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NYCC 2018: An interview with Zoe Quinn, writer of Vertigo’s ‘Goddess Mode’



Zoe Quinn discusses new series ‘Goddess Mode’.

To help celebrate the 25th anniversary of Vertigo Comics, the company announced in June of this year that they would be releasing seven new titles from a diverse lineup of creators that focus on “socially relevant” and “inventive” stories. One such creator is Zoe Quinn, a creator making the jump to comics from the world of video game development.

Quinn is a video game developer known for her game, Depression Quest, as well as for her unique insight into technology, and the potential for both good and bad it possess. She’s currently doing narrative design on the next big project for Heart Machine, the studio known for the smash hit 2D action RPG, Hyper Light Drifter.

Soon Quinn will be known for more than just gaming with the release of her new comic, Goddess Mode. The new title coming out of Vertigo this December will focus on a cyberpunk future world in which a magical girl works tech support on a godlike A.I. and has a life-changing event when she discovers a “hidden digital world beneath our own.”

I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to sit down with Quinn this past weekend and discuss her new series and what it’s been like transitioning into the world of comic book creators.

AiPT!: When you received the phone call from Mark Doyle or whoever it was, and they said “Hey, do you want to come write comic books for Vertigo and DC?” — what was your initial reaction?

Quinn: I made a lot of really unflattering noises, I believe. Especially because my editor Andy Khouri reached out and he was wondering if I had any ideas for comics or was interested. When he approached me he specifically referenced stuff about my work that made it clear that he cared about my creative voice and not me as a controversy. That is not something that I’ve got much of in the last couple of years. That was so meaningful to me.

Especially someone mentioning the humor stuff that I’ve done, which I feel like has gotten completely lost in the story. Humor has been at the center of how I’ve been so resilient and how I’ve handled my life. Having someone notice that and actually want that, and not just that, but knowing my situation and knowing that there are certain people who are looking for me to fail and will be gnarly about everything, though it has been less and less as time goes on. But knowing all of that and not caring, that meant so much to me and I think it was the first time in years that anyone had treated me like that.

AiPT!: Wanting to work with you, not for the attention that surrounds you, but for what you’re creating.

Quinn: Right. Not treating me like a potential liability. Like a “Oh no!”. No it’s been “We see value in you as a creator and we will stand behind you.” I needed that.

AiPT!: From that phone call, how long before the ball actually got rolling and you were like “Okay, I’m definitely writing a comic book for Vertigo.”

Quinn: It was a while. We went and we talked and I told them this idea for this comic that I’ve been sitting on since I’ve been making indie games. I thought “Oh, I’ll do an indie comic forever from now when I get better at drawing and I’ll do everything myself” because that’s just naturally what I assumed would happen. So I was ready to go. We worked on “this goes here” and “that goes there,” making things make sense to other humans. Then there’s waiting, it’s a big relaunch, so that takes time. I kept being sure that it’s not gonna happen” It was also the first time I let myself really want something and not just having that one foot out the door, where you don’t love it too much because it might not happen.

It was such a cool opportunity, that it couldn’t happen. And god bless Andy for this — I was in a meeting, at work at my quote unquote “day job,” I’m doing narrative design and writing for Heart Machine — they did Hyper Light Drifter and we’re doing the next game. So I’m working on their next project and I was in a meeting with Alx Preston, the creative director and creator of Hyper Light and I look at my phone and Andy’s name came up on there and it was the first time he had called called me. I was like “Uh oh, this is either really bad or really good,” so we looked at each other, looked at the phone and he’s like “You should take that.” So I said okay and god bless Andy, he led with “We’re doing the comic.” First thing out of his mouth. It was such a beautiful act of mercy, especially for someone with anxiety. So I was useless for the rest of the day and had to go home [laughs].

AiPT!: So this wasn’t a project you really had to think about, then? Or once they said “write a comic book” you said “Okay I know.”?

Quinn: Yeah. The general gist was there. The reality of doing the world building — I bit off a pretty ambitious project for the first one cause I’m dumb. It’s like, let me build all this future sick tech and kind of reinvent the wheel on cyberpunk and update it using my compsci background and be less about wires and grunge, but still have the noir feeling. More about network abstraction and quantum computing, where I think it’s gonna go, but still use the themes of how our relationship with technology to do something more I think in line with what is possible for it, rather than the weird cyberpunk stuff that seems to be doing the same stuff from the 80s until the heat death of the universe.

AiPT!: On that point, during the panel today you said something along the lines of, “Technology is like magic to me and it’s something that I’m so passionate about. We went from this 90s utopia with it, to this current day nightmare.” So are the themes you’re putting in with technology something that you think could fix with what we’re dealing with today? Or is it more of a what you were hoping to see today when you were younger, as opposed to the mess we’re in?

Quinn: It’s kind of like making the Elon Musks of the world smoke the whole pack. Where it’s like “Sure have your version of what this utopia looks like.” I want to talk about the people who that’s actually not a utopia at all for and you’ve actually created self-reinforcing misery. And how do we get out of that? It’s going to impact your life whether you’re online or not, because it shapes everything we do.

