RICH INTERVIEWS: Barbara Randall Kesel Writer/Editor

First Comics News: What is the Pack and what are your goals there?

Barbara Randall Kesel: In 2005 or 6 (my email history turned into vapor, so you’d have to contact Lee Nordling for exact details), Lee started up The Pack, a packaging company to serve publishing clients who suddenly wanted to take advantage of the explosion in interest in graphic novels but had no idea what one was or how to go about creating it. He brought me on board to work with him on this. Many publishers balked when they realized that graphic novel artists actually expected to be paid for their work—they were used to giving a $5K or so advance to a writer and getting a book. When we explained how much time it takes for the artist, in particular, they’d balk. One really smart thing Lee did was set up the contracts so we would be paid in units and have the money in hand for each next step from an artist: in case a project got canceled, we could guarantee all creators would receive payment for all work they’d delivered. I wrote the adaptation script for Black is For Beginnings, a nice little graphic novel from Flux. Lee worked on a few more that I wasn’t involved with, but The Pack turned out to be a great idea at the wrong time for the publishing industry. We heard “Great plan, but we’re ceasing all acquisitions until 2010” many times in 2008…

1st: What about being an editor do you find rewarding?

Barbara: I love getting a concept from nothing to something, working with creative teams to tease an idea into coherent form from that place where it’s just a cool sketch or a stray thought. I like the “casting” of putting together a creative team, especially when they gel like the team of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. I like encouraging new artists—I’ve got a good “find weakness” eye for the soft spots in their training and their style potential. As the process goes along, you’re so fixated on every little detail that the story fades from memory, then springs to life when the final printed (or transmitted) copies show up.

1st: How did working on CrossGen’s Meridian change your life?

Barbara: I’m not sure I’d say it changed my life, but it was the first and best opportunity to do the sort of “girl book” I’d been pushing for years. In today’s era of kickass girl characters, it’s hard to make people understand how resistant our industry was to any title where a non-pneumatically-enhanced female character was the center of the story, not the accessory.

1st: Why do you enjoy working on “My Little Pony”?

Barbara: I worked on the first one because I was asked to. I’ve only done three scripts so far: I seem to have a talent for making story pitches that are too close to what they’re doing next, and I’m not a giant fan of the whole “pitch me anything” approach—I’d rather have an editor ask me to pitch something with a specific character or problem to narrow down the strike zone, but that’s’ a lot to ask—so while I LOVE scripting these, getting to the point where there’s something I can script often eats up more time than I can give it in between bigger projects.

1st: Which Little Pony are you most like?

Barbara: Have you SEEN my library?

1st: What elements do you incorporate into a “My Little Pony” story?

Barbara: Um, ponies. And lots of fun.

1st: Why do you continue writing, what do you personally get out of it?

Barbara: I can’t not make stuff up and write it down. And sometimes people pay me to write their characters. I love spreading the delight—every time I write a comic, I imagine being able to read it fresh and try to pack it with all sorts of little doors to let the reader’s imagination to wander off into.

1st: How would you describe Grace, the Ruler of the Golden City?

Barbara: When we started CGW, I suggested that we be different from other companies and have the most powerful character in our universe be a woman (Mike ended up having to have a more powerful cosmic character because, boys, but…!) and the rest of the team agreed. I described Grace as no-nonsense, but having the same relationship to normal people as a mother of a three-year-old: you let them touch the hot stove after you’ve warned them not to if that’s the only way they’ll learn, but you make sure they don’t step off the cliff— protective and motherly, but not likely to put up with a lot of nonsense.

1st: You created a lot of characters of them all do you have a favorite?

Barbara: Sephie.

1st: How do you feel the portrayal of women in comics has changed since you first started in comics?

Barbara: It’s definitely evolving in a positive way. And it’s not just because of the number of women now involved; there’s an expanding awareness of women’s potential from the men in our industry. “Woman” no longer means just one body shape, one personality, one orientation: it’s a whole range of character types.

1st: What are you looking forward to doing next?

Barbara: I’m working with a small startup with a really cool app idea that I can’t say anything about yet. It has amazing potential and we’re developing a storytelling approach to fit it. Looking forward to the second volume of Shadowzone, Ryan Odagawa’s project. And I’ve got a rough outline and a couple of chapters of a book (doesn’t EVERY writer?) and bringing more new artists into the field.

1st: Which superpower would you most like to have and why?

Barbara: I used to say Phantom Girl’s power, but this week, I’d kill to be able to split into multiple bodies and get caught up on all the half-done stuff.

1st: Can you tell us something about you that few know?

Barbara: I’m double-jointed: not enough to be a Cirque du Soleil member, but enough to lurch wildly when I’m tired and have objects drop through my hands like water. It’s comedy gold.

1st: What do you have to say to the many fans of your work?

Barbara: Hello and Thank You!

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