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Next week DC will debut the 0 issue of Sword and Sorcery which marks the return of the much beloved character Amethyst of Gemworld. Created by Dan Mishkin in the 80s, Amy Winston was a teenage girl who found out she was secretly a princess of Kingdom called Gemworld. Not only did the book featured a female lead, it was targeted at female readers. (You can read then DC editor Karen Berger on that here.) The original series and its follow-ups have a strong following as evidenced by DC issuing a Showcase collection of the comic series next month and a cartoon version for DC Nation about to debut on DC Nation.
In May DC announced that Amethyst would return to comics and be written by Christy Marx. Marx is best known for her scripting of mid 80s animated programs such as G.I. Joe and Jem. But she has also written for comics including the Marvel/Epic series from the mid 80s Sisterhood of Steel which focuses on all-female island of warriors. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend picking it up. It deftly blends strong world building, an examination of the complexity of female relationships and palace intrigue and adventure.
I was very excited to see DC name Marx as creator and I’m looking forward to reading her Amethyst. Marx chatted with me earlier this week about Sword and Sorcery, her take on the character and how comics have changed through the years.
DCWKA: Christy, I recently watched the interviews you did for the Jem DVD where you spoke about the impact of comics of you as a young girl and what a fan you were of them. Do you think comics have gotten more inclusive or less inclusive since you were young girl?
CM: Although we have a long, long way to go yet, I’d say they’ve become more inclusive. It was difficult for me to find strong female role models when I started reading comics. We have many more types of female characters to choose from now. Sadly, far too many of them seem to serve as titillation more than being genuine women characters. When I began reading comics, there were no women writing or drawing for the big companies; now there are. And now there are alternative comics and other options for female creators.
DCWKA: Both Sisterhood of Steel and Amethyst both came out the same year 1984. Both are books from major publishers that focus on female protagonists and clearly have female readers as a focused target in addition to the usual male readers. What happened to comics between then and now where these projects standout as so different from much of what comics has done since then?
CM: Perhaps you said it yourself — they were openly and obviously, though not exclusively, looking for a female audience. I don’t think these two series have been alone in doing that. I really liked what Barbara Kesel did with her Meridian series and was sorry it didn’t last longer. Terry Moore does interesting things with female characters (Strangers in Paradise, Echo, Rachel Rising). I’d say the books are out there, but you have to look for them.
DCWKA: Amethyst has such an intense fan following. It’s one of the few books where if I do a post I’ll get these really emotional notes from people telling me they loved it so much. You’ve said you’ve read it when it came out and loved it as well. What is it do you think that connected with readers? And what is it that you will bring to your new title?
CM: I wasn’t actually aware that there was still a strong fan following for the book. I think much of what connected was probably wish-fulfillment. It’s a wonderful fantasy to suddenly discover that you’re special, that you have magical abilities, that you have access to a fantastical and colorful world that is so far removed from the mundane.
What I hope to bring to it is a different approach to the same wish fulfillment, but with a more realistic take. If you look at the Young Adult category of novels these days, they are vastly different from what sold in the 1980s as well, and they have a harder edge. Hunger Games exemplifies that change. Teenagers live in a more complex world today with a different level of awareness. Beneath that, I firmly believe they retain the same desire for wish-fulfillment reading, but I think it has to be presented in a way that resonates with today’s world.
DCWKA: Amethyst is older in this title than she was before. Was that your decision? DC’s decision? What’s the thinking there?
CM: That was my idea. It appealed to me more and felt that it provided me with more opportunities to do mature storytelling with the character. I felt that the story of a 13 year old in a grown woman’s body had been done and I didn’t want to retread the same material. I’m taking more of a coming-of-age approach.
DCWKA: The world has changed a lot in the past 25 years since Amethyst debuted. It would seem a young woman Amy Winston’s age would be loaded down with technology and be much more worldly. How much of the real world of a 17 year old will be incorporated into your book?
CM: I’m keeping it in tune with today’s world, however bear in mind that Amy’s new homeworld, Nilaa, isn’t a place where a computer or smartphone is going to be of any use. You’ll see that addressed in issue #0.
DCWKA: One of things that you’ve talked about is making Amy’s antagonist her aunt. That’s a change from the original series where the main villain and antagonist was male. Whose idea was that?
CM: I chose to take that direction, again because I didn’t want to retread the same story. I began to work out who the protagonists and antagonists would be, plus I began to lay out the rules for how the magic was going to work and that it would be related to the genetics of the people who possess it. The idea of family members killing one another over power presented many fascinating possibilities. It makes the threat that Amy faces more personal.
DCWKA: The concept of two women in a struggle for me reminds me of how unusual and great “Sisterhood of Steel” was in exploring the relationships of women. The sisterhood is an all-female society of warriors which sounds like the Amazons of Wonder Woman but stands in contrast in a lot of ways. In fact I’d say that your approach on an all-female society in some ways deals with some of the issues some folks have brought up about the Amazons of Wonder Woman including the fact the women were brought to the Island at a young age and trained rather than an ageless society. You also included a range of sexual orientations and made it clear the society was not a Utopia. What’s your take on the way the Amazon’s have been presented in the past? Are you reading Brian Azzarello’s take on them? Any thoughts on how he’s tweaked their origin?
CM: I’m afraid I haven’t kept up on Wonder Woman or Brian’s take on them. I created The Sisterhood of Steel in reaction to how Red Sonja was being handled in comics at the time. It was my way of showing how I thought a more realistic society of warrior women might actually function. Women are prone to the same emotions, desires, and power struggles as men, given the right situation. I wanted to explore that.
DCWKA: There’s some concern in the readership that the new Amethyst will be a darker take on the character - what do you have to say to those readers? And what’s the pitch to readers now familiar with the character?
CM: I’ll remind readers that while the original series seemed like sparkly crystals and unicorns on the surface, it had some surprisingly dark undertones. What I would say to the readers is to give it a try. I’m striving for a range of tones such as Joss Whedon managed to do with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where it could be grim and deadly, and yet have flashes of humor and satire. I plan for Amethyst to be a character-driven story that encompasses mother-daughter relationships, life and death battles, political and dynastic intrigues, and romantic intrigue as well.
DCWKA: It’s interesting that right now DC is about to introduce an Amethyst character into its Saturday morning line-up DC Nation. Have you seen any of the footage? From what I’ve seen it looks pretty cute. What are your thoughts that if a kid watched DC Nation and then wanted to pick up the comic?
CM: I had no idea they were doing that and was totally surprised when I began to glimpse some of it. I’ve only seen a couple of stills, so I know little about it. It’s probably geared to a younger audience than I would recommend for the book.
DCWKA: One of things that really has thrilled me about your coming on-board to DC for this book is because it seems like such smart thinking of matching content to creator. Is this the first call you’ve gotten from DC or Marvel to write for them in the past few years?
CM: Yes, it’s the first call I’ve gotten. I’ve spent the past several years working exclusively in the world of computer games and wasn’t actively looking for comics work, but I was delighted to get the call from Dan DiDio for this project. I agree, it’s a good match of creator and content.
DCWKA: Secretly I had always hoped Marvel would bring you onto Dazzler who seems like such a Jem analog. Or that DC would give you a shot at Wonder Woman. Any interest in writing those characters?
CM: Any strong female character would be a challenge that I’d enjoy, though I might hesitate to take on Wonder Woman. If I were going to write about a society of warrior women, I’d rather bring back the Sisterhood.
DCWKA: And finally in a free for all battle of Amethyst vs. Boronwë vs. Jem - who falls first?
CM: Oh, no contest, Jem would fall first. She’s never lifted a sword in her life!