Host Terence Dollard talks to writer Meredith Finch. She discusses Wonder Woman, crowdfunding, and the Book of Ruth.
- Hello and welcome to Comic Culture.
I'm Terence Dollard,
a professor in the Department of Mass Communication
at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
My guest today is writer Meredith Finch.
Meredith, welcome to Comic Culture.
- Hi everybody, thanks for having me.
- Meredith you are a writer with a diverse portfolio.
You've written some I guess sci-fi horror books,
you've written super heroics
and you've written an adaptation of a biblical story.
So, I'm wondering as a writer,
how do you kinda jump between those genres
and still have a good story to tell?
- Ultimately, even though I've dabbled
in a bunch of different genres,
I think that what makes it easy is that the message
that I'm trying to communicate in the majority of my stories
remains pretty consistent,
and the themes that I'm exploring
remain fairly consistent.
So, from "Wonder Woman" to "Rose" to the "Book of Ruth",
there's this overarching idea of love
and exploring the idea of loving
and how it is reflected by a superhero,
by a young woman, by God.
And in all of those stories that
I think they're all my ways of exploring
my own experiences with love,
either with my children or with friends
or family or with God.
So, it hasn't been...
It's not as difficult as you might think
to go between genres when those are just,
they're parts of a costume.
The character itself or the essence of the story,
the structure of the story
is really, I think the most difficult part.
- It's interesting because we tend to think
of a movie as the events rather than the way the events
impact the lives of our characters.
So, when you're handed a character, like let's say,
Wonder Woman, who is an icon,
close to 80 years of publication history,
what can you bring to that character
that will let you find a story that's worth telling?
- I think one of the ways in which I benefit
from writing "Wonder Woman" is that
there haven't been a lot women
who've actually written that character.
So, it was fairly easy for me to look at her
and see everything that had happened to her,
cause I was coming on after Brian Azzarello's run.
And at that point he had made her...
She wasn't just Wonder Woman and a member
of the "Justice League", she was also the god of war
and her mother had been turned to clay.
So, she was the defacto queen of the Amazons.
And I just kept thinking about all these things
that she had in her play,
and how that was very reflective of my own life,
being a mom and a comic book writer,
and a wife, and a friend, and all of the different hats
I was wearing at the same time.
And how conflicted and torn I felt
not ever being able to give anyone aspect
of my life as much as I felt like I should.
So, it was very easy to then translate that
into our "Wonder Woman Run" and how she would feel.
Cause even a superhero there's a finite amount of time
she can't travel back and forth between time.
How does she juggle not being part
with the Justice League if something bad is happening?
Because she's on the must killer
dealing with a problem with the Amazon.
So, I feel very blessed and grateful that I got
to write that character when I did.
And at this point in my life that I was at,
because I felt like I was able to really add
something to her that not a lot of people had done.
Because sometimes she gets written a little,
not as multifaceted as I think I was able to do,
with what I was able to do with the character.
- It's true to,
I mean, character like Wonder Woman has been around,
like I say, close to 80 years.
I don't think we can look back
in the same way we can with Batman or Superman
where we can remember those iconic stories every year.
I mean, maybe we'll recall some George Perez run
or the one where she gives up her powers.
So, when you're taking that character
and you're able to put your stamp on her,
it's interesting because someone else
wasn't able to do that,
you were able to find a way to tell a compelling story
for the character and also add in those other elements.
So, when you have a character like Wonder Woman
and maybe the "Justice League" is needing her for something,
are you working with the editor to like...
This is the idea you have for the story
with the editor tells you,
Oh, we need to tie in with this other book.
And does that change the course
of how you're putting together your narrative?
- When we were doing "Wonder Woman"
we were fairly autonomous.
At the same time Peter Tomasi
was writing Wonder Woman, Superman story.
So, I talked to Peter but there wasn't a lot going on
that within the DC Universe that I had to reflect,
We had a fair amount of just do what you wanna do.
If I'd wanted to pull more of the DCU when I could have,
but again, I think they knew they were running
the new 52 only for 52 issues.
So, and then they were going back to the reface,
then they had "Rebirth".
So, because of that I think we had a lot more freedom
and autonomy to do what we wanted to do with the character
and within the universe than maybe some other writers
who'd written her at different times in her history.
- Now I do wanna talk about the "Book of Ruth"
because that's something that you've just come out with
and I found it to be a beautiful adaptation.
And I think I'd mentioned that I had started to read it
and I was planning on just,
I'm gonna read a couple of pages here and there,
and I found myself a few hours later,
an hour later rather at the end of the book.
Before we get into that story,
which is very interesting and compelling.
