Dominique Agri is the kind of cool, intelligent woman that we dream of running into at comic shops and hanging out with. Dom, as we call her, is the force behind Comics Period, where she not only blogs about the comics medium, but also does educational videos on the history of characters and their impact on the larger culture — hence the tagline, “The Reading Rainbow of Comic Books.” She also writes the Vlog Girl comic strip (illustrated by Anthony La Hara), which has reflected her adventures as a fangirl in a guy-dominated world. Girls Gone Geek recently interviewed Dom about Comics Period, her origin story, so to speak, and the books that make her look forward to Wednesdays.
G3: How did you get into comics? You’ve written about how none of your friends read them, so what unleashed your inner fangirl?
Dom: When I was about 7 years old, my father (a lifelong comic reader and fan) started buying me weekly titles. I collected mostly Archie books, but anytime there was a major story arc, I’d get those too. I was fortunate to be a reader during the “Superman dies” series, so I have that (not the one in black plastic) as well as the entire Funeral for a Friend collection. Occasionally, I’d get some other random titles. My dad recently reminded me I have the first Guy Gardner books as well as some X-Men – LOVED the cover for Jean and Scott’s wedding, and the Batman-breaks-his-back books. Since then, I’ve always loved comics and their characters, and though I’d stopped collecting, I tried my best to keep up to date with movie and trivia news.
About three years ago, I started re-watching all the ’90s cartoons I’d loved in elementary school, including “Batman” and “Superman: the Animated Series” and “X-Men.” Then “Justice League Unlimited” started airing nightly on the Boomerang network, and I was hooked.
I was getting my M.A. degree in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence at the time and had to start thinking about my thesis topic. When watching Wonder Woman deflect bullets with her bracelets in one episode, I asked myself, “How many female comic characters are impenetrable?” The obvious symbolism was laughable, so I started doing some online research and stumbled upon Gail Simone’s now defunct website, “Women in Refrigerators,” where she lists everything that has happened to female characters in terms of their death, rape, de-powering, etc. I wrote her an e-mail asking if I could help her with research for the site in hopes of narrowing a thesis topic. She responded within the day saying that she hadn’t worked on the site for years, and that her entire operation is her and a computer, but thanked me for my interest.
After that, I kept up with my research and started checking every comic history out of the library that I could. One name that kept popping up was Trina Robbins, so again, I sent her an e-mail. She also responded within the day, but this time, invited me to come out to her San Francisco home and help her organize her “Aegean stable-sized Golden Age collection.” Of course, I jumped at the chance. I worked it out so I would get school credit and spent a week in June with Trina putting together original pieces for gallery exhibitions and organizing her many shelves of comics. It was like a dream. Her apartment was filled with toys, original prints, and some of the coolest comics ever.
It was there that I learned the origin for Wonder Woman’s invisible plane on the floor of her office. Trina spent time talking to me about my goals and offering invaluable advice for my thesis. When she asked me what I knew about comics, I told her I knew Marvel and DC characters. She told me I didn’t know a thing and took the time to introduce me to some of the historical genres like underground and independent books. She gave me the names of authors, creators, websites and books so that I could research it all when I got home. Though my search was now broader than ever, I finally felt I had a mentor to help me navigate my way around this now unfamiliar territory.
When I started school in the fall and pitched my ideas about women behind comics, or the many female characters of the comic universe, my professor asked me to narrow it down. I’d had an idea to write about the origins of the Amazons and the myth perpetuated by the Wonder Woman comic. It was then that my thesis director asked me why I wouldn’t just write the history of Wonder Woman. It sounded so easy. I’d thought it’d been done before, but going around the room of 16 women, all from different ages and backgrounds, only a few of them knew of her and mostly because of the 1970s television show. From there, I started my research on Wonder Woman, specifically. I got to make copies of her original books in the Library of Congress. I picked up every graphic novel I could find, and I started looking online for commentary, websites and individuals who could help me.
What I found was alarming. There was very little on the ’net that could help me find my way through her history. It was mostly sites with men in their 20s giving their opinion about weekly books. The Comic Book Resources website was helpful, as was Alan Kistler’s history of the character (which, in my weaker moments, I might have plagiarized if his writing style wasn’t so different from my own). But overall, nothing like what I needed existed, and I spent a lot of time and money backfilling her books so I could fully understand this character.
