Christopher Priest was recently interviewed by Chris Arrant, a Newsarama editor (via Bounding Into Comics) who tried asking him some very ludicrous questions. It is interesting, though considering some grave mistakes Priest made in the past year or so, that’s why it’ll have to be taken with a grain of salt.The interview focuses a new assignment he’s taken with Dynamite Entertainment writing their latest Vampirella series, his purported willingness to avoid political correctness, and what kind of issues he’d like to explore:
Nrama: You’re setting this in the real world. A real fish out of water scenario, but one you’re playing at for deeper cultural issues. What’s a woman like Vampirella likely to face here on Earth?
Priest: With all due respect for the legion of much better writers who’ve handled the character, as I mentioned, I probably was not the audience for this book. Vampirella was created with a satirical flair and Vampi herself was in on the joke; not quite breaking the fourth wall but offering up a knowing come-hither smile. She’s existed in a reality that routinely and, for me, far too benignly, accepts the supernatural as fact.
Here in the real world, vampires are merely a thing of myth and the reality of hyperfactual supernatural events are subject to the interpretation of the particular tribe one belongs to. It bothers me that, in 2019, DC and Marvel universes are still mostly portrayed in an idealized hyper-reality where the average man on the street simply accepts superheroes as fact and, in fact, refers to them literally as “heroes” or “villains,” which is absurd. There’s no news anchor in the world who would start a broadcast piece with, “Arch-villain Saddam Hussein…” even though that description would be apt.
Interesting he should say that, considering what a bad job he did applying what I consider to be a repellent viewpoint to the Simon Baz character when he was writing Justice League. All that did was make him look as badly informed as he may still be, what he says next notwithstanding, and that just undercuts the real potential he could have here.
Nrama: Someone walking around in that Trina Robbins-designed costume is bound to get some headturns. If I know you as much as I think I do, you’re going to tackle that head on, right? How are you getting into the subject of the costume?
Priest: Well, yes, we will have a go at it. The basic argument is simple: where do you draw the line between women’s liberation and women’s exploitation, and who gets to draw it? Who gets to define femininity and why should an extraterrestrial have to submit to that definition?
It’s like the world woke up in the last few years and realized we actually have two genders and both of them matter.
So we now have heightened scrutiny of themes and behaviors and that poor bastard Joe Biden gets caught up in the switches. I’ll confess, I’m terrified of women because I’m a Joe Biden. I was taught to pay a lady a compliment and open doors and I want to be friendly and accessible but I’m absolutely terrified of having my good intentions taken in a bizarrely paranoid light.
It is comical to me that I am far too often seen as creepy by women – especially black women – because they have been conditioned by their personal experience and their media consumption to misinterpret a simple “Hello.” These days I cannot pay a woman a complement without a legal preamble and assurances that, no, I am not hitting on you and even then I get the skunk eye of suspicion.
Which is a little insulting because this “guilty until proven innocent” defensive posture presumes I am other people or that the bar is set so low for me that I’ll jump into bed with just anybody I happen to meet. It’s like we’ve just gone too far now to the point where women are not just being protected but being alienated to some extent because I have no earthly clue how to deal with them and I’m frankly scared to shake their hand.
So, is Vampirella’s wardrobe choice sexist? I don’t know. Vampirella obviously doesn’t think so. As I see her, she comes from a culture much like Star Trek’s Betazed, where people wear little or nothing at all. If anything, Vampi wonders why we humans choose to smother ourselves in so much fabric and why we’re all so bound by self-loathing.
There are hundreds of women who enjoy cosplaying as Vampirella, and maybe hundreds of thousands offended by the character. How do we reconcile all of that for the 21st century?
The one thing I won’t do is cover her up. I accepted the gig: write Vampirella. If you change the outfit, she’s no longer Vampirella. Frankly, her costume is the only thing about her (well, okay, that and her pansexuality) that makes her at all shocking or controversial.
My goal, and the readers will have to let us know if we’re passing or failing, is to make this a book as much about femininity as about bloodsucking. The storyline is driven by women, mostly populated by women, of all shapes and sizes and ethnicities, and most of them dress as sexy as they dare. The singer/rapper Lizzo is a terrific example of this. Is her blatant sexuality liberating or is she being exploited? How about Beyoncé? Do we put Vampi in a raincoat but cheer Bey on?
See what I mean? I’m screwed either way.
Well that’s certainly fascinating he may have had experience with what feminist indoctrination’s led to. But if he’s a Biden supporter, he may want to reevaluate his position, because the former vice president’s recently been accused of sexual misconduct/abuse, and you could argue he led to a lot of the problems Priest may have faced. If he can’t condemn Biden for leading to an incredibly awkward atmosphere, all the while failing to practice as he preached, then Priest’s not accomplishing much (he later had more replies further down in the article). Though he’s right that, without her costume, Vampirella’s not herself anymore, and neither is Wonder Woman. Similarly, if their physiques are dumbed down, that too would only make them not themselves anymore.
He also said:
Nrama: So Priest – Vampirella’s here on Earth. What would you do if you found yourself, I don’t know, sharing a cab with Vampi?
Priest: I’d ask the driver to pull over and let me out. I’m a Christian, so I have these issues with all of that “fornicating in your mind” stuff. I don’t live a perfect life but I try to avoid cluttering up my conscience. Among the things the printed page cannot convey is the amazing, intoxicating glow and, yes, smell of a woman.
All women are beautiful, from 8 to 80, regardless of weight, height, or nationality. I wouldn’t share a cab with a woman as under-dressed as Vampi, which sounds hypocritical because I’m writing her. But I write Deathstroke, too, and wouldn’t share a cab with him, either.
Seriously, he lacks that much confidence in himself, religious viewpoint or not? I honestly think he’s being silly, but at least he didn’t say he’d demand the woman be told to leave the vehicle.
The Newsarama’s writers later added more followup questions, to which he responded:
Nrama: Priest, our original questions to you were about the Vampirella comic book and our role is to talk about that and not audit your personal life, but your responses appear to be hyper aware of a social climate you seem to lament in terms of relationships between genders and conduct towards one another.
Priest: I lament the social climate in general, on all levels. I lament our lack of civility and lack of empathy, lack of patience and understanding. I hate the way we assassinate one another with our thumbs, all this hostility in social and other media. It’s not just gender issues.
Nrama: Yet empathizing with Joe Biden without citing the actual specific behavior he’s under scrutiny for, stating things like “the amazing, intoxicating glow and, yes, smell of a woman” and by offering you’re “often seen as creepy by women,” it seems like intentionally inviting the sort of reaction/assumptions you state you’re “afraid” of and inviting the same scrutiny Biden is under.
Was this was your intent and are you prepared for pushback to your words and questions to be asked?
Priest: Wow, there’s a lot to unpack, there. But let’s start by saying I seriously doubt anyone reading this is NOT aware of the Biden issue to which I am referring. I come neither to defend Biden nor to bury him, so I think you’re probably taking my “poor” Joe reference a bit too seriously. I wasn’t trying to litigate Biden, only to make a point about how hyper-sensitive and overly politicized our nation is and how this will impact Vampirella in her series.
Assembling disparate quotes to paint me as some kind of deviant makes that point for me. I stand by my statements. “…the amazing, intoxicating glow and, yes, smell of a woman…” is something difficult if not impossible to convey in literature (which was my point), but your question was about me sitting in a taxi with a near-naked woman and I answered that honestly. And my point was relevant to understanding the challenges and conflicts Vampirella will face in this series.
This is the environment Vampirella finds herself in, people misinterpreting her actions, words, and motives. This is why I mentioned it, to place the work