

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VB: If you hadn’t found yourself working in comics what kind of artist do you think you would be?

NS: Originally what I wanted to do with my life was be an actor, that was where I had placed a lot of my training, I went to a performing arts high school and I started acting quite seriously from the age of 12. Like many unemployed actors do I worked in hospitality and drawing was just something I could always do, and not something I could see myself doing professionally. My eldest sister is a graphic designer and she has the eye for that, and the knack for that, which I didn’t necessarily think I had, so that wasn’t really a field I considered pursuing. There were times when I did some work for hire, art jobs for her, but really some uninspiring stuff like directions on how to use floaties and stuff. So commercial art was never really something I pursued professionally because I was always drawing something that other people wanted me to draw. It wasn’t terribly interesting and I wasn’t inspired to be a fine artist like my mother and my grandmother were.

I wanted to draw the things I wanted to draw, which would be super heroes, and fantasy stuff but I didn’t really grow up as part of a geek culture — none of my family were terribly geeky and none of my friends were geeky. So I didn’t really have anyone to share the interest with or bounce the ideas off of until I was quite a bit older. By that stage I was so behind the 8 ball in terms of knowing anything, that I just sort of felt like an outsider when I found people who I felt could be kindred spirits, but they knew so much more than I did. I found that really intimidating. It wasn’t until I was 28 and trying to work out what I was going to do with the rest of my life, because I had given up on acting, probably a really dumb time to give up on acting at 28 because that is usually when everything really starts happening for the people that really make it. You either make it really young or you make it round to your mid to late twenties.

When I was 28, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life, because I’d finished with acting. I knew I wanted to do something creative for a career, but I wasn’t sure what. The skillset I had was that I could draw and I could sew, and out of a process of elimination I had got myself down to drawing, but I could not work out what I could do with that that would be satisfying to me, until I thought, if I have to draw the same thing all day every day, what do I want to draw?

And that was where Wonder Woman came in I was like, I thought it would be fun if I could just daw Wonder Woman every day. I had not considered it before because I don’t know anything about it but that is ridiculous because all the things I love exist there. Just because I didn’t know the industry wasn’t a good enough excuse. That was what I wanted to do, that is what I should be doing and so that was the initial spark and from that moment literally I started pursuing, learning about the industry, learning about what being an artist in that industry meant and pursuing that and facilitating goals as I went along.

VB: What was the time like for you? Did you ever think “oh my god what am I doing this is never going to work out” or did you just go for it?

NS: I just went for it. I think because I was older and I was coming to it from a period of creative frustration in a different field I could just put all of that energy into learning about comics. That I knew nothing about it just meant that I could go into it just sort of less emotionally and more aggressively. I think if this had been something I had been toying with for a long time and then I decided to pursue it the weight of expectation and failure would have possibly stopped me at a number of road blocks along the way. Because I came into it knowing I had no idea what I was talking about and just determined to learn, it just made me a bit more of a bulldozer.

I just decided I am just doing this whether anyone else wants me to or not. I am just going to start asking all the questions that I need to ask. And I think because of that it gave me a really particular … I say rejuvenation.

The first time I went to Comic Con in San Diego I went with a couple of people, less than a year after I decided this was what I wanted to do. I just found out that going to conventions is the best way to get work and going to America is the only way I was going to get a job in comic books. The San Diego convention was the biggest one, and even though it was a fraction of the size it is now, it was still the biggest one. I found out about that one through asking people, magazines, and websites. I went to that with a couple of people who had been in the Australian industry for a few years, and we were really emotionally invested. And what I found really interesting was at the end of that convention we were totally overwhelmed and completely freaked out.

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We went to this convention think that we were hot shit, and that we would be snapped up and we got knocked on our arses as soon as we saw the size of it. That was completely overwhelming, by the end of that show the other two were like “oh my god I don’t know if I can do this” because it was so overwhelming and also a little scary. I came away from it thinking, I don’t know what I am doing but I now have direction so I am doing this. I wasn’t taking no as an option, failure just wasn’t an option.
To start off with people would see that attitude from someone who clearly has no idea what they are doing, yeah I could draw ok but they would see that as slightly amusing but give it a couple of years and they would say that chick is really determined she is going to get there.

One of the very first people in the American industry I met was a writer and traditionally an inker and was a big deal in the industry. He had been around for a very long time and he knew everybody. The very first time he met me and saw my portfolio, he was like yeah this is cute but good luck, and because I was being quite determined and asking a lot of questions, he gave me some advice and he sent me in some particular directions. Jimmy managed to open a couple of doors for me and had quite a lot of faith in my determination.

