I’m humbled to have interviewed Rachel McGill — Comics Reviewer and overall kind and intelligent person — about her love for all things nerdy, comics, and history. [Read Rachel’s Featured Series! ‘Featured Series | Comics Galore With Rachel McGill’]
Hi Rachel! Thank you for taking your time to answer a few questions for us to know more about who you are and what you love to do.
Let’s start with a friendly opener: What do comics and the comic universe mean to you? What do they bring to you, creatively? Personally?
I grew up in a tv/movie household. Every Friday night was pizza and a movie. Usually horror or sci fi. Some of my earliest memories are of Neverending Story, the Hobbit, Poltergeist and X-Files. On top of this, every Sunday would find me hoarding the comics. I always knew real comics were out there and had read some super hero ones but never actively pursued them. When I was about or 10-12 I spent some of my allowance money on a Marvel Encyclopedia and that really started to take me down the rabbit hole. I eventually found Cloak and Dagger in the encyclopedia that led me to the Bronze Age (1970-1983) of comics which is really what’s responsible for pulling me in. The Bronze Age used dark storylines that focused on social issues, it saw the rise of heroes of color like Misty Knight, Luke Cage, and Storm.
(Would it surprise you to know that Misty Knight and Luke Cage were created by white guys? Storm was written by white guy but at least Arvell Jones drew her…)
In so many ways comics have helped me relate and communicate with others easily. It’s allowed me to find a pretty inclusive communitity in the PNW and led me to things that I might not have tried in the first place creatively, like blogging and cosplay! Personally comics have also helped me find a balance, sounds so silly, some people have books and I have comics. What can I say I like the pictures!
So many stereotypes like to emphasize that comics and girls don’t match up (same with girls and gamers) — and I always found this to be so frustrating. Do you or have you ever been told that comics aren’t for girls? How did (or do) you handle that?
ALL THE TIME! The biggest thing I get is that whole “testing your knowledge” thing. I’ll say right now I don’t even aim to keep that much information in my head, nor am I a comic expert. I just really enjoy comics and really enjoy writing about them. It’s frustrating but at the end of the day, you just have to be true to yourself and forget anyone who tries to bring you down. I remember this conversation I had with this guy who said I wasn’t a really gamer because I played games like Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption or Assassins Creed and not Call of Duty. What the?!?!
I won’t ask you what your favorite comic is because it’s like asking a book/film/music lover what’s their favorite ______. Miraculously, there are those who can answer that question (and perhaps you are one of those individuals); yet, it’s a question I don’t even know how to answer. However, I will ask you: what’s the most memorable comic you’ve read so far? Do you often venture outside of the comicsphere? What other genres carry your fancy?
Why did you ask this?! So hard! But most memorable would have to include Black Science (had a lot of relatable things) Red and Rover (I used to read this to my dog on Sunday’s he was 100% Rover and I’d be Red) House of M story arc, Civil War arc (more specifically the Death of Captain America).
I love fantasy/Sci fi but honestly I read a lot of non fiction. I just finished a Primates Memoir and just started The Awkward Thoughts of W Kamau Bell (if you haven’t seen United Shades of America or listened to Politically Reactive with Hari Kondabolu you are seriously missing out)
In addition to reviewing and reading comics, your about page mentions that you love to cosplay! What suggestions do you have for those who want to cosplay but are afraid to (Asking for a friend…)
What’s your opinion on comic conventions? Do you attend? Have you attended? Are they overrated? Do you cosplay while attending? (Again, asking for a friend…)
Honestly, I think ripping off the bandaid is your best bet. If your like me, you probably don’t feel very confident in your creative pursuits which is why I am such a HUGE proponent of closet cosplay. It’s low cost to free, you don’t have to be super detailed and it teaches you skills to use in your future cosplay endeavors. My first cosplay I dressed as River Song, I had all the clothes I needed (white button up, tights, boots) I bought a cheap toy gun and spray painted it and made it look more futuristic using stuff around the house. The most detailed cosplay I did was an assassin from Assassins Creed, for this I bought some fabric for my cowl and I made my “armor” out of felt wrapped in fake leather and an old cut up bra. Trial by fire! Additionally I made a poison ivy costume by glueing fake ivy to an old swimsuit – it’s only as complicated as you make it.
I’ve attended ECCC for the past 7 years and this last one was the best yet and I think that’s partially because I took full advantage of my time. It’s easy to get sucked into the main floor and spend all your time looking at all the vendors and artists. You really have to make an effort to go to panels and see the celebrities if you want. This year I had the great fortune of attending several different panels, including one in which one of my idols – Kelley Sue Deconnick dropped in on and talked with all of us. So cool! I also had to chance to hear panels with Robert Kirkman, the ROBERT ENGLUND, and the great Joe Dimaggio. I think comic conventions are worth attending at least once. They can be overrated so be prepared. Plan ahead. Know what you want to do/see. It’s easy to lose time in convention centers that usually have very little windows with thousands of sweaty people. Cosplay can be so tireing during conventions but it can be a lot of fun. On my best years, I’ve had people stop and take photos with me. Kinda dorky but definitely fun. I wouldn’t recommended cosplaying everyday, unless you are super committed and in that case there are tons of resources on cosplaying all over the Internet and at the library.