For example, people who are in Elon Musk’s position say “Oh a robot uprising, scary!” I think you think it’s scary because robots would uprise against you, because you’re afraid they would treat you how you treat your workers. But I think Siri would side with us. There’s still too much power there.

I owe everything I have to the internet. I grew up super rural and isolated. I wouldn’t have gotten out of it without that. I wouldn’t have been able to do digital media and video games without it. I wouldn’t have my friends and my support network. Everything that I care about is because of that network technology. So many important movements for positive change have only been allowed to happen because of the internet’s connectivity and putting us together. What the hell do we do with it now? We haven’t really figured out how to talk to each other yet.

AiPT!: I think you said today “It’s like trying to drive a car and fix the car, while the car is running you over.”

Quinn: It’s the best metaphor I’ve got right now [laughs].

AiPT!: With the creative process and the ideas you’ve spoken on, are those purely from you or does Robbi factor in?

Quinn: Robbi and I’s collaboration is really fun because I’ll dump this high-minded stuff on him and I love seeing with what he comes back with. I think it helps because we both have this old school punk background, there’s a shared vocabulary there already. He was already wanting to do something with cyberpunk and magically girl genre before finding out about my pitch, so it worked right out the gate. There’s been a pretty good creative harmony there.

AiPT!: How did you guys get paired together?

Quinn: It was something that happened on the Vertigo side of things. They were just like “This seems like it could work out.” It was really nerve wracking because I didn’t really know him. There was one short phone conversation and I researched the guy, I had a good feeling about it and I loved his art. It was my first pick when I was looking at portfolios. I thought his work was stunning and I was imagining it being applied to cyberpunk magical girl stuff and it excited me. So I was really nervous meeting him and then the first time we hung out we ended up doing karaoke and Rebel Yell and s--t together. I was like “This is gonna be fine!”

AiPT!: When you’re pitching ideas to him, what’s that creative process look like?

Quinn: Very early on in the project we spent a few days sitting together writing in my favorite dive bar in Los Angeles. Aggressively talking — “This is what this is. I want this character to feel like this. This is where I generally want to go. Here’s the emotional core, let me just bleed all over this table about blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” So he’s super on board with the spirit of things. Leaving aesthetics and stuff up to him because I totally trust his eye on that. There’s a cool back and forth. We use a lot of music references, sending each other specific albums. There’s a specific era of Madonna that worked its way into a main character.

AiPT!: Is there a favorite between you two?

Quinn: We have both argued over who’s whose ex-wife. Farrah’s going to be his next ex-wife. Tatianna’s going to be my next ex-wife.

AiPT!: After the Vertigo panel today I left super happy and and kinda bummed out because, great, I’m going to have to buy like eight new books now. You’re killing me! But at the same time I wanted to be friends with everyone on that panel because they’re like all the weird people in high school I wanted to be friends with but never met. So what’s your experience been like so far working at Vertigo?

Quinn: I love it! I had no idea what to expect meeting people. Especially because we have a mix of people who’ve been doing comics for a hot second and people who are from other stuff like me. Everybody is cool. I’ve got group texts with some people right now. I knew Rob Sheridan from High Level and nerdy crap. It’s funny that we both ended up with similar hair characters [laughs]. But I really love everybody. Every time I’m in the room with the other Vertigos I wish I had more time to talk to people. The people who’ve been in comics longer than I have have been helpful. Everybody has been really supportive. I absolutely love Ramon so much. Having somebody to s--t post about 90s versions of golden age superheroes on Twitter with [laughs].

AiPT!: Do you feel comfortable enough with DC yet to start subtly bugging people with “Hey, Harley Quinn needs a new writer huh?”

Quinn: I’ve already been super annoying about it. I wanna write Harley so bad. I wanna write Lobo so bad. I want to write all the motorcycle characters. Give me Black Canary! A lady with a harley and her super power is being f-----g loud. I want that.

I know that some folks come to comics from other mediums as a visiting point or whatever, but I do not see this like that. I take this very seriously. I’ve always wanted to do comics. I’ve been into comics since my first s----y goth girlfriend gave me a copy of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac when I was 13. I’ve been super into web comics for god knows how long. This isn’t a one time thing for me. I really want to write more stories. I want to make as many comics as I can until the medium gets sick of my ass [laughs].

AiPT!: How did you land on Goddess Mode?

Quinn: It was a weird pun I sent in as a working title because I get hung up on names. I told myself not to do it this time, because the last cagillion titles I’ve done have had working pun titles and every single time it’s the one that ships. I thought of one that was better literally ten seconds after I had already sent this in and I was like “Can you just switch it out with this instead?” and no, they liked the first one better! It’s grown on me.

Goddess Mode goes on sale December 12. You can order a copy through DC or pick one up at your local comic shop.