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Chicks On Anime
Creating a Heroine

by B. Dong, S. Pocock,

About the contributors:

Bamboo is the managing editor for ANN, and writes the column Shelf Life.
Sara is an animator who's also released her own independent short film.

Joining us this week is Leia Weathington, OEL author and creator of Bold Riley. We picked her brains about what it's like to create a strong female lead, and pen a multi-part adventure saga.

Bamboo: Leia, can you first tell us a bit about yourself and your work, Bold Riley?
Leia: I started Bold Riley about four years ago as a one-shot and decided I really liked the character and wanted to do more with her. At the time, I was in art school, sucking gloriously, and had made friends with these really talented people, amongst them Konstantin Pogorelov and Vanessa Lynn. I asked if they'd be interested in illustrating a some of the stories. Foolishly, they said yes and we got Book One of The Legend of Bold Riley underway. The plan is to have a different artist draw each individual story and then collect them in full color anthologies.
Bamboo: Can you give our readers a pithy run-down of Bold Riley? What made the character jump out at you?
Leia: Bold Riley follows the exploits of a princess from a country a little bit like India who abdicates her right to the throne to explore the wider world. She encounters new cultures and finds and loses love and makes her mark on the world. Each story can be read on its own, but when put together, they form a more complex, solid narrative.

The story was inspired by my love of fairy tales and heroic epics like Gilgamesh, but in those stories, the female characters tend to be very passive, and I wanted to create something that would subvert that trope. Women to this day are raised with fairy tales and they color a lot of our world view, so I wanted to write something that would better reflect the way women really are. Riley sort of sprang fully formed. Honestly, I'm not even sure how it happened. I was in the bathroom, that great hall of creativity. She just embodied the traits of the person I want to be. Loyal, brave, optimistic.

Bamboo: A few questions just flooded into my head. First off, embarking on such an epic tale seems like a daunting task. Are you going to be creating these new cultures yourself, or will they be based on real life cultures? I'm trying to wrap my mind around how one even begins to plan such a grand adventure.
Leia: Many of the cultures are based off of real life cultures, but folded, spindled, and mutilated. For example, in “Serpent in the Belly,” the land she visits is a mesh of Mesoamerican, pre-colonial, and Spanish architecture. The cultural practices are modified from anthropology books I've read.
Bamboo: Do you have an anthro background?
Leia: It's something I've always been interested in. I've taken a couple classes, but for the most part, it's just whatever happens to catch my attention.
Bamboo:From a production standpoint, why did you decide to use a different artist for each chapter? How much creative input do they have in the story?
Leia: I just thought it would add more depth and atmosphere to the overall narrative. I give my artists a fair amount of freedom. Depending on who I'm working with, I tailor my approach. For example, for Konstantin, I did layouts so he could see what I wanted. Jason Thompson, I didn't do that with because he's a layout pro. Nothing I could come up with could rival what he'd produce. With Aanessa Lynn and Kelly McClellan, I gave a ream of photo reference, but left everything I didn't have a solid idea of up to them. The Artists I work with were picked because I knew they were good. I'm not a big fan of nitpicking an artist. It just stresses everyone out.
Sara: As a fellow artist and an ex-art student, I know it's sometimes hard to make a decent living on your work. Is Bold Riley your bread and butter, so to say, or do you have other sources of income? If so, how do you balance your time between your personal work and your job? Also, how do you keep yourself motivated to work on Bold Riley's story? Does it coincide with your other interests?
Leia: Oh God. No, it's a money sink right now. I'm very, very fortunate in that my parents really support what I do. My father didn't want a doctor or a lawyer. He wanted a writer, so in all fairness, he's brought this on himself. He's been kind enough to support me thus far, so I can focus on getting this book out, but I'm working on getting a day job now. You kind of need something to do on the side, or you spend too much time in your own head. Also, they raised the cigarette tax in California and those bastards are runnin' me. I got a habit to pay for!

