My recent travels have taken me to Easter Island and Santiago, Chile. While there, I was asked for an interview on my career in the comic book world. Always happy to oblige. This one seemed to focus on my experiences as a woman in the industry, which I have to say, has over all been positive.
Even though I know it would make for a better interview if I could dish some dirt, I really don't have much dirt to dish.
And besides as Confucius says "Those who dish dirt, only dig holes for themselves." (Okay, Confucius didn't really say that. I made it up. But still. )
Any who, for my own views, here 'tis.
One of the nice things about working in comics is that sometimes
the artists you work with draw you. This one by Mike Zeck.
Interview with Renee
Wittestaetter by Juan de Dios Dougnac, Santiago,
Chile, April, 2013.
Juan de Dios
Dougnac: The usual perspective about the comic book world and the
geeky entertainment industry in general, like video games, and anime
conventions and comic books is usually about a world dominated by
men, a very masculine, very misogynistic. That’s the idea one gets by
reading specialized websites and I wanted to ask you how was it to be
a woman in a world mainly dominated by men.
Goofing around in the Marvel office that I shared with fellow editor Marie Javins. aka, The Dungeon,
but as far as dungeons go, it wasn't so bad.
Witterstaetter: Well, I never had a problem with it, and I actually
never even think about being at a disadvantage. I like being a woman. And, I have always tried to go out and make my own opportunities. I grew up with two
older brothers, so I was very used to being around men and I was
something of a tomboy when I was growing up. I was the kind of girl
that would like to go fishing and hiking and camping, and all that - -granted, however, it's true there were not that many women in the comic
book industry when I first started. I can probably count with one
hand the women that I knew that were working in the industry. But remember, you didn't really have very many women even going to conventions at that time either.
As far as working in the industry, me
personally, although I have heard some bad stories that other women
have told, personally I was given mostly opportunities: to be an
editor, to learn and to work with some amazing people. If I did
have a bad story or two, I probably wouldn't tell it. No need.
All my bosses in comics were
men. (Conversely, working in film, most of my bosses were woman.) In comics, Mike Carlin taught me a great deal about putting together comic
books when I started at DC comics as a green assistant editor on the
"Superman" books. And from there my friend and mentor Jim Salicrup at
Marvel comics was a great teacher, he was the "Spider-ma" editor and later my boss at
Topps; my immediate boss, Craig Anderson on the "Silver Surfer"
books at Marvel was amazing; and another one of the best bosses I ever had was Mark
Gruenwald at Marvel, who really took everybody--all the assistants--under his wing and taught us all his passion for putting together
comic books. By that time there were a lot more women in the
industry. I never felt like I was ever being discriminated
against, and I was also given plenty of opportunities to do female
oriented books. I was the editor on She-Hulk for a long time.
Marvel Bull pen by Rick Parker:
Rick drew this in '92 of co-workers at Marvel at 387 Park Avenue South
after they redesigned the offices and moved people around. The
multi-talented Eliot R. Brown drew the building.
In this photo:
Josh Myers, Ralph Macchio, David Wohl (photos), John Romita, Sr., Tom
DeFalco, Bob Harras, Mark Gruenwald, Pat Garrahy, Bob Budiansky, Lisa
Patrick, Stan "The Man" Lee, Renee
Witterstaetter, Terry Stewart, John N. Mailroom, Eliot R. Brown, Mike Z.
Hobson, Hildy Mesnik, Steve Saffel , Don Hudson, Tom Breevort, Kevin
Kobasic , Evan Skolnick , Whitey, Mort Todd and Michael Delefemine,
Richard Ashford, Joey Cavalieri, Lisa Trusiani , Mike Rockwitz , Glenn
Herdling (photos), Paul Becton, Marie Javins , Ed Murr, Don Daley, Tim
Touhy, Dawn Geiger, Marcus McLaurin , Steve Bunche , Darren Auck, Danny
Fingeroth , Mike Lackey, Rob Tokar , Dan Cuddy, Chris Cooper, Nel
Yomtov, Fabian Nicieza , Tom Daning (photos), Rick Parker, Jack Abel,
Hector Collazo, Mark Powers
J: Yes, I saw some
funny images of you talking to She-hulk about how men deserved to get
their money taken away from them if they thought She-hulk would be
naked on the comic.
