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Interview with Comic Publisher and Writer Darren G. Davis

Darren G. Davis, head of TidalWave comics, has always wanted to make sure women are represented in comics. He’s written and published series with female leads like Tenth Muse and The Legend of Isis. Another big project for Darren and TidalWave though has been their Female Force series. It’s a biographical series covering the lives of women, like Oprah Winfrey and Gloria Steinem, who have impacted the world. In celebration of Women’s History Month, TidalWave will be releasing classic and new Female Force across all formats, print and online. Take a look at our interview with Darren on how Female Force became the popular series it is today, the future of women in comics, and his love for Batgirl.

HC: With these stories, it can be a lot of life to bring into a comic – How does TidalWave choose the moments to include in the Female Force comics?

DGD: It gets to be the highlights of their lives. What we do is, instead of just being a regular biography telling who they are, we try to tell their story from a female empowerment angle. We highlight the positive notes, which have made them grow to be the person they are and lead to what they’ve done for the world. That’s what the Female Force series is all about, female empowerment. You might not like Sarah Palin or Hilary Clinton, but you have to respect where they come from and achieved to get to where they’re at.

And that’s what we highlight, more so than the negative stuff. Although, we do have some of the negative details that made them grow as a person. And with people like Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, or Michelle Obama, we have done multiple issues. We’ve done three separate issues of both Palin and Clinton. Actually, this week we’re releasing an Elizabeth Warren graphic novel.

HC: Compared to a more traditional medium like just a textbook, what about comics do you think makes it such a great platform for telling the stories and history of these women?

DGD: There are a couple of reasons we’re doing this. It’s a kind of memorabilia, so we make it really cool for people who collect these kinds of things. We also have a responsibility to people at schools and libraries, because [the comics] are being taught in some schools and I’m really proud of that. With that, I try hard to make the comics unbiased, as well. I don’t want anyone to know whom I support or vote for and all that type of stuff.

Also, when I was a kid, I was a reluctant reader. Comic books and graphic novels have changed so much now from back in the day. It was all superhero stuff back then. My parents wanted me to read, but I struggled a lot. So they threw a comic book in front of me and I really gravitated towards that medium. And from there, I just ended up reading comic books all the time. So I take that viewpoint and bring it into the biography world. It is a tool for kids to learn from. It is mainly for reluctant readers, and teachers have really embraced it.

HC: How has the experience/creative process of telling these real-life stories differed from writing characters like 10th Muse or Legend of Isis?

DGD: You know, I started off my career working in the entertainment industry, and I really got to learn about the power of celebrity. Doing a biography comic book, I did not invent that; it was done in the 50s. And there have been a few other companies in the past that have done it – we’re just the biggest one, I guess, because we do so many. The Female Force series means a lot to me. I’ve always had strong female role models. My best friend is a woman named Diana. She sort of raised me and my personality. Women’s issues have always been such a big part of my life. It makes it so exciting to do this series

HC: With all the women heading social justice movements going on right now, is there anyone you think would make a great Female Force comic?

DGD: Definitely, I think…I’m trying to think whom we are doing. Who would you think? (laughs)

HC: I was thinking about Emma Gonzalez, I think she could make for a good one.

DGD: For me, sometimes it becomes difficult to pick people like her, right now. I don’t want to look like I’m monopolizing this or trying to make money off people. Doing one on her right now might make it seem like I’m an opportunist, trying to make a quick buck off of it. But I’m definitely interested in her career; she’s so inspiring. Someone actually pitched that to me too, I just have to be really careful. We’ve also thought about doing one just on the history of the NRA or something to that effect. It can be a tricky slippery slope sometimes. I also want to do people that are not in the country, I think Merkel would be a wonderful person to do.

HC: Female Force was announced in 2008, around the election at the time. What was it about that point in politics and culture that prompted TidalWave to do the Female Force series?

