ROBERT NAPTON, the writer for Warlords of Mars: Dejah Thoris sat down with MIKE RAICHT to talk about his experience with EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS and how to write a strong female character who exudes sexiness.
MIKE RAICHT: WITH A FEW DYNAMITE TITLES UNDER YOUR BELT, YOU'VE SPENT A LOT OF TIME ON MARS. WHEN DID YOU FIRST COME INTO CONTACT WITH THE MARS MYTHOLOGY CREATED BY EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS? IS THIS UNIVERSE A PLACE YOU'RE ALWAYS WANTED TO WORK IN OR IS IT SOMETHING YOU DISCOVERED RECENTLY?
ROBERT NAPTON: When I was 12 or 13 years-old I was in my local comic book/book store and there were those amazing Del Rey editions of the John Carter novels with covers by the great SF artist Michael Whelan, and I got really lured in by the imagery and then started collecting the novels and then later discovered it was the same author of Tarzan. I always loved the Carter novels so when I heard Dynamite was going to do a new line of comics I certainly let it be known that I'd be interested in throwing my name in the hat, so yes, this was very much a universe I wanted to work in. I ended up writing a prequel comic series called FALL OF BARSOOM which was followed by WARRIORS OF MARS which paired John Carter and Gullivar of Mars (from another novel) and then when Arvid needed to hand over the reins on DEJAH THORIS so he could focus on LORD OF THE JUNGLE, I got the call to become the monthly writer on DEJAH and here we are!
MR: WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT WRITING A CHARACTER LIKE DEJAH?
RN: This is a particularly interesting series because it is set 400 years before JOHN CARTER arrives on Mars, so its really the story of DEJAH when she's a bit younger, though that's a relative term because Barsoomians live to be 1000 years old, but this is Dejah in her late teens/early 20s, so she's a bit more reckless and impulsive, not quite the Princess we come to know in the novels. I enjoy that she's in the process of figuring herself out like everyone at that age and because she's a member of the royal family and just the nature of Barsoom itself, being a savage place, she gets sucked into a number of interesting situations and adventures, so she's a very fun character to write.
MR: CLEARLY, THIS IS A CHARACTER THAT EXUDES SEXINESS. HOW DO YOU BALANCE THAT WHILE ALSO WRITING SUCH A STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER? DOES IT EVEN FACTOR IN?
RN: I'm really glad you asked me this, Mike, because one of thing that irks me a little is people who comment on Dejah's sexiness without knowing much about the source material. In the novels, she is basically nude, so we have more clothes on her in the comics than Burroughs did in his stories. Some pretty amazing artists like Frazetta have depicted Dejah and everyone has drawn her looking very sexy, its inherent in the character, but there are those who dismiss the comic or the character because of this, but I think they are missing the point that while she is a beautiful woman, she is a VERY strong woman, and no wilting flower -- Dejah can handle herself. She's intelligent and resourceful. Red Barsoomians, man or woman, are not ashamed of their bodies, so they don't mind showing them off. I write her as I would any other character, I don't really go out of my way to play up her sexiness or play it down. It's a fact of who the character is.
MR: YOU'VE BEEN ON THIS TITLE SINCE ISSUE #11. WHAT ISSUE OF YOUR RUN ON DEJAH THORIS WOULD YOU CONSIDER THE BEST EXAMPLE OF WHAT YOU ARE TRYING TO DO WITH THIS TITLE? IS THERE AN ISSUE YOU FEEL A READER COULD PICK UP AND FALL IN LOVE WITH THE WORLD AND DEJAH?
RN: Might sound convenient, but last month's Issue 31 and this month's Issue 32, which is out this week, tell a 2 part story I'm really pleased with. It's a story about Dejah going into the future of Barsoom and meeting a descendant and namesake, DEJAH CARTER, during a dark time for Mars. Dejah is a bit lost in this dark future world, but her descendant is like another aspect of the character so it's sort of like in DOCTOR WHO when two Doctors meet and join forces, for brief time we have two Dejahs, different people but aspects of the same persona, so that's been enjoyable to write and I think it gives readers a real sense of who DEJAH THORIS is and who she can be when things get tough.
