The Power of Supervillains and Poetry: A Gchat interview with Natalie Zina Walschots

In case you didn’t know, Natalie Zine Walschots is Canada Arts Connect Magazine’s Managing Editor and author of Girls Don’t Like Metal. She is not only great at her job at CAC (herding writers for an online magazine is no easy task) but she is also a fantastic poet. Her second book, the fabulous DOOM: Love Poems for Supervillains, which includes superb illustrations by equally multi-talented Evan Munday, was released this spring with Insomniac Press, and I jumped at the chance to pick her brain on matters both of poetry and supervillain-related. On a summery Friday morning we got together from across the country with the help of the handy Gchat. Here she discusses her love of geek culture, how obsession drives writing, the complicated lives of supervillains, the problems facing female supervillains and how bondage and supervillains come together. Also, we play Marry, Fuck, Kill.

Good morning!

Morning!

How are you?

I’m well! Writing like a motherfucker, as per usual.

I’m drinking out of my Write Like a Motherfucker mug as we type!

I love Sugar SO MUCH. I need to get me one of those.

Your book is DOOM: Love Poems for Supervillains. For those who don’t know, the uninitiated, could you talk a little bit about your history with supervillains?

Sure! When I was five, I wanted to marry Captain Hook. I thought he was the coolest — moustache, hat, dashing yet evil, terribly sophisticated. Then, when I was 12, I had my moment of sexual awakening while on a school trip to see the Phantom of the Opera at the Pantages theatre in Toronto. The masked, damaged genius who loves so ferociously he destroys? That was the hottest thing my pre-pubescent self had ever encountered. When I was 14 or 15 I started reading comic books

That is such a good 12-year-old sexual awakening. Attractive villains are usually much more fleshed out than bland heroes.

Ha, thanks. It explains a lot about me, really. I absolutely agree with you. The villains are by far and away the most complex, interesting and engaging characters. I first fell in love with Sam Keith’s The Maxx. Which helped developed my concept of the anti-hero

The Maxx was the first hero I encountered who wasn’t necessarily heroic. He was confused and broken, not knowing exactly where reality and fantasy separated from each other. He had no problem killing things he determined were enemies. He had some kind of nobility, and was still a hero, just a busted one.

Read this book.

I should let you know that I am not totally ignorant of comic books, but am not well-versed. DOOM was a bit of an education for me.

I hope that DOOM is accessible enough that even non-comics-geeks can enjoy it.

I think that it appeals to many types of people and broadens the scope for readers of poetry.

Can you hang on a moment? There is a raccoon trapped in my garbage.

(Natalie leaves to perform animal control duties.)

Raccoon freed! Just a little guy. Couldn’t get out of the can.

Good work! They’re little supervillains. With masks even. Do you gravitate towards pop culture in your writing? You also write about music, so there’s something there in terms of your interest level, but also the cultural importance.

I think I do. Not to disparage subjects like nature and memory and things like that–the bigger subjects–but I have always been drawn to pop culture, and geek culture in particular. So I end up writing about metal and comic books and video games.

Other writers will continue to mine that territory. Inevitably we write about the things that consume our energy and interest.

I definitely write about things I become obsessed with. Those things tend to be archetypal stories, men in masks, grand narratives of transformation. I get something in my head and it doesn’t go away. I always found fandom and fan culture fascinating.

You explore the various ways a supervillain can be. Did you write a few poems initially and then it built on itself?

Yes, exactly. I wrote DOOM for the Fan Fiction issue of Matrix a few years ago and I liked it so much I kept going. I had about 30 for a really long time, and sat on them, wondering if I really wanted this to be a book. In the end, it made itself a book. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and had to write it out.

Did you harbor fear that the idea of a book about supervillains wasn’t appealing to anyone but yourself? Or any other fears?

A little. I think it was more like I was afraid that I wouldn’t be taken seriously

That’s awful, but realistic. Thankfully, it’s bullshit.

As a young woman with green or pink or blue hair who writes about metal and has a hard time explaining her job in a way her parents can understand, it flares me. Oh, it’s total crap, insecurity for sure, but I did worry.

The word hero is so overused that merely writing about villains is a powerful act. Villain is a complicated concept.

It is! I’ve said this before but I actually think they have a lot more options and therefore a much larger capacity to get things done. Heroes tend to be bound and shackled by specific moral codes, like Batman: no guns, no killing. How many lives would he have saved if he just offed the Joker?

Good point.

And in not doing so, he can’t do smaller evil things that would lead to larger good and in the end there is no internal conflict because the principal is absolute. Villains muddy and complicate things.

Now, let’s go back to bound and shackled for minute here.

Sure :)

There‘s a whole “bondage” section in DOOM, as well the illustrations by Evan Munday speak to that theme as well. How do supervillains and bondage come together in poetry? These are characters that inflict pain, as well as being the brunt of it.

In the narrative of comics, villains often need to be contained– in jail, in asylums. Coming up with ways to contain someone who is super smart, super powered, magical, etc. is tricky. Their prisons are intense. Some are pocket dimensions, some made of Adamantium, some shrink you. Also, as you pointed out, villains take a lot of punishment. The narrative of good guy beats up bad guy is still the dominant story arc in a lot of comics

me: And world warfare.

Natalie: Yes, exactly.

