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Interview

Mary HK Choi

Mary HK Choi Mary HK Choi, former editor-in-chief of the sadly defunct Missbehave, is now a contributing writer at The Awl and Complex. Also, it’s been recently announced that she will be writing a series for Marvel comics. Lady Deadpool no. 1 will be in stores July 21 and will focus on an alternate-reality version of Marvel’s popular Deadpool character.

The Morning News: Were you given any guidelines pertaining to the continuity of the Marvel universe? Or were you given free rein?

Mary HK Choi: Lady Deadpool is part of the Deadpool corps, which includes a slew of alternate-reality iterations of the “Merc with a Mouth,” among them a child, a dog, and a disembodied zombie head. I mean, cello? DISEMBODIED ZOMBIE HEAD. That’s what was so enticing about the project, it never pretended to be anything other than absolute caterwauling bananas. It was irresistible. As such, there wasn’t this one draconian definition of “Reality” and the only continuity constraint was one that my editor, Axel Alonso (I still get the sickest, jaw-rattling GEEK CHILLS that I get to say that), and I agreed upon, which was that this version of Lady Deadpool should precede her introduction in Merc With a Mouth no. 7. Other than that, there were few restraints and you’ll see how insufferably drunk with power I became with that type of narrative malleability.

TMN: How did you make the transition to comics? Had you worked for Marvel previously?

MHKC: This is my very, very first comic and I’m thrilled to bits that I’m invited to dance at all. I mean, I do have almost a decade of publishing experience in print magazines, even going so far as to having launched my own called Missbehave as editor-in-chief (more on that later), and I’m presently employed by a fantastic one called Complex, but no, I hadn’t worked for Marvel before.

Marvel has a clear policy of only working with published writers so I did satisfy that prerequisite, but I’d be totally shadyballs if I didn’t mention that my brother, Mike Choi, is a highly regarded comic book artist for Marvel. Anyway, it was through him that I met some influential folks at/affiliated with the company and those hysterical, prodigiously talented creators and I became sorta-friends. They basically let me tag along while they and my older brother hung out. It was total high school. I knew these people for YEARS before it occurred to anyone that I might do well to take a stab at writing something. I almost want to say an editor I’d never even met had read something I’d written for The Awl and thrown my name out there, but I may have made that up as the catalyst.

TMN: Assume I know nothing. How does a comic book get made?

MHKC: From my understanding, this is how it goes: You have two million conversations with Axel Alonso and the overall series writer, who in my case was Victor Gischler. During the chats you pelt the men with a hailstorm of horrible, irresponsible suggestions that stink of derivative insecurity. Then they elegantly and warmly steer you away from your natural, n00bish wont to write crap and when you’ve finally cottoned onto the merest glimmer of a good idea, they have the sagacious foresight to tell you you’ve got a good idea. Then you go away and have a panic attack about it and plot out the “beats” which is what happens on each page. Then you figure out what happens in each specific panel and you turn that in to your editor who, again, tells you how to make it less crap. After he or she is satisfied that your crap makes sense, you go away and eat everything in your house in order to not write the script but then eventually you sit down and commit to some dialogue and set the scenes. Then you turn the script in at far longer than the 22 pages they’ve demanded, at which point they smooth out transitions and flense the sucker of superfluous blubber and you’re left with a working script that is maybe even good and it’s submitted to the artist. Then, the penciller, who is seasoned and gracious enough to make your words into art, renders it and it is SO AWESOME that you cry and pee yourself a little when you get preliminary sketches back. Then it goes to the inker. And at some point the lettering gets put in. Then after that I imagine you get the finished product back and lose your mind but I’ve yet to graduate to that level.

TMN: Who would win in a fight: Lady Deadpool or Lady Wolverine?

MHKC: Wow. This is such a test or trap or trick question. Let’s see, on one hand they both have accelerated healing, and Wolverine has the added advantage of not having the scar tissue, which may compromise mobility in critical moments. They’re both fast and highly skilled in hand-to-hand combat and martial arts and they derive their power from the same original weapons project. Lady Deadpool would be less predictable, whereas I want to say Lady Wolverine might be more math-rock in her combat style, especially since I’m using X-23 as a (beautifully drawn) boilerplate in my head. And Deadpool has no conscience and she can survive a decapitation, whereas there is the whole Achilles’ heel of that one katana blade that can kill Wolverine. I think point Deadpool by a thinly split hair of a margin BUT it’s basically diamonds versus diamonds in roshambo. It’d be a helluva fight.

TMN: What is your personal history with comics? Who are your favorite writers and artists? What are your all-time favorite series?

