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Kelly Sue Deconnick on How She Reimagined Aquaman

It’s a great time to be an Aquaman fan with his first solo movie on the way and a brilliant new comic from Bitch Planet and Captain Marvel mastermind Kelly Sue DeConnick. The first issue is an immersive reinvention of the character and explores his origins and mythology while managing a completely new take on the King of the Sea. I sat down to chat with DeConnick about the friendship that led to her grappling with Arthur Curry, fighting against being pigeonholed, and collaborating with the brilliant art team of Robson Rocha, Daniel Henriques, and Sunny Gho.

A conversation with her good friend Brian Michael Bendis, while he was recovering from an illness, lit the spark which ignited her journey to helming the Aquaman title. “While he was in the hospital a lot of us comics people would hang out in his room and keep him company. And Brian has two areas of interest: his family and his work. So to keep his chin up we’d talk comics, and kind of joke about getting the gang back together as a lot of us had left work for hire.”

During one of those chats Bendis threw out an unexpected suggestion. “He asked me if I’d be interested in Aquaman, and I think made some jokes about it. But my husband [comics creator Matt Fraction] was fascinated by that because it’s not an obvious fit and there’s something really exciting about that. Then he reminded me that Jason Momoa would be playing Aquaman on the big screen–and I could certainly live with him in my head for the next year and half. But more than that it was just about the fact that it wasn’t an obvious choice, and as artists we need to be looking for truth and we need to go where we’re not safe.”

The first issue presents us with a mythic mystery which sees Arthur with no memory of who he is living as a castaway on a bleak yet beautiful island brought to life by an incredible art team who DeConnick was quick to gush about. “They are so amazing. When Robson was cast for it, it was immediately like ‘Oh yes! This is exactly what this has to be.’ He has such a huge sweep to everything that he does, and it’s like highly detailed fantasy art. There’s a double page spread from issue 45 that I can’t wait for people to see, I mean you can feel the mist on your face! And I see his pencils and think ‘Oh, I don’t want them inked!’ Then Daniel comes in and makes them even more beautiful! Then Sunny just lights the whole thing up, and that’s what it is, Sunny is bringing the light.”

When DeConnick was announced fans were understandably excited, not only because she’s a fantastic writer but also because it’s rare for women to helm books starring male heroes. For DeConnick that status is something she’s grappled with as she’s worked on Aquaman. “I try not to think about it too much, I just try to stay in my lane and write the best script that I can. But it is cool. My voice is very political, my work is very feminist–but if you look at Pretty Deadly, my work is also very mythic.”

DeConnick continued and touched on unfair assessments of her holistic work.  “I’ve been asked in interviews: ‘Aren’t you afraid of being pigeonholed because you write all these female leads?’ I was furious at the question because at the time I had Pretty Deadly, Bitch Planet, Captain Marvel, and Avengers Assemble on my plate. So I have a blue sky superhero team book, a solo high adventure book, a mythic horror, and an overtly political satire, and I was like ‘I don’t see pigeonholed there.’ You’re saying that because they’re all female characters, but you would never say that to a man. I don’t want it to be that writing a male led book is somehow seen as a higher status than writing a woman led book. I have a visceral, negative reaction to that.”

DeConnick is perhaps most excited for fans to live in the incredible world her and her team have created for Aquaman. “There are just so many beautiful images, and some really great moments. The issue I’m really excited about is #45; we really get into the mythology of the gods on this island, and I just really loved getting to create this creation myth. DC Comics has always borrowed from European mythic traditions, so I was able to play with bringing in other mythic traditions as well.

“But all that said, there is this page in #44 which is just this really quiet moment. Arthur and this woman Caille are about to go and meet the old gods on the beach. It’s a three panel page with around two lines, and it’s just so beautifully rendered. If I was going to buy a page of original art from this comic–which I should do!–that would be the page I would buy. You know when we do comics well, they just sort of have this transcendent power.”

Aquaman #43 is out on Wednesday

Images: DC Comics

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