BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Chris Antzoulis is kind of a force of nature. He's a poet and comic book writer who seems to have his hands in multiple pies, if you know what I mean. Currently, he's writing the comic book "The Paladin," while also working on "Fennec," poetry, and creating a writing community on Instagram.
As a reader of comic books and graphic novels myself, and a feminist, it is sometimes hard for me to reconcile the treatment and objectification of women in the genre. Since Antzoulis is deeply entrenched in that world, who is writing a series with a woman as the main character, I decided to ask him what he thinks about the current role women often have in comics--and what he hopes will change.
This is what he said:
JV: As a poet, what prompted you to switch gears to comics? What have been your influences for "The Paladin?"
CA: Well, I don't see it as a switch...I see it more as an addition. A couple years ago, while in a graduate program for poetry, I was introduced to the art of writing comics through an elective within said program. I've always been into comics as a reader, but never attempted writing a script. Once I completed the script and started collaborating with an illustrator, I was hooked. The mindset for writing poetry is radically different from comics. But they are both positive experiences for me. And I believe that the collaborative effort is where the major difference rests. Sometimes I like to write and work on a project alone, but many times I love to work with someone on a story...the worlds you can build when you put two passionate minds together have the potential to be twice as incredible.
In "The Paladin," one of the main characters is a woman named Lyra. Is it difficult for you to write a female character? Do you think the comic & graphic novel industry has a shortage of strong female characters?
I don't think writing Lyra is any more difficult than writing the male characters. The key is to write characters that are "realistic" in the world that is created for them. I think Lyra is a fitting representation of her circumstances (many of which people have yet to be introduced to). I do love writing Lyra, because I get to be a badass while I'm doing it.
I do believe that there is a shortage of strong female characters, but I believe that the industry is moving forward (however slowly or steadily). Every now and again someone takes a tremendous step backward. The major problem is, I believe, that some creators allow their characters to fall outside the realm of the world that was created for them. If you have a superhero who is female, is it realistic (within the world created) to believe that she would fight crime with her breasts hanging out? Or with high heels on? Most likely not.
So, then why have them in such garb? Plenty of readers are interested in three-dimensional, deep, characters. And I'm not saying that characters cannot have sexual appeal...that's fine...that's a dimension. But, it should fit in with the characterization. Take Poison Ivy, for example. She's a villain in DC Comics that relies on her sexuality as part of her villainy. So, to have her flaunt herself a little more than usual is totally within the realm of her character. These principles apply to every character...male/female/or other.
It is no secret that female characters in comic books are often overly sexualized, especially when compared to their male counterparts. Discuss this. Do you think it's changing?
Yes, I do think that there is an imbalance, and yes, I do think that it's changing. You have wonderful female and male creators who give all their characters the appropriate amount of love and attention. But, as I said before, sometimes there are large steps taken in the wrong direction and I believe that it is our job as readers/fans/artists in the community, to call out creators and companies when something is not given the proper care. Not to chastise them...but to critique them in such a way to bring down the frequency in which the problem persists.
No matter what we do in comics, there will occasionally be something that offends. After all, it is a genre with a quick turnaround. Books being released monthly...sometimes weekly. Problems will always crop up issue to issue, but that is where our voices come in.
This type of back and forth is a reason to love comics. It's one of the few industries that has such constant and immediate chatter between creators and readers...and we see the results of it. As long as things are kept respectful on both ends, the outcome of these conversations are rewarding.
What has been the most difficult part of the publishing process for you with "The Paladin?"
I think that totally creating a comic on your own has a few different, yet equally challenging, blockades to bust through. Everybody has a good idea for a story...seriously...everybody. But to sit your ass down and write it is step one.
Then there is collaborating. I've heard so many horror stories about writers and illustrators not getting along that it makes me feel fortunate. Fabio Valle (the illustrator and co-creator on The Paladin) has been a resource that allows me to make the story even better. He's so dedicated to his art that we constantly challenge one another to be better.
Apart from the actual creation of the story...I'd say the hardest part of the entire process is the hustle that comes afterwards: finding a printer, distributing the book, raising awareness, raising funds to market at comic cons and to keep everything going. It's all very draining, and time consuming...but it's fun. If that makes sense. I get to learn more about a business I love by actually doing everything on my own.
What are you working on right now in poetry? Do you think the poetry community is more receptive or less than the comic industry?
Well, I'm always working on my poetry. More often than not just writing and editing the random poems I come up with; but, I do have a manuscript I started in grad school that is constantly moving forward and is something I'd one day like to complete.
First of all, I see them both as communities that I enjoy being a part of, and (like anything else) there's good and bad within each one. In the poetry community I feel a bigger push for writers to improve. It's analytical down to the syllable...every word is on purpose! I would say (in my limited experience) that the comic community is a bit more embracing than the poetry community. It may feel this way to me because there's more of a broad audience range within the comic community.
And since audience is what drives reception, I find the comic community more receptive. But, these are two worlds that I'm trying, constantly, to unite for their own (and my own) benefit.
I know you are collaborating with several people on projects right now, which is ironic, since writing is such a lonely art. How has this changed your writing and editing process?
Honestly, writing to me is about having fun...otherwise, why do it? The pay is shit. Catharsis can be achieved through therapy. I do it because I love it, and I love it because it's fun. And it's always fun to work with friends. Fortunately, the artists I've been working with have become fast friends of mine and they are a pleasure to work with. I just sat down to dinner with Erin LoCascio the other day to discuss our work on PUSH (a webcomic) and on a story called The Persistent Ceaselessness of Kuu, and ideas were flying back and forth.
And the next day I received sketches of new characters for "The Paladin" from Fabio Valle. It's such an exciting process to see your work come to life through illustration and there's so much to learn, as a writer, from visual storytellers. This has all definitely impacted my writing process, both in poetry and comics. I've learned to think about my readers more. I've gotten a bit better at having people see what I want them to see. And I've become a happier writer all-around because of these wonderful people I get to work with.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (forthcoming 2016, ELJ Publications) & Xenos (forthcoming 2017, Agape Editions). She received her MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, as well as the managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of her writing has appeared in Prelude, The Atlas Review, The Huffington Post, Columbia Journal, and elsewhere. She has lead workshops at Brooklyn Poets.
Chris Antzoulis is a New York-based comic book writer and poet with an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. A published poet, he has also helped other writers reach audiences through his work on literary magazines such as Madcap Review and Lumina. Following the success of his web comic PUSH, Chris began his journey into the fractured, post-apocalyptic world of The Paladin, his first full-length comic. From his humble corner in Queens, NY, he hopes only to share with his readers his passion for telling stories.