The poet being delightful.

You break down that simplicity of bad or good. In the “Stronghold” section about place, there is such vulnerability. This is where heroes and villains congregate, but it’s a destroyed mess. And they’ve created that together.

Yes, in “Stronghold” I wanted to look at places of origin and power, where villains come from and plot and live, the buildings or countries or planets they consider theirs and in most cases, they’ve been razed to the ground.

“The Girl Fight” section is the shortest. What do you make of the lack of female supervillains?

I think they have a really hard lot. Their stories are often the most simplified. It’s usually some version of: trying to get the superhero’s attention by being bad or, playing out one of the typical narratives of womanhood, i.e. motherhood (Poison Ivy) in a broken or pathological way or some other supervillain’s sexy second in command

Stereotypes.

They’re the most straightforward and reduced. While supervillainy offers men an escape from the heroic narrative and its limits, the same freedoms often don’t apply to the women. It’s just more smoldering sexuality gone wrong. Tapping into the anxiety that boobs are superpowers all by themselves

In reading that section I felt the most empathy. There’s passion and love, as if you were giving them the fullest representation they’ve ever had.

I tried really hard since I’m one of them. I think there is great potential for strong women who pursue a career in supervillainy. I wanted to honour that. And their stories are always getting more complex as better and better writers tell them.

Do you encourage others to embrace the supervillain dwelling inside them?

Absolutely. Since acknowledging that I wanted to use my powers for what I consider awesome rather than just blandly “good,” I’ve been much happier and more self-actualized. Being a supervillain doesn’t mean being an asshole. It means being honest.

Villains allow us to see more of ourselves.

Yeah, exactly. You see yourself as a whole person and allow yourself to take pleasure in real justice when it happens. Also, when people in positions of power are tyrants and usurpers, being a villain starts to make sense.

Heroes have a narrow focus, which is a tragic flaw.

It is almost always their tragic flaw: their inability to see outside their own narrative and structure. Batman will not stop working with the police, for instance, but in the world, we are seeing more and more corruption and distrust of authority figures. Innocent kids who are shot or pepper sprayed or sexually assaulted by people in uniform. The insistence on working in a broken system, giving them the bat signal, does that really still make sense post G20? Or in light of the investigation into the RCMP division who allowed Pickton to thrive by not caring about aboriginal women and sex workers? Or the hundreds of female RCMP officers who were harassed and assaulted at work?

Batman’s behavior seems in line with what a very rich character would do.

Batman is very wealthy, and in the end he needs the status quo upheld to do what he’s doing. Superheroes are confined to that system.

A real hero would want to change that system and make it work in order to do “good.”

A real hero would. Heroes do fight corruption, but they try and fix what’s there, instead of blowing it all up and starting over, which villains are interested in doing.

How was your experience with Insomniac? They obviously did not share your fears about not being taken seriously.

Oh no, they were totally all over the idea. Working with Paul Vermeersch as an editor was fantastic and the rest of the team was super pro, really positive, they supported the book entirely.

Tell me about Evan Munday? His illustrations are fantastic.

I love Evan so much. He’s a rare talent. His sense of humour is just incredible. I would have the weirdest ideas, be like “I am almost embarrassed to tell you about this, but…” and then he’d draw me intricate villain bondage and it would be PERFECT.

They are a perfect pairing. DOOM also has humour in it.

It does. The world is a hilarious place. In general look at their outfits and makeup. Come on.

They are all wearing some form of spandex.

SO MUCH SPANDEX.

If there is any flaw most villains have it’s hubris, and taking themselves too seriously. There is a general serious tone to their plans. Most of them are all “HEED MY COMMANDS” and talk about themselves in the third person and it’s really hilarious, but they can’t see it.

I’ve always thought that most supervillains could really do with a bossy girlfriend who would help them laugh at themselves. I would totally be all, “You need a decent HR manager because the henches you’ve been hiring are B-class at best.” Or, “No, you cannot threaten the ambassador tomorrow, it is date night. Do it Monday. You promised.”

Ha, ha, ha.

Suddenly they’re all sleeping better and eating enough and watching Netflix sometimes.

Now. We’re going to play a game. Marry, Fuck, Kill.

I would marry Dr. Doom no question.

I’m just going to open the book to a page.

? Deadpool
? Harley Quinn
? Magneto

Oh man, this is a tough one. This pains me, but: Marry Magneto, because I feel like he’d do best with the long-term investment, and there would be more stability. Fuck Deadpool because it would be CRAZY. And kill Harl, which KILLS ME, but only because I am sadly very straight.

RIP Harley.

Unless there was a way I could swap Harley’s death for a three-way with her and Deadpool, because that would be incredible.

I’m sure we can arrange something.

In fact I’d just watch them fuck, that would be fine.

It might kill them both! The sheer hotness of it.

Okay, let’s say that. There would be a three-way that would actually cause us to implode due to hotness, thereby satisfying both the death and fuck requirement.

This is a great place to end. Thanks so much for doing this. I had a great time.

Me too! This was fun!

Natalie Zina Walschots writes great things right here for CAC, is on the internet here and tweets here. DOOM: Love Poems for Supervillains is available now from Insomniac Press. Her previous book of poetry, Thumbscrews (Snare, 2007) was the  winner of the 2007 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. She is a delight.

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