Hall & Oates coined it first: “The woman is wild, a she-cat tamed by the purr of a Jaguar!” Strong women and feminists in general often face accusations of being “Man-eaters.” Ready to pounce on any man and “chew you up!” But the image of a fierce woman transformed into a ferocious jaguar is just what Chelsea Cain has in mind for her new series from Image Comics, MAN-EATERS.

Cain is a New York Times bestselling novelist and columnist who has penned titles including Dharma Girl and The Hippie Handbook: How to Tie-Dye a T-Shirt, Flash a Peace Sign, and Other Essential Skills for the Carefree Life. Cain entered the comics world with Marvel’s Eisner-nominated MOCKINGBIRD series. In 2015, MOCKINGBIRD’s strong female lead and the equally impressive female author resulted in a torrent of anti-feminist and misogynist trolling. Luckily, it hasn’t stopped Cain from forging into a brave new world of comics with a brave new feminist agenda.

ComicsVerse is so grateful to speak with Cain about her upcoming series, MAN-EATERS, which is slated for release September 26th!

[Editor’s note: portions of this interview have been edited for clarity.]
Chelsea Cain's MAN-EATERS
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

ComicsVerse (CV): To get things going, can you tell us a little about your new comic, MAN-EATERS?

Chelsea Cain (CC): Basically it’s about girls who transform into homicidal werepanthers when they get their periods, and the lengths society will go to prevent it from happening. The story centers on a 12-year-old named Maude, who is starting to think she might be a monster, and her dad, a detective who is investigating a series of murders. It’s also about the dangers of cat poop, how to manage divorced parents, middle school, and learning that transformation doesn’t have to be scary.

CV: For MAN-EATERS, you’re reunited with your MOCKINGBIRD creative team, artist Kate Niemczyk, colorist Rachelle Rosenberg, and letterer Joe Caramagna. How has it been working with them again? What touches do they bring to MAN-EATERS?

CC: I was determined to put the creative team back together. I love seeing Kate bring my words to life. She has such a strong aesthetic and yet somehow marries it with my own vision of the work. It’s a story I’m seeing in my head, and it’s a challenge to partner with an artist to realize it. I think Kate and I elevate each other. She understands my approach and visual cues. I tend to imagine the panels in a more traditionally “alt-comic” style than, say, the classic Marvel style. I’m a sucker for Wes Anderson-style shots — flat space and symmetry. It directs the eye and presents the information with a point of view. And because my comics (such a vast oeuvre of 9, so far) are very close POVs, self-consciously inhabiting the main characters, it feels important to reinforce that with the art.

The classic Marvel style is more dynamic, a lot of shifting angles, and intentional asymmetry because even if it’s narrated by a character it’s through an editorial lens. We’re meant to believe what we see and to understand that, no matter how batshit crazy the narrative gets, the visuals are an independent recording angle. Thank goodness, Jack Kirby happened past! Personally, I never believe what a character tells me. Characters lie. Because characters are written by writers. We’re all biased.

So I like the idea of putting it all on the table, being like, here’s a story, but it’s not true. So that’s my approach. It requires a real connection with the artist to pull it off. And while it sounds like I am obsessively controlling about how the story is drawn on the page (and I probably am) it has much less to do with what is drawn than in how it is drawn. We can never see anything that the character doesn’t know is there (or wants us to think is there).

Once, in an early issue of MOCKINGBIRD, Kate drew a panel of a room from an angle as if we were looking down from the empty top of a cabinet. It was a cool panel. But if Bobbi is telling us a story, why is she showing us the room from that spot? How does she know what is even up there on top of that cabinet in a place no one could access? And why is she trying to draw our attention to it? I’m annoying, right? From the artist’s perspective, it means taking that extra step in the art creation to think about what we’re seeing as if it were something being shown to us. Kate has gotten really good at that. If I had to explain it all again to another artist, I think I would probably get stabbed in the neck with a very sharp pencil.

Rachelle knocks me out every single issue. She always finds a way to surprise me. Some element to guide the eye or enrich perspective or texture that brings the whole goddamn book together. I’m a big fan of surface textures and wallpaper prints both in life and in comics. I also wear caftans, while we’re over-sharing. I like the slight discord textures/prints bring to the flat nature of the page. In MAN-EATERS we work in a lot of photographic elements in strange places. So it’s this drawn-comic-book-world with drawn-comic-book-people, but the photographs on the wall are stock photos, or there’s a real-life person on the TV, or photorealistic signs and billboards mixed, woodgrain table surfaces, that kind of thing — real world ephemera that draws attention to the artifice. It shouldn’t work. I didn’t think it would. But it does.

And Joe. Well, obviously we’re required by the comics union to hire at least one male.

Ha. I’m kidding. There’s NO UNION in comics! What a ridiculous and totally unnecessary idea!!

Joe is a great letterer. Jesus, I had no idea how important lettering was before I made a comic. I read comics. I thought a letterer used letters to spell out the words in the script. Tried not to cover character’s faces with dialogue balloons. That kind of stuff. Turns out it’s super important! The placement of the captions and balloons on a page make or break the pacing of the story. Joe creates the beats. He finds that extra millimeter of space before the punch line, so the joke can breathe. Also, he taught me that those little breath marks (three little dashes before and after someone coughs or pants) are called “whiskers.” I will always be grateful to him for that.

New to the creative team, please give a hearty welcome to the marvelous Lia Miternique, my partner at Ministry of Trouble. She designs our covers, our front matter and back matter, and a lot of the real-life ephemera we drop in. When you see the fake Time Magazine cover in the book with the photograph of a teen and the headline, “Are Girls Turning into Killer Cats?”, that’s Lia. She is also the interior artist/illustrator for issue four, which is a very special guide for boys on how to survive a big cat attack.

