Discovering Creative Comic Book Stories With Writer Jody Houser – Forbes

Jody Houser thinks about her next creative writing project.
Jody Houser is a writer based in Los Angeles. Houser decided she wanted to be a writer when she was eight years old and never looked back. For better or worse, no one ever suggested that she stop. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing at Emerson College in Boston, where she completed her master’s thesis in screenwriting and was a winner of the Rod Parker Fellowship for Playwriting. Starting in 2006, Houser began experimenting with webcomics. Her first professional comics work was published in 2012. She became a full-time freelance writer in 2016.
Houser has written for DC Comics (Mother Panic, Supergirl, Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy), Marvel Comics (Star Wars, Web of Black Widow), Dark Horse Comics (Stranger Things, Critical Role, StarCraft), Titan Comics (Doctor Who), IDW Publishing (Orphan Black, Star Trek, X-Files), and Valiant Comics (Faith), among others. She continues to pursue comics and other writing projects. Jody Houser joins Forbes to discuss her writing and storytelling career path.
Goldie Chan: Hello Jody, could you share what has your career path been?
Jody Houser: I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since age 8, but exactly what that meant was a bit more vague. I just knew I wanted to tell stories for a living. And as an elementary school kid, I didn’t really have a good understanding of how many different mediums were open to me.
Towards the end of college, I decided that I wanted to pursue screenwriting specifically, so I went to Emerson to earn my MFA. When I moved to L.A., where almost everyone has a screenplay in their back pocket, I decided I needed to do something to stand out. One of my grad school friends was a part of the webcomic scene, and as a longtime comics fan, I decided I’d try my hand at it. I’m not really an artist, so I mostly stuck with strip comics that let me reuse art.
After about five years of doing weekly strip comics, I had the chance to script comics for actual artists, writing a few short stories for some Kickstarter comic anthologies. I was lucky enough to get to work with Fiona Staples on one of these, just before SAGA launched. Because her art was a part of one of the stories I’d written, I was able to get comic editors to look at some of my work.
My first short comic story was published in 2012. The first comic series I worked on, Orphan Black, came out in 2015. And in 2016, I quit my day job to write comics full-time. Since then, I’ve worked on a mix of superhero comics and what we call licensed books (Star Wars, Doctor Who, Stranger Things, etc).
Chan: What has been your favorite project to write?
Houser: That’s as hard for me to answer as “What’s your dream project?” because it’s always been more about the overall career for me. I’d say I’ve been happiest when I have a mix of projects that are fulfilling different creative needs.
Books like Mother Panic at DC, Faith at Valiant, and Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows at Marvel gave me a lot of creative freedom, as they were set in either rebooted universes or alternate universes. I was less beholden to what was going on elsewhere in the line, and really got to play.
On the other hand, writing for Star Wars (Marvel), Doctor Who (Titan), and Stranger Things (Dark Horse) means being one facet of a story being told across different mediums. What you do has to fit into the bigger picture. But it’s also a chance to contribute to worlds I loved as a fan before I worked on them, and perhaps leave my own mark.
Chan: As a storyteller yourself, who are some of your favorite storytellers and why?
Houser: I think there are certain storytellers that you connect with at formative points in your own journey as a writer that really show you the type of stories you want to tell. In my case, even before I knew I wanted to be a writer, I tried to write a sequel to Roald Dahl’s The Witches because the book meant so much to me (I was seven and didn’t yet know what fanfic was.) I still love writing wise and badass old ladies because of that book.
Mary Downing Hahn was my favorite writer when I decided I wanted to be one as well. She’s probably best known for her ghost stories, but the books that really stuck with me were the character-driven stories that had very real family problems and tragedies at their heart. It was the first time as a kid I felt like a writer wasn’t trying to soften how harsh the world could be. William Sleator’s books were some of the first horror and sci-fi books I read and really made me love the genre. Some of his stuff was absolutely mind-bending. Similarly, Tamora Pierce introduced me to fantasy, and rich and complex female characters.
I was absolutely obsessed with Christopher Pike as a teen. The edgy horror, sure, but also the blending of genres, tangling sci-fi and spiritualism. I had 50 of his books at one point. Similarly during my teen years, Joss Whedon’s work showed me that it was possible to have a really twisted sense of humor and still get paid for writing.
As an adult, perhaps my biggest influence has been the late Satoshi Kon. I’m someone who’s always loved both writing and consuming stories about the power of stories (perhaps wanting to justify my own career), and there’s no one who plays with fiction bleeding through the layers of reality quite the way Kon does. Whatever the genre, his work is beautiful. If you’re not familiar with his movies, I highly recommend Millennium Actress.
Chan: What is the most important element to writing a great comic book story?
Houser: Honestly, the most important element in my mind is to be a good collaborator. While the writer is in the most literal sense writing the script, everyone on the creative team is telling the story together. This is a visual medium, and the choices made by the artists and the colorists and the letterers are all integral parts of how the story is conveyed to the audience. It should always be “our” story rather than “my” story.
Because the writer is often the first step, being late on a script can mess up the project for everyone else down the line. For me, it’s also important to find a good balance between not putting an excess of the work on the artist’s plate, and not making so many of the choices that there’s no room for them to be a meaningful part of the storytelling process. It’s really something that takes a lot of practice to develop a sense for.
Chan: Can you share what are you currently working on?
Houser: A lot of things that haven’t been announced, so I can’t talk about them yet!
Of the upcoming books that have been announced, I’ve written three issues of a Yoda series for the Star Wars line at Marvel, a Star Trek one-shot about the Trill race for IDW, a graphic novel about Critical Role’s Mollymauk Tealeaf for Dark Horse, an adaptation of the classic fantasy novel Assassin’s Apprentice for Dark Horse, and the Frank Frazetta-inspired Dawn Attack for Opus Comics, which I’m co-writing with Eric Campbell.
Most recently, I wrote Doctor Who Origins for Titan Comics, about the mysterious Fugitive Doctor, and a series of Ms. Marvel team-up stories for Marvel. Both of those will be released in trade paperback collections soon.
Chan: Any last branding or career advice for creatives out there?
Houser: Stories matter, even when it feels like the world is falling apart. ESPECIALLY when it feels like the world is falling apart. Be kind to yourself if it’s harder to write or be creative during troubling times. But never tell yourself that what you’re creating isn’t important.

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