Now I consider him one of my best mates, he has a lot of time for me and he looks at me like I cannot believe you are the same person that I met 10 years ago that had no idea what she was doing, because you are at the top of your field. It is one of those things where I think my enthusiasm for learning actually worked in my favour, because it was a little contagious. People would get swept up in my I am going to make this happen gung-ho attitude and they would sort of think oh ok she probably can.

VB: So you have no regrets about coming to the industry late?

NS: Not regrets no, but it would have been better for me if I had started earlier partly because I have been doing this for over 10 years now and physically I am not in my top form. I am in my forties now. Also there was a window of opportunity in the 90s before I started, where there were a lot of people that made a lot of money, and there were some really interesting creative pushes that happened in the early 90s and then again in the later 90s. I wish I had been part of one of those, where artists were getting quite a lot of notice.

I am talking real bottom line here because I am in the industry, it becomes about what you earn per page and I make a nice but a modest living and there are some people who make quite a lot more. They were lucky enough to get in at a good time, they were lucky enough to get some really fabulous creative jobs, and some of those creative jobs are still around, but there isn’t as much money around as there once was.

Q: I read an interview you did with Gail Simone where you said you had actually auditioned for a part in a Wonder Woman show. It seems like you were always meant to do something with Wonder Woman.

NS: Well yes, Wonder Woman has sign posted my life, it was actually because of that audition that I decided to give up acting. Because I had been pursuing it throughout my twenties and it wasn’t happening and then in the late 90s when I was in my mid-twenties there was a Wonder Woman pilot series being made. I was auditioning for that and I got through to one of the final rounds, and they never ended up making the show or even confirming the casting. From what I am aware, I was still included in, I hadn’t been struck off the list before it got delayed and then it got cancelled. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, the one role not only did I really want but I would have been great for.

So I thought I am getting out of this gig, this is ridiculous, so that was when I spent a couple of years trying to work out what I was going to do next and eventually I came round to comics.

VB: She has definitely signposted your life that is a good way to describe it. So when you think of all the pilots and the Wonder Woman in the new movie coming up what do you hope they all remember about her?

NS: I hope they remember she is a complex character, because the pilot they did make a couple of years ago, the David Kelly one — I don’t know if you have seen it — was appalling, it was really, really bad.

He didn’t understand the character, he’d just taken bits and pieces of her to make the TV character. I didn’t mind the casting because she was quite a big, tall, girl, but she was a little too American for me. Despite wearing an American flag Wonder Woman isn’t American. It was just a terrible waste of an opportunity, for Warner Brothers to finally, finally commit to injecting some money into a project, and it was badly conceived, and then pretty poorly executed.

There was a fight scene towards the end which had the potential of being pretty good, but other than that the characterization was awful they just painted her as a bad ass that didn’t fit in. That is the one thing she is not, just because she can be a bad ass doesn’t mean she is one, it is not a defining characteristic. Even though she is an outsider, no one feels that way about her — she is somebody everyone wants to be friends with, or feel protected by, she is like everyone’s big sister, everyone’s mum. Everyone feels a warmth from her. I think she will look amazing, primarily because Zac Snyder has a great eye for beauty and for visual dynamics and he really plays up the glamour of texture, shape, and form.

I have no doubt that her hair will flow in the breeze in a completely beautiful slow-mo way. I think the girl that they have cast is really pretty, I was incredibly happy they had chosen a non-American, their understanding of sexuality is different to the American understanding of sexuality. I think that is quite important because Wonder Woman is quite a sexy character and even her outfit is quite sexy but her personality does not broadcast that sex appeal. She wears that outfit because that is what she is comfortable in to fight, and because she comes from a society where women wear things like that normally. She has no discomfort or modesty with nudity. She is a pagan earth goddess character, she is very comfortable in her own skin and while being an incredibly beautiful person she would see beauty in everybody.

She shouldn’t be a pin up for others to feel bad by and that in itself is an incredibly tricky fine line to tread, and a lot of that comes down to how her character is written, how the actor is directed, and how she performs the role. So I am really hoping for, I have a real unnatural, unreal expectation on how good it can be and I would be incredibly surprised if I get even half way there but fingers crossed.

VB: At least she’s finally in something we can all see.

NS: Yes, the first time since the 70s the broader public audience will be exposed to Wonder Woman…

Q: When you put it like that it sounds so epic.

