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In Depth Interview: Kelly Sue DeConnick Talks Everything on PRETTY DEADLY

Find out everything you'd want to know about Kelly Sue's upcoming creator-owned title from Image Comics.

Earlier this week, Image held a press conference call with Kelly Sue DeConnick. We wanted to take the time to actually transcribe the entire 40+ minute conversation so you get a full idea of just how enthusiastic she is about this project. You can also check out our video interview with Kelly Sue last weekend at Rose City Comic Con. She had penciled and inked pages of the first few issues by Emma Rios and they do look amazing.

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Question: What's the process like working with Emma [Rios] again on a creator own project?

Kelly Sue DeConnick: We started talking about this book in 2009. We first talked about doing a '70s heist thing and then Emma said "I really kind of want to do a Western." I had it in my mind - I've been told early on "Artists don't like to draw horses. No one will ever do a Western with you." So when she said "Western" I jumped on it. We both share a love of both spaghetti westerns and Japanese pinky violence. It just started developing from there.

It has been the weirdest book that I’ve ever worked on, in the way that it is so much a collaboration. It is not my story that Emma is illustrating or her story that I’m dialoguing. The way we talk about how words and pictures together in comics create a third channel. It's kind of been something I've never experienced quite so intensely in the creative process. It feels like this book is really being done by this third author who is somehow the channel between the two of us. I know it makes me sound like a crazy person. Honestly, it’s a terrifying way to work, but I'm really fascinated by it. I’m spellbound by the pages.

Question: The titles been one of Image's most anticipated titles, how has it been for you with all the response on Tumblr and Twitter and at cons even though the book hasn't even been released yet?

KSD: It’s kind of like with CAPTAIN MARVEL, only more so. We have fan art, and the book’s not out yet. The thing that CAPTAIN MARVEL didn’t have that I’ve had the experience with this book is that it’s made people’s “Most anticipated” lists and what not. In a way, I can’t figure out what it's based on but I'm not ungrateful. I’m terribly grateful. But I'm like, "Why are they so excited about it?!? It's just us." It’s incredibly gratifying. I’m thrilled but also terrified. There's going to be so many eyes on this. I hope they like it as much as I do!

Emma's work is so…I have no concern with that. She is astounding. We have ink done on three issues, so I’ve taken them to a couple of shows to show them off, and people gasp. It’s pretty cool. Part of it is because Image allows us to work on a schedule where we’re working so far ahead of it coming out that we’re able to take some time with it. You couldn’t put the number of lines on the page that she does in just 30 days. It just wouldn't be possible.

Question: We know this is Death's daughter and there's the aspect of revenge but what will be the tone of the series and characters?

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KSD: It’s kind of like a dark fairy tale. It's pretty dark. It's pretty violent. I wouldn't give it to a kid. My son is six and I let him see the animal pages that are the prologue pieces to each book. He asked me a lot of questions about them. He really likes them but the very first one, the bunny gets shot. He saw that by accident and I was concerned he'd be upset about it. I explained it's happening in a spirit world, the bunny's okay and goes on to tell the story. He's really okay with it. But there's no way I'd let him read the book. It's a lot darker than what you're used to getting from me. This is not AVENGERS ASSEMBLE.

Question: Besides the Western part, what other elements for you and Emma are there?

KSD: It's a lot of things. If you're familiar with it, you’ll definitely recognize Japanese horror influences , the pinky violence we talked about in the beginning. It is embarrassingly goth. There are skulls, lots of skulls! The spaghetti western influence doesn’t stop with Leone, and there’s some straight up old school horror stuff in it too. I guess the goth part is actually the prettier element. It’s brutal, but it’s also really lovely.

Question: The merging of brutality and loveliness, is that something that kind of came through the process of working with Emma and her art style. Or was that something from the beginning?

KSD: The title and the theme sort of came up beautifully in a way we seldom get. Usually we're working in comics in such a fast schedule. You don't get to develop. I talk about how hard it is to do press on a book while you're working on it. It feels like you're making a painting and every five to ten minutes you have to stop and turn around and explain to someone what the painting's about. You don't really know because you haven't finished the painting yet. This is the way we're set up to work. But I'm not throwing you guys under the bus, we all have a job to do. We have to promote books while we're working on them. It's just how it has to happen but it's very hard to answer, "So how much yellow are you going to use?" You don't know. You're just going to use as much yellow as called for. You know what I mean?

