Indie Comics Spotlight: Amy Chu talks Poison Ivy, Summit, Kato's daughter and why Killer Croc is her fave

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Jun 2, 2018, 12:01 PM EDT

One thing writing this column has taught me is that everyone gets involved in comics in vastly different ways, and Amy Chu is no different. She holds several degrees, including an MBA from Harvard, and has tons of business experience. Although she was never discouraged from writing, the bug hit her late. Chu self-published her first stories and along with Greg Pak was featured in several anthologies, including Shattered: The Asian American Comic Anthology, before landing her first mainstream character, Wonder Woman. From there she wrote stories for Marvel's Deadpool, Secret Wars, DMC and Gene Simmons’ own KISS comic. Just as Batgirl was the character who really put Babs Tarr on the map, it was Poison Ivy who solidified Amy Chu as a serious comic book writer. And when Lion Forge founders David Steward II and Carl Reed brought in editor Joe Illidge (who has since moved on to Valiant) to help staff their new Catalyst Prime imprint, they tapped Chu to pen one of their new biggest characters, Summit. In addition to Summit, Chu is currently keeping busy writing three other titles: Red Sonja (Dynamite), Deja Thoris (Dynamite), and a retelling of the Green Hornet for Dynamite, featuring Kato’s daughter. I spoke with her about her fast trajectory of a career and the character that she’s always wanted to write.


Artists: Patrick Zircher and Paul Mounts

How did you get into comics?

I was just trying to help my friend, writer Georgia Lee, get into it, because we both come from a business background and she wanted to write. I did not grow up reading comics. Actually, I should say, I did not grow up reading superhero comics. But I quickly discovered that this is something I wanted to do. I think the first convention I went to was C2E2, and I just thought, "This is just amazing, I've never done anything like this before." And then Georgia encouraged me to take a writing class that she took, and it turned out I could actually write (that was mind-blowing). I never in 100 million years have thought that this was something I would be doing.

In what area of business were you working before this?

I've always been in the business consulting side of things, organizational development specifically. I was essentially doing financial consulting. Business plans, marketing strategy,  stuff like that for companies. And you'll see this in Summit (Lion Forge).

It's set at MIT, which is where I got a degree in architectural design as an undergraduate. I also have a dual degree in East Asian Studies from Wellesley College, too, and that part of me shows up in Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death. I got both my schools in there, and then I got my MBA from Harvard Business School, which is where I met Georgia Lee, who is now one of the writers on The Expanse.

How did you get from Harvard and that first writing course to your first mainstream published comic?

I had work published in anthologies like Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology, and I self-published. This is pretty much what you have to do as a writer. There's almost no other way to do it. Editors don't have time, and they open themselves up to liability [if they look at unpublished work]. And if you can't get yourself self-published, are you really serious about it? So I self-published a number of Girls Night Out (Alpha Girl Comics) short stories. The title is meant to be ironic. It’s about these elderly women in a senior home, and one of them has dementia.

But the short stories got some traction, and I was trying to get them into editors' hands, which is what you really need to do ultimately. I finally got an opportunity to pitch for the Vertigo CMYK Anthology.

So Alpha Girl is your independent company?

Yes, me and Georgia Lee. This was 2011, so there was really not a whole lot of female-friendly content out there. And it was Georgia who thought we should do stories that actually address this issue. We started putting out books and got feedback immediately. People would stop at our table at conventions and be surprised by a comic book cover with a woman with no cleavage. That was unusual then.


Artists: Silvio dB and Chris Sotomayor 

Did your business/marketing experience help you when it comes to pitching and promoting your work?

I think the business stuff comes in handy because when I pitch, I always pitched three ideas.You can't take no for an answer. If you pitch one idea, and they're like, "Well, somebody already pitched that idea," then what? So I got into that habit. I got one story in the Vertigo Anthology, and then I got an opportunity to pitch for Sensation Comics, Wonder Woman. And again I gave them three ideas and they picked the one that ended up being my first DC proper story. From there I got Poison Ivy, and that was my first series. That's how I got in, in a nutshell.

After Wonder Woman and Poison Ivy, did things take off from there? Did you start doing comics full-time?

I think after Poison Ivy, that's when I really decided to do this as my career. Like one hundred percent. It's a hard, competitive business. There's not a lot of people who are able to do this full-time. So you’ve got to be able to deal with the fluctuations of work. You know, the ebbs and flows. I don't blanket pitch to everybody. I think it's just that somebody who picks up, let's say, Poison Ivy or Wonder Woman likes it. And that's usually when I get an email like, “Hey, I liked whatever you wrote for this or that, are you interested in doing this project?”


Artist: Clay Mann

That's pretty much what happens. Almost always somebody reads [my work], or in some cases they go to a convention. They meet me and they go back and read my stuff. In the case of Dynamite, I meet my [previous] deadlines more or less, and I have ideas. They like my work style. I'm affordable, I don't know, maybe it’s a combination.

