it comes to comic books, a lot of the writing over the years has been
dominated by men, even to this day where the top five most recognized
names are held by men. But over the past few years a shift has
been made where women writers make up about one-third of the field
and continually growing as new ones move in and the experienced ones
are now becoming creators. Much like the local writer we're talking
--- Mandy McMurray started her writing career out on a whim helping out a friend, which quickly blossomed into gigs for both major companies and independent titles, making her one of the more requested and go-to writers around. Now currently putting the scripting touches on COTA as well as her own upcoming title, McMurray is looking to become a standard name in shops across the nation. I got a chance to chat with Mandy about her career, current projects, thoughts on comics and a few other questions that came to mind.
Gavin: Hey Mandy! First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
Mandy: It’s been a crazy, and winding road. I was born in the Midwest before moving to Denver. I have a degree in Psychology, Law Enforcement, and Teaching, and am a single mom, special education teacher, and writer. My writing career started when I was very young with writing operetta. In some strange twist of events, and a chance meeting with my janitor, it led me to my crazy writing career in comic books now.
Gavin: How did you first get interested in comics, and what were some of your favorite titles growing up?
Mandy: I’m going to date myself here, but “Superfriends” was the coolest show EVER! I have always loved superheroes Yes, I even owned Wonder Woman Underoos, and would run around my house in my mom’s red boots and she’d attach my yellow binky to my shoulders with safety pins. Needless to say, I have always loved comic book heroes!
Gavin: What first drew you toward writing, and what were some of your early works like?
Mandy: I have an overactive imagination and absolutely love fantasy and science fiction. I would spend hours writing stories, but what first got me interested was actually a bunch of friends who played D&D. I loved writing adventures for them, which eventually turned into online world creation. It wasn’t until I met Tyler Kirkham that I turned my love for all things geeky into a career. I haven’t been doing this for very long now but my first comic book piece, however, was my Namor story in Marvel Comics Presents. As a reader, they were killing me with the Civil War thing. I really wanted to see the emotion behind this event. I wanted to see the writers delve into the depths of the heroes’ souls so that we could understand them more because sometimes there didn’t seem to be rhyme or reason behind why the characters chose the side they did. When the opportunity presented itself, I naturally jumped at the opportunity. I pitched Andy like, six stories and of course, he picked the one I liked the least. That always happens. I had to take a character I didn’t really like and somehow fall in love with him. I thought about who he really was and the story just naturally came out. We always got to see “pissed off” Namor and arrogant Namor, but no one is that simple. In this story I wanted to show the readers who he was when he was alone. It ended up being one of my favorite pieces.
Gavin: How exactly did you get involved with comic books on a professional level?
Mandy: I blame it on my janitor at work. He’s really good friends with Tyler Kirkham and they needed some help with a story. I jumped on the internet and looked up how to write a comic book script, threw together a sample, and totally fell in love with writing comic books. I booked a ticket to San Diego ComicCon that summer, made Ty introduce me to everyone, and networked until I met Andy Schmidt at Marvel. I won’t scare you with the details of how I got Andy to finally read my pitches but the threat of strippers and wallpapering his bathroom with my script were involved.
Gavin: What was it like working on that first title and learning the ways of scripting and formatting?
Mandy: Scary and amazing. Pitching is scary. Getting the pitch approved is even scarier. I know that sounds weird, but suddenly, there’s no BS. It’s just you and the script. You can’t fake it. You can’t charm your way through a script. You can either write or you can’t. The amazing part is seeing your story in print for the first time. I was blown away and realized every moment was worth it!
Gavin: What drew you into the work that made you want to do it as a career?
Mandy: I just fell in love with it from the moment I typed my first words. Writing comic books is like writing for people with ADHD. Before I can get bored with something, I can move on to a new storyline. The biggest thing for me is that there’s something amazing about being part of the mythology of these iconic characters. It still stuns me to go online and see my name up there on the Justice League Annual or the Batman Annual.
