Barbara Slate has done it all from Greeting Cards, to television. She has worked for DC, Marvel and Archie creating new charaters and putting her own personal touch on classic charaters.
First Comics News: Your career started in the greeting card business with Ms. Liz. How do you break into the greeting card business?
Barbara Slate: I had an original idea. Ms. Liz was the first feminist greeting card. I started Ms. Liz in 1974 with 24 sassy cards that I took to the Bloomingdale’s greeting card buyer. He ordered them from my sketches, and with that purchase order I was able to borrow money to print the cards.
1st: How did Ms. Liz go from a greeting card to a comic strip?
Barbara: It was a natural progression. Ms. Liz had more to say than the one-two punch of a greeting card. It was the time of the sexual revolution and of course, Cosmopolitan was the naughty working girl’s magazine. Helen Gurley Brown was editor-in-chief and although they had never run a comic strip, she ran Ms. Liz.
1st: What was the process of bringing Ms. Liz to animation?
Barbara: Again, it was a natural progression. Ms. Liz needed her own voice since she was already speaking her mind about women’s roles in the work place and the bedroom. One of my favorite cards was, “Which do you prefer, my mind or my body? Tough choice, huh?” I was lucky enough to get a gig onThe Today Show. It was Ms. Liz and me—I would talk about “Today’s women” and Ms. Liz was animated to stress the point of whatever the topic…dating, mother, pressure to get married. The Today Show eventually dropped me and keptMs. Liz, who continued on as an animated feature for over 20 segments.
1st: Based on the strength of Ms. Liz, DC Comics hired you, how did they approach you?
Barbara: I approached Jenette Kahn, president of DC Comics. Luckily, she was interested in a girl’s line, but she wanted me to create a new character. That is how Angel Love was born.
1st: Before Angel Love they rejected 6 concepts, what were they?
Barbara: Actually, the concepts were all Angel Love. It just took a long time before I got it right. I had no idea how to approach comic book writing. I am eternally grateful to Janette that she gave me two of her vice presidents, Paul Levitz and Dick Giordano, to show me the method of comic book writing. It was an hour lesson and the greatest education I ever received!
1st: This was your first comic book, how was this different then working on Ms. Liz?
Barbara: It was completely different. First of all, in comic books, I had an editor. Luckily, my first editor was Karen Berger who was very kind, patient and extremely talented. Secondly, I was receiving a steady pay check! And thirdly, I could write a story, draw it, play with the layouts, and have a column at the end of my comic where Angel Love would talk to her fans. I was in heaven. Angel Love was for 10 to 16 year olds—about drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll. Although my work was always edgy, both Jenette and Karen encouraged me in this direction.
1st: You left DC for Marvel with Yuppies from Hell. Why switch publishers?
Barbara: I didn’t leave DC, they left me. Perhaps my edge was too edgy. After nine issues of Angel Love, all other proposals were rejected. But I was totally hooked on comics. I was fortunate to meet Tom DeFalco, editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, at a comic book convention. Tom suggested I write a graphic novel about life in the city for 21-year-old women and that’s how Yuppies from Hell began. Marvel was doing so well under Tom’s leadership; they could afford to take a chance on a new market. Marvel not only went after the 21-year-old women but also the young girls.
1st: You also did Sweet XVI, which won a Forbie Award. For readers unfamiliar with the Forbie, could you explain it?
Barbara: I have absolutely no idea what a Forbie Award is, only that I won it for Sweet XVI and I’m always happy to accept awards.
1st: After Sweet XVI, you started working onBarbie and Barbie Fashion, how were you picked for that assignment?
Barbara: Tom introduced me to Sid Jacobson who was editingBarbie.
1st: You hadn’t written for a younger market in your prior work, what attracted you to Barbie?
Barbara: I can’t say that I was attracted to Barbie. What I was really attracted to was comic books. Barbie was the exact opposite of Ms. Liz and Angel Love. She had no edge, couldn’t make mistakes, and was kind and sweet to everyone. But what she had was Hildy Mesnik, the new Marvel editor assigned to the property. Writing Barbie turned out to be great fun. Barbie could have a different career every month and she could live anywhere in the world. She not only was beautiful, but was smart and talented and she could do anything. Barbie was a great role model for young readers. In fact, Ms. Magazine reviewed the comic and gave Barbie an “A”!!!
