‘Fangirl’ Interview With, Um, Fanboy Tom Stillwell

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Artist Credit: Jessica Lynn.
Artist Credit: Jessica Lynn

Fangirl is the story of Alice, a gamer geek whose trip to the San Diego Comic-Con is compromised when she becomes witness to a murder. Alice and her guildies take refuge amidst the cosplayers and con-goers, and boom! It’s on. With Fangirl, writer Tom Stillwell and Spinner Rack Comics offer Alice as a strong female protagonist, not to pander to the gender issue in comics, but because strong, solid female roles should be the standard for the industry.

Fangirl is an entertaining mix of Scooby-Doo and Veronica Mars, and it’s up on Kickstarter, right now, awaiting your support. Read through the interview below with Tom Stillwell, then check out their campaign.

GeekDad: So, you said the short answer for “Why Fangirl?” is the need for more female protagonists. It seems the Big Two, as well as independent publishers, have been tripping over themselves lately to fill that need. Are they handling the situation correctly at this point?

Tom Stillwell: Publishers are definitely doing a better job than they have in the past, especially when it comes to independent books. But you answered your own question. When having strong female protagonists is something that is of special note then that also means that having strong female protagonists is also not the norm. Strong female characters should be the standard.

GD: How do you feel about an all-female cast like Ghostbusters, X-Men, or the just announced Transformers team over at Hasbro? What about replacing a title character with a female lead, like they did in Thor?

TS: The bottom line is a good story is a good story. If a story warrants an all-female cast or a character going from male to female in order to tell the tale, so be it. If the change is made just for the sake of change, that seems like pandering to me. In the case of Thor, the new Thor is not the one we’ve known for years. It’s a new tale for a new character and the change affords the writer a chance to do new things. New stories with fresh ideas are always a good thing.

Artist Credit: Jessica Lynn
Artist Credit: Jessica Lynn

GD: Do you think that’s the best answer, or do you prefer the idea of growing a female protagonist organically from scratch, like with Alice and Fangirl?

TS: As a writer personally I prefer starting with a blank slate. However, I can see the allure of taking a well-known character and trying something new to tell intriguing stories, as with the previously mentioned Thor.

GD: Honor Brigade was all ages and Underneath was an adult book. Now, we have Fangirl as a young adult graphic novel. Was the writing process much different here than in your other books?

TS: The writing process doesn’t change for me when writing towards different age groups. The change really is in mindset and tone. When I write all-ages I ask myself if my wife’s second grade students could relate to the story. When writing for the mature reader I think about what is acceptable to me as an adult. Now with writing Fangirl, I focus on telling a story my 13-year-old daughter can enjoy.

Artist Credit: Jessica Lynn
Artist Credit: Jessica Lynn

GD: How did you tap into that Fangirl life?

TS: Not personally being a fangirl, I had to rely heavily on female friends that embody the fangirl spirit. Alice, Fangirl‘s main character, is based directly on a really good friend of mine. Although to the best of my knowledge she’s never witnessed a murder and hid with her friends in a giant comic book convention.

GD: To the best of your knowledge. And was your daughter Miranda an influence when writing Alice and the others? I’m guessing yes.

TS: Yes, she was and is a huge influence. I’ll be honest. I’m an old man without a cool bone in my body. I need my daughter to keep up with teen slang, culture… all of it. Although I do kind of drive her crazy when I say she’s totes adorbs. I mean, obvi.

Artist Credit: Jessica Lynn
Artist Credit: Jessica Lynn

GD: You just got back from C2E2, an awesome con in your own backyard. How was the reception to Fangirl?

TS: Pretty amazing. I spoke to so many people that were really excited about the project, men and women alike. I have to admit I was a little intimidated about talking to people in person about Fangirl. I was waiting for the reaction of “You’re a dude.” But it never came.

GD: Fangirl is your third Kickstarter, and this time around you’re asking for $10,000 to fully fund the project. In just a few days you are already over a quarter way to that goal. Is that normal for your projects, would you say?

TS: No, not normal. Typically friends and family have been the main contributors at first and then pledging dies down and I’ve had to hustle like a madman. It’s not a very fun job. But what we’re seeing is strangers doing the bulk of initial pledging, and that’s very encouraging. Folks are coming across the campaign, and it must be resonating with them. My hope is that with further exposure the pledging will continue at a steady pace. The exposure part is hard though. Comics news media isn’t exactly beating down the door of little-known comic creators to promote their Kickstarter campaigns. Press releases went out to the comic news sites that accept them, which are few, and none have responded. I really appreciate GeekDad taking the time to cover the campaign.

GD: You bet, Tom. With Honor Brigade, you’ve come back to the characters a couple of times. Fangirl is 74 pages. Do you have more story to tell?

TS: Not at this point. This is my first graphic novel so I’m able to do a lot more story-wise than telling a more episodic story with single issues in a mini-series. I love the characters and I will revisit them in the future. I just don’t have that story yet.

GD: You have way too many awesome artists involved in your rewards: Yanick Paquette, Colleen Doran, Brigid Allanson, Bella Rachlin, Fernando Ruiz, Mike Norton, and more. But, I have to say I’m really digging the book’s artist, Jessica Lynn. What’s it like working with her?

TS: Jessica is a dream to work with. She’s a Kubert School graduate, and they teach people there how to be professional artists while helping them to refine their craft. She is extremely talented. She was in a Catch-22 situation. Jessica was having difficulty finding a job working on comics because she lacks professional experience. How do you gain professional experience if no one will give you a job? I really wanted to find a new female comic artist to work on Fangirl and Jessica came highly recommended to me from Gail Simone. I’d be a fool not to listen to Gail. Jessica has been a tremendous partner in this endeavor and I can’t thank her enough.

GD: The final question is a random one: Gwen [from Fangirl] isn’t a big fan of Juggalos, right? Think she’d like Jared Leto’s Joker?

TS: Gwen just made a gagging motion. I’d take that as a no.

GD: Hmm, that’s about what I figured. Okay, Tom, thank you so much for the interview, and I wish you the best with Fangirl. I’m looking forward to snagging a copy, myself.

And, if there are any fangirls–or dads of fangirls–out there, feel free to chime in below to let us know what you love and give your thoughts on the portrayal of women in comics.

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