The Female Perspective: A Little Something Different Part II: A Chat with Jill Thompson

Welcome! This is a Tri-weekly blog by Author J.L. Metcalf where I discuss anything and everything that strikes my fancy. If you have ideas on what you think I should write about, please send me an email via my website

For now, sit back, relax and enjoy the blog!

Recently I was given the opportunity to talk with comic book artist and creator Jill Thompson. Jill has been working in the comics industry since the 80’s, when she did work for First Comics and Now Comics. In the 1990’s she became the artist for the Wonder Woman series and has since worked on The Sandman, Death: At Death’s Door and many, MANY more. She created the truly AWESOME Scary Godmother comic that is a MUST read for any comic fan. You can check out more of her work at her website (and I highly recommend that you do)!

Jill was kind enough to respond to some questions I asked her about feminism and the comics industry. Jill is a big proponent of allowing the new voices to speak and has asked that people spread the word that if you see her at a Con, feel free to go up and chat with her, she loves to talk to her fans and to up-and- coming artists.

OK, now onto the interview, Enjoy and feel let me know your thoughts in the Comments!!!

Artist Jill Thompson
Artist Jill Thompson

How do you feel about feminism in the comic world today? If not feminism, what are your thoughts on how female characters are drawn?

I’m a feminist. I don’t think that’s a bad word. Some people mistakenly believe or want to believe that it’s somehow anti men. To me it means that you respect all people and treat everyone as equals. It means you have an even playing field. 

What do you have to say to young girls if they want to get into art of any kind, but especially comics?

I say this to all aspiring artists male or female  who come to me for advice.  Learn the rules of drawing! This means you must study anatomy, life-drawing (that’s drawing from real people, animals and things; food, furniture, structures, clothing, cars, bicycles) perspective, design, color theory, etc. Once you master them you can apply all of that to comics and storytelling and bend and stretch the rules.

Next, PRACTICE everyday! The only way you get better is to put in the hours!!

Use reference to draw objects but do not be a slave to it. You’re not always going to be able to find exactly what you want on your Phone. Or heaven forbid, you have no internet access! You must  be able to manipulate basic shapes and turn them into whatever you need. Use your imagination!!

I subscribe to the school of “good comics storytelling is 80 percent silent”. The majority of your story should be able to be understood by someone who does not speak your native tongue. To me the dialogue and captions in comics are the icing on an already delicious cake! 

Your storytelling should be able to evoke an emotional response from your reader. You can create suspense, elation, relief, sadness, joy through your story pacing. 

Experiment with camera angles and shadow to help create a mood. 

Keep a notebook/sketchbook with your story ideas and daily sketches. Fill it up and make a new one! 

While your fans probably already know this, can you tell me what brought you to drawing comic books?

I’ve always wanted to draw comics. It’s one of my earliest memories, copying Peanuts strips from the newspapers. I realized that I wanted to be a cartoonist, a creator of comics stories.  I liked the language of comics as a way to tell stories. I had so much great inspiration in material along the way!!

My father used to bring me comics from the newsstand when he would come home from work on Fridays. At first, Archie Comics, which were my early favorite ever since I bought an orange crate full of vintage Archie’s at a house sale as a 9-year-old. To make a long story short, my interests in comics changed as I grew older. My father noticed that there was a comic book store in the town adjacent to us and took me there. It was like heaven for me. Yes it smelled musty like old paper but the owner, Rick Manzella, carried a great selection for a time when there really were no comic shops to speak of.

So I would save my babysitting money and pedal my bike over there on Saturdays and feed my comic addiction in boxes of back issues and new comics. And thankfully there were more varieties of comics to add to my repertoire as needed! I went from Peanuts to Archie to Spider-Man to X-Men to Elfquest, Lloyd Llewelyn, Love and Rockets, nexus, The Badger, Elementals, The Dark Knight, Watchmen, Anime and Manga,Judge Dredd, 2000AD to Moebius and more!  

Around the time I was fifteen, I was introduced to comics conventions. And to clarify, these were not the media extravaganzas they are today. They were not even the large comics-only events that conventions were less than a decade ago. These were tiny affairs held in the ballroom of some hotel or another. Mostly retailers selling old comics and portfolios of art and a couple of guests. Ours was at the Americana Congress Hotel on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. My father took me to my first one but soon would simply drive me downtown and drop me off at the hotel with instructions to meet him back outside at 4 pm.

I would go inside with my sketchbook and watch the artists draw. I was usually the only girl there. And one of the only teenagers there. But I was surrounded by comics and artists who encouraged me. One artist in particular, Bill Reinhold, would look at my art, critique the things that were artistically incorrect and not only tell me why it was wrong but also how to do it correctly. He encouraged me to attend the American Academy of Art when I graduated art school and taught me that you have to know all the rules of art I mentioned earlier and not just copy the comics I liked. And I suppose I’m doing the same now for anyone who is willing to do the work.

How do you create your characters? Do you consider how they’ll be perceived by a younger audience when you do create them?

If you’re talking about The Scary Godmother, I really started out as a happy accident. I was making a gift for my first niece when she was born. Subsequently it turned into my first creator owned project. I was trying to make a comic that was entertaining to me but a gateway for kids to get used to reading the comic format. I mostly try to amuse myself first and make sure it is suitable for both young and old. The same goes for my series Magic Trixie from Harper Collins. Just like any other form of entertainment, you can’t just expect every person to suddenly like comics at 13 if they are not accustomed to reading it or reading in general. But I subscribe to the belief that reading material for children or a younger audience need not shelter them from life’s lessons. I cannot stand bland, ‘everyone gets a medal’, everything is nice, can’t have anything scary or dangerous types of Children’s stories. I prefer telling interesting G rated stories with drama and capable main characters that all ages can enjoy. 