Gavin: How did the opportunity come about to work for DC?
Mandy: Joe Benitez and his ornery streak! For a couple of years I went to SDCC and never saw or heard of anyone from DC so I started cracking jokes about DC being run by robots. Joe laughed and told me his editor was standing right behind us. Then he shoved me into him with his foot and I was face to face with a real life, living breathing editor from DC. I choked, and Eddie Berganza thought it was some sort of joke Joe was playing on him. After the initial shock wore off, I set up a time to meet with him the next day, ran back to my hotel room at 3AM and wrote a Teen Titans sample script. I think Eddie took pity on me when he saw the dark circles the next day and actually sat down and read it.
Gavin: What was the experience like working with the different titles and special editions?
Mandy: Wow. Each experience has been an adventure. They never give you the title you expect which makes it… interesting. Every editor is different too, which also makes it challenging, but every story I’ve published has taught me so much that I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The most interesting part of writing different titles is that each title has its own “mood”. For example; when I wrote “Darker Than Black” for the Batman and Detective Comics Annual, they wanted something creepy and cerebral. They asked me to use my Law Enforcement and Psychology background and come up with a new villain for Gotham. We wanted the villain to start off small and eventually build him into a bonafied “nasty” for Gotham later on.
Gavin: Subsequently, how did the offer come up to work for Marvel?
Mandy: Haha! Poor Andy. He never knew what hit him. I think I wore him down mostly. Every two weeks I’d send him a funny email. After four months and the threat of calling his wife to wallpaper his bathroom with the pages of my pitches, he finally relented and read it.
Gavin: How was it for you to work on Namor at a point where Marvel is revitalizing older titles?
Mandy: The Marvel Comics Presents story was actually one of my favorites. I know it was my first one, but I got to play with a character that had a lot of emotional wealth that hadn’t been drawn on really. I always pictured him as this majestic and proud man, who hides an insecurity because he’s really only half Atlantean. I imagined him feeling very alone because he’s never truly at home on land or in the water, but too proud to show this. When Namorita died, I knew he’d be angry, but there’s always something behind anger and I wanted to explore that. To me, he was this man trapped behind his title, his position and his ego. I wanted the audience to see the raw emotion that burned beneath the tightly controlled surface.
Gavin: You also work with Angel and Aspen comics. How does it differ for you working with major and indie companies?
Mandy: I always wanted to work with Michael (Turner), so when the opportunity to work with him came up, I was thrilled. Then Michael got sick again and I was heartbroken. When he died I knew that working on Sonia’s story in Aspen Seasons was the best way I could honor his life. I got to add a little piece of the mythology to Michael’s dream. Working with indie companies in general is very different from the major companies. Their audiences expect different things and you’re usually only dealing with a couple of people so decisions are easier to make as a team. Obviously, most indie companies don’t work on the same budget as the big ones either so you really work on them because you love them, not because they pay the best rates. You also have some freedom in an indie company. You don’t have to pass off the story with four different departments and wait for approval which can be frustrating.
Gavin: Right now you're working on COTA: Children of the Apocalypse. Tell us a bit about the series?
Mandy: Oh man. Rod Thornton, the creator and artist is just amazing! I always describe COTA as The End of the World meets Hi-Tech Superheroes. You can read it at any level; from a religious, angle to a fun, knock down drag out, action story. We get lots of people who think its solely a religious story, and lots who don’t even see that angle in it. We’ve had a great response from readers and people at the conventions are always amazed at Rod’s art and then come back to the table the next day, after reading it, saying, “Holy crap! I love this story. When’s the next one coming out?"
Gavin: Aside all the work you're doing with other titles, do you have anything of your own currently in the works?