As far as staying motivated, it goes in cycles for me. I reach staggering highs of confidence and get huge amounts done. Then my ego gets freaked out and I stall a little bit. But this is what I love, and frankly, probably the only thing I'm good at, so I'm driven to succeed.

Bold Riley is pretty in tune with my interests. Mainly what I want to portray is how a legend is made, because after the Bold Riley stories are finished, there's going to be a story that occurs in the modern day, featuring an archeology student who is trying to track down proof that Bold Riley was a real person, and figure out how much truth there is to the stories.

Sara: What do the collaborating artists think of Bold Riley as a character?
Leia: They really like her! It's the most flattering thing in the world that these amazingly talented people find value in my work. They are working for free right now, so they don't need to have anything to do with this story, but do it anyway. I think it says something about their fondness for the material. And they have made this story richer. They have added elements that I never would have thought of, so as they draw, I'm adding things to the scripts that's inspired by what they've done.
Bamboo: You mentioned that Bold Riley is meant to be an antithesis to the typically passive fairy tale woman. Did you model her after anyone?
Leia: I didn't really think so at first, but actually she is based in many ways off of myself. Many of her flaws and strengths are based off of mine.
Bamboo: Okay, let me put you on the spot. Name your flaws and strengths.
Leia: Ha! Well she's reckless. I'm a little low on impulse control. She's sort of a lothario. Which, okay, she scores pretty much all the time, though, which uh... you know, I'm boy-crazy like a babysitter, so there you go. Her desire to control and have her way is a bit true of myself. But then she's friendly and curious and outgoing, which are fairly positive traits.
Bamboo: I kind of don't understand that analogy. Are babysitters supposed to be boy crazy?
Leia: All the babysitters I knew were pretty boy crazy. Anyway, what I meant was, Riley has a habit of sleeping around, regardless of how many hearts it could break. I'm not exactly like her in that regard.
Bamboo: I just want to make sure I'm getting the message. Bold Riley is supposed to be the strong, cool awesome heroine, right? Is her lifestyle supposed to be a sign of her empowerment—or a weakness? It's something that's always fascinated me, because different creators will answer that question in different ways.
Leia: It's both. Because of the nature of the story and the language it's written in. she's supposed to come off as fairly super badass, but her flaws do cripple her in some ways. Her love of excess is empowering... but only sometimes. It depends on the situation she's in. Coupled with her need for control, sometimes she gets herself in to a bad situation.
Sara: Well, character traits like excess are universal, right? Does she exhibit traditional female heroine flaws? Traits like meekness, self-sacrifice... typical female fairy tale traits others may argue are actually strengths.
Leia: The only one I can think of being traditionally feminine is she tends to throw herself on her sword to serve the people she loves.
Bamboo: Can you explain that a bit? What do you mean by "throw herself on her sword?"
Leia: She'll sacrifice all of herself in order to make her loved ones happy. Does that make sense?
Bamboo: In a way, yes. But if she's doing it through fighting, isn't that more of a manly trait? The idea of a hero sacrificing himself by dying for his loved one and/or country and/or ideals? In fantasies, you see the man dying for his woman, for instance, or his king.
Leia: Hm, that's true. I think my idea of gender roles is a bit busted. I was thinking in terms of her personal life... on a personal level, she does this as well, which I think is a more female trait.
Sara: Right, I was thinking of all these fairy tale princesses that take on extremely passive roles in the story; they sit around and wait for the "prince" to come save them. I always liked women who took a more pro-active role.
Leia: Oh me too. I don't know. I think most of us agree that gender roles are mostly manufactured bullshit that doesn't apply to real people deep down.
Bamboo: Bold Riley interests me, because I almost feel like she doesn't have a lot of traditional female weaknesses. You and I might say "gender roles are bullshit," but in terms of storytelling tropes, it's almost like she's a female... playing a male role, you know?
Sara: And yet they're still pretty prevalent in popular storytelling. Let's take anime as an example.
Leia: Oh yeah anime rocks the rapey gender role stuff. But then you get things like Utena.
Sara: It's interesting you bring up Utena in particular. Her motivation in the story is to essentially become a prince rather than wait for one, and literally plays the male role in the series.