At the same time, DC’s Final Crisis series was going on and when my boyfriend (the artist of my strip, Vlog Girl) showed me the image of Superman holding Batman’s withered body, I knew I was hooked. I read through those seven issues furiously, but when I was finished, aside from being heartbroken by the wonderfully tragic story, I had no idea what was going on. I started backfilling every title related to the book, and on my weekly pilgrimages to the comic book store or on Amazon.com, anything that piqued my interest was added to my shopping cart. When Blackest Night came out, I became a Green Lantern (and a Geoff Johns) fan and had to read all that I could. I found that owning a copy of the DC Encyclopedia was helpful, as is Wikipedia, but it wasn’t enough to feel like I had a strong hold of the title.
One day at the office, I was reading somewhere online that a Wonder Woman movie had been announced and Megan Fox was signed on to play her. I don’t like her as an actress [Neither do we, girl. — E.P.], and while she (sort of) looks the part, she would not do justice to a character meant to inspire women to know their self worth; to know that they can achieve anything. Choosing an actress like that simply tells viewers that producers believe this symbol of feminist strength means only that she needs to be able to keep a pair of perky breasts up in a tight outfit, and that simply isn’t fair. So I started a Twitter account. Anthony couldn’t listen to me complain about it anymore, and I thought reaching out to cyberspace might help me to release some of my frustration.
It did, and it wasn’t long before I saw the value of this new medium. I began following every resource I could think of – newspapers, cooking sites, and of course, anyone and everyone related to comics.
Without really knowing who he was, I began following Alex Segura, DC’s publicity manager, who one afternoon tweeted that he needed an intern and anyone interested should e-mail him – so I did. As per previous luck, he responded almost immediately and I went in several days later for an interview. I spent the weekend prior imagining what it would be like to actually walk the halls of DC Comics, where so many of my dreams were brought to life. I was under the impression that the internship would begin in a year and wondered if I could save enough money before then to quit my very professional finance job and work at a Starbucks. I planned to give up my posh, luxury apartment and I even searched craigslist for cheap shares with two or three roommates. I told my cousin about the opportunity, and she laughed at me saying it would be impossible and not to leave my career for a whim. I told her that even if all I get to do is see their office, I’d be happy.
When I went in that Tuesday, I was right. Seeing their offices was just cool enough, but when I met with both managers for DC and Vertigo and the Vice President of Publicity overall, I knew how badly I wanted to work for them. Trouble was, the internship actually was for immediate hire. I had no idea what to do. I walked back to my office giddy but somber. I had no idea how I would be able to finish a thesis, maintain a career, and do this fabulous internship. This would take some finesse and charm.
I called my boss that afternoon and told him about the offer. It was for their publicity department, and while I work in marketing, it would be only a very basic version of what I do. Somehow he agreed and said he thought this could be a great chance for me to learn a bit more, and that as a young adult, I should take as many of these opportunities as I could. Flabbergasted is such a big word, but I think it’s the only one that conveys how I felt. I thanked him profusely and told DC I could begin.
Once I started, it was typical peon intern work, but walking in each morning to panels of the creation of a Superman page (he’s saving Lois’ car from falling off a bridge) was the only thing I needed to brighten my day. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last that long. I’d overextended myself, and in the end, I had to be loyal to the people who were paying me, and I had to leave somewhat abruptly. But getting their weekly bundle of free comics and trades each week lead me to buy even more books, and now I’m totally hooked.
That’s a long-winded answer for a simple question. I wouldn’t be a history major if I didn’t give you some of my own.
G3: What’s the first comic series you read that really blew you away?
Dom: Final Crisis for sure, and almost all the Superman trades. All-Star Superman and Superman: Red Son made me cry my eyes out.
G3: How did you conceive the idea of Comics Period as “The Reading Rainbow of Comic Books?” It’s an original, almost academic approach to comics analysis.
Dom: I looked around the ’net in hopes of someone to guide my re-entry into comic book reading and found none, so I thought best to create it myself. I assumed there would be other people like me, who scream at the discontinuity of a comic book movie (even though they hadn’t read the books in a while), and figured that if I could get even a few more people to read comics, it would justify my work on the site.
Being a graduate student, I was very used to writing academically, especially history, and even though it might not be colloquial enough to reach everyone, I’d hoped it would get the message across to the people who needed it.
G3: Another thing that makes your videos stand out is your cool, serious delivery. Is that by design, or are you just being yourself?
Dom: Haha! You say cool; I say I’m squinting because those lights are really bright, and my hands are on my hips because I just don’t know what to do with them.
The Batman history was quite literally my very first time in front of a camera. I don’t like it one bit, and I’m not comfortable with it. I read my scripts from a teleprompter, which does nothing for seeming comfortable or body language, but thank you very kindly for the compliment. If I knew anyone else who could be the front person on my behalf, I would have hired them by now. But the truth is that this is my baby, and I’m not comfortable relinquishing control just yet. I am trying to talk my brother into doing one or two for me while I’m away since he’s so handsome — and I figured it would be nice to give fangirls something to look at, too.
