Jill Thompson on new ‘Wonder Woman’ graphic novel
Artist and writer Jill Thompson grew up in Forest Park, where her love of geek culture took root at a young age. After graduating from the American Academy of Art in Chicago, she pursued her calling as an artist, breaking into the big leagues in 1990 by illustrating DC Comics’ “Wonder Woman.”
Highlights in her storied career since then include collaborating with author Neil Gaiman on his acclaimed “Sandman” series, co-creating “Beasts of Burden” with writer Evan Dorkin, about pets who solve supernatural mysteries, and striking out on her own with “Scary Godmother,” an all-ages picture-book series.
Now with seven Eisner Awards, she’s come full circle, returning to the character that launched her career with a stunning graphic novel, painted in her lush signature watercolors. With 75 years of comics, TV shows and, recently, movie appearances under her tiara, Wonder Woman is everywhere, seemingly known to all.
Yet Thompson gives us something entirely fresh: a bracing look at Princess Diana’s Paradise Island backstory. What was childhood like for the Amazon queen’s daughter? The book’s original title, “Wonder Woman: The Very Selfish Princess,” sets up the premise: Given that she grew up an only child, gifted by the gods, a spoiled Diana faces tough lessons in her teen years. Thompson spent a few years writing and painting the book, now titled “Wonder Woman: The True Amazon.”
She discussed her labor of love with the Tribune over coffee near her Andersonville home.
Q: What was the first comic you remember reading?
Well, I loved “Peanuts” in the newspaper. That’s what caused me to want to draw comics. Then I got those little pocket books, compilations of “Peanuts” strips. They definitely smelled of old book. To me, that’s what amazing things smell like. You walk into a used-book store and there’s so much cool stuff to find! Knowledge smells like old paper to me.
Q: Why is Wonder Woman special to you? Is it her cultural significance or because she was your first big professional gig?
I have great affection for her as a character. I like her strength and the ideals that she stands for. She’s definitely a feminist icon. For the longest time, she was the only major female superhero anywhere. It was a very radical way to say, “Maybe we should switch over to a matriarchy, because maybe there would be less war.”
Q: You must be familiar with that amazing cover from a very early issue of her comic: She’s speaking to a rally of women, and there’s an enormous banner that reads, “Wonder Woman for President”! So far ahead of its time in the early ‘40s I mean, that’s still upsetting to some people today.
Very upsetting to some people! I just recently watched the movie “Suffragette.” I’m not sure younger women understand what had to be done just so we have the right to vote. And in the 1940s, Wonder Woman was a character who spoke to equality for everyone, while she’s also fighting Nazis in World War II. Most women couldn’t do any of that, which is why she’s an amazing symbol. But in my version, she didn’t start out so perfect. To me, that means: “It doesn’t matter if you’re not perfect. You don’t have to be a perfect person to do something good for the world.”
Q: Most versions of her origin involve military man Steve Trevor crashing into Paradise Island. Another interesting thing about your take: He’s not here at all.
Wonder Woman’s a creation of magic — she’s stronger, faster, better — and she comes from an island. How did the Amazons get to the island? That’s an interesting story to tell. I didn’t feel the need to bring characters from the outside world into the situation. But that’s just me. One of the things I really love about the trinity of DC characters: Because their origins are so iconic, you can drop them into any era, any genre, and tell a story. What if Batman lived in Jack the Ripper’s time? What if Superman’s rocket landed in Russia?
Q: Who’s “The True Amazon” written for? Did you have an age range in mind?
No. I always write to entertain myself first, and I keep getting older. (Laughs.) It’s not for very little kids. I tell parents, “This has some adult themes in it, and there’s some violence. You read it first.” This book is for all ages, but if your kid is under 10, open it up and read it yourself.
“Wonder Woman: The True Amazon”
By Jill Thompson, DC Comics, 128 pages, $23
GO: Jill Thompson will appear Oct. 15 at Challengers Comics, 1845 N. Western Ave., and Oct. 22 at Third Coast Comics, 6443 N. Sheridan Road.
Web Behrens is a freelance writer.
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