DGD: It was actually kind of a fluke – I never really meant to get into the biography comic world. I really wanted to do my fiction stuff; that’s my background, I love fiction! With fiction, I get to play and be creative. Then I noticed that someone was doing a Barack Obama and a John McCain comic book, and I thought, women were being treated kind of unfairly in that election. You know it was stuff like, “What was Hilary wearing?” or “Why was Sarah Palin looking pretty today?” They were being judged on their outward appearance where with McCain and Barack Obama, nobody said, “What a great suit!” “Amazing tie!” or “Why does he look bloated?” When I saw that, I just thought why don’t we do a Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin comic book? So we did it, and like I said, we came at it from a female empowerment standpoint.

It just took off like gangbusters. CNN to Fox News, everybody covered these comic books. There’s nostalgia for a comic book that everyone can resonate with. Whether it’s their love of Archie or their favorite superhero book, their Wonder Woman, their Batman – there’s just a nostalgia to it. With that taking off, I thought, “Okay I have something here.” So we decided to feature women that made a difference in the world and open it up.

For the third one, I decided to go for the less popular ones and did Caroline Kennedy. After that, we did Condoleezza Rice, then soon later Michelle Obama, Oprah, and Princess Diana. People that made such an impact in the world, and it just kept going and going. I wanted to do Ellen DeGeneres and Barbra Walters; it was really fun to pick these people.

HC: Were there any women that were particularly hard to adapt for the comics, or have they all worked within the medium?

DGD: They all work really well within the medium, and with issues like what happened with Benghazi and Hilary; we got to show sort of what we thought happened with visuals. So it’s not like we’re on a budget where we can’t show certain things. We definitely research so heavily and we interview people. We actually interviewed Oprah’s dad for her comic book. We try hard to make sure these comics are on point and they’re fair. I don’t want anyone to think like “Darren likes Hilary, Darren’s going to push her agenda!” or “Darren’s going to push Sarah Palin’s agenda!” I try to keep both ends of the spectrum really even on who we do and who we pick. We did Laura Ingram, a conservative. It’s fun to pick and choose who we do.

HC: Yeah, it’s such a wide variety; I never thought I would see Oprah Winfrey and Ayn Rand on the same list but it’s cool that we get to see both their histories.

DGD: (laughs) Ayn Rand was actually pitched to me by John Blundell who worked for Margaret Thatcher as her British economist. He also pitched doing Margaret Thatcher herself, and helped us see what the best angle to take was. I listen to a lot of people, my brother is a big political junkie, so he knows a lot about that world. I’ll listen to him on who we should be doing, and I know pop culture from my background. I know whose hot, whose not, and whose evergreen and staying around for a while. Hilary Clinton’s 2008 comic book still sells to this day.

HC: Are there any female comic book characters you really liked growing up? How did they influence how you write comics today?

DGD: Yes! If you could see my office right now – I’m the biggest, hugest, Batgirl fan. I love Batman, I think he’s great, but I collect everything Batgirl. Batgirl has been a huge influence for me, especially when it came to writing Isis and 10th Muse. Batgirl was always more about her smarts than her sexuality. When I was creating 10th Muse, I made sure she wasn’t this overblown Barbie doll. I gave her brains and a career, she’s a strong independent woman who doesn’t need a man.

HC: Where do you see the future of Female Force and women representation in comics heading in the future?

DGD: I think what might surprise people is that there are a lot of women who read comic books. We need women writing, and I think that’s even becoming more of the norm. There’s Gail Simone who is an amazing comic book writer, and maybe she might be a Female force! That’s one I’m seriously considering. 

Within the world of politics and entertainment – do I think Kim Kardashian is a female empowerment person? Probably not. But she does inspire a lot of woman. So I want to see where it can go, and I don’t want to water down the brand. We did actually do a Kim Kardashian comic that was part of our 15-minutes series which is based on reality stars. Reality, when I did that five years ago, was a different world than it is now. Reality shows are just as big as a sitcom for people and they are making differences in the world. 

It’s endless for us.

[Feature Image as seen on Darren’s Twitter]

Isabelle Fang

New School '21

Isabelle is a Literary Studies major at the Eugene Lang School of Liberal Arts at The New School. Originally from Toronto, she's still working on using the imperial system and reading weather forecasts in Fahrenheit. Isabelle mostly writes about pop culture, Asian American representation, and profiles on all kinds of people.
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