High School Friendships and Magical Girls: A Q&A with Kevin Panetta
Here are WWAC we’ve been having a lot of fun reading and reviewing the first three issues of the new magical girl comic published by Dark Horse Comics, Zodiac Starforce. So this year at New York Comic Con, I had the opportunity to sit down with Kevin Panetta, the writer of the series, and find out a little more the team, their powers and what working on the comic has been like so far.
Diving right in – we’ve been hearing Zodiac Starforce described as Sailor Moon meets Buffy a lot…
I think that’s pretty accurate (laughs)
Yeah definitely – but tell me how is it different?
That’s a good question – nobody’s ever asked me that before. I think it’s different in the way that it explores that way friendships work in high school. I wanted to make something that I felt was really true to…I don’t know…when you’re in high school you have friends and sometimes you kind of drift apart from them and then you’ll come back together with them. And I wanted to write a story about that but base it around an action story. Which I think is, to me, something that sets it apart from the ‘monsters as metaphors’ aspect of Buffy or just the straight up magical girl fighting people from the Negaverse aspects from Sailor Moon.
So speaking of the magical girl genre, what do you think makes that so intriguing to readers?
I think for a lot of people they just grew up loving magical girls and so people are just excited to see that in a new way. Like you look at Steven Universe, which is really a magical girl cartoon but it’s so far removed from something like Sailor Moon. So yeah…I think some of it’s nostalgia but I think it’s a genre that really lends itself to the change we’re seeing in comics and, like, the way people are represented in comics as well. And so I think that magical girl works pretty well for right now. I think it’s great.
We’ve reviewed issues 1 & 2 of Zodiac Starforce on the site and we all loved that it wasn’t an origin story. It just dives right in…the girls have already had their big adventure. What was the rationale behind that?
I think it was a couple things. One, was I wanted to show, like, how friendships are in high school – what I was saying before. And I think the other was that origin stories…there’s a lot of work you have to do in an origin story. Like, you bring everybody together and then you tell all their backstories. It seemed like it would take up a lot of space in the story I wanted to tell. And also it’s what we’ve seen before, it’s like…Sailor Moon is an origin story for like the first 10 volumes or like Cardcaptor Sakura is like an origin story while she’s capturing cards. And so what we really wanted to do was just jump in and I think realizing that we could show a team that had drifted apart a little and then had come back together made that work really well.
There is a big push right now for more diversity in comics. Is that something that’s a priority for Zodiac Starforce – are we going to see a lot of different diverse characters?
Yeah I think so. And I think right out of the gate we wanted to make a comic that represented everybody and characters that everybody could see themselves in. As we introduce more characters we’re going to keep doing that.
That’s great. One thing I was curious about – why the zodiac?
A few reasons. It lends itself really well to a magical girl team. Like with genre, when you know the kind of things to expect you can play around with it a little bit more. So like, with magical girl, you kind of know what to expect and then we can do something a little bit different with it. And like, with zodiac, everybody knows, you know, like this is a fire sign so they have fire powers. Or like, a Taurus is really loyal. So we kind of took those and…I don’t know…it gave us kind of a baseline for characters where we could play against expectations and with expectations. So it’s like, Emma is a Gemini and she’s really good leadership skills, but in a way that is a negative for her even though that’s typically considered a positive Gemini trait. So we just tried to do little stuff like that to play around with it.
She’s amazing! I had seen her stuff that she was posting on Tumblr and we started working on it and it just clicked. Like her character designs are amazing. And working with her we’re really collaborative. So I’ll write a script and then she’ll thumbnail it, and then we’ll talk about the thumbnails and then she’ll do pencils and then temporary letters and then we’ll go through the letters and make sure all the dialogue is ok. And then we’ll talk about the colours and…it’s so collaborative…I feel like we’re very much a team and we’re very much on the same page but we’ll also be really honest with each other. So it’s like if something’s not working we’ll tell each other. Which is good. Like, I was making Darren maybe a little too much of a jerk in the first issue and she was like, “people get it. He’s a jerk. You can take out these couple lines that make him an extra jerk.”
So my last question is, because this is an all girls team and there seems to be a big push for young girls to read the comic, are there certain challenges you feel as a male writer to get things right?
I mean…not really? Like, I know a lot of women and I talk to women all the time. And I listen to women when they talk…
Yeah, and then I also work with Paulina so it’s like if anything does ever feel wrong then we talk about it. Or if I feel ‘oh I don’t really know how this would go” then I’ll get her opinion. But yeah, I think if you just have women who are friends then you know women. Or at least some women.