Bitch Planet
Credit: Image Comics

Eisner Award nominee Kelly Sue DeConnick knows a thing or two about making your work stand out. The author of acclaimed titles such as Captain Marvel, Pretty Deadly, and Avengers Assemble, DeConnick has a knack for creating stories and characters that resonate with readers. (Look no further than the Carol Corps, a passionate group of fans that sprung out of DeConnick’s re-invigoration of Marvel’s Carol Danvers.) Her latest project—Bitch Planet, out next week from Image Comics—is no exception.

DeConnick pairs with artist Valentine De Landro (X-Factor) to produce a book that is exactly what you’d expect from its title: an edgy, thrilling and violent ride about a women’s prison set in outer space. It riffs on the exploitation films of the ’60s and ’70s, and like so many of Image’s original titles, Bitch Planet presents itself for what it is. It makes no apologies for the sometimes ugly nature of its subject matter, and well-written plot aside, the first issue bursts from the gate with so much intensity, you’re immediately left wanting more.

Bitch Planet is unlike anything hitting shelves this year, and in advance of its release, EW spoke to DeConnick about the process of bringing this comic to life.

EW: You’ve talked at length behind Bitch Planet and how it came to Image, but you’ve also said that it’s changed a lot since its inception. Can you elaborate a little bit on what those changes have been?

KELLY SUE DECONNICK: I thought it would be more camp. I had, for instance, a plan to include these Dr. Theopolis-like translation devices that the women would wear. Only they’d be translating from Standard English to Compliant English… so basically they’d add a question mark to the end of everything a woman says and insert the random apology here and there. But once we got into it… it just didn’t seem to fit. I don’t know. I still might use it when we see compliance training, but it won’t be as silly as I expected.

A tagline you’ve championed that’s become sort of an unofficial motto for this comic is the question “Are you non-compliant?” And your main character, Penny, certainly represents someone who is just that. What was important to you in creating the character? Because quite honestly, I see people falling in love with Penny and her ideals by the end of the first issue.

I LOVE HER SO MUCH. I’m terrified of anything happening to her.

Yeah, Penny is the middle finger in this particular fist. She’s doesn’t care if you like her. She doesn’t care if you think she’s pretty. She’d prefer to offend your eye because at least that way she knows you see her. She’s a goddamned role model, if you ask me. And in issue three, you find out she comes by it honestly.

You tend to push yourself out of your comfort zone on purpose, which is something I love.

Aw, thank you.

Did you feel like you were pushing the envelope in any way with Bitch Planet, more so than you might have with other works?

I don’t know. I think, maybe, I’m more aware of eyes on me than I was with the first arc of Pretty Deadly. There was a certain freedom that came with the idea that nobody was going to read our weird little book anyway. With this one—and frankly, with the second arc of Pretty Deadly, too—I find myself fighting the impulse to play things safe…or maybe “safe” isn’t the right word. Does it sound arrogant to say I’m fighting the impulse to be ‘less me’? But then again, this book is called Bitch Planet—we’ve kind of thrown down, just with the title.

But yeah. I’m scared to death. On every level. I’m scared that I won’t pull it off. I’m scared that I will. I’m scared that people will find it too much, and I’m afraid that they’ll say I haven’t gone far enough. I’m afraid that it’ll be shrill. I’m afraid that it’ll be exploitative…I’m afraid of alienating male readers. And I hate myself for even having that thought. I’m afraid of being a white girl trying to talk about race. I’m afraid. But I feel like that’s my job? It’s my job to go there. And if I don’t, then I’m a fraud.

Everything you do has some sort of “Kelly Sue” stamp on it—that is, there’s a distinct voice in each book you write that engages readers and makes your stories and your characters unique. I think it’s safe to say Bitch Planet will be different than most things that hit the comic shelves, but I’m curious to hear from your personal experience how writing for this book is different than writing script for something like Pretty Deadly or Captain Marvel.

I thought it was going to be so very different from Pretty Deadly—and it is: for one thing, half the DNA is different. Pretty Deadly is VERY much Emma and I and Bitch Planet is very much Val and I—but when I was reading through the first issue, I could still see my fingerprints, too. I wish I could articulate what I mean better. I feel like I have a kind of mirror blindness where it’s hard for me to characterize or analyze my own work. I suspect I’m not unique in this regard.

[Image Comics’] David Brothers, whose mind I adore, said I write about “those who persevere,” I think. Something along those lines, if not those words exactly. That idea sent me reeling for a few days. I found that so much more interesting than the whole “strong female protagonist” line I hear so often.

Like your husband [Sex Criminals writer Matt Fraction], you have a knack of pairing with artists that fit so well with your work. This isn’t your first time teaming up with Valentine, but how has the collaboration process for this specific title been so far? Especially now that you’re presumably settled into a groove work-wise.

Oh, we’re still figuring each other out, but yeah, I really, really like him. As an artist, he’s a thinker and I’m a sucker for that. And as a human he’s just a great guy. We went out to breakfast in New York one morning and got to know each other—swapping stories about our families and our work lives and my affection for him quadrupled over our pancake waffles. I wish we lived closer. I think our families would hang out.

Something that readers might not be aware of—your good friend Laurenn McCubbin is doing some work on the comic, specifically on the back pages. Was it fun to bring her into this project that you’re so passionate about?

YES! McCubbin is doing a throwback to those old classified ads pages that were in comics when we were growing up. We’re doing some cool stuff. Things you can actually order in addition to hiding bits of the narrative in the copy.

Bitch Planet is out Dec. 10 from Image Comics.