Comic Writer Kelly Thompson talks ‘Captain Marvel,’ ‘Jessica Jones,’ and More! (Interview)

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Captain Marvel - Kelly Thompson
CR: Amanda Conner

One popular comic series that I have been raving about, is Kelly Thompson’s current run of Captain Marvel. Kelly Thompson has also written comics about Jessica Jones, and even Captain Phasma from Star Wars. I recently had the chance to chat with Kelly herself, check out the interview below!

Note: This was a phone interview, which was then transcribed for the article.

SH: How did you get into writing comics?

KT: Well, I think I discovered comics along with a lot of people of a certain age through the X-Men animated series in the 90’s. Before that, I had only really read Archie digests that I had seen at a checkout counter. So X-Men was the gateway drug to comic shops, monthly comics, getting a hold at my local shop, and all of that good stuff. I started writing them almost right away. I didn’t want to just be a fan, I wanted to write them, I’m sure they were all very, very bad. I drew a little bit too.

I went to college and then transferred to the Savannah College of Art and Design to study sequential art and got a degree in that. So I was very officially allowed to do comics, if you will. Then quickly did what everyone with a college degree does, where you go off into the world and take whatever job will help you live, but it has nothing to do with your degree, especially if you’re in art school.

I eventually was just working on my own and trying to get my stuff out there. The first thing that broke open for me was a graphic novel that picked up at Dark Horse. Because of the long lead time on things like that, it ended up actually coming out after the Jem book – which was my first big break – had already started coming out. But those were the first two things that broke open for me.

Kelly Thompson

SH: I really enjoyed the first story arc of your current Captain Marvel run with Carol leading an army to fight against Nuclear Man and his forces. Could you tell us a little more about that story arc and its creation?

KT: The funny thing is that when we were originally pulling the story together, this arc that we’re doing now, Falling Star, that was the first arc that I pitched, and this Nuclear Man story was sort of a later arc. But powers that be as we were figuring it all out, we thought this one might work better for the start. That first issue is 30 pages and it’s all about really establishing Carol back in her world. She’s back from space, she’s trying to get back into the swing of things. Then you just really yank the rug out from under her and put her into, not another world, but it feels like one, right? Because you’ve got some weird time dilation and everything.

I thought that was pretty representative of Carol’s life. Every time you start to get a handle on things, something comes along and pulls the rug out from under you. True for a lot of superheroes, but certainly for Carol.

It was fun to play with Nuclear Man. He’s such a crazy classic villain. He’s sort of a Thundra and Fantastic Four villain, but he makes a ton of sense for Captain Marvel in a modern lens. This giant misogynistic sexist guy who’s running around not hiding any of that, he’s really over the top. Someone who’d get under Carol’s skin like that. He’s very strong and he’s got a lot of strength based powers, but he’s also got a lot of weird tech from where he comes from and science-y stuff. All of that was really fun to play with and throw at Carol. Then we got to develop this incredible supporting cast out from that, and because we were setting it up that he only wanted women around, it ended up being this sort of organic way for her to have this all female cast. It was just a lot of fun.

SH: Issue 8 was a huge hit with the introduction to Star. What did it feel like to introduce readers to this character and to know how in demand that issue was?

KT: I mean, it feels great, because comics are a really tough modern market. So anything you can do that gets people’s attention, has them talking, and has them reading your book, feels great. I can’t really explain the excitement around all of that, it was just a couple things all hitting at once. It seemed to get people really excited. Then your greatest hope is that those people that get excited actually read the book and realize you’re creating your right book with your team and that they want to stick around.

We’re seeing a really great bounce back in the numbers, that’s really exciting. I mean, attrition is such a problem in modern comics. The goal of every comic is basically, that hopefully we can start at a high enough number that we can weather the attrition for long enough before we get drawn into a big event or a big creative team change or something. So, this is really exciting for us to see a reversal in the numbers and all these people really excited about this character and the story we’re telling. It’s been really great. It’s been terrific. I hope The Last Avenger will continue that in a different way.

SH: In the recent issues, Carol’s ties to Kree have been publicized which has resulted in her receiving backlash and dealing with insecurity. Do you foresee any type of recovery for Carol Danvers in the Marvel Universe? Where does this leave the Avengers?

I mean, one of the things we made sure to show in this is that, even though all these horrible things are happening around her and she’s really finding herself in dire circumstances, her friends have not left her side. She’s still got Rhodey, she’s still got Tony, and she’s still got Spider-Woman. Part of that is because she is over in the Avengers books still doing Avengers things. So we didn’t want to upset her role in other things.

I don’t want to spoil too much, but as a result of things that happened with Star in the last issue and that are going to continue to happen in the next issue, you’re definitely going to see – not that those problems about her being Kree and her military career stuff is all going to just go away – but you are going to start to see a reversal of that, of the public opinion turning back around.