NS: Prior to the Iron Man movie the general public would not know who Iron Man is, and prior to the Thor movie the general public would have no idea who Thor is, and prior to the Captain America movies people might have had a vague idea of who Captain America is, but not really anything specific. They might have had a better idea of who the Hulk is because the Hulk had a TV series in the 70s, the same way the Wonder Woman had a TV show in the 70s. But Wonder Woman is iconic, and her visual is iconic.
There are people around in their 20s now who have barely heard of Wonder Woman and really wouldn’t be able to pick her out of a line up. Now I think that is a real shame, there are kids that I know that have never heard of Wonder Woman, and I make it my job to educate all the kids around me about Wonder Woman and with some of them it sticks and with some of them it doesn’t. She is the premier, biggest name, most iconic female super hero of all time there are so many people we aren’t familiar with her and that is pathetic, considering how well people know Superman and Batman.

There was a time when everybody knew who Wonder Woman is, and now they don’t and I think that is an incredible shame. A lot of that has to do with the license and that license is owned by Warner Brothers, who haven’t taken the opportunity to capitalise on that. They make more money out of merchandising the image of Wonder Woman, than they have of actually letting the creation of Wonder Woman evolve in the public eye.

VB: That is so depressing

NS: Yeah, I know it is really sad, so I hope the image in the movie is impressive enough that people want more, because I feel like Black Widow was introduced in the second Iron Man movie and she didn’t really make that much of an impression, no one really cared it was like oh yeah there is Scarlet Johannsson with red hair.
Then she appeared in the Avengers, where she was really well written and had a significant role to play. Johannsson played it incredibly well and she got to play be the only person for the job in the movie, twice over. She wasn’t just the girl on the team, there were things that she could do that no one else could. She was really well written, she was really well directed, she was really well acted and when that movie came out suddenly everyone was like Oh this Black Widow character is awesome.

VB: So that is what you want for Wonder Woman?

NS: Wonder Woman needs that kind of treatment, not like a half-arsed oh here is Wonder Woman that makes people go Oh yeah I kinda remember that character she was just a female. She is not she has a lot more to offer and hopefully she will get the opportunity to offer it.

VB: She shouldn’t just be in there for the sake of being in there?

NS: Yeah I hope there is enough substance in the upcoming film, that generates more interest because it is from generating that interest she will get more material. Fingers crossed.

VB: I want to go back and go over some general questions about your time in the industry as an artist. So generally speaking the comic book industry is thought of as male dominated but what has your experience been like of it?

NS: Well the broader comic book industry which includes Indie Comics and small press and Japanese comics there are a lot more women than you would think at first. Though certainly when it comes to superhero comics it is very male dominated, in terms of numbers but that has to do with a lot of things. I work for a company that gets slammed quite a lot by the female readership for not having more female creators, for not having better representation of female characters. Their answer is (and it is actually the real answer not their brush off answer) it’s that they are trying.

And they are but getting a job at one of these companies at DC or Marvel, getting a job at one of those companies is incredibly competitive and then once you get the job you have got to be able to keep the job, and that is incredibly demanding. So you not only have to really, really want the job, you have to be good enough to get it, disciplined enough to keep it and I am not saying boys have more of this than girls do, because that is bullshit.

But I think, because there are so many guys already in it, that intimidation factor can put doubt in your mind. You have to have really thick skin to get into the industry, and you have to have really thick skin to stay in the industry. I know a lot of guys you want to get in, get in and then are like Holy shit I want to get out of this, this is terrifying. It’s not because it is mean, it is because it is a machine. The books come out once a month that is 20 pages minimum that is a lot of work. I work 7 days a week to keep to my schedule and I only draw a maximum of 10 issues a year out of 12 of the titles I work on.

It is a very full on industry, so you have to be prepared to work that full on. A lot of the guys I know who work in the industry have wives or girlfriends who look after them so it just gives them the freedom to get all the drawing done. There are women who work in the industry to have supportive boyfriends or supportive husbands, but not necessarily doing all their laundry or cooking all their meals blah blah blah.

The women are running their own lives as well, so it adds up to quite a lot of focus and work keeping your own life running, as well as keeping your career running and that is overwhelming. I don’t know a lot of guys that do it on their own. Considering what you get paid you work a lot of hours for not a lot of money, so it really helps to have a thick skin There are a lot of people who don’t cut it because of that and you have got to be fast. The thick-skinned thing tend to keep the boy numbers a little higher than the girl numbers I think, which I think is a real shame.