I'm just wondering how do you structure your day?
Because I obviously was unable to be disciplined
and only read a few pages.
I know that being home during the pandemic,
trying to find the time to do work is difficult.
There's always something that kinda comes up
and keeps you from focusing.
So, you're working from home.
How do you kinda balance the schedule
to make sure that you are able to get everything done
and still have time to do everything else?
It's actually virtually impossible
for me to work at home during the pandemic.
Just because the kids are home all the time
and anybody who's written anything
I think if you...
From a science report to an essay for your English class,
you need a certain amount of quiet and uninterrupted time
to be able to just organize your thoughts and sit down.
So, I had some writing I had to do earlier this summer
and I ended up going out to my parents' place
cause they live about 10 minutes away
and they're up at their cottage in Northern Ontario.
So, I had some peace and quiet for two days,
which give me the time to sort of
get into that writing mindset,
do the research
and the introspection that I needed to do,
and then, that was the first day,
and then the second day was actually productive writing.
So, it's certainly been a challenge.
I'm lucky, I don't really need
to get a lot of writing work done right now.
I'm Sort of gearing up mentally
once the kids go back to school to get back
and start working on some new projects.
- Now, with the "Book of Ruth",
this was a project that you crowdfunded
to get copies into people's hands
and now people can go to their local comic shop
or on Amazon perhaps, and in order a copy of this,
but this is a whole different skillset
then coming up with a great idea and writing it down.
So, how do you sort of,
I don't know if it's a learning curve or what,
for you to figure out the effective ways to crowdsource
and then go through all the steps of publication?
- Had a lot of help from just people I know
within the community who've previously crowdsourced,
and I could asked questions of them.
And I mean, there's a certain amount of research
you just have to do on your own.
Go on Kickstarter,
look at the kind of tiers that people are offering,
the kind of rewards people are offering,
and then figure out how you can structure
your own tiers and rewards.
I think ultimately for me certainly,
the hardest part of Kickstarter has been the fulfillment.
Because the original goal prior to the pandemic
was that Colin and I would both fly to Tennessee
on one weekend and while he was doing all those sketches,
I would do all the mailing and label preparation
And then, 90% of the books would get shipped out
Then COVID-19 hit and the hardcovers weren't being printed,
and then the borders were closed and here we are,
almost end of August
and I still haven't been able to go
and see the books in person beyond the copies
that have been mailed to me for David to do sketches in,
or for me to give to.
But a few copies that I have been able to give my parents
and my sister cause of course they supported
the Kickstarter too.
So I guess, kick-starting in a pandemic, not ideal,
or fulfillment in a pandemic, not ideal.
But I would certainly do the Kickstarter again.
I think the lesson that I learned from it is
even though it seemed like it would be easier
to send everything to the States being in Canada
from a shipping cost of shipping point of view.
I would never do that again,
just in the chance that I wouldn't be able to do this, no.
Again, I've been very blessed
that I have a beautiful young woman,
who's helping me do all the fulfillment
and she's been fantastic and I owe her huge debt.
And also all the people who supported the Kickstarter
have been incredibly patient and understanding
of the challenges we've had
trying to get the rewards fulfilled.
So, it was fabulous, I loved it, but, Oh my goodness.
- It is amazing when life throws a curve
in this case a global pandemic that kind of takes us
out of our normal routine.
I was gonna say I was a very proud
to be one of the supporters for the Kickstarter campaign.
And one of the things that I noticed about this campaign
was that you were very good at communicating
what was happening.
Folks, there's this part there's that part just be patient.
So this is another thing that you have to add to your day.
So, when it comes to this new secondary
part of your job that you're doing,
how often are you thinking yourself
I really I've got to get something to these folks
so that they know we're on top of everything.
- Every single day right now.
I really [indistinct] cause I just found out.
I'm sitting here thinking, I haven't had time yet today.
But I'm thinking I need to get another update out
because books that I thought had shipped
for additional sketches and remarks,
didn't get shipped when I thought they got shipped.
So, now they're a month behind.
And I think people are expecting stuff
and they're not getting stuff.
So, it's always on my mind,
it's always something that I'm thinking about.
And I wish that we could have fulfilled
the Kickstarter in a much more timely manner,
but the goal was ultimately the people
would have their books before they hit the comic bookstore.
I don't know that's necessarily gonna happen
for some of the people who in the higher tiers
that required a signature.
Not a signature but like a remark or an artist sketch.
- It's funny too because I'd selected
the Lee Weeks variant cover.
I'm a huge fan of Lee's work
and it was just a great way for me to put together
an interesting book that I thought would be a great read
with an interesting cover.
