Interview: Ellie Pyle

Ellie Pyle isn’t the only female voice at Marvel Comics, but fans of her work on Fearless Defenders would argue that in the relatively short time she has worked for Marvel as an editor, she’s already become one of the most exciting. Marvel’s admirable march towards progress continues, and that gives us increasing opportunities to enjoy the contributions of editors like Pyle to their enduring library of classics.

Pyle has a wide range of interests in film, comics, television, music, and particularly theater (she’s a huge fan of Shakespeare). Three decades of geek culture and much more have all culminated in the humor, tone, and versatility that enable her to contribute so much to whatever creative medium she chooses. So far, those mediums have included comics, fiction, non-fiction, screenwriting, stage writing, and much more. All of those have worked out quite well for her so far. It’s culminated nicely with her creative output at Marvel, with upcoming projects (and there’s a bunch of those), and it will continue to be that way with anything she chooses to do.

A great deal of her time before Marvel was spent living and working in southern cities like Richmond, VA and Savannah, GA (which is certainly one of the big influences on her debut novel, Southern Girls with Big Vocabularies).

No one who has followed her career for the past decade is surprised by anything she’s accomplished so far. That thought now extends to those who have just tuned in. And the amount of space that is necessary to accommodate newcomers to her writing and other endeavors is getting bigger by the day.

Drunk Monkeys: Let’s go back ten years. Was working at Marvel, in any capacity, a goal back then? Was it something you imagined as a possibility?

Ellie Pyle: 10 years ago?  Wasn’t even on my radar.  20 years ago however, I was one of those 90s kids who was watching the X-Men cartoon, collecting the trading cards and reading comics as a result.  Fortunately, there was (and still is) a comic shop called Nostalgia Plus conveniently located in my local mall in Richmond, Virginia so these things were easily accessible once I knew to look for them.  My brother and the boys I grew up with get some credit for that.  But 1993/1994 was a great time to be a pre-teen girl reading comics!  Rogue and Gambit went on a date!  Jean Grey beat up Sabertooth with her mind!  Scott and Jean got married!  All I wanted in that year was to work for Marvel comics.  But then someone (I don’t remember who) said “You can’t draw.  What are you going to do at Marvel?” And I thought: “well that makes sense” and went back to acting class.

DM: Has anything about your life changed dramatically since becoming an Assistant Editor?

EP: Well, I moved to NYC for this job, so that’s been a dramatic change. But then again, I hit the ground running so fast I’ve never really had time to stop and think about it. It is occasionally odd to me that people I’ve never met know who I am and am excited about the work that I do. I got to meet some excellent Fearless Defenders fans at C2E2 this year and I was just as excited to meet them as they were to meet me!  But of course the other side of that coin is that I have been lectured about Spider-Man plot lines while trying to get things mailed to my office because someone recognized the company name.  But either way, it is absolutely awesome to be working on something people care so much about!

DM: You’ve worked on a number of titles as Assistant Editor, including Daredevil, The Amazing Spider-Man, Punisher, Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy, and a few others. You’ve also worked as Editor on Fearless Defenders, The Avenging Spider-Man, Space Punisher, Marvel Universe Vs. The Avengers, and Doctor Strange Season One. It seems like Spider-Man is your area of expertise so far, but I’d still be interested to know if there’s a particular title you enjoy working on, or a particular character you love being involved with.

Fearless Defenders is my baby.  It is the first ongoing series I got to cast and help build from the pitch stage.  I’m sure anyone who follows me on Twitter is tired of that being all I talk about but I just want everyone possible to know what a unique book this is. Cullen Bunn, Will Sliney, Mark Brooks, Vero Gandini and Clayton Cowles have all be amazing to work with every month.  And we’ve been fortunate enough to have Phil Jimenez and Stephanie Hans as guest artists.  I love this book because it was a chance to showcase characters who aren’t in any other books at the moment.  Misty and Valkyrie are a perfect odd couple and Cullen and Will created Doctor Annabelle Riggs, an openly gay archeologist without superpowers who has quickly become one of my favorite characters in the Marvel Universe.    And Mark Brook’s covers have been so amazing as to actually inspire us to do even more unique things with the story on occasion.  The vibe of the team on this book is very much like what I experienced on the best shows I worked on in theatre.  We’re all in this together and everyone is elevating everyone else’s work to its highest level.  And we are thrilled to have found a devoted fan base who recognizes that there really isn’t anything else like this out there at the moment.

 

The cover of Fearless Defenders #1 (Image © Marvel Comics)

The cover of Fearless Defenders #1 (Image © Marvel Comics)

Daredevil is my favorite Marvel superhero, so I really am the luckiest assistant editor in the business to have gotten to work on Mark Waid’s Eisner Award winning series from issue 1. That is another team that in all of its incarnations (Paulo and Marcos and now Samnee with Javier along from the beginning) has just gelled and made magic on every issue.

And as you said a lot of my time has been spent on Spider-Man, Amazing, Avenging and Superior.  Dan Slott has always included me in his process, so it’s been wonderful for the last two and a half years to literally listen to his stories take shape and come to life.  And the fact that there are suggestions I made that ended up in some of our landmark issues, is a thrill that will never get old.   Chris Yost is a writer I had wanted a chance to work with for years so I was delighted to get the chance to edit his taking over of Avenging Spider-Man coming out of Amazing 700.  This really is the most exciting time to be working on the Spider-Man books.

