Interview With Stephen Graham Jones
by Travis Hedge Coke
Author of over twenty books and a Bram Stoker Award winner, Stephen Graham Jones will be writing his first Marvel comic as part of the upcoming Marvel Voices anthology.
I have known Stephen for years, having published him in Future Earth Magazine, alongside famed Batman artist, Norm Breyfogle and future South Dakota poet laureate, Lee Ann Roripaugh. He has always kept great literary and creative company and I have been pleased to know him professionally and socially, and to consider him my friend.
An accomplished and beloved writer, I have avoided covering his earlier comic, My Hero, with various collaborators, because its experimental and liminal nature make it difficult to speak of usefully but succinctly.
When news of this Marvel anthology came out, I thought immediately spun out into validity, corrective work, and very strongly, I should talk to Stephen about this.
Travis Hedge Coke: How are you handling the pandemic?
Stephen Graham Jones: I’m super fortunate not to be in a place where people aren’t wearing masks, I guess, so, going to the store or wherever, I don’t think it’s as much of a gauntlet-run as it is for a lots of folks, meaning the pressures and claustrophobia and isolation that a lot of people are feeling haven’t been hitting me as hard. I got trails and a bike, I mean, and it’s pretty out, and my family’s been lucky enough not to catch any coughs. So, pretty much, I’ve just been writing and writing a lot. So many deadlines, so many projects, and always a stack of virtual book events.
Hedge Coke: What comics are you into now?
Jones: Currently burning through The Woods. Getting Wolverine every month, and The Low, Low Woods. Just picked up Dragon Hoops and On a Sunbeam, each of which look amazing. No idea how I missed them.
Hedge Coke: How were you approached for this anthology?
Jones: Marvel got hold of me through my literary agent, asked would I like to be part of a one-shot, and, which Native character would I maybe want? Guess I could have gone with anyone, pretty much. Went with Fox because she’s Blackfoot, which, in the late nineteenth century, was what the Blackfeet were — we were all one people, then, just different bands. So of course I had to go with her.
Hedge Coke: What was the appeal of this anthology for you?
Jones: Getting to write a Blackfeet character, and getting to punish some invaders, graphic-style.
Hedge Coke: Can you tell us a little about your story?
Jones: It’s Silver Fox before she met Wolverine. She’s up in Alberta, doing some damage to the fur trade — trying to keep settlers from settling. That’s what it’s got to be about. You can’t come up with a smallpox vaccine, it’s hard to produce more rifles without an industrial set-up, and you can’t just whistle all the buffalo back. But you can jack with the economic base, which is the reason the guns and germs are making their ugly way west.
Hedge Coke: How did mainstream comics’ spotty record with Native characters affect your work in this anthology?
Jones: I mean . . . I guess I want to push back on that some, and do Native characters well instead of ridiculously. But, I don’t go in thinking “undo the damage, undo the damage,” I go in thinking “make this a real person, make this a real person.” Just, making Fox real, to me, that means making her Native in a way that makes sense to me, which, maybe, is undoing some of the stuff that’s been going on before?
Hedge Coke: The biggest difference is for you between writing comics and writing prose?
Jones: In prose fiction, you’re kind of the boss. I mean, yeah, your agent and your editor and the market and the genre all have input and pressure, of course, and by the time a book finds the shelf you might feel that it’s only eighty percent what you meant, not the full hundred. Still, man, if you can get eighty percent of what you meant to market? That’s amazing. With comics, though, the writer’s more the co-creator. The artist will come in and make your words and story better, realize it in ways you hadn’t guessed, and, ideally, hopefully, make a lot of the words you think are so valuable suddenly extra, so they can fall away. There’s nothing like that in prose fiction, really. I mean, yeah, the reader can ‘see’ or imagine or interpret your story in ways that are cooler than anything you had going on — that happens with me, anyway — but you won’t necessarily have access to their vision, either. With comics, you get pencils back and you’re wow’d by how much better this is. And I should add the editor into this process as well — they’re before the artist. And also after, but, their input on the script of course changes everything. Or, with my script for Marvel Voices, it did.
Hedge Coke: What makes comics worthwhile?
Jones: Same things that makes stories in any medium worthwhile: engaging story both exercises our empathy muscles and instructs us how to construct and re-construct narrative — how to select this and that out of all the events of our lives, and form them into a single argument, a single identity that’s useful for us where we happen to be. And then we can re-do it all later, if need be. Where comics are especially helpful is that they teach us that retconning isn’t just a workaround, it’s the name of the game. All of our identities are myths which we prop up with narrative, but, with no retcon action, then we’re locked into who we were when we were eighteen and thought we knew it all, say. And what fun would that be?
Hedge Coke: Do you think this will lead to more hires, or longer runs, for Native talent?
Jones: Yep. Wouldn’t doubt if I sign on to do more, if we find the right project, and I think the other writers in this anthology are game to do more as well. A lot of us — okay, me, anyway — if we’d just had an early in to comics, then . . . I don’t know. I wonder if I ever write prose fiction, right? No telling. I do love prose fiction, but if there’d been a comic book door to dive headlong through in my early twenties, I’m a hundred percent sure I would have done that, no looking back.
Interview With Stephen Graham Jones
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