G3: Tell us about the Vlog Girl strip. The “Something to Stare at” entry is something that almost every hardcore fangirl can relate to — the feeling of walking into an LCS and being gawked at. Was that based on your own experience?
Dom: YES!! There were so many times that I’d walk into Midtown Comics East, walk directly over to the rack, and get glared at. I’m not particularly gorgeous and don’t solicit those types of looks on the street, so it always made me laugh. One time, I walked in and picked up my Blackest Night titles rather quickly. There was a man standing next to me picking up the same things. He looked at his books, looked at me, looked at my comics, and repeated that same bewildered series THREE times. I smiled at him and handed him the last BN book he needed, and walked away. He still had that same look on his face when I left. I can’t believe women are THAT much of an anomaly in this world.
I came across a great quote in Douglas Wolk’s book, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean:
“Unsurprisingly, the maleness of comics culture has been self-perpetuating: if reading or collecting comics is understood as, ‘something guys do,’ then the woman in the comics story is an anomaly…either she’s performing woman-hood wrong or she’s performing comics reading wrong. When you factor in the self-definition as the ‘kind of person who reads comics’ that the culture requires of its participants, it’s pretty clear how the pattern got entrenched.”
He doesn’t offer any solution to fixing it and is basically stating the obvious, but what can we do? I think if women remain in this masculine domain and are vocal about their interests and opinions, we’ll become more normalized in this world in no time.
When I started the site, fans on my Facebook page kept asking if that was really me in the photo. I don’t know why, and it kind of irked me. Comics aren’t in the social norms of people in my generation, and they seem to be kept that way by remaining in specialized shops. But when someone you wouldn’t associate with the stereotype tries to bring them to light, we shouldn’t be shocked by their unusual behavior; we should try to understand that stereotypes are just that.
G3: Who did that incredible avatar of you?
Dom: A wonderful young man by the name of Vinnie Tartamella drew and colored it. He is my Facebook friend, and he contacted me once say just saying hi. I looked through his work and commissioned the piece. I was having a really hard time with artists (and their ability to get anything done), but he was lovely and reliable. I’d really like to start making T-shirts, and I was thinking it would be funny to capitalize on the name and sell Comics Period Panties to all the comic book ladies out there. They might be a nice change from the granny panties we all keep around for that time of the month.
G3: What comics are you digging right now? Who are your favorite characters in general?
Dom: I am a Superman girl through and through. Anthony and I have a long-standing argument about Batman vs. Superman. I equate it to being a dog or a cat person. Superman speaks to the idealist in me. He reminds me, much like Wonder Woman, that human beings can create and build an idea that can inspire millions of people and generations of fans. He’s always made me feel like no matter what, there is hope in the world, because beneath it all, we are good.
My favorite title out now though is Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey. I love her writing style, sense of history (and inclusion of it), and the art is always fantastic.
All the GL books are great, as is Gotham City Sirens, Power Girl, Batman, and of course, Wonder Woman.
G3: How long does it take you to put together one of your videos, and who else is on your film team?
Dom: I try to film the videos in bulk, and then my director, Matt Weckel, takes his time in the editing process. Basically, I choose my comic and then start research, which depending how much I already know, can take a long time. Once I feel I have a nice chunk of information, I write the script, and Anthony takes photographs of all the images I want in the videos. We go to Matt’s studio, where he has a team for sound, lights and video and shoot. We do several takes, which takes about an hour per video. I’d love to be able to do more, but it gets pretty expensive. So for now, once a month is all I can manage.
G3: Your post about the world of comics conventions was a lot of fun to read. What’s your ultimate cosplay wish?
Dom: Thanks. Right now my ultimate wish is just to finally make it to a con. I had tickets to SDCC but had to travel for work, and I have a weekend pass for NYCC, but I’m working in Monaco, so I don’t know if I can get there.
If I was in better shape, I would LOVE to be Power Girl. She’s so spunky and fun, and I think she’s a good role model for female readers. I have the urge to bring a photo of her to my hairdresser, but I can’t pull off the short cut. Otherwise, I was thinking Dove would be fun, and her costume doesn’t look that hard to make. But I don’t really want to try until I can do the costume justice.
G3: Any advice for newbies, particularly women, who want to get into comics?
Dom: Don’t be discouraged, and reach out to people for help. Chances are, they’ll be happy to do it. I know I would be, and I am grateful to everyone who has helped me along the way.