Marguerite Bennett on Changing the Gender Landscape of Comics

Marguerite Bennet at Fan Expo Canada 2018

Marguerite Bennett is a name many will immediately recognise. She is the writer behind DC’s Batwoman and Bombshells, Marvel’s A-Force and Angela: Queen of Hel, as well as her own series, InSeXts and Animosity. There is one general theme in Bennett’s comics, something not often seen in comics creators’ bodies of work: a plethora of diverse female characters. Bennett has made it her mission to include as many women as possible in the world of comics. We caught up with the writer at Fan Expo Canada to talk about the changing landscape of diversity in comics, writing female relationships, and her upcoming projects.

You’ve created your own stories and worked on existing properties. How is the process different for creator-owned versus established properties?

When you’re creating your own thing, you have this absolute freedom, which can be wonderful and you finally feel like, “Ah, no one can tell me what to do.” But, that also becomes completely paralyzing. Like when anyone tells you, “Go write a story.” Uhhh, write a story about what? And so, suddenly, you wish you had the structure.

When you’re working on licensed characters, you get to plug into this grand mythology. You know, there have been masters in this craft, people who have solved the problems for you. That’s letting you discover beautiful, fully-fledged characters just waiting to have a story written about them.

Though there can be less creative control—or your employers or administrators or editors have more of a control over the character—there’s such a sense of community. If you’re stuck, you can ask your editor, and they’ll be like, have you considered or have you read this issue, you feel so much less alone. It really just comes down to: do you want the creative freedom or do you want the community? And so, I love to go back and forth and not just do strictly one, not just do strictly the other.

Animosity Volume 1. Written by Marguerite Bennett. Published by Aftershock Comics. March 1, 2017
Bennett’s original series Animosity for Aftershock Comics.

Creating diverse and inclusive female characters is a central focus for you. What kind of challenges have you faced when pitching inclusive characters?

There’s been such a massive shift in comics in just the five years—I’ve only been doing this for five years—but in that time, we went from, in the first things that I was pitching, “Why does this character have to be queer?” “Why does this character have to have this skin colour?” And as it’s gone on, I’ve seen so much less of that. I kept on pushing, you know, this is what the world looks like, that’s why. And, that’s the only answer there needs to be! I really do feel that it’s become a priority for more and more companies and more and more creatives.

Then when it comes down to writing more authentically, I have my own lived experience, there are going to be certain things that I don’t know how it feels. So, in that case, I really try to do my research, and to talk to sensitivity readers, to pay them for their time and work, and to ask. How do you learn anything? Someone taught you!

And it’s really to try and elevate the medium. I know that even though we’ve had comics since people painted on cave walls, there’s still this idea that it’s pulp, or it’s for children. So, the fact that it’s literature, and that you have to bring the same level of dedication and, I don’t want to say perfectionism, but you have to have the same standards.

Like being sloppy in your story then helps reinforce the idea of a sloppy world. If you let stereotypes, you let ugliness, you let things that are inaccurate permeate your writing, then people internalise that, they think that’s how you should interact with the world around you. So, you are responsible for the world you make and create.

Your work on DC Bombshells has been praised for its female relationships. Why do you think positive female relationships are still a rarity in comics?

I mean, I feel like the depictions of women are often so rare, and then, where they are depicted, like some of the most iconic female characters in Western literature were written by men, you know, who approached the characters with their own baggage. Where they see women in sort of male spaces, because that was their experience. A lot of times they depicted women as enemies of one another, you know, the stereotype of “the bitch” or the woman being “catty.” The intimacy of the female friendship, they never observed that. The places in life, in their societies, in their eras, [that] allowed them to see women was not party to the intimacy between them. So, I really wanted to stress the things that I felt our media had failed on. Once you have enough women, the world feels real.

This idea that you have the one girl character—there’s the normal kid, there’s the cool kid, there’s the fat kid, there’s the funny kid, and there’s the girl. And, that’s the only thing that you can be. So, this girl has to do service to all of your experiences, to all the female archetypes. Once you have enough women, she doesn’t have to be everything. She doesn’t have to be the mother, she doesn’t have to be the daughter, she doesn’t have to be “oh, but she’s so virginal,” but, “oh she’s so sexy,” “oh, but she’s got to be vulnerable enough for the hero to save her,” but “she’s got to be capable enough to kick butt.” So, it was just this impossible standard that no human woman will ever be able to live up to, because it’s a work of fiction and because it’s a fantasy.

The world is not made of 80% men and 20% women, we’re more than half the population and you have to do the service to that, to the full spectrum of female experiences. And, so, it was very, very important for me to have enough women, always enough. And, then the world feels real.

DC Bombshells #11. Written by Marguerite Bennett. Published by DC Comics. November 3, 2017
Bennett’s DC Bombshells is packed with female superheroes.

What are some of your favourite reactions from fans regarding your inclusive characters?

I have the best readers in the world. Honestly, like, I still get tongue-tied. [Is interrupted by fan saying how much he loves Bennett’s work]. I really don’t know how to approach or how to interact with it. It’s like, you know, love is so easy to give but it is so hard to receive. I can go up to someone and tell them how much their book meant to me, but the first time someone did that to me, I wanted to run for it.

Like, I mean, I’m not even on social media. I sit at home, and I wake up in my pajamas, and then I put on my work pajamas, and then, in the evening, I put on my sleeping pajamas. I’m just a hermit in my house, so like, people have been so, so kind, but it’s something that I don’t think it can ever prepare you for is that the work you do matters, it has meaning. So, you know, people have been kind enough to read what I’ve written, so it means a lot. But, I will never ever feel worthy of the affection that people have offered me.

Batwoman will make her debut in the Arrowverse. Have you had any input for the character in the show?

Not really. They’re such separate worlds. Like, the print versus the TV—even the movies and the TV shows are so completely different. All the Batman movies take place in different worlds, so you’ve got Ben Affleck, and Christian Bale, and Michael Keaton! I am perfectly happy living in the print world. That was what I came up with and what I loved the most, but I can’t wait to watch it as a fan. It’ll be my first DC TV show, so I’m very excited!

Batwoman Rebirth #1. Written by Marguerite Bennett. Published by DC Comics. February 15, 2017.
Batwoman Rebirth #1, written by Marguerite Bennett.

You’ve finished working on DC Bombshells and Batwoman. What projects are you working on now and what will we see from you next?

Unfortunately, right now, it’s a bunch of top-secret stuff but in two weeks, I’m taking over Power Rangers for BOOM! Studios. I was a huge fan when I was a little kid, so I finally get to play in that universe. That’s what’s coming next!

You can find Marguerite Bennett on Patreon @EvilMarguerite.

Louis Skye

Louis Skye

A writer at heart with a fondness for well-told stories, Louis Skye is always looking for a way to escape the planet, whether through comic books, films, television, books, or video games. E always has an eye out for the subversive and champions diversity in media. Louis' podcast, Stereo Geeks, is available on all major platforms. Pronouns: E/ Er/ Eir