But I do think even if she gets back most of what she’s lost or has felt like she’s lost – going through an experience like that makes you pretty wary and untrusting of the public – the fact that the public will just go any way the wind blows is scary. And I think that will definitely stick with Carol. But she’s better than most of us. She’s a hero, so she’s better at letting that stuff go and not letting go of that effect that people need to be saved, that good people need her help even if they’re not always people making the best decisions.

SH: Is there any notable part of Carol as a character that you can relate to?

KT: I mean, Carol’s way better than me, so sometimes it’s hard to relate like that. I think I relate to how much she cares about things, how hard it is for her to let them go, how much she wants to be the best, and how important that is to her. I think all of that is really relatable. I think for everyone, including me, the “always getting up” element is incredibly relatable. I get asked about how to break into comics all the time, or how to get your career going. One of the things I say is, I know it’s trite, but you can’t stop until you’re successful. The only way to not fail is just not stopping until you get there, and then you’re successful. It sounds like a dumb thing to say, but it’s just how it works. I think on a much more important level, that’s how a character like Carol works: she just doesn’t stop.

SH: We’ve talked a lot about your Captain Marvel series, but I know that you’ve also written comics about two characters I really like: one of them being Captain Phasma from Star Wars and the other being Jessica Jones. Could you tell us a little bit about those series and their backgrounds?

KT: I love that you picked those because I feel like those are all really different. Captain Marvel, Jessica Jones and Phasma all have really different tones and they’re very different characters. Phasma was really fun to do because first and foremost – very challenging when we realized, I mean, I sort of knew when I signed up – they weren’t going to let us take off the helmet because that seems like a cinematic moment that you want, not a comic book moment. So I knew that Marco was going to have a big challenge there: “How do you make this character expressive?” I had been assuming we could do a lot of that with words, but then we found out they didn’t want us in her head, which completely makes sense and is the right call, but wasn’t something I had thought of. I was like, “Oh my God, how are we going to do this?” because, you know, we’ve got this incredibly laconic character that doesn’t explain herself to anyone, we can’t show her face and now we can’t read her thoughts. But I think – especially because I had an incredible team, especially in Marco – we were able to create the pilot character to force some conversation out of Phasma and some revelation. We were able to really lean into just letting Phasma be a character that speaks through her actions, and it’s a really dark story. It’s probably the darkest one maybe other than Jessica Jones: Purple Daughter that I’ve done for Marvel and I really enjoyed getting to walk in those shoes.

Jessica Jones is one of my favorite characters of all time and it was such an honor and a privilege – a terrifying one – to be tapped to write that when Brian left. I think the Jessica Jones work I did is some of the best work I’ve done for Marvel. Purple Daughter in particular is just really gutting and emotional. It was a case of really having to learn to edit myself and trust my partner in that case, Mattia De Iulis, to really be able to deliver those beats.

Again, Jessica’s not a character that runs around explaining herself, but we were able to be in her head. So that was an advantage over Phasma. But she was in such a traumatic place there. I really didn’t want to overwrite it and I was very lucky in my collaborators that we had this big talk before we started about my idea for this Purple Daughter story and that it was going to be really traumatic and that I was really going to be leaning on him. I was like, “It’s going to put a lot of pressure on you, but I know you can do it.” And he was like, “If you know I can do it, then I can do it.” So we just did it and it turned into just such a great experience. I’m really proud of that book.

SH: I saw on your Twitter that you are going to be writing the ongoing Deadpool series starting in November. What can readers expect from your run of this series?

KT: If you’re familiar with my work, I think you’ll recognize it there. Deadpool‘s a very weird bendy character that you can do a lot of crazy stuff with. I think every writer has a different approach to Deadpool. I’m definitely one of the writers that thinks the comedy only works as a mask for the tragedy. So you need to also see that tragedy. There’s some real existential stuff in there. It worked into the narrative. It’s not like existential an experimental way. It’s just worked into the narrative. But he’s questioning his place in the world and as he’s with this King of Monster stuff and this Monster Island stuff, he’s questioning what a monster is. If he is one, what’s the difference? Who in his world can he turn to and things like that. Then, you just load it up with really as many good jokes as you can to cover up all of that stuff he’s really worried about.

SH: Is there anything else that you are working on or have coming up that you would like our readers at Fan Fest to know about?

KT: A couple of really cool things have come up that I hope I’m going to get to do, but I can’t talk about them yet. They’re both too early and not nailed down. I will say there’s the Captain Marvel: The Last Avenger arc that starts in November. I think it’s really cool. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a Carol story quite like this before and certainly we haven’t seen a Captain Marvel book approached this way before and it’s a little different for me. It’s a little different for the fans, but I think it’s really cool and Lee Garbett, is really delivering on the visual. He turned in a bunch of stuff for Issue 12 the other day, and we were all blown away by it. I’m really excited for people to check it out. I hope people give it a chance. I know killing other characters in comics can feel too much “seen before,” but I think we’ve got some really great twists and turns that are going to make a lot of sense once people start reading and really pull the rug out from everyone in a great way. I’m really excited about it.

The first trade paperback of Thompson’s Captain Marvel run is available now wherever books are sold, and she can be found on Twitter @79SemiFinalist.

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