MR: GETTING EVEN MORE SPECIFIC, GIVE US A SPECIFIC MOMENT OR SEQUENCE YOU FEEL IS YOUR STRONGEST ON THE CHARACTER.
RN: Difficult question to answer in some ways, but there's a couple of sequences in this week's issue, #32 -- one is a private conversation between the two Dejahs where we see kind of what our Dejah is all about and we see her descendant making decisions that could change her fate and the fate of Mars, so I think it's the best stuff I've done with the character to date.
MR: YOUR RUN HAS MOST RECENTLY BEEN DRAWN BY TWO ARTISTS, CARLOS RAFAEL AND DEBORA CARITA. HOW HAS IT BEEN WORKING WITH THEM? DO YOU STRUCTURE YOUR SCRIPTS BASED ON THE ARTIST YOU ARE WORKING ON? WHAT STRENGTHS DO YOU FEEL EACH OF THEM BRING TO THE TABLE?
RN: It is interesting, they are both talented and they both bring some very different things to the table. I think Carlos has the elegant aspects of Dejah down to a science, but he gives her a lot of spunk too-youthful exuberance, nerve and valor, in her expressions and physical gestures. Deb I think draws Dejah looking a bit more fierce at times -- she can really bring out the savage side of Dejah really well, so it's fun to work with both of them and play to their strengths hopefully, but I don't change the way I'm writing too much, I just tell the stories and enjoy their interpretations.
MR: WAS THERE AN ISSUE FROM EARLIER IN DYNAMITE'S RUN OR A PARTICULAR EVENT FROM THE NOVELS THAT REALLY INFORMED YOUR VISION OF THE CHARACTER? A CHARACTER TRAIT WHICH YOU DRAW ON FOR INSPIRATION AS THE CHARACTER'S TRUE NORTH WHILE YOU ARE WRITING HER?
RN: Dejah is all about her people -- she's very much a true Princess who puts the needs of Greater and Lesser Helium above her own. This is something Burroughs put into the character and Arvid Nelson, the first writer for DEJAH, really picked up on this. As much as possible Dejah will always try to do the right thing. She's capable of making mistakes, but she always has the best intentions. She is a woman of honor, not convenience. She adhere's to the laws of her people and customs of the Red people of Barsoom, so she's a traditionalist, but also willing to do what needs to be done. There's a particularly intense storyline coming up for DEJAH, starting with issue #33, where she has to face things she's never faced before and her own beliefs are put to the test, but at her core, Dejah always wants to be on the right side, so I let that guide me in the situations I plunge her into.
MR: IF YOU WERE TALKING TO SOMEONE PERUSING THE LOCAL COMIC SHOP, WHAT WOULD BE THE MOST COMPELLING REASON YOU'D GIVE THEM FOR PICKING UP DEJAH?
RN: There is a great character and story behind the pretty face. Burroughs really struck gold when he created not only John Carter, but Dejah Thoris. I would urge anyone to give the character a try, because there's a reason these characters have existed in one form or another for 100 years. If you like high adventure and exotic, otherworldly settings with a great character then Dejah Thoris is for you.
MR: WHAT'S NEXT FOR YOU? ANY PROJECTS YOU CAN TALK ABOUT COMING OUT THROUGH DYNAMITE OR ANY PLACE ELSE? WILL YOU CONTINUE TO VISIT MARS FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE?
RN: Got a great one coming up from DYNAMITE -- a classic Battlestar Galactica annual centering on the original BALTAR as played by the late great genre legend John Calicos. Baltar is one of the most enigmatic characters in original Battlestar. Nobody knows who he was before the destruction of the Colonies, so we're going to fill in some of those narrative blanks, and most of it is based on backstory that was created for the character but never really revealed, so I'm excited for that. This will also mark my third Battlestar comic in three different decades, so needless to say I come back to series I love. So as that relates to Mars, I imagine I'll be drawn to those stories for some time to come.
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Mike Raicht writes for Dynamite as well with , the final issue in the series, coming out this week.