So, when you're dealing with the other people
who are not part of this project,
how difficult is it, how easy is it for you
to reach out and say,
"Hey, Lee, would you be interested in a cover?"
Or any of the other folks who were involved
in some of this other variant work?
- I was very mindful of the people that I approached
for this project.
So for example, we know Jason quite well,
and Jason is local.
So, it was very easy to have him over for dinner
and talk to him and say,
"Hey, would you mind doing this?"
Billy Tucci and Lee I know through comic book conventions
and we're good friends.
And so I was able to just approach
both of them at a convention and say,
"This what I'm doing, would you be interested?"
And I gave both of them the script.
So, they knew exactly what it was
that they were putting their artwork on,
because I think especially when you're doing books
about faith or faith based characters,
people wanna know that the project
that they're putting their art work on or their name to,
is a respectful reflection of their own beliefs.
And I didn't want to approach anybody
without them having the opportunity to read the script,
know what the R word was gonna look like
and what the story was going to be,
so that they could be comfortable
with what they're putting their name and their artwork on.
Cause it's a bit of a,
there's an understanding of somebody
with a Kickstarter book like this,
you're supporting that Kickstarter with your artwork,
so, you're giving it your approval.
- And it's interesting too,
because the approach that you've taken
with the "Book of Ruth" is unique.
I mean, you're taking a story from the Bible
and you are adapting it for a contemporary audience,
and you're also setting it in,
I guess, it would be sort of
the early part of the 19 hundreds, the Great Depression...
- The Dust Bowl, Great Depression-era yes.
- So, how do you kind of look at one story
and then convert it into the story that you wanna tell
and still have it be true to both visions?
- For me, it was certainly just taking time
to dive into the story of Ruth.
And understand the nuances of that story,
the idea of that the whole point of the four chapters
and the story is that she's moving Naomi.
Cause the story is really,
even though it's called the Book of Ruth,
this story is Naomi's story.
How Naomi comes from a place of plenty
to a place of poverty, back to a place of plenty
back to a place of poverty.
And then it's ultimately Ruth and Boaz
who restore that plentifulness for her.
And when I thought about doing that story,
I didn't want to say I was divinely inspired,
but it just made so much sense
when I think about history.
Where is a time in history that people can relate to
where a similar thing occurred
and instantly I thought about the Depression
because people were...
It was such dramatic change when that stock market crashed
and people lost everything.
People were, families were broken apart,
people committed suicide,
like it was just short
of what we're going through right now.
It's hard to think of a time in American history
that hit America more in its heart,
because it wasn't a war in a far away country.
It was happening right here at home
and it was dramatically impacting everybody.
So, it just made a lot of sense to me to do that.
And it worked out that just before the Depression,
Texas had had the Dust Bowl and that was a time that again,
a lot of people suffered and lost a lot of things.
I did a lot of praying for that book and I like to think
that maybe there was some inspiration to help me work that
into a way that made sense.
And I felt like it came together very seamlessly for me.
And throughout the whole process
I did consult back and forth with my priest.
And just to make sure that the changes I was making
were still in line with the important parts
of the story itself.
Like the covering of Ruth by Boaz with his coat
in the original story he covered her with a blanket
and she sits at his feet,
like couldn't really do that.
Does it make sense from a 19 hundreds point of view?
So, but the important part of that was the covering,
him placing that covering over top of her.
So, ways that I could tweak the story,
bring it into a slightly more modern world.
Significantly more modern context
and still have those important aspects,
that were significant to the original narratives.
- It's interesting too because I think you found a way
to connect the reader to the story in a way
that perhaps wouldn't be quite as clear
without it being sort of in this contemporary setting,
even though it's I guess
almost a hundred years back from our times.
And one of the things that's really striking about the book
is that it's done in black and white or in shades of gray.
And I'm wondering, is this something
that you always envisioned in your mind,
or is this something that your artistic partner
was coming up with?
- When I first thought about doing the book,
I thought it was gonna be in color.
And my original plan had been actually
to do the first chapter in black and white,
and then slowly add color to the book
so that the last chapter would be in full color,
just to show this transition.
But I loved Colin's black and white artwork so much
that ultimately what I did was,
as we were going through I just felt like
there's one place in the story...
[coughing] Excuse me.
Where I could really add a little color
and have it much more meaningful and also hint at
what this line is the beginning of.
And so that's why we did the red scarf,
and that was the only point of red in the story.
- It's interesting too,
because I guess if we look back at films
and newsreels from that time, easy for me to say.
It's all stark black and white images
because obviously we weren't quite
at the point of color film yet.
And I think because your use of color is so laser focused,
it does really grab the eye that way.