Bamboo: Rapey? Do you mean that... they rape gender roles?
Leia: *laugh* I'm sorry, “rapey” is a term my girlfriends and I use to describe the creepy sexual overtones in manga of a woman in a passive role. Hot Gimmick is a prime example. It's not quite rape in the main relationships, but it's freakin' close.
Bamboo: In a sense, yes. But I feel like anime also really embraces the complete opposite of the "rapey" gender role. You have a lot of strong women who are commanders, leaders, adventurers. Look at Kino's Journey—you can't even tell the character is a woman, because it's not really relevant.
Leia: Oh, I didn't say there aren't exceptions. I mentioned Utena. Also, Fumi Yoshinaga throws down with solid female characters.
Bamboo: Let me ask you a tender question. When Sara and I talk about anime heroines, we often over-analyze the implications of the characters. Whether or not they're really women in male roles, and what not. As a creator... do you think about such things when you create a character like Bold Riley? Or do you just create an ideal character that appeals to you? I mean, one could even argue that maybe on some level, you want a self-sufficient woman who can take on a male role, thus diminishing the need for a man, you know? But is that us over-analyzing? What do you think?
Leia: They are things I think about, but it's usually after the fact. After I write something, I tend to think about what I've done from a critical standpoint, but mostly I think it's important to write what feels true to the human condition. I don't think it's over-analyzing. Riley is a gay character anyway so she isn't going to want a man anyway. What I like to see in the media I consume is not a woman's need for a man, but a person's need for diverse individuals in their life of either gender.
Bamboo: The women that Bold Riley falls for—not just in the story so far, but in the chapters that are still in the works—are they all very feminine? Or do some of them more similar to the fairy tale females you mentioned earlier? See, I can't help but overanalyze. I apologize for trying to pick apart your intentions. I'm just so tickled that I can actually sit here with a creator and ask you these questions.
Leia: Oh no worries! The ones that she really falls in love with are, at a glance, fairly feminine, but they have spines of steel. They may not be as physically tough as Riley, but they have their own strong suits that are not to be reckoned with. The woman that Riley ends up marrying later in the stories couldn't ride into battle, but she's a powerful sorceress and is not to be trifled with.
Sara: Do you think the outward appearance is at all important to how a character should be perceived? I sometimes find myself irked when watching anime that have these really strong, cool women... wearing skimpy, fanservice-type outfits. Or who look super moe and innocent. Do think that, as long as the personality, the design doesn't matter? Or is it still important?
Leia: It's inevitable that looks come into things. I personally am not hugely bothered by skimpy outfits as long as they seem to be at least somewhat practical, because I'm reading or watching something for the fantasy of it and I like looking at hot people. So yeah, I think as long as a character is strong and complex, it doesn't bother me too much.
Sara: This may be superfluous, but have you noticed a difference in the way men draw Riley as opposed to women?
Leia: Not really.
Bamboo: What about the way they draw her love conquests?
Leia: The way she's drawn seems to be more based off of artistic influences. You know, I really can't think of any differences… Vanessa, I think, draws her the most sexy.
Sara: I honestly don't think it makes a difference, either, but I was curious.
Leia: Konstantin went for broke when drawing the temple girls in Wicked Temple but then I told him to be overtly sexual with them.
Bamboo: A few more final questions... as an artist, or a storyteller, what do you hope to accomplish with Bold Riley? What are your goals?
Leia: Well, first and foremost, I want people to have fun reading our book! But on a deeper level, I want readers to see a message in the stories about how to treat each other well and be a good person. To be noble even when it's hard, because it is hard to do those things. But really, once the story is out there, it's in your hands. I just hope there is something for readers to take away from it.
Sara: I look forward to it.
Bamboo: The whole project sounds pretty great. I wish you the best of luck with the rest of Bold Riley! Any last words for the readers? Any plugs?
Leia: Check out the other people I work with at http://www.couscouscollective.com/ For more great creators! All of them are majorly talented, as well as good looking!

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