MAN-EATERS
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

CV: You faced a lot of misogynist harassment over MOCKINGBIRD. But with the focus on female cats taking over the patriarchy, MAN-EATERS has a more obvious “feminist agenda” than MOCKINGBIRD. What do you feel is your feminist agenda?

CC: I get asked this a lot, probably because I wear the t-shirt so much. My canned answer is, “You’ll see…” (Then I put my head back and laugh wickedly.)

What’s my feminist agenda? To tell a story. Also, being able to write a comic book with a female perspective and not being asked that question. No one asks Tom King or Brian Michael Bendis what their “male agenda” is. They have one. Because they’re males and their stories reflect the scope of their experiences. That doesn’t make them less woke. It makes them human. It’s not a big deal. I was so astonished when people would get agitated and “accuse” MOCKINGBIRD of being feminist because, no duh, Einsteins. Ya caught me! I wrote some woman stuff.

If you want to consider unconscious bias in comics, think about the “smartest” characters in the MU. (Not picking on Marvel — I’m a Marvel girl, and I know it better than DC, so just stick with me.) Think of the smart Marvel men and you probably think of Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Hank Pym, Dr. Strange. They are all brilliant. They are all emotionally unavailable. They have high IQs. They are all brilliant jerks. Now think of the smart women in the Marvel Universe. Like, Reed Richards level smart. You’ll come up with some. How many of them aren’t the daughters or sisters of more famous male heroes? How many of them are women, like actual grown-up women, not teenage girls? It’s just an exercise. Just a fun little mental game. This stuff matters.

I wanted Bobbi Morse to be smart. She has a Ph.D. for Christ’s sake. But I wanted to celebrate a kind of female intelligence that often gets short-changed. She has a high IQ, sure, that part comes easily. But I wanted her “smarts” to be rooted in emotional intelligence in addition to math skills. I wanted Bobbi to always know everyone’s next move not because she was psychic, but because she pays attention. I wanted her to have swagger.

CV: Can you tell us more about what prompted you to create a comic with such a fiercely feminist edge?

CC: MAN-EATERS is about female adolescence. How on earth do we talk about that bloodbath without being fierce?

CV: With cats (metaphorically tied to women), Tampon Woman, and other symbols of womanhood and feminism, it seems as though MAN-EATERS treads a line between satirizing American culture that sees feminists as raging, man-hating fiends, and bringing general awareness to how women see the patriarchy. What message(s) do you hope readers will take away from the comic?

CC: It is a satire and I wanted to be all-in and upfront about it. The first issue literally opens with a comic strip about a tampon superhero (literally, she’s a tampon wearing a cape) and includes the line, “Not so fast, Mr. Misogyny!” We can’t talk about what it is to be a woman (and I use that term inclusively, by the way, because this affects all women, whether they have vaginas or not) without talking about how women are portrayed by the culture at large. We internalize those stories. It’s a funhouse mirror of dysfunction.

CV: MAN-EATERS feels particularly potent in the era of the Trump Administration. How do you see comics, as opposed to other narrative forms, as serving your goal to create politically engaged art? Do you think MAN-EATERS is particularly important now?

CC: While I am dismayed by a lot of national politics right now, I am inspired by my 8th-grade daughter and her friends. They don’t need gender-specific pronouns to sort one another out.

I was raised by a second wave feminist. My mom was outraged back in 1980. I have always thought of myself as aware and progressive. But it wasn’t until my daughter and her friends educated me that I became aware of how often I use the term, “Girls” or “Ladies” by default to holler for Eliza and her friends. Like that is the most important thing about them. We’re all just people. When a boy talks about learning how to “be a man,” it may sound dated, but we know what he means, and it connotes something admirable. It involves doing the right thing, being strong and square-jawed and responsible, and learning how to build a chair. I can’t think of a girl equivalent of that phrase… Except, “be a man.”

This sounds so off topic… But trust me, all of this stuff, it’s connected. And every time we put another story in the world — especially — vitally — in a space that isn’t used to that story — a space like comic books or games — it chips away at this larger narrative and gets us closer to the future our eighth graders can see and we are too old to hold in our hearts.

MAN-EATERS
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

CV: Are there any projects you’ve been working on outside of MAN-EATERS?

CC: Ha. Well, there was this comic book I was co-writing with my husband about a robo — oh, never mind.

I love telling stories. I love consuming stories. I live a lot in my head. I mentioned earlier that Lia and I started a company called Ministry of Trouble. (Can you guess what we make?…) In addition to MAN-EATERS, the Ministry has some other projects in the works. We’re working with Keith Baker and Twogether Games on a MAN-EATERS game, and Kelly Sue DeConnick and I are developing a MAN-EATERS TV show. I’m working on another Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell novel because that is my guilty pleasure and I can’t help it. I’m working on a script doctoring job. I’m even considering helping out with (I swear to God) a stage musical, which I can’t tell you anything about, so don’t ask, it’s a secret. And that is just the stuff I can think of off the top of my head.

I’m not going anywhere.

I’m a feminist. And right now — this moment in history — it’s essential that we all stand up for what we believe in.  Speak up, speak your truth, be loud, be insistent, protect one another.

Be a feminist. Be a man. Be a human. Be kind. Support your local comic book store. Don’t be mean on Twitter.

It’s pretty easy, really.

Chelsea Cain’s MAN-EATERS will be available September 26th.

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