DM: Thunderbolts: From the Marvel Vault was an interesting venture. Tell us a bit about that.

EP: The From the Marvel Vault project involved taking inventory issues from 10 years ago or more that had been found in desk drawers when Marvel moved offices in 2010 and publishing them.  It was a challenge because while these issues had been written to stand alone, they still took place in a continuity that was at least a decade old.  I was not terribly familiar with Thunderbolts when I took over editing that issue, but that meant I was coming to it with the same fresh set of eyes new fans would be.  The coolest part of that experience for me was that the Thunderbolts issue was written by Fabian Nicenza who also wrote the first comic I ever bought.

DM: What changes when you go from being a fan, especially since you’re a fan with your own considerable body of work as a writer, to being someone who’s part of the creative process?

EP: It is important to have an understanding of continuity in a way that it can serve the story but not get in the way of it.  And it is also important to understand that in order to tell the best stories writers have to love their characters enough to know how to hurt them most for the sake of character growth.  This is something I keep trying to explain to people about the fact that Peter Parker died in 700.  It isn’t the writer’s job to protect their characters.  It’s their job to tear them and their lives apart in interesting ways and then put them back together in a process that is equally interesting.  Fans are sometimes afraid of too much change and as a part of the creative process, you really can’t be.

DM: Are there any titles or characters you’d like to work with?

EP: I would love to do more work with Doctor Strange!

DM: I really would have liked to have been able to sit in on the Women of Marvel panel you participated in a couple of years ago. I do know it was very well attended, and that a lot of people are eager for comics to continue embracing as many different voices as possible. Do you feel like you’ve contributed to that effort in some way?

EP: The current female editorial staff at Marvel is an inspiring group of women and I have been very fortunate to work with some talented female creators as well including Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire, Vero Gandini, Stephanie Hans, Katherine Immonen, Jen Van Meter and Stephanie Buscema.  So it is a great time to be a woman who wants to get into comics with a list like that for role models and to show that it is possible.

DM: In terms of comics and diversity, what would you like to see develop over the next several years?

EP: One of the coolest things about Marvel Comics has always been the fact that they are firmly grounded in our world.  And the more we can do to reflect that world, the better!   Besides, the more you populate a book with characters who have different background and worldviews, the more of a head start that gives you on an interesting story.  That’s a big part of the reason I suggested Misty to Cullen as Valkyrie’s co-star for Fearless Defenders.  I just loved the juxtaposition of building a book around two characters who are so very different and fortunately Cullen ran with it and did amazing things.  I also think it’s important for us to keep an eye out for characters who are underused and new characters who might speak to audiences who are underserved.  (I am overjoyed there has been so much love for Annabelle!)  And there are several other exciting things in the works here at Marvel that I can’t talk about yet that are doing just that!

DM: Do you get a kick out of the whole notion of being a successful writer who lives in New York? I know at least four or five thousand people who dream of such a thing, whether or not that’s actually a realistic dream to have.

EP: I’m not sure I would call myself a successful writer, but I love everything I am doing and the fact that there is the opportunity here to do so much.

DM: Tell us about your 2010 novel, Southern Girls with Big Vocabularies.

EP: Southern Girls with Big Vocabularies is the Southern female friendship novel gone wrong.   It intercuts a coming of age story with the question of how you move on with your life after the sisterhood fails.

DM: Are you still working on your follow-up novel, The Men In Between?

EP: It is finished and making the rounds to publishers and agents.  The Men in Between is much lighter in tone than Southern Girls and tells the story of the men in between two loves of one woman’s life during that time just after you finish your education but before you figure out what to do next.  It is set in Savannah, Georgia and captures a lot of that city’s unique character.

DM: You have a huge amount of theater experience as an actor, a writer, and a director. I would imagine your Marvel gig takes up a whole lot of your time, but are there any theater projects you’re currently involved with? Or anything you’d just like to let us know about?

EP: I have unfortunately been on a theatrical hiatus for most of the last year.  Less because of my Marvel schedule than because I’ve been focusing on my own writing projects and there hasn’t been a theatrical project recently that really sparked my interest.  I’m hoping to get back on stage soon though if I can find the right project with the right people!

DM: In general, do you find it at all difficult to balance your work at Marvel with the other creative things you want to do?

EP: Not at all.  There is a huge difference between being a writer (which I am on my own time) and being an editor.  For me, the editor part of my brain is a lot closer to the theatre director part of my brain than the writer part.  It’s not my job to get the writer to tell the story the way I would tell it.  It’s my job to be the first audience for the story the writer is trying to tell and help them to make that story as clear as possible.  So because it’s completely different skill sets, I have no problem going home from a day of editing and working on my own writing (which is never comics related).  I have however stopped directing theatre in my down time because it’s too much of the same skill set to feel like downtime. But I don’t miss directing even a little, so it all worked out!

DM: I know you’re a huge fan of Shakespeare. What’s your favorite play?   

EP: Macbeth.

DM: Any other projects you’re currently at work on?

EP: I recently completed a screenplay and a television pilot because, well, downtime may not be something I’m actually good at. At all.