DCN Exclusive Interview: Joëlle Jones

by Steve J. Ray

The UK Thought Bubble Convention is the best 100% comics-based event that the UK has to offer. I spent an incredible weekend there, met some incredible creative talents, got some issues signed, and generally had a blast! Meeting people like the hugely talented, sweet, funny, and incredibly self-deprecating Joëlle Jones was one of the highlights of the show, for me.

Joëlle is an American comic book writer and artist. She’s the creator of Lady Killer, a series first published in 2015–2017 by Dark Horse Comics. She’s also known for creating covers and art for various Marvel titles, and for her work writing and illustrating DC Comics series including Catwoman, Future State: Wonder Woman, and the ongoing Wonder Girl series.

I was fortunate enough to sit down with Joëlle and discuss her work. Here’s that conversation.

Joëlle Jones Interview

Steve J. Ray: Hi, Joëlle. When we met yesterday, I told you that I reviewed your Catwoman: Copycats for DC Comics News, and my offspring reviewed it for Dark Knight News. We both had so many questions. For starters, Raina Creel? What?!?

Joëlle Jones: Where did that come from? Probably my nightmares. I think I just wanted something sort of equal to Catwoman, but terrifying. So maybe coming from the same background except making different decisions… but it’s also playing on the fears of growing old, losing your beauty, and you know… I guess she’s the ultimate Karen. So, yeah, absolutely.

SJR: What was clever about her was that there was also the mother aspect. Even though she was terrifying and horrible, there was almost a time when you actually did feel a bit sorry for her. So that’s what makes a great villain to my mind.

Joëlle Jones: That’s nice to hear. I mean, I was hoping that people might be able to see something they would recognize in themselves and sort of relate to her in that way, even though she’s clearly evil. I mean, I don’t think she’s Thanos level, but you know… she’s interesting.

SJR: I think she’s definitely fascinating in the worst way possible because obviously, with Selina, the mask is there to hide her identity, but with Raina, it’s just so much deeper because her real face – or what’s left of it – is monstrous. Is that a comment on plastic surgery and the fear of growing older?

Joëlle Jones: Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, it’s like a play on using masks, except hers was to pass as normal, and to be ashamed of her true face and try to hide it. I think that sort of made it what was ugly about it.

SJR: Yeah. The fact that she’s actually far uglier on the inside.

Joëlle Jones: Exactly. It’s that whole, you get the face you deserve, she worked on it. You make your bed, you lie in it. You make your face, that’s your choice.

SJR: You’ve gone on record to say that Catwoman’s your favorite? Why is that?

Joëlle Jones: You know, my first exposure to Batman was the sixties TV show. So once I saw Eartha Kitt, it was over forever, and then Michelle Pfeiffer and the animated series… it was just every bit of exposure I got to her. Then there’s the other, deeper, stranger level and all the places you can go with her being an anti-hero. Is she good? Is she bad? You know, sort of straddling that line. I think most people live in a gray area and she’s sort of like a hyper realization of that. So I just adore her.

SJR: Absolutely. She’s a character with an 80 plus year history, which has to be reinterpreted re-imagined to keep it fresh. What I liked about your version is – I’m glad you mentioned Batman ’66 – because I saw a little bit of the high society Selina. She’s attempting to escape from that, obviously. Then there’s the street level Selina, was that a conscious choice on your part because of your influences to bring that high society aspect of it back?

Joëlle Jones: Absolutely. I mean, also it was an excuse to dress her in some more high fashion, which is an interest of mine. There were some great Valentino clothes I wanted to throw in there, and that just gave me an excuse to drop in what I wanted.

SJR: Well, the wedding dress is something I wanted to talk about, too.

Joëlle Jones: Yes. That’s 1950s Chanel. Yeah, I really enjoyed that. In fact, how it came about was really strange. I was at the San Diego comic con and it was the first time I met Tom king. We were talking about the wedding and that’s when I found out they weren’t actually getting married.

I said, “But is she going to wear a wedding dress?” He’s like, “I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that”. So, I said, “well, if she is, I’m going to design it, I’m sorry. Don’t ask anybody, just let me know and I’ll do it”, and he’s like, “Well, I wasn’t thinking about it”, and I’m like, “Just in case”. So he contacted me and I was like, “Okay… I’ll do it.”