Mandy: I do actually. It’s a series called Daughter Of Sin. It’s currently being colored and will be put out this year, through Angel Comics as well. It uses all my useless knowledge of Earth’s mythology and takes you for a wild ride that ends in universe-shattering battle between humanity, and the Nephilim who have returned to claim what they consider as theirs. It doesn’t hurt that the main character is really sexy. It’s my second favorite book, though. I know I shouldn’t say that, but my favorite creator project is called The Ashen. I’m patiently waiting for the perfect team, but it’s the next “Matrix”. Have you ever had one of those moments in your life where you get done with something and you just know how good it is. That’s The Ashen.
Gavin: Going local for a moment, what is your take on the current local comic scene and the books coming out of it?
Mandy: We have an incredible amount of talent hidden here in Utah! Tons of pros living here that are brilliant. Jake Black, a fellow writer for DC writes some great books. My friend Tyler Kirkham who has just signed with DC (I hope I didn’t blow the announcement)! And will be working on one of the Green Lantern books with another friend of mine; Nei Ruffino. Chad Hardin, another local, and an amazing artist! Ryan Ottley, Derek Hunter, Howard Tayler, and I know I’m forgetting more.
Gavin: Who are some local artists and writers should people check out?
Mandy: Jake Black just did a Supergirl piece that’s definitely worth checking out. I know I’m really looking forward to Tyler Kirkham’s upcoming works, and of course Ryan Ottley’s Invincible is fantastic!
Gavin: Going national, what's your take on the comic book industry as it stands right now?
Mandy: Ooh. Loaded question. This is the kind of question I wish I could avoid answering, or at least have some Obama-esque eloquence to fall back on but I’ll give it my best shot as I cringe. I think that some of the books being put out right now are outstanding but when corporate start meddling, you end up with debacles like 10-part mini-series that get canceled after 9 issues, leaving the fans wondering who’s steering the boat. I love it when they take characters in new directions but I want the stories to make sense, not just be some “really cool idea” centered around blowing up as many people as we can. I want there to be a reason why that character goes off in the that direction, but what ends up happening too often, is that someone goes running off without thinking through the implications, and then the rest of us are left wondering... WTF? I’m going to get kicked for saying this, but WHO KILLS BATMAN??? Especially when he’s one of the main staples of your company. I don’t get it, so I leave the thinking to those that obviously know more than I do about the industry.
Gavin: What would you say are some of the best series in print right now?
Mandy: I think Thor has been great! Green Lantern is fantastic, but anything Geoff touches is golden. The Siege is definitely something I’m interested in seeing completed, and Star Wars: Legacy is one of my favorites.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on digital publishing and how some books are now going strictly to that format?
Mandy: I’m not a fan but I like the feel and smell of paper. I like to be able to walk over to my shelves and pull a book from them. I know I haven’t read one yet in that format, but I’m something of a dinosaur I guess.
Gavin: Where do you see the state of comics over the next couple of years?
Mandy: I’m hoping that we’ll see the strong series’ out there shape the Marvel and DC Universes and that they’ll tie up some very loose ends. Call me OCD but I feel like the strings have frayed and are just dangling out there haplessly in the wind. So much feels, unfinished, to me and sometimes the companies feel out of touch with the fans. Just my two cents worth.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Mandy: Besides smart-alec comments about public education and crazy stories from the classroom…COTA #2 is going to be out in a month, and COTA #3 will be following by the end of summer. We should also see some more from me out of the Bat department (can’t be more specific) as well as my creator-owned book Daughter Of Sin.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Mandy: Oh boy. A soapbox of my own! Down girl! Stick to comics... Read COTA! It’s awesome. You can have your local comic book shop order it through Haven Distribution. Also, I’ll be at Dragon's Keep in Orem for Free Comic Book Day, signing and chatting, so stop on by. Other guests will include; JJ Harrison (BAM POP productions), Travis Walton (colorist/artist: Superman, Teen Titans, Iron Man, etc), Phillip Sevy (artist/creator Heartless Dark) and Jesse Smart Smiley (artist Top Shelf Comix). See you there!