Another thing that struck me was
a lot of of the locations seemed correct.
And I'm wondering if this is something
that you were going back
and doing copious amounts of research,
or Colin's doing the research on to make it correct,
I mean fashion, the way the cars look,
everything along those lines.
So, I'm wondering artistically yes,
I need to get a reference photo
to drive the car the right way.
But are you looking at the news of the day
to try and make a reference that would be correct?
- I did look back in terms of finding places.
So, because Ruth is in Bethlehem in the old Testament,
I wanted to see is there a place
that in America named Bethlehem
where I could put this story
and have it be an accurate reflection
of what I'm trying to do.
And it worked out that there is in fact, a Bethlehem, Texas.
So, and that Texas was part of the Dust Bowl.
And I was,
again, sometimes I think things work out
the way they're meant to.
In terms of the fashion and the cars and the settings
I give all of the credit to Colin for that.
I give him a setting and then I'm a firm believer
that you hire the very best people for the job
and then you get out of their way
because you hired them to do the job.
And Colin is diligent
to the extreme about wanting things to be authentic
and reflective of everything.
And so, he put an incredible amount of effort and research
into making sure that that book really
was reflective of the times.
And he would send me just,
and I included a few of them in the book,
sketches of characters and fashions,
like, "What about this for Ruth's dress or Naomi's dress?"
And so, I had a lot of different options to choose from,
the only one that I would say like
that I had any kind of input would on
the dress that Naomi had made for Ruth out of her own dress.
That one, I had something more specific,
so I gave him some examples
of what I wanted it to look like.
- Well, I see we have about three minutes left
in our conversation.
I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that you are married
to David Finch who is another comics professional.
I'm just wondering, is it difficult...
You're both, I guess sort of in the freelance community.
First off you're working from home,
I'm assuming he's working from home as well.
Staying out of each other's way when you've got deadlines
but also making sure that there's always a job
on the horizon.
So, how do you kind of work that out?
- Yeah, we're very much have delineated our workspaces.
So, he works in the basement and I work upstairs.
And we've tried him working upstairs
and we've tried him working on the main floor,
he likes the basement and being as far away
from the front door as possible.
So, that works out really well.
And because when I met David,
he was already in the industry and I was not,
it was very easy to just give him his workday.
Like he would get up with us and the kids in the morning,
we would have breakfast, the kids would go to school
and then we might go for a walk or to the gym,
and then he goes to work.
The one thing about both of us working from home
in the creative industry is that
holidays don't exist the way that they would
for a person who works a nine to five job.
You don't ever take a one week vacation
or a week off for Christmas.
I can't remember a Christmas
where Dave hasn't gone down to work
because he had deadlines,
or I think we've taken one vacation in the 15 years
we've been together where he didn't bring work with him.
Because work for him it's not just about the deadline,
but it's also a release of things that he puts.
And that's one of the things that somebody
who works in the creative field,
part of what you're doing is expressing your stresses
and your joys and your experiences in your life
as part of your work.
It's part of the way in which you externalize
the feelings that you might otherwise hold internally
and the other people might just deal with internally.
So, we've been able to find a really great balance
and I tried to help him when I can.
Scanning pages, answering emails,
he is always my very first editor.
Nobody sees anything I've written
before David has a chance to go through it
and say yes or no.
So, I feel very blessed that we work together
as well as we do and we compliment each other
as well as we do.
Our strengths and our weaknesses are very well balanced.
- Well, Meredith they're telling me
that we have indeed run out of time.
I'd like to thank you so much for taking time
out of your busy day to talk with me today.
I'd like to thank you at home for watching Comic Culture.
We will see you again soon.
- [Announcer] Comic culture is a production
of the department of mass communication
at the university of North Carolina at Pembroke.
- My grandparents and my parents taught me and my siblings
at a very early age,
that we did not have to travel outside of Robeson County
to get a great education.
And they were right.
- Academics was a really big topic, it was always pushed,
it was always encouraged to continue to advance ourselves.
- UNC-P is in my blood with my family,
strong family ties there.
And it will always be a part of who I am,
and it's just a very inviting campus.
- The classes are small enough
that it's not a huge job for me from high school to college.
It was a nice kind of transition into that university thing.
- The staff and employees were very welcoming
and I think that's essential,
when you're transitioning from living at home
with your parents and everything
being very straight forward to go on a college
where you had a lot of independence.
- Having responsibilities that I didn't have before,
before I was in school.
Kind of set me up to being the professional
and the adult I am today.
What do you wanna do? How do you wanna get there?
UNC Pembroke is where you should start at immediately.
[soft guitar music]