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Interview: Grace Ellis and Brittney Williams on Lois Lane

DC’s newest original graphic novel for young readers is out this week, and it features Lois Lane before she was a reporter. Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge serves up middle-school drama along the lines of Raina Telgemeier and Kayla Miller, with the twist that we know what the protagonist will do when she grows up—but she doesn’t.

We talked to writer Grace Ellis, one of the original creators of the Lumberjanes, and artist Brittney Williams (Goldie Vance, Betty and Veronica: The Bond of Friendship) about how they went about creating an origin story for the most famous reporter in comics.

Lois Lane has been around for a long time. What was your first experience with her, and what did you think of her before you started this project?

Williams: I guess my first experience would be the ABC live-action series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. In the first episode she did this thing where she went undercover and somehow ended up in the sewers, trying to go after a story. As a kid I thought that was really cool, like yeah, I’ll go into the sewers for this. She wasn’t happy about it, but she did it. Then she was wearing all these disguises and not taking any guff from anyone, and I thought she was cool.

Ellis: Who among us has never found ourselves in disguise in a sewer? I went to journalism school and I was horrible at it, but I was always really into popular culture. I was like, who is a journalist I can look up to in pop culture? I started getting into the idea of how Superman looks up to her. I read the book Investigating Lois Lane and I was in love. 

When you were creating this story, what elements of Lois’s personality did you want to emphasize?

Ellis: We thought of it as the Lois Lane origin story because she is a super journalist. I kind of started with “What is Lois?” There were some earlier iterations of the pitch with Superman in them, but DC was like “No.” At first it seemed like too much of a challenge. Who is she without Clark? That was the question we were supposed to answer in this book. What were her admirable qualities? She is tenacious, passionate about everything she does—what if we took those qualities, turned them up to 100, and then made her a child who doesn’t realize that is abrasive? You’re passionate, everything is life or death—like Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation—she’s a real go-getter, sometimes to her detriment, but we love her in spite of it. 

How did you come up with her look?

Williams: I think just [looking at the Loises] from a range of material I was inspired by and shrinking them into this little kid.

Where did you get the ideas for the outfits? 

Williams: I guess that was a group effort. We went back and forth a lot. I feel like we went through 10-15 different outfits until we landed on one that was perfect. We researched middle school styles, taking hints from classic news reporter looks, the suspenders and things like that, but it was a big back and forth. 

There’s no Clark Kent, no Superman – this book is just about Lois. Why did you go in that direction?

Ellis: He ended up taking up all the oxygen. A superpower automatically makes you interesting, even if you’re in the background. It was the correct note for us from them. It made us focus more on her personality instead of what she was necessarily trying to solve. It made us focus more on her character and how she would interact with the world, instead of investigating Clark. Without having any road map ahead of us, it was a little more of a challenge, but it was infinitely more rewarding. 

So does Superman exist at all?

Ellis: He definitely exists somewhere in the universe, but not directly in this book. So does Batman. 

As a fictional character.

Ellis: Maybe. He’s a pop culture figure.

Will there be more Lois graphic novels? 

Ellis: That’s the hope, but I guess we will all see.

Williams: That would be amazing. That would be fun.

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Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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