History happens today! After years of anticipation, Book One of Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Jimenez is finally hitting comic shelves. But what exactly is this new DC Black Label book? If you’re expecting a showcase of awe-inspiring art worthy of the gods themselves, you’re well in luck. On the other hand, if you’re anticipating the same old story about the trials of Wonder Woman’s people, you’re about to be brilliantly surprised. To prepare us for this reframed classic that uses the past to reveal our present, we spent an afternoon with Phil and Kelly Sue to discuss Historia in the making.
Let’s get into the history of Historia. When DC’s Black Label imprint launched in 2018, Historia was one of the first books announced for the lineup. What was the process, and what were the challenges in bringing this book to life behind the scenes?
Kelly Sue DeConnick: Uh. Have you seen it?
It’s maybe the most gorgeous comic I’ve seen in my life.
KSD: Yeah, I think the answer’s in the question.
Phil Jimenez: I think it shows in the work what took so long. It was a labor-intensive process. One thing I do like to stress is that when the book was announced, not a page had been written, not a page had been drawn. We had literally said yes about a week before. Then suddenly, it debuts in The Hollywood Reporter. And ironically one of the things I told DC was, “Whatever you do, don’t announce this before we have some pages done!”
A week later, they announced it. So, what I’d like to say is while it has been a long time, it also took us some time to ramp up and get used to the creative process for work. Also, just on my end, I decided to do the work digitally through the Procreate app on my iPad. I’d never worked that way before. So, there was a fairly steep learning curve of several months of getting used to working digitally. That doesn’t explain all of the time, but I like to defend myself by saying it’s not like we had a lot of pages in the can when the book was announced. We had literally just said yes, and it went to announcement.
I want to talk about your influences. Kelly Sue, this is your second major work for DC after a two-year run on Aquaman. Like Historia, that was also deeply entrenched in concepts of ancient culture and mythology. I’d like to know how your research into mythological history and concepts influenced Historia. Not just the gods, but also the Amazons themselves.
KSD: So, I was not overly interested in the actual history of Greece, or the Mediterranean, because this isn’t really that story. So, I did some research... This is really embarrassing, but I really love The Great Courses Plus, which is a series of actual professors giving you their actual lectures, only they’re standing on a very awkward soundstage looking at cameras when they’re told to. But there’s a couple of really fantastic ones that are classicists and historians. In particular, there’s a professor who has gone through ancient Greece, and specifically Athens, and did a series of lectures on like, “What was it like to be a slave?” “What was it like to be a woman?” The different roles and what your day-to-day life would be in these societies. I found those to be incredibly helpful lectures. I listened to something like fifty hours of the classicist Elizabeth Vandiver’s lectures on mythology, and on Herodotus and Homer, and was very interested in all of that as well. I also wanted to plug Adrienne Mayer’s book, The Amazons, which is a real history.
But it was a little bit like learning the rules so you could throw some of them out. Because this is fiction, and when we write about the past today, we’re not really writing about the past. We’re writing about today. There’s no point in making art about the past unless you’re using it to talk about the present or the future, because the past is past.
Artistically, there seems to be some classical influences, but the comic also looks like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
PJ: I’m happy to hear that because that was part of the intent. I can think of two or three influences. One was my conversations with Kelly Sue. Part of that was dismantling long-standing ideas I had about how the Greek gods and the Amazons could be portrayed in a comic. Those early conversations had a huge impact on design decisions.
The other thing is I’m rooted in a storytelling tradition from probably a generation ago. So, I wanted to mirror, or perpetuate a sort of way of telling a story with a certain number of panels and epic scope in homage to the people who influenced me, but also hopefully put in a twist and create something new. Aesthetically, the lovely thing about being liberated from previous incarnations of Wonder Woman, for which I’m well associated—and there’s clearly hints, little homages the George Pérez Wonder Woman—but this allowed me to reconsider the designs. Primarily the gods, but also the Amazons in numerous ways.
A huge input, for example, was not comic work, but fashion. Like Kelly Sue was saying, this is fiction, right? It’s not real. So, there’s a tribe of Amazons, for example, whose armor is actually not based on ancient Greek armor, it’s based on 14th century French soldier armor. My Olympus is much more rooted in Versailles than it is the Parthenon. Just visually.
It does kind of look like The Gods at Fashion Week.
PJ: Yes, which is actually the point! Again, because these are characters who are speaking to us now and because I just didn’t want to spend a lot of time like…we’ve seen Hera in a toga, right? It’s done! It does nothing to tell us much about her character. And what I was really interested in doing was using the garb and the environments to expand on the character development that Kelly Sue gave me in the script.