MHKC: I don’t have an Aspergerish command of the source material like a lot of creators do since I’ve only been reading them for about seven years or so, and I grew up in Hong Kong so they were hard to come by. But MAN, now that I know they are what they are I love them. Desperately. It’s such a painstaking medium and it’s SO EMO to say this out loud but you really can feel the JOY on the really good ones. OK, so my favorites are All-Star Superman, We3, and I loved the Bendis-Maleev run of Daredevil because it was so rich and moody. Swoon. And I just love the way Bendis writes when he’s in the zone. He just grabs a great fistful of guts and just flings you through his narrative and you. Just. Go. Seriously, read House of M. It’s this disgustingly baroque, totally show-offy, expertly filigreed love letter to storytelling and the shit will mess you up. As a writer, you’ll feel crippled committing anything to paper because you’ll feel forever condemned to crayon. Some serious Salieri-type paralysis. So there’s him, and then there’s this beautiful book Fell, which is so fantastic even though waiting for new issues feels like monitoring tectonic plates for movement. But my absolute, hands-down, all-time, unicorns dancing on ice cream rainbows is Alias. It’s about this total screw-up, dark, drinky, and twisty, former superhero turned private investigator named Jessica Jones and she’s a rare female protagonist that just hums with truth. HUMS! I was over the moon when I discovered the series and gobbled it up in days. That’s what’s so nice about being really behind: You can plow through years worth of painstaking creative labor with abandon. Oh, and Umbrella Academy is also sickening. So good. And Zero Girl.

TMN: What can you tell us about the creation of Missbehave? What was its “reason for being?”

MHKC: Missbehave was an absolute miracle that was so unadulteratedly special and out-special’d all other allegedly special things that it BLOTTED OUT THE SUN AND WE ALL DIED. And by that, I mean it was an independently published magazine that I founded with three other incredibly talented women, some to whom I still speak. As earlier mentioned, I was the editor-in-chief for most of the almost three-year run and its “reason for being” was because women’s magazines can be bafflingly shit and lack any semblance of personality or humor. And this is particularly unfortunate if you’re a young lady because you tend to be susceptible to accepting ridiculous versions of reality. We’d felt that readers needed to know that not all “cool” girls were these impossibly lissome sylph-types who rolled their own cigarettes, woke up smelling like lavender and the slight sourness of babies, and rode fixed-gear bikes all up in the banlieue with organdy dresses in thin floral socks and stacked heels. INSTEAD THEY WORE NO PANTS. Whatever, I was all of 26 when I earned my hyphens, and I know we were very much the bawdy, cantankerous (admittedly reactionary) polar to a certain aesthetic, but the larger issue of “monetizing media” and “fixed costs” and “printing” and “shipping” and “paper” and “ad revenue” suddenly, apropos of NOTHING, became some sort of “big deal.” And that’s about the time the whole spire fell into the ocean, aka when we did really all die. Um, and to actually answer your question… We covered all ladies of the “Hot Mess” persuasion. We did Amy Winehouse before a lot of others, and Lily Allen. And some monstrously talented artists like M.I.A., Regina Spektor, Nagi Noda (RIP), Natasha Khan, and we had fantastic columnists in Oxy Cottontail, Kelis, and Justine D. And we had ridiculous things like eating disorder board games, a Kelly Bundy homage, and fall fashion stories made from cut-out paper dolls. I miss it but can’t help but think that it just went to a better place to hang out with Sassy and Jane.

The magazine is now defunct as is the affiliated blog. But I still get random emails and Facebook dispatches from girls all over the world who are terribly bereft and sadface that it no longer exists, but truly the mustard seed of the whole experience is that if I can start something that affected or inspired you all the way over where you are, you can certainly do the same. It’s all pay-it-forward and other gayness and I always reply and offer advice to anyone who seeks it out. Especially if they’re a young, creatively frustrated, misfit girl. There are so few fiscal barriers to entry, especially since it’s a marginal investment up front at best, with technology and open-sourcey kumbayaishness of templates and shared information, that the only thing really stopping you from actualizing your potential awesomeness is fear. And fear is a hilariously vainglorious thing. I can assure you, until you get good, no one gives a shit enough to look. If you’re already good, stay good by making risky new good. Get it out there. Good ideas are not finite. Practice. Evolve. Incur judgment, who cares? Stop festishizing output. It’s stupid.

TMN: How can we all be a little more awesome every day?

MHKC: To me, happy is the awesomest flavor of awesome. Hands down. And this speaks to my earlier response, but I honestly think the best thing you can do each and every day to get happy is incrementally work toward creative goals that are heart-burstingly fulfilling. No matter how daunting and unlikely the prospect of success. I mean, I’ve been quasi-skint my whole adult life living in a very expensive city and I’ve launched a TON of things that died or broke and have taken financial risks—but if not now then when? In fact, in the next two years, I’m launching no less than SIX independently published, creator-owned projects with my brother and his fiancée Sonia Oback, who is a super-sick colorist. And those projects will wobble like newborn foal and munch through our savings but, man, it’s so thrilling. I’m not rash and foolhardy enough to buy property or have children, so in the meantime if I can just move forward and leave a trail of creative things that I adored putting together, I think I’ll be happy as much as it’s in my control to be happy. Basically, I think if everyone learned to live like me and followed my teachings they would rule so much harder than if they just went blindly living how they’re inclined to. Oh, and consume other creative’s things. All the time. Gorge. And applaud. And be covetous. And tell them you hate them to their faces. And learn.
biopic

TMN Editor Erik Bryan is living the dream. He grew up in Florida, but he’s from all over. He likes playing chess, making cocktails, smarting off, and not freezing to death in Brooklyn, where he currently resides. More by Erik Bryan

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