But because of this extended Image schedule we had we didn’t really have to do that. I talked about it at the announcement panel when the book was something very different from what it became, but we’ve had the luxury of really developing it and really discovering what it was about. Without having to stop to talk about it every five to ten minutes. The scenes emerged in a very organic way. I didn't intend to… The title was one of the last things that fell into place. Yes, it is all about the ways in which brutality and loss and the cycle of life are all beautiful and horrible, but we got to let that bubble up. We were just trying to write a western.

Question: Where did the idea come from to use the animals, the dead rabbit and butterfly, come from?

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KSD: Oh! I have no idea. Isn't that odd? I think the birth of that was in something…I have NO CLUE where that came from. I'm sure it came from somewhere. The first time I remember saying it out load, I was doing a guest lecture in Brian Michael Bendis' graphic novel class. I had been talking about how I develop a book, mind-mapping, how the creative process works for me. I was talking about books that had already come to fruition, that were published. Then Brian asked me to talk about PRETTY DEADLY since it was in process. I said, "I'm not too comfortable putting too much out there but here's a little bit of it. I have this idea that it's going to be narrated by a dead bunny talking to a butterfly."

As soon as I said it out loud I got super self-conscious about it. I was like, "But it's probably really dumb!" I don't think I even had a publisher for it at that point. I thought nobody would buy that. Brian was like, "Are you kidding? You have to do that now!"

I don't know where it came from but I think that's the first time I said it out loud. I know pretty much well Brian said I have to do it. So there we go. The first time Emma drew the bunny, it was like "Clearly. Done."

Question: Since this is your first creator-owned book, what have you learned about yourself as a writer and the creator process that you didn't have while working on Marvel and other stuff?

KSD: That's a really good question. I have learned, on the positive side, I'm a good collaborator. I've also learned I'm wildly insecure. I don't know if that was really a newsflash. Emma has a nickname for me. She calls me “Sister Kraken,” which I find hilarious. That came from every 10 to 12 pages I have a freakout, where I decide that I have no idea what I’m doing, and it's going to be terrible. Then she doesn’t hear from me for 24 to 48 hours, and then I come back and everything is okay. I'll have pages for her and it’s all good. So she says that like the Kraken I have to go down to a deep and dark place, but then I come back up.

I think it was Gaiman who told me early on that you never learn how to write a book, you learn to write the book that you’re writing. That’s so very true, and PRETTY DEADLY kind of had to teach me how to write it. Part of that process was letting go, and feeling, "No, you can’t make this be what you want it to be, you have to surrender to this process, and you have to let yourself be lost and afraid." We know where we're going but we don't always know how we're going to get there. It's like I have to get from California to New York and I'm not sure if I'm going to go through Texas or Chicago. I have to let myself get lost. I've let myself be afraid and vulnerable. I am not good at those things. Vulnerability makes me super angry. It has been a real learning process for me to be able to trust this process and trust the book. The idea of the Kraken gave me an armature to put this process on and have it make sense, a way to see all of it.

Right now what I’m feeling is the absolute terror that comes before I go down to the dark place. And I know, probably, in 12 hours or so I’m going to take a walk or go for a shower or go for a drive and I’m going to get the thing that gets me to the next place. Then it’ll all be okay. And then lather, rinse, repeat. It'll happen over and over again.

It doesn’t get less scary, but I’m starting to get to the point where I’m on the roller coaster and I can finally take my hands off and put them up in the air, and enjoy falling a little bit.

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Question: In terms of the future of the book, how do you and Emma see it playing out over time?

KSD: The thing that people don't really know about Emma is that she doesn't really need a writer. She is extraordinarily gifted and could do this whole process all on her own. But for some reason, she likes me. Yay!

