For some of us fangirls, our first exposure to comics may have been stealing copies from our brother's or father's stash. Sure, there was a Wonder Woman TV show, and Superfriends and Teen Titans graced the airwaves after that, but for the most part, the cartoons and comics were geared towards boys, just as the cool toys could always be found in the "boys" aisle. There was the assumption that boys read comics, girls play with dolls, and never the two shall mix.
Until now. Being a young fangirl has gotten a lot cooler, thanks in part to the powerhouses behind comics actively courting this highly underserved demographic. Late last year, DC launched Super Hero Girls, an interactive website and animated web series centered around its most famous female supers. In this universe, the ladies are in their teens, navigating the trials and tribulations of high school life while adapting to their super powers. This spring, they released an accompanying toy and apparel line complete with dolls, action figures, and tees emblazoned with the words strong, epic, and brave.
The series and product line are much-needed, and welcomed, steps in the right direction to giving young girls more access to the comic book world. But what's even more impressive is that the creative powers behind the scenes with both the toy line and animated series are also women. Mattel tapped toy designer Christine Kim to oversee the design of the dolls, and screenwriter Shea Fontana as the head writer behind the web shorts. Now, young girls not only had a group of female supers to watch and play with, but also the reality that they could grow up to be the ones creating these stories, too. We spoke with Shea Fontana, the writer of Super Hero Girls, about the upcoming special Super Hero High, and creating a universe based on high school aged superheroines that were both relatable and inspiring to female audiences.
One of the unique things about DC Superhero High is that the characters are all teenagers in high school. We both remember what it's like to be girls in high school, and that has a whole set of issues on its own. How much do you feel like this special and this season of web shorts are going delve into those sort of high school type themes, and what kinds of adventures or topics do you think you'll be covering?
I think everything that we do in DC Super Hero Girls is very high school-oriented, but it's all through a super land. It's teenage problems, but super style. It's really figuring out, we do have a responsibility and desire to be a true emotional cord to the characters, and to their teenage-ness. They are going through things that teenagers go through. In the upcoming graphic novel, it's all about the night before finals, so we all remember what that was like and trying to cram for that last little minute before the big test. I think it's really taking these teenage experiences that are really relatable to our audiences and then expanding them into this super world. What would it be like if you could fly or had super strength, or if you were a tech genius coming at these teenage problems?
As far as our stories go, that's been our guiding compass for how we think about stories and how we approach the stories for both the upcoming special as well as the graphic novel and all the animated webisodes.
Nowadays, there are a lot of issues with bullying, and stuff on the internet. Do you feel that it would be a little too much or too serious to delve into that? Do you think there's a way that you could cover those topics in a way that would speak to kids?
Absolutely. Even in one of the shorts that's currently available on YouTube, it's about how Harley has started this YouTube-style channel and she's collected all of this embarrassing footage of her friends, which she thinks is just hilarious, but her friends find it less hilarious when she puts it up online and they get 4 million views. It's taking some of those issues, like bullying, like these other teenage problems. We delve in a little bit with a mean girl thing with Cheetah and Wonder Woman in the first set of shorts. There are definitely things like that that teenagers are relating to and are very big right now, and we know are a real problem in the world. We think about ways that we can bring that into our super hero high universe.
Who is your favorite character to write for?
Harley Quinn, absolutely. She is a character who is least like me, I would say. She's got a joke for every occasion, and she is like the writer's best friend. You could go away for 5 minutes and then come back with the perfect punchline. She's definitely...I love to write for her but I'm not nearly witty as her in real life. She's a little aspirational to me in that way.
If you're the least like Harley, who do you think you're the most like?
I think I'm a little bit like Wonder Woman. I think Wonder Woman and I are both overachievers, and we really take out on a lot of projects. We want to be the ones fixing things, and we want to be the one trying to make everything good. We're very much perfectionists.
I'm also a bit like Ivy. I think Ivy is definitely our introverted character. There's actually one of the shorts in which principal Waller is making Ivy join a club, which is straight out of my high school experience. I was always the kid that, at parent-teacher conferences, they would say, "You know, she gets good grades, but she's so quiet. She doesn't say anything all class." I was definitely more of the type to keep to myself, and I didn't want to be noticed too much, a lot like Ivy.
You said you drew from straight out of your high school experience. How much of that have you done? How much of your own high school stories have you interjected into these stories?
Well, sadly, I haven't been able to fly yet, so not that part. I think at least - I think there's nothing that's, like, "Well that's exactly like my high school." Because it is such a different universe than my high school, but I think when it comes to the different characters that we're presenting and the way that we've just...maybe strong female relationships. I think that's a lot from my own experience. I actually play roller derby, and whenever - one of the things about roller derby is it's a huge teamwork sport, and I think I drew a lot from that in as far as how these girls work together as a team to save the day.
Last year, Forbes referred to the entire DC Superhero Girls as kind of a watered down universe. They were calling it the "Pink Justice League". They were mostly on board with it but there was still this underlying, "Oh, you're just trying to give girls a watered down comic book experience." How do comments like that affect you in any way? Does it make you even more diligent in your writing and storytelling to really prove that, "We're not just trying to girly up the comic book experience here?"
I think, I wasn't familiar with that comment so I can't say it affected me at all in the way we approached this, but it is-
Sorry! Well, now you know.
Yeah, well, now I'm going to have to cry just a little bit. It's not about making a girl version of superheroes, it's about bringing superheroes to everyone. It's really saying that, throughout most of superhero history, sadly, most people at the forefront of these stories have been men and it's about making girls the heroes of their own story. It's not a pinkified version of a universe, but it is a version that girls as human beings can relate to, and it's bringing out these female characters who are awesome superheroes and can stand next to Superman or Batman any day. Just bringing them to the center of their own story. It's about telling their stories rather than telling a male-centric story.
I completely agree. I read that comment on Forbes, and I was like, "You know, I don't agree with that comment." I don't like that comment. You wouldn't say that to a male creator about a comic book or an animated series.
Right. On a level, that's what we're trying to do with Super Hero Girls. We're showing girls that they can be heroes, too, it's not a thing that's just reserved over here in the comic books for boys. It is something that girls can be a part of, and they can be a big part of it.
That being said, what advice would you give a young fan that may want to break into comics?
It's putting in the work and writing a lot. It's really finding your voice and finding what's important to you, and going after it. I think, right now, in comics and in animation, in both sides in what I do, there's such a need for female creators and female voices out there. If there are girls who want to do that, you have to go after it. You can't let people tell you that you can't do it, because definitely there's a huge need for new female voices.
Lastly, but not least...or maybe least: Batman Vs Superman, the movie's coming out. Whose side are you on?
Wonder Woman! I have a third party candidate. Of course.