Is that how you got to work with both DMC?

Well, the DMC title had already put out the number one, so they had some experience already, and it's not just him, he has a partner, Riggs Morales. This is why I was intrigued by the whole project. Riggs is not the guy you necessarily know by name, but he's the guy who discovered Eminem, Fifty Cent, all of those talents, you know, and he and Darryll are both huge comic book fan geeks with an incredible respect for the medium. They approached me. They wanted to start doing stuff and I was like, well, if I can do it, I'll definitely do it.

It’s nice that you can present ideas to them too.

Yeah, well, I'm at the point now, which is nice, that I can pick and choose the properties that I'd like that I think are interesting and that work for me and stuff like that.

How did KISS come about? Did you get to actually meet and work with Gene Simmons?

I got that partly because Dynamite asked if I wanted to work on anything. And they threw out a couple of titles and I said I wanted to do KISS. But a lot of the work happens offline. We don't all sit in like some writers' room. Stuff gets sent back and forth. For a while I didn't even realize [Gene] had been reading the scripts I was sending them. But it turns out he had, he just liked it, so he didn't say anything. So that was nice. So when I met him, he actually did say he was like a big fan. Which was crazy.

What was he like?

He's very nice and very tall.


Artist: Kyle Strahm

Do most publishers have  several different artists lined up to work with you, or can you come to them now with an artist?

I almost always suggest an artist, because you're helping the editor out. Once they choose the story they want to go with if I suggest someone that I want to work with. I'm pretty sure I can get them if their schedule lines up and the business end works out. It takes the risk off the table if I've already worked with [an artist] before; I know they're reliable.

A lot of people associate you now with Red Sonja. Do you think that's because it’s the longest run that you've done?

I was actually really surprised recently because it turns out that I've been writing Red Sonja now longer than Gail Simone. Crazy, right? I mean, look, I've only been doing this since 2016, so I tend to think that most people who come to conventions associate me with Poison Ivy, but I think that is changing.

The first thing I learned in comic book writing is that visual contrast, like doing a splash page followed by a closeup that keeps us subliminally engaged in the comic. Now if we have a cast of characters, they're all the same, that talk the same, it's not as interesting. I'm hoping the reason why people like Red Sonja is that I'm bringing in interesting and different characters. The Professor, you know, the Librarian, I feel good about being able to bring. I probably have the highest success rate of introducing Ph.D.s into my comics.

Did Gail actually approach you to work on Red Sonja or was it Dynamite?

No, that was Dynamite. But I know Gail approved. She has been so supportive. There’s a number of people I have to give credit to for me being in this business and staying in this business. Gail is one and Larry Hama is another. Also Mike Gold from First Comics has also been a huge supporter. There's a whole bunch of people who really have been so supportive of just me writing and just getting better and just helping. I also need to give credit to Scott Snyder because I took this one-week summer course with him and the one big takeaway from that week was this concept of the emotional arc and writing to create that sort of emotional arc with the character and the reader. Gail read I think my first script ever and gave me really meaningful feedback. A lot of people said it was good, but she told me that it's really hard to bring emotion into a Deadpool story and I achieved that. And I was like, "Oh.my.god." Especially since I never thought I was going to be a writer. And then you have someone who has no reason to say you can actually do this. That makes me emotional.

Red Sonja

Artist: Kyle Strahm

What do you think of Poison Ivy’s storyline now that you aren’t writing it?

Everyone asks me that. Okay, I'll be frank. This is the bad thing about what I do. I'm on four titles right now, I know I need to be reading, but I don't have time to read. So I read selectively, like old Red Sonja because it's homework. In either case I would not comment. We're a small community and a lot of the writers are my friends. You can generally sense if there's outrage in the water about something.

I love writing Poison Ivy and Red Sonja. But these are licensed properties. If it’s not creator-owned, I'm there to hopefully do the right thing for the character, like what I'm doing with Green Hornet. These characters have decades of continuity and background and all sorts of things going on. Summit, on the other hand, is a character that’s not exactly creator-owned, because she existed before, but I got a chance to shape that character because they only had a concept for her. Summit is really a new character, which I had a very heavy hand in establishing.

For those who are unfamiliar, can you tell us the premise of Summit? She’s part of the Catalyst Prime series at Lion Forge, correct?

Yes, Valentina Resnick-Baker’s tale is actually the origin story of the Catalyst Prime Universe. There's five astronauts who go up into space, basically trying to save the Earth from an asteroid, it’s essentially a suicide mission, but Val is the only one who makes it back. She gets powers of plasma fusion, but she doesn't want them because it messes up her life. She's a very private person, she has mild Asperger's, she's super smart, she's just trying to maintain some normalcy in her life, but she’s looked at as a savior. Val could destroy the Earth if she wanted to, and the triggers for her ability to destroy and control are emotions, which is her archenemy. Trapped emotions and trauma (she see’s her dead comrades) are just things that she doesn't want to deal with. It's really interesting for me to write the whole arc where she learns to express and control her emotions, which are really her powers.