1st: How did you have to adapt your writing style for this market?
Barbara: It wasn’t difficult. I am very immature.
1st: How much input did Mattel have over editorial content?
Barbara: Usually if Hildy approved a story, Mattel was on-board.
1st: Your work on Barbie won a Parents Choice Award, did this open doors for you in the children’s book market?
Barbara: Don’t mean to brag, but we won the Parent’s Choice Award two years in a row! I can’t say it opened doors for me. In fact, it was much like winning the Forbie award.
1st: You also worked on Pocahontas and Beauty and the Beast at Disney Comics. What was it like to work on comics that were that heavily controlled by the parent company?
Barbara: Those characters were licensed by Marvel so Hildy was my editor. I know that Disney looked carefully at my stories, and I loved that. Anytime an editor can improve my writing, I am grateful. I loved writing Beauty and the Beast. We were supposed to do four issues but ended up doing thirteen. Writing about the love story between Beauty and the Beastwas a beautiful experience.
1st: What brought you to Archie Comics?
Barbara: I danced with Victor Gorelick at a Marvel party. I believe we were dancing to “Gloria”…G-L-O-R-I-A and he asked me to write for Archie. (By the way, I am a Betty, although I have hidden desires to be a Veronica)
1st: How do the assignments work at Archie? I notice some months you are writing Archie, then Betty, other months Betty & Veronica and some months nothing at all?
Barbara: Victor seems to have enough writers so there is no pressure to produce x-amount of stories per month. Basically, whenever I have a story, I send it in and if I don’t hear from Victor, that means it’s approved. We have a good relationship because we’re both old timers in the business and I won’t send him a story unless I’m really happy with it and he won’t mess around with my story unless he’s really unhappy with it.
1st: How do you adapt to the shorter 6 or 10 page stories at Archie?
Barbara: Barbara: I don’t have a problem writing short stories. When I put the six pages up on my cork board, there is a kind of melody to them…the panels must move like a song. My daughter Samantha is 8 yrs. old and she helps me with the lingo. For instance, I was writing a story about a new girl at school who snobby Veronica said was very unfashionable. I asked Sam what you’d call somebody who dresses out of fashion and she immediately said, “so last week”. Looking at comics from an early age started Samantha reading. Whenever her friends come over, they all read comics. I insist they read my stories first for feedback.
1st: What is the difference between writing Barbieand Betty & Veronica?
Barbara: Barbie is different from Betty and Veronica because she can’t make mistakes. One of my goals in writing B&V is to show them making mistakes and even being totally humiliated. With all the pressure on young girls to be perfect, I think it’s important that girls learn to laugh at themselves. ThroughBetty and Ronnie, young girls can watch their favorite characters goof up and see that it isn’t the end of the world.
1st: Outside of Archie, you are working with Archie veteran Stan Goldberg on Soho Zoé, what is Soho Zoéabout?
Barbara: Soho Zoé is about a young girl who moves to NY to fulfill her dream. She leaves behind her boyfriend, who betrays her when he starts dating her sister…and so the story goes. Stan draws Soho Zoé and I write it. We’re now in the process of looking for a publisher. I am also writing and drawing a graphic novel called Sad Brides for the 21 and older women’s market. It’s chic lit and semi-autobiographical, about a photographer who gets married for all the wrong reasons.
1st: You are also working on Violet, what is the story behind Violet?
Barbara: Violet is a psychopathic super model. She came to me when I was watching the O.J. Simpson trial. I was so absorbed with the trial of the century. I watched it every day, all day, from my drawing board. O.J. was so obviously guilty, I had to create a female character who was just as pathological, but got away with murder because of her fabulous looks and star quality. Violet first appeared in International Magazine and then on large canvas prints which were shown at the Arlene Bujese Gallery in East Hampton.
1st: John Grey has had tremendous success withMen Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, how did you get involved with The Illustrated Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus?
Barbara: My brother-in-law, Richard Levy, created the Men Are from Mars board game with John Grey for Mattel, and told me that HarperCollins was doing the illustrated version of his book. I knew I could do a great job on it. I met John and then was invited to send my work to his editor and the rest is history.