R:Oh, yeah, those
were all John’s words. John Byrne, he was the artist and writer on
the book. We had a lot of fun working on that series together, and
John always had a fantastic sense of humor. A lot of times he would
draw me as a character in the book, but he would always give me a
much bigger office than I ever had. And shirtless man servants
bringing lunch on a silver tray. Believe me, it was not that way.
One of several instances with Renee as a character in the "She-Hulk" comics.
J: You mentioned
there were few women working in the comic book industry. Did that
change in the recent years?
R: It's always changing. When I first
started, like I said, there were very few women, maybe five that I knew
of. By the time I was an assistant editor at Marvel, there were many more women on staff. That’s changed even more so now. There
are more and more women working in comics now. There are more writers, inkers, pencilers, that are very well known and
female editors that have made a big impact on the industry. You also need to look beyond the Big Two, and see what's going on in other types of comic books and sequential art. It's wide open. With wide avenues to explore. We always
could use more creative people, though, so I hope more women will continue to be drawn to the genre. It's kind of a trap though, defining people and putting them into categories isn't it....I don’t like defining people... not by their race, or their sexual
preference or anything else. I hope that someday we can say, that if you excel at whatever job you want to do, doors will open. Sure, it may not always be smooth. But, I don't think any bumps I had in the road were due to my gender. Although when I first moved to New York from Texas, some folks did make fun of my "flower-print" dresses. It was some time before I adopted the "all black" uniform of the city. (laughs) But, in short, I'd love for there to be
more women creators in comics. The more talented people that join our
industry, the better. We also need to try to find ways to expand our industry. Trying to create good stories that attract both men and women should be our focus.
J: So you would say
that allegations of sexism in the industry are exaggerations by
people that see it from the outside or do you think there is sexism
but in other areas of the industry?
R: You can say that about any business I suppose? Of course it exists. The only thing I find funny sometimes, is that in instances when a women has to be tough, she's sometimes called the "B" word, or something similar. That doesn't really happen if it's a man that says the same thing, in the same way. That I just laugh about. But I'm still a tough negotiator and advocate when I need to be. Doesn't change any thing.
J: The other thing
that impressed me was the incredible diversity of working experience
you’ve had, you’ve done many different things, like working in
many different comics of very different themes. You’ve also worked
in films and music videos, as agent, editor, colorist, pretty much
all there is to do in comics and film.
At a recent appearance and book signing in the Middle East.
R: Pretty much
except penciling, yes. I also did draw as a kid, like many kids, but
didn't continue. Now I'm writing more, and am still involved in film production, which may take up more of my time in the future.
J: So, how do you not go insane by doing so many different activities? Do you just
take it one thing at a time?
R: It’s called
being freelance. I was an editor for a long time, as well as an
assistant editor. When you’re starting out as staff at DC comics or
Marvel the pay was not very good as an assistant editor. So you had
to do a lot of freelance work if you want to live in New York city,
which is pretty much where you had to live if you wanted to work at
one of the comic book companies. So I would be an editor by day and a
colorist by night, get a few hours of sleep then turn around and go
back to work the next day. So coloring and maybe some of the writing
at the time was a necessity, there wasn’t necessarily a choice,
it’s something that I had to do, that every assistant editor had to
do to make enough money to live in New York.
You couldn’t live
on your assistant editor salary and as far as I know the salary
hasn’t gone up by much from when I started, it’s still about the
same. Later on, of course I enjoyed coloring, I enjoyed writing.
After I stopped working in an office I started my own publishing
company called Eva Ink Publishing, and of course when you’re
running your own business sometimes you don’t work eight hour days.
Page from "She-Hulk." I wish I had a dress like that.
Sometimes you work
ten hour days, sometimes you work weekends. I don’t find it to be
something that drives me insane, I love what I do. I feel very
fortunate to be working in a creative industry where I get to set my
own hours, I get to publish the books I want to work on, and it’s
the same with film production. I have enjoyed every movie, every
commercial, every music video that I’ve worked on because it’s
exciting to be creative and create something that millions of people
are going to see. So I think I would be bored if I wasn’t so busy.
J: Have you had the
chance to visit other conventions here in Latin America? Are you
familiar with the comic book market here? How do you think the comic
book industry in Latin America is evolving?