Comics are layered with such rich history and have naturally coincided with political issues since their origins. We can think about the rise of DC Comics’s Superman during the mid 30s and talk about how he was a heroic image at a time when people needed to fix on ideas of super human strength and of a savior. Popular culture today acts in a similar way, especially after the US election.
So much has happened to us americans since January 20th, 2017 that it has been astonishing to view the rise in populism and nationalism from literally all around the world. However, out of this moment, it truly is inspiring, at least on my end, to see how artists and creative people alike have banded together to rise against harmful narratives and images of others. Your reviews on PEN America’s State of Emergency series touches on each artist’s unique response to the many events happening around the world. As a fellow writer and reviewer to another writer and reviewer, have the current events impacted the way you approach comics for review? Has it influenced what and how you want to review?
What advice can you give to new reviewers who would like to review comics and/or other graphic arts that have a political slant?
I am so glad you asked this. My ‘liberal white bubble’ got popped big time with this election. Last winter, on top of hearing about politics daily, I had the honor of taking a Race in American Politics class from a badass (she didn’t mince words and has forever changed how I look at the world) Latina female Associate Professor (one of only 4%) who specializes in Latino/a studies. WHAT AN EYE OPENING EDUCATION! After that class I felt alive in so many ways but beyond heart broken. I’d like to think that most of the people in my circle are pretty aware of systematic racism but it really is so much deeper then you are led to believe.
Now to really tie this in to the question… I have always been interested in the fact that comics had a political origin and in fact WWII is one of my favorite topics to learn about and I was fairly familiar with the use of comics as propaganda. As I mentioned before, I’m also really into the Bronze Age of comics which have more of a dark and political tone to them. But I never really read them for the politics. I guess I read them because they felt more real to me. I haven’t written in 4 months or frankly read any comics. If 45 is anything, he’s very distracting. I’m not a doctor but consuming news every chance you get IS NOT HEALTHY. As part of my lengthy hiatus I’ve thought a lot about how I can combine my passion for comics and politics and in many ways Black Lion Journal has really made me more excited and comfortable to pursue this next chapter in my writing. The first review I have planned now that I’m back is on ‘They Have Issues: Tales From Comic Book Stores’ created by 18 women and non-binary cartoonists. From there I’m going to find as many comics as I can written by women, P.O.C., and from people in the LGBTQ community and really try to highlight the politics of all the the comics I review. I really don’t want it to come off as whitesplaing so I hope to reach out to creators of color and get their insight on politics in comics and to take an approach that calls out white privilege in geek culture. This sounds wildly ambitious, but important, to me at least.
Be honest with yourself and your readers. Politics are a touchy subject that make people feel very uncomfortable, but what many of us call ‘politics’ is real life to most. I urge those reviewers to not shy away from the painful and scary stuff. If you have the ability to use your voice for good, even if it’s reviewing comics or whatever it is you love, you should. To all my fellow white cisgendered reviewers out there, educate yourself, listen to leaders of color in the movement and realize that you will never ‘understand’ or know enough. Know your sources and don’t hold back.
I always take the opportunity to ask bloggers a question about blogging because I think it’s a topic of importance. Why blogging? What inspired you to start a blog?
What top three suggestions on blogging and reviewing can you give newbies who are starting from scratch?
To be honest, I tried to do a weekly geek news YouTube channel under the same name and felt so miserably self conscious about it. At that time I was really getting more into comics vs graphic novels so the weekly trip to my local comic book store and a subscription to comixology made it so comics were always on my mind. I needed a hobby and one day I just tried blogging, I really liked it and so strived to make it a consistent thing in my life. I had some hang ups with writing because I have mild dyslexia and am really a terrible terrible speller but a couple of friends and family members said they enjoyed my writing style so that really provided me with the encouragement I needed. I assume I’ve been doing something right because it seems to be working.
Patience for yourself and for growth of your blog
Be passionate, you’ll write best about what drives you
Finally, where do you see yourself professionally and creatively in about 5 years?
I’m in the process of earning my B.A. in Anthropology with a focus on globalization and a minor in Political Science. Where this leads me I’m not sure but hopefully to a non profit or government work. Creatively I still hope to be doing something with comics and politics but on a bigger scale, with more knowledge and hopefully with some friends.
Thank you, Rachel, for answering these (somewhat wordy) questions! I truly appreciate you and your time! I hope that you have found some inspiration from Rachel’s words!
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