I kept putting it off, and then three weeks later he’s like, “Where’s that dress?” So I had to do it overnight. His daughter picked the ones she liked. I did like five of them, but I thought it was only going to be drawn for like one or two panels and that I would draw it, and then that would be it.

It turns out it got drawn a lot more than that. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have made it as intricate. Had I known other artists would also be taking it on and I’d ruined their lives… I tend to get overwhelmed.

It was the same with Yara Flor’s costume; I did 15 different versions, and then they said your pages are due. So then I had to just pick one and hope it worked.

SJR: Wow. You designed the wedding dress overnight, and created over a dozen Yara Flor looks? Amazing. Well, that was a nice segue, thank you! It’s like you’re planning this interview for me. I have to say that after the two-issue, Future State: Wonder Woman, everyone at DC Comics News is in love with Yara Flor… everyone! We love her, and you did that with just two issues. Now, of course, there’s the ongoing Wonder Girl series, which… let’s try and clarify. Is this Wonder Girl, leading to the “Future State” future, or is that just one possible outcome? I’m asking because no one’s giving the same answer.

Joëlle Jones: Right…. and that’s what I’ve been told as well, I’m just doing my job. They tell me to do the book. I’ll do the book and then if they change it, then I’ll change it. I don’t know… it’s comic books.

SJR: That’s fair. It’s great that you took her “home” though. Boise, right?

Joëlle Jones: Well, I didn’t want to, I wanted to use Portland, Oregon because that’s where I was living at the time. Then Bendis called it first, for Naomi. So DC’s like, “Well, you can’t use Portland”, so I said, “Well, how about New York?”, “No”. All the other cities were taken, so I’m going, “Nobody’s using Boise, because it’s such a $#!+ town, so I’ll take that one. I can say that because I’m from there.

SJR: That’s brilliant, thank you. Of course, the hometown aspect of it’s actually a great call because it feels more real. I’ve got to talk about the unreal stuff, though, which is something else we’re in love with. Let’s talk flying horses. Where did that come from?

Joëlle Jones: Yeah, Yara Flor came out of a really strange place. I was given directions from Dan (DiDio) to go a certain way. He gave me three things that needed to happen; she had to be from Brazil, she needed to have a Bola, and she needed to have a Pegasus. That was it. So, I made them work. None of those things are actually resident to Brazil, neither the bola nor the Pegasus. I think I watched that one James Bond where he went to Brazil and used a Bola, and thought that was Brazil.

SJR: I love her Pegasus’ name, it’s like the most non-mythological name you could’ve chosen for a mythological creature.

Joëlle Jones: Yeah. Again, it came down to the wire. I was looking for houses and my real estate agent’s name was Jerry. I thought that was the funniest name. I kept saying it around the house, and then my editor kept saying, “You need a name for the horse”, and I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll get to it… I’ll get to it”. So it got to the point where I’m told, “We need it, like right now!” I said, “How about Jerry?”, and she’s like, “Great! Let’s go for it!”

SJR: That’s hilarious!

Joëlle Jones: Oh, wait ’til I tell my real estate agent, he’s been immortalized. If he reads this interview he’s going to feel insulted that I named the flying horse after him.

SJR: Are you kidding? that’s the coolest thing in the world… just don’t name a villain after me!

Now.. the bola. It’s great because it’s a bit more of a weapon than the lasso, but it’s got a magical element to it as well. It’s like the lasso on steroids… the next level up. Was that something you consciously wanted to do, as well to try and change the dynamic a little bit?

Joëlle Jones: Yeah. I mean, originally, I was doing the next Wonder Woman, before it was changed to Wonder Girl. So I thought, well, she needs to be on par with Wonder Woman, so I need to come up with somebody just as great. Editorial said she needed a Bola, so I turned that into Yara’s lasso of truth. I think in the issues you’ll find out it does some other things besides what the lasso does… but, yeah, I work really well with parameters, so once given certain objectives I was able to just kind of play with it from there.

SJR: So, I’ll be perfectly honest. I picked up Future State: Wonder Woman because your name was on it, but I was fully prepared to hate it because I’m such a fan of Diana. I thought, “We don’t need another Wonder Woman.” You shut me up, because what you gave us was perfect. I’m man enough to admit you proved me wrong, because she’s not Diana, but she does embody some of the same goals and ideals.

Where did the changes come from and how did you implement them?