Sounds like she has a little of survivor's remorse in there too.

The story is still unfolding, but yeah, she's got a lot of issues. She's also queer and she's not completely out and she's a little old-fashioned that way. Her closest friend helping her understand her powers is actually her ex-husband. So... it's complicated. The other thing I'm trying to do is represent the science, for the real science geeks, in an authentic manner. Like with my run on Poison Ivy, I get people who still come up to me and thank me for representing the real science in my stories. I have real biochem in there, you know, not that everyone needs to know that, but if you're part of that science geek community, that is my gesture.

What is it like working with legendary artist Jan Duursema on Summit?

Summit is a little different because it's in our near future. So I didn't have to invent a universe. A lot of the look is Jan, who's been working in this business for decades. She has so many years on me. I'm not going to tell her how to storytell. She's got a much better sense of that but she was great. She respected everything in the script and often she told me I can absolutely go with whatever direction I wanted. I did not give a lot of art direction to her. I gave her where Val comes from, you know, the basics, but the overall visual look at that was all Jan.


Artist: Tony Moore

You have so many things going on. You have Summit,  Green Hornet, Red Sonja and Deja Thoris, right?

Yeah. So I'm trying to manage that a little better because it's terrible because I kickstarted to republish my first stories because I felt like I needed to do an editors cut. Now that I've had some experience and republish them and I really need to get that done for everybody. So I'm super late on it because I didn’t want to turn down Green Hornet. I apologize to everybody, but now I need to get back and get that out.

Your Green Hornet run is about Kato’s daughter correct?

Yes. I tried to make it kind of a thoughtful approach. Like a lot of series is, who gets to be the character who gets to wear the mask. So this was a little bit of an exploration there. And again taking on some of these older properties, it's about fixing a lot of things. I mean, let's face it, some of their original stuff (not just green Hornet) but a lot of characters were just downright racist.

And the whole popularity of Green Hornet was really around the sidekick Kato. If you ask a lot of people, he was the real star of the show and so a lot of what I'm trying to explore here is to fix some of that because of course they kept changing his ethnicity. I said well if the new Green Hornet is going to be Kato's daughter, then I get an opportunity to start addressing some of these things in a more contemporary manner.

Is it about changing the entire character in your writing or just removing the things that are stereotypical?

That is the bare minimum. I mean, look, the survival of this franchise is based on getting new readers. So my job is to get new readers to pick up Green Hornet and see what it's all about. You can always go back and read the old comics, but the stories have to move forward. And as long as I maintain the integrity of the character in the universe and the mythology, I think I'm doing what it needs to be done.

Green Hornet should be way more popular. It's older than Batman, almost as old as Superman I think. But Green Hornet has always stuck in Century City doing this sidekick thing. Let's get them globe trotting a little bit and let's talk about really more the teamwork of the Green Hornet team. It's not just Green Hornet obviously, because she doesn't actually have superpowers.


Artist: German Erramouspe

Do you seek out female characters in order to change their narrative and write them better?

First of all, you can ask any female [comic book] writer. We’re almost always only given female characters to pitch on first. It's not like I need to seek those out. But one of the things that attracted me to Green Hornet was that I thought I’d finally I get to write a guy. And they were like, "Actually, we'd like you to write her as a woman". But hey, you know what, I see an opportunity here. I try to write every character the best I can.

My personal goal is to be a better writer first and foremost, but I think that I have a unique opportunity actually. Everyone has the opportunity to write, do a better job with the characters regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, right? I view every title I work on as an opportunity to move forward. And to me that means making an interesting story with interesting characters.

What has been one character that you’ve written that's meant the most to you?

The natural one would be to say Wonder Woman, but, Wonder Woman was the hardest one to write. For me it's Poison Ivy, because my interpretation of her is that she's a smart woman with a lot of powers and she's both fun and difficult to write. But also I think that she means a lot to a lot of people. So in terms of just being an impactful character I'm glad that I was able to make a difference.

Is there a character that you would love to write someday?

Okay. I've said this again and again, and this sounds really stupid but I figured I shouldn't deviate from my story. I really want to write Killer Croc. If anyone ever offers me that character then I know, my god, I’ve made it. First of all, Killer Croc to me is very similar to Poison Ivy, in a number of ways. He’s underappreciated, but we all know the character. So there's a lot of complexity in a character like that and I just feel like I could do a lot with him. It doesn't have to be a KIller Croc solo. I'll write Killer Croc with anybody, but I feel like that's a character I could resonate with.