R: It’s different
in different parts of Latin America. I’m becoming familiar now with
comics in Chile. I think there’s some amazing talent in Chile. I
was just looking at the book by Berna on Rapa Nui yesterday. That’s
a beautifully done book and something with historical and educational
significance. My friend Felipe, who helps run a convention in Chile
is writing a book and a friend of his is drawing it and the art work
is lovely in that book. There’s just a lot of exciting things going
on in Chile. And I hear also in Peru, Argentina, Brazil, etc. The
reason I love to go to these conventions I haven’t been to before
is to see new talent, to see what’s going on in the rest of the
world. I hope to go to a lot more conventions in South America.
J: I hope so too.
R: Thank you.
J: Chile has had an
incredible explosion of creativity on the last few years. There have
been a few tabletop games, card games, role playing games, comic
books, webcomics, etcetera. There’s probably a lot of people who
wants to make something, whether on the comic books industry or in
other industries. Focusing on the comic book industry, what do you
think someone must do in order to stand out in case his talents
aren’t related to art?
R: Well, it’s
harder for a writer, because you have to get someone to actually sit
down and read your work, and that is difficult. If I were a writer
looking to publish a new book here, I would find an artist to team up
with, someone whose work was good, someone who knew storytelling and
work with them to develop a story. There are lot of ways to get your
work out there: webcomics are a great way to go now because you get
your property out there online and your ideas are copyrighted, you
don’t have to worry about anyone stealing your ideas because of the
copyright notice in there, it establishes your property… So that’s
what I would do if I were a writer looking to break in. I would
find someone to team up with, someone who would be a good working
partner and artist.
"Make good comics or else!" One of the legendary Marvel Christmas parties.
J: Just one last
question. What do you think makes people want to come here, to
Chile, to South America, to suffer the long travel hours to come to a
place where you don’t speak the language? And it’s not just you.
There are lots of incredibly talented and famous people here. What do
you think it is that makes them choose Chile or South America?
R: For me, I like to travel
to different shows that invite me because I like to experience a
different culture. I think we learn a lot by going to other places
and seeing how other people live, what’s important to them, what
their culture is, what their interests are.
We don’t learn
anything by staying in our own little place in the world. You only
learn and grow by going out and seeing what the rest of the world is
like. I love to do cross cultural things. The first day we were here
we—James O'Barr, Arthur Suydam and myself-- went to a local school
and talked to the school’s children about comics and putting
together comics and what we do. I think it’s very important to
share, because the more you get to know another place the more you
get to understand them.
For example, two
weeks ago I was in the middle east, I was in Jordan and the UAE. Some
of my friends said “Why are you going to the middle east?” and I
said “I’ve never been there before and they invited me”, so I
went. And by the way, since we are having a talk about women, I was floored by the amazing young girls (as well as boys) in the UAE interested in drawing and sequential art and trying to find ways to get involved in comics. It's becoming easier for them now, but still something not as widely available as in other parts of the world. In short, the people were lovely and I had never been to that part of
the globe before and it gave me a new understanding of what’s
important to them, and their culture, and how they think.
the same coming here to Chile, I’ve never been to Chile before and
the people here are warm, open and friendly. And, making sequential art that reflects their world view. Now I have a better
understanding of what it's like in this part of South America. It’s
very important as a writer and someone who works in a creative media
like myself to see what it’s like in other places, to learn and to
get to know people and their culture. It adds authenticity to anything I work on, the wider my world view. I think we grow as humans
the more we know our fellow people. And sequential art is a wonderful tool to use.
Agent/Editor at Large. Hiking in Chile.
translation isn’t 100% verbatim, I had to fill in a few blanks
where I couldn’t discern the exact words. Also, in the list of
editors Ms. Witterstaetter worked with in the first answer, I took
the names from lists of editors on the web, since I wasn’t sure how
to spell their last names. Besides, one of the questions asked was
due to a misunderstanding on my behalf. It has been edited in order
for the interview to be more coherent (“J: You mentioned there were
few women working on the comic book industry. Did that change in the
recent years or…?”). Other than that, the text hasn’t been
altered in any way and has been reproduced to the best of my
knowledge.--Juan de Dios Dougnac