VB: Until our conversation I have not realised how incredible your schedule must be working on 10 titles a year.

NS: I draw, generally, 7 days a week. I take days off for travel when I need to travel to a convention, I take a day off when I am doing a convention. I am sitting there drawing and signing books anyway so it is part work as well but it is not part of my regular work. I take Christmas day off, I take New Years Day off and every now and then something will come along and it will be like I am taking a day off because I have something on, but generally I work 7 days a week. I am working 9-10 hours Monday-Friday and probably about 7 hours on Saturday and Sunday and that is a lot of work. That is the nature of the work, there are some people whose work is just as detailed as mine but who draw faster than I do but this is how I need to pay for myself, this is just how I operate.

VB: You were working as a writer on the Red Sonia anthology, what is that like coming from working on art then into writing?

NS: I am working with totally different head space. As an artist I am thinking of storytelling the whole time, my job is taking the script and finding the most interesting and/or the most straightforward way to visually interpret the writer’s story. I need to find the subtext, find the relevancy of the text. You are thinking narratively a lot but the head space for writing is totally different.

I found that quite a jolt, it’s not just in a more complex way, it’s just a completely different set of storytelling skills and it really requires me to remove myself from my drawing routine for a day. I just sit at my desk and hatch it out, commit to not just doing a little bit of writing per day, but to block off a day and get into that head space. I find it really kind of rewarding to do and a little nerve-wracking and exciting, because for the first time I was being the writer, handing my script on to an artist to interpret because comics are quite a unique medium in that it is a series of Chinese whispers.

VB: What do you mean?

NS: The writer writes something down, then the artist has to interpret what has been written down. Sometimes they can really make a story sing, and sometimes they can really miss the point or they can overemphasize the wrong moment, or the wrong emotion, and can change the tone of the story. The inker has to take that line work, and follow on a nature that they don’t necessarily understand the lines they are looking at, then the colourist has to do the same and what comes out the other end is not necessarily the intention that the writer had.

You have to be prepared to be part of that production line of collaboration. With a film a lot of people collaborate but the end is the director pulling all the pieces together, and what comes out is their best version of everyone’s collaboration.

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VB: With the Red Sonja title you had to give your words over to an artist — was it scary giving those words over to another artist that wasn’t yourself?

NS: The idea of it was scarier than the reality of it, because in reality I ended up getting to choose a friend of mine, who was my absolute first choice for who I wanted to draw this book. Knowing that he was going to draw, gave me the freedom to really take the story in the direction that I hoped it would go because I knew he would understand, he would get the humour. That made it very exciting — giving him the plot breakdown and the character breakdown, and he would come back to me with the character design, before I had actually written the script. That I just loved, I thought it was so perfect.

The script isn’t really all that exciting but it is really interesting, and writing, and reading over it and editing it before handing it over to the artist, the artist side of my brain would kick in just enough to make sure all the information I wanted was there. I would just start working out in my head what I would do, and it was fascinating to see what just came back from the artist. Some of the things were exactly how I thought they would go down, and some of them were completely different, and it was a really different way of seeing that panel description. Just because it is not what I had in mind, didn’t mean I was not happy with it, sometimes I was just like that is brilliant it was so funny. I was lucky I got to work with someone I knew who was coming on board and I trusted him.

VB: Do you think you will do more writing in the future?

NS: Not that I don’t want to, but because it requires a different head space, it requires the time to do it and it is a little hard to pursue writing when I am busy with my monthly schedule. But I would hope to have opportunities to write again in the future.

VB: What was the most unexpected part about writing?

NS: Realising as I was going that my characters were all in first person narrative, they were telling their own story. That what she was saying, didn’t necessarily have to be what the artist was depicting because I wanted the art to show the reality of what was happening, and it being contrary to her telling of it was tainted with her opinion. The visuals would be telling the real story.

VB: You have said that you have had a romantic view of super heroes do you still have that romantic view of them?

NS: I think at their core absolutely, different stories play up or add something contrary to that view. The current mode DC is in at the moment with the new 52 is contrary to my opinion — my view of superheroes are they a little more human and not quite so responsible and not so mature about their status than I would like them to be. That is the fashion that comics are going through at the moment but I don’t think it is a really true representation of who these characters are to me and yes I have a romantic view of who I want them to be. I like my Superman to be a boy scout and I like my Wonder Woman to be compassionate and loving and I like my Batman to have a sense of humour on occasion. It’s one of those things, there is going to be fads and fashions all the time.

[Verushka Byrow is a contributor to I'm With Geek.]

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