Let’s talk about those Amazons. In the past, Paradise Island has been presented as this utopian society built on ideals of peace and love, but at the same time, we see the Amazons as this fierce and proud race of warriors. How do you square these two apparently disparate visions?
KSD: I think there is a thing that happens sometimes when men are trying to celebrate women. And this happens sometimes when women are trying to celebrate women as well, but it happens a lot when men are trying to celebrate women. Women get put on a pedestal, in a way that suggests that women are just “better,” right? That they’re “more communal” and “gentler,” and “more nurturing.” They’re not aggressive, like those “terrible, awful men.” And putting someone on a pedestal is just another way of putting them in a box. It’s not helpful. It’s limiting. It’s not equalizing. It continues to other us. So, the idea that a society of women would be more communal makes a lot of assumptions about women that are sort of essentialist, and really discounts how much of the way women are has to do with what women are asked or forced to do culturally.
The negative versions of this are really easy to cite. Like, “Women are not forthright. Women don’t ask for what they want. Women are manipulative to get what they want. They do it in backhanded ways,” right? For centuries, women’s safety has depended upon the comfort of the men around them. And so, prioritizing the comfort of those men and getting their own needs met in a way that didn’t appear demanding or burdensome was a survival adaptation.
So, when we talk about the society of Amazon warriors, we’re talking about a society of…warriors. And the idea of warriors existing to protect peace transcends gender and is just a historical notion. That’s why we apparently have a standing army today!
Right! That’s what all warriors do!
KSD: Exactly! So, I don’t think there’s anything particularly new or incongruous about that. Where people have the hiccup is like, “But they’re women!” Like…yup!
Wonder Woman and the history of the Amazons isn’t just a story about women. It’s also a story, going back to Marston, which historians and literary theorists have often analyzed for themes of queerness and open sexuality. What roles do those play in your Amazon history?
KSD: Boy, I don’t know how qualified I am as a cis straight woman to answer that. Phil?
PJ: So, I have thoughts, but I want to address something. I use “queer” in the broadest possible sense. I don’t think of it exclusively in terms of sexuality so much as the notion of the queering of the world. I think of being queer as being anti-tradition, anti-patriarchal, as something that upends kind of a traditional and often conservative, regressive point of view. So, the way I use “queer” is a huge part of it.
We all know the Marston stuff was mired in Marston’s own fetishized view of sex and women, but it’s still amazing work to me because of the fact that this was 1942, the middle of World War II, and it was so clear and obvious on the page. It’s still quite stunning as a historical artifact. That said, of course the fifties came along, as well as the Comics Code Authority, and sort of eradicated that part of Wonder Woman, up to the eighties when Pérez reintroduced it. What’s interesting to me academically is the discussion between homosexual representation and queer representation, which I don’t always think are the same thing.
I actually think, quite frankly and maybe personally, just having me on the book makes it queer. I bring a certain sensibility to it. One of the things I really loved about this process was that Kelly Sue and I came from two very complementary sociopolitical ideologies and we brought that to the work. It’s all there.
I love this work because it is, to me, clearly the work of a woman and maybe less clearly, but certainly I can see it, the work of a gay dude. So, I think it is inherently queer, in its way. Again, using my broader definition of “queer.” It just has a proud and profound feminist point of view, and that thrills me because I think that queers our industry a little bit.
From the first page, Historia seeks to correct a lot of common misconceptions and introduce new ideas about Amazon society in great detail. What would be one lesson that you hope readers learn after reading Historia?
KSD: I’m more focused on questions than I am on answers. I don’t tend to think of myself as a teacher. Although, we also do talk about the book as if it’s a textbook for a history of the Amazons that is intended for an audience of young Amazons, so they can learn the history of their people from their people’s perspective. And I guess the thing I would want you to take away from it is the idea of questioning the version of history that you have always been fed. It says it on that first page, right? And the reason that first page has no images is because we wanted to begin with the idea of tabula rasa.
Our opening contract with you is, “Forget everything you think you know.” The narrator says history is written by the victors, and in the war between the Amazons and the gods of men, the Amazons lost. So, the version that you have read was written by our oppressors. Probably there is no objective history, and the truth may lie somewhere between. But you’ve heard theirs—this is ours. And if there is a thing to be taught, it is to consider the source. Remember that history is stories.
Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons #1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Jimenez, with Hi-Fi, Arif Prianto and Romulo Fajardo Jr. is now available in print and as a digital download.