Joëlle Jones: So, she’s a very different Wonder Woman, I think. The thing was, I was never a wonder woman fan, I just thought she was a bit remote, and kind of snotty. Nice, but like a goddess. She’s up there, and we can’t touch her. So when I was given the brief, I went back and I started reading all the Wonder Woman stories from the beginning.

Then I got to the George Perez era, and I fell in love with Wonder Woman, and wanted a character to sort of reflect that. I wanted somebody that isn’t Wonder Woman, but instead, she’s starting from square one, aspiring to be Wonder Woman, and is working her way up to be like Diana. I think a lot of people can relate to that, somebody that would reflect that for a new generation.

Through creating Yara Flor, I learned to appreciate Wonder Woman.

SJR: Brilliant. So you didn’t go in as a Wonder Woman fan, but because of the experience, you are one now?

Joëlle Jones: I’m a huge one now! I’m continuing to read the series and I’m loving every second of it.

SJR: You’ve done so much work for everybody; DC, Marvel, Dark Horse. Please tell us about Lady Killer.

Joëlle Jones: That’s therapy for me, basically. It’s super violent, rude, and, indulges all my love of fashion and history. I’m not a violent person, but I think it helps, getting all that out on the page. It’s cathartic. I can just be unapologetic and I don’t have anybody telling me what to do. I just kind of sit in a room alone and turn out pages, and that’s it. So it’s nice. It’s just really relaxing.

SJR: So, let’s talk about the obvious fact that you’re a successful comics creator, but do you remember that one moment when the first thing you did actually arrived, finished, printed… done. Was that moment you’ll never forget or was it just not as big as you thought it would be?

Joëlle Jones: Oh, I think I was living in Portland at the time and it was working with Jamie Rich. We did 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and he brought over the printed copies. It was surreal, really surreal. It didn’t feel like it was a thing. I think to this day I still have panic dreams that I haven’t finished all the pages… and it continues. It still doesn’t feel like it’s a thing that really happens, it’s always sort of uncomfortable for me to see it in print. I hate looking at myself, it’s really uncomfortable.

SJR: I heard something similar, just recently, and I hadn’t before. So many other creators are like, “Oh yeah, Wow! This is my moment”, but for yourself then, is it more about the creation than the finished article?

Joëlle Jones: Yeah. I find it sort of cringe-worthy to have it out in the world. It’s like I was just playing pretend and other people sat in on it and listened, and that’s really uncomfortable. It’s fun to make it, but then when it’s out in the world I’m done with it.

SJR: Does it make it a little bit better when fanboys like myself bring it to you and say, “Please sign this?”

Joëlle Jones: As long as I don’t have to open it up and look at the interiors, I’m okay. Just the cover is fine. I’ve gotten used to those.

SJR: Wow.

SJR: Okay. So you’re no stranger to comic cons now, and they’re back. You’ve probably been asked every question in the world imaginable, but has there ever been a question you would’ve liked someone to ask you that they never did? What would you like our readers to know about, maybe not even Joëlle Jones the comics creator, but Joëlle Jones, the human being.

Joëlle Jones: Oh… I don’t know, I’m pretty boring. I just work all the time. I don’t know… I’m a Pisces, and I’m allergic to walnuts. I don’t know what else is interesting.

SJR: You are NOT boring. Let us know what else is on the horizon. What else do you have coming that you can tell us about?

Joëlle Jones: Wonder Girl‘s going to go up to issue seven, and then I’m going to do the “Trial of Amazons” for two issues, which I am beyond excited about. We’ve been working on it for over a year now. All of us get on a Zoom call – all the Wonder Woman, people – and hash it out. It’s confusing… but exciting! There’s a lot of characters, and more than one Wonder Woman. Oh my God, that’s so much stuff to take in, but I’m having a blast and I can’t wait for that to come out.

After that, I’m back on Lady Killer. Beyond that, I don’t know. Buy the books!

SJR: Thank you so much!

Joëlle Jones: Thank you.

What a wonderful lady Joëlle is… I cannot believe that she can’t look at her own art! She’s one of the sweetest, most humble, yet easy-to-talk-to comics creators I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. If you haven’t read any of her work, or seen any of her art, I hope this interview will lead you to check out her great back catalog. I promise you won’t be sorry!

Huge Thanks to Joëlle Jones, Thought Bubble, and the convention organizers, Hanglands. Images May Be Subject To Copyright.

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