Our plan is, we would like to follow the Brubaker/Phillips CRIMINAL model, and do an arc, separate and do our own stuff briefly, come back and do an arc, separate again briefly, come back and do an arc, as long as the market will allow it. The first arc is very much the world building, introductory…it's almost like the first five issues are the way we think of the first issue. You get everything in the first issue, don't get me wrong. At the end of the opening arc, you understand exactly who Ginny is and how she got in the position that she's in. The opening arc is the mythos, the background. How they all got there.

Question: What Westerns are at the top of your list?

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KSD: Probably Once Upon a Time in the West is probably my favorite. Boy, that would be hard. I have a lot of Westerns that I love. The Sergio Leone ones: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; Fistful of Dollars. I also love True Grit. We talked a lot about it in the beginning. I even love Rio Bravo. I like Pale Rider, High Plains Drifter, even though they're horrible for their sexual politics. I like how frightening they are. I like how relentlessly punishing that character is. I'm a huge sucker for vengeance-themes for some reason. My mother says I was born angry. I don't know why. Everyone's always been so nice to me.

Leone's stuff is incredible. Once Upon a Time in the West, in particular, I'd really subconsciously call that art. I have this 37 movie collection of spaghetti western that I think I paid $30, if that tells you anything about the quality of the films collected. There's a lot of stuff in there that I love with the same part of my brain that I love exploitation films. It's like, "Oh, this is so awful," but the over the top-ness of it, I really adore.

Did you ever see Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion? I highly highly recommend it. It is a women in prison exploitation film, which is actually based on a manga. It is so much more beautiful than it has any right to be, for what it is. It opens, I can't remember if it's that one or the sequel, for some reason with nude women on monkey bars. You know, like you do, when you need to get from point A to point B and you decide you're going to hang from the monkey bars nude. It's shot in a way that has a weirdness to it. It's fascinating and distancing. I really love that stuff.

What I was trying to do with Ginny is like Clint Eastwood as The Man with No Name. Ginny is a bit of a cipher. Ginny doesn't talk very much. But I did do something with Ginny that goes against everything, we know who Ginny is and where she came from. We even see Ginny as a child. The whole power of The Man with No Name is that we don't know anything about him. I think part of the mythos that I let go of is that I abandoned with Ginny that part of the structure of the storytelling method.

Although now that I think about it, and I should shut up because I'm giving myself a film lecture since you didn't ask this question, but we do know a lot about Toshiya Fujita's Lady Snowblood. That's interesting. I wonder if that's a gender thing? Yada yada yada.

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Question: How has PRETTY DEADLY changed as it's come along?

KSD: I have become comfortable calling it fantasy, I guess. To me, fantasy means owls and dragons. There are no owls or dragons. But there is a talking bones bunny and Death himself is a character. My favorite issue is 3, I think. 3 is the one where we're not fighting it anymore.

When we first started talking about this book, it was so grounded in reality. The tattoo on her face, and this was ages ago like in 2009, was face paint. She was going to be a character, a woman and a sharp-shooter in a wild west show. I did all this research on wild west shows and ended up having to let it go. That was probably the last thing that was torn, kicking and screaming from my fingers. We still open with this town square moment. I had wanted it to be back in the day. It was going to be Ginny doing the advanced press basically for her wild west show that was coming through. She was gonna ride in, made up like an angel of death, and do some sharp shooting. And then we were going to have these acrobats come out of everywhere…It still would have been surreal. But surreal versus fantasy.

There is also a Tumblr at There's a little countdown thing there. There's also downloadable pre-order forms that Emma has designed. They're pieces of art themselves. Someone brought me one to sign at Rose City Comic Con.

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Also, we did this neat thing. I don't know if you're interested in this but I'm telling you anyway. I talked to my friend Chad about doing prose backup to help us with some of the world building stuff. He has been one of my sounding boards when I was peeling all this stuff out. There's two characters that have this scene in issue 3 and there's a two-part prose backup that appears in the back of issue 1 and 2. You don't have to read them but if you do, it'll give a whole other layer of context and meaning and background to the scene that happens at the opening of issue 3.

PRETTY DEADLY #1 hits comics shops on October 23. Retailers can still put in orders. They are due by Monday, September 30. The book will be monthly.