If you haven't read "Scary Godmother" you need to get on that...STAT.
If you haven’t read “Scary Godmother” you need to get on that…STAT.

Recently, you posted this comment on FB…

“Women and Girls who like and want to make comics! Please come and show me your art at conventions! Do not be afraid or shy! I want to help you succeed! I do not bite! But I might give you an educational critique to help you improve your skills! wink just like Bill Reinhold did for me!! He is amazing and I love him so! Use me as a resource! I have a great helper Kyle Joseph Schmidt who will sell all teething awhile I help you! Come watch me draw and paint!! Here are the requirements!

1. Yes, your pin ups and character designs are nice! Please choose two of your best ones!

2. Do sequential comics pages that have backgrounds, locations and storytelling! You know how you can watch the Hush episode of Buffy and know what is going on with no dialogue? That’s what you need to show! Word balloons are icing on an already delicious cake!

3. Let’s do this! You are amazing and the world needs your comics! And I want you to support yourself by doing what you love, okay! You might need more work, but you’ll never get better if you labor in obscurity!

4.Please Repost!”

What is your biggest hope for this kind of post? What do you hope to get out of this more than just young girls coming up to you at conventions? (I, for one, think it’s awesome and I 100% agree with you – there NEEDS to be more female comic creators!)

I recently was the guest of a comic convention in Monterrey Mexico and I was honored and humbled by all the Mothers who brought their daughters over who were interested in art to meet me to show them that ‘Yes, you could achieve your dream of drawing comics if you were a girl’. I never had any doubt that I would draw comics someday, I always assumed that if I drew well enough and kept learning, I would succeed. I had the full support of both my parents in my dream of drawing comics. I went to art school on Scholarship, Pell Grant and through the help of my parents. But I know that not only do some kids not have the support of their parents, they might live in a cultural setting that has an outdated or limited view of what careers a woman should do. And the fact that I’ve met scores of girls who tell me that I was the first female artist who made them believe that they could achieve their dream of becoming a comics artist makes me want to help as many of them succeed as I can. 

Maybe the girls are shy, or afraid to show their artwork to someone they admire. I know I was intimidated the first time I wanted to show my art to artist John Byrne! I loved his art but I was frightened by his sarcastic personality when he engaged with his more unusual fans. I was so nervous! I spent the whole day watching him draw and every time the crowd would thin out and I’d get close enough to talk to him, I’d scuttle back behind the remaining few fans.  Thankfully Terry Austin was sitting next to him and watched me do this nervous dance all afternoon and asked to see my sketchbook. He then showed it to John who gave me the thumbs up! It was a great moment for me! I know what it’s like to be intimidated and scared. So if I can do anything to make up and coming artists feel comfortable and welcome, I want to do it!  The comics community has plenty of room for new stories, ideas, formats and genres! 

I am first and foremost an ambassador for the medium of Comics Storytelling. I love it and I want everyone to have a favorite comic and maybe that comic is yet to be created by one of these girls! 

Recently, Erik Larsen went to Twitter to complain that female characters like Batgirl, Super Woman and Ms. Marvel are too “overdressed” have you seen this (if not, the link is below) and what do you think about it? Especially since Ms. Marvel is a teenage character!

Haven’t seen it. Poor costume design is poor costume design and that could be scantily clad  or heavily shoulder padded. I think if you’re creating a costume for superheroes, male or female, it should be practical and wearable. It can be sexy. I love sexy stuff! What one designs for a Sci Fi story is different than what one would create for a Sword and Sorcery Fantasy story. We’re creating beautiful things for beautiful characters. Its part of the world you create and should be an extension of the character’s personality, whatever that might be. It’s a form of fashion design. There’s a place for Bob Mackie/Cher at the Oscars style outfits as well as athletic workout gear. But remember, I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who can run in high heels. I also know what happens to your boobs if you try and throw a punch in a strapless corset or bustier…one thing stays facing forward and the other things move with your body. This is a good place for the winky face emoticon, as well!

I say let the artists who create the superhero costumes wear their own designs and run a Spartan Race and we’ll soon see how practical it is! 

And really, cosplay has shown us what looks fantastic in real life and what looks uncomfortable or impossible to navigate in for longer than a photograph.

Who are some of your influences and why?

Ha, wow! In comics?! That’s a hard question to answer completely, I’d be afraid I’d leave someone out! Let me throw out a few …Dan DeCarlo, Bob Bolling, Harry Lucey, Chuck Jones, John Buscema, John Romita, John Byrne, P. Craig Russell, Wendy Pini, Steve Rude, The Hernandez Brothers, Rumiko Takahashi…the list is enormous and changes with new artist discoveries! 

For everything else- Andrew Loomis!

I’m a fan of amazing illustrators from the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s.

I can walk through the Art Institute and be inspired by something new each time I go there! 

I’m influenced by things I hear or see everyday! You never know what might spark a new idea! 

Jill Thompson's Wonder Woman is pretty phenomenal if you ask me.
Jill Thompson’s Wonder Woman is pretty phenomenal if you ask me.

Thank you so much for your time Jill, I really enjoyed chatting with you and learning more about what makes you tick both creatively and as a feminist in the comics world. Let’s hope this helps to spread your message and to get more young women coming up to you at conventions to talk or show off their art!

For more on Jill Thompson, click here.

2 thoughts on “The Female Perspective: A Little Something Different Part II: A Chat with Jill Thompson

  1. Very enjoyable and insightful.

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