I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of the new comic Ladycastle by Delilah S. Dawson and Ashley A. Woods (Boom! Studios). I say lucky, and I do mean lucky, because this comic...
This comic. It's what we've been waiting for, you and I and everyone else wanting women to have a stronger voice in fantasy and comics. And it's more than just badass babe fighting. It's more than just a comic for girls. It's more than just "Whee, we princesses are free, let's go on an adventure!" This is something I have seen far too little of. A comic that takes women--people with actual roles in life who act like real women, not just guys with boobs--and explores what would happen if they had the power that men usually do in the story. There is a princess locked in a tower, who sings songs about what she sees down below (heavy wink-wink, Disney), imprisoned until she marries a worthy prince because her father saw her marriageability as her only gift. When all the men are killed by the curse, she is released...and her first action when she is freed is a moving one, one of my favorite frames in the whole comic. There is a blacksmith's wife--whose husband, along with all the other men, have gone with the King to find a worthy prince, and along the way fell victim to a curse--who is charged with taking up the mantle of King. There's a young princess who grew up believing she should have been a boy...that she should have been someone useful. Until her big sister tells her the truth: "You were supposed to be you." These women grab the strength that is inside them, that's always been inside them, and they rise up to take their new responsibilities as leaders, as people who now have the freedom to be useful rather than exist as tokens. Their first test is covered in this first issue, and it's solution is definitely an "Oh!" moment.
Ladycastle has action, emotion, princesses, knights, magic swords, magic, and more. It's something that can be enjoyed by men, women, and children. It has laughs but also made me teary at a couple spots. It may only be 22 pages long, but it packs a punch and leaves you ravenous for the next issue.
I asked author Delilah S. Dawson a few questions about the comic, and she was gracious enough to answer them.
Melanie R. Meadors: How was writing a comic different from writing a novel? Was it hard to shift gears?
Delilah S. Dawson: Shifting gears from one project to the next isn't hard, but learning to write in an entirely new format is. I write my novel drafts in fast, dirty bursts, then refine the prose over several rounds of edits. Comics, on the other hand, are a constant collaboration between the writer, the editors, the artist, and even the letterer. Twenty-two pages doesn't sound like much, but a lot of thought goes into every punchy word. I feel really fortunate to be working with such a great team at BOOM! Studios, who helped me level up in record time. I also use Spotify playlists to move between projects. Ladycastle is written to the Mad Max: Fury Road soundtrack.
MRM: How did you get the idea for Ladycastle? Why was it important to you to write it?
DSD: I had just finished a disastrous Writing Women-Friendly Comics panel at Gen Con in 2015 (you can read about it here) when I received an offer from a BOOM! Studios editor to pitch. I knew that the ideas I sent over had to center on strong women, and that those comics would be aimed at helping women feel included in comics and when walking into comics shops. When I came home from Gen Con to start researching how to pitch, my family was watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I heard the famous line, "women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government," and thought, BUT WHAT IF IT WAS? That became the inspiration for Ladycastle, which is a gender-flipped Arthurian adventure with monsters.
MRM: The representation of women in comics has been problematic to say the least. It often seems like women are either absent, or if they are there, they are overly sexualized or simply exist as a plot device to further a male character's story (sometimes even the villain of the woman's own story). There ARE some great comics out there, however, that go against this. Squirrel Girl, Lumberjanes, Papergirls, Rat Queens, and Bitch Planet, just to name a few. Could you tell us a bit about your experiences with comics and what made you want to take a step into this world?
DSD: Back in 2013, I took my kids to Free Comic Book Day, and I immediately felt like I didn't belong in the shop. Most of the covers seemed to be of buff, violent dudes and half-dressed women in revealing spandex, and I wasn't connecting with anything. And then I saw Saga, which had a breastfeeding, green-haired, strong woman on the cover. Finally, a comic that spoke to me! Saga was a gamechanger in my world, and its major success tells us a lot about what comics can be and how there are more stories than just Perfect Dude Saves the World. I feel like women deserve to see themselves in comics, and also that women need to be writing, drawing, inking, coloring, and lettering comics. I was so glad when my editor found Ashley A. Woods for Ladycastle, and she has done such amazing work. Her character designs have changed the feel of my original idea for the better. There is room in comics for everyone. Part of the problem, I think, is that there is no one, definitive path into working in comics; everyone I know has found a different route there, usually in a way that can't be replicated. I'm glad to see companies like BOOM! actively seeking women to write and collaborate on books.
MRM: Ladycastle, in addition to being an awesome comic about strong women, is also a lot of fun and is a great story in its own right. Did you find it difficult at all to make sure your story wasn't "preachy" or on the nose? What came first, wanting to write about women or having a general idea about a comic story? And how much do you think writers should worry about coming across as preachy (as long as, say, the story works)?
DSD: The great thing about editors is that they'll tell you when you get too preachy. :) I tend to put everything that comes to mind in my first drafts and whittle down to the bare bone of what I want to say in successive drafts. This is one project that can't be divorced from its politics, but I really wanted to show characters capable of change. Sir Riddick, the only man left, begins as a jerky mansplainer, but as the series goes on, he completely changes his ways. I'd like to think that change is possible when people work together and learn to see other points of view.
MRM: Is Ladycastle something a guy could enjoy reading, too? What might a guy "get" from reading it?
DSD: Definitely! My greatest hope is that a guy would get the same thing out of it as a woman would: great characters, interesting story, gorgeous art. It's also written with appeal for kids 9 and up, and I've tried to make a book that I would enjoy reading with my daughter and son. The main characters are 30, 18, and 11, and I've softened some of the vocabulary, such that when the werewolves like virgin flesh, I switched it up to "maiden" to be more kid-friendly.
Thanks so much to Delilah Dawson for sparing the time to answer questions. Everyone, I really urge you to go grab a copy of Ladycastle #1 from Boom! Studios, Amazon, Comixology, or your local comics shop . It's an incredibly fun story that readers can get a lot from. Women will be inspired, but anyone can enjoy the story in its own right. This is a work that will pave the way of the future for women in comics. I can't wait to see what happens next!
Melanie R. Meadors is an author of fantasy where heroes don't always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She is a blogger at The Once and Future Podcast, a professional author publicist, and a dabbling fiber artist. You can find her at her website, melaniermeadors.com, on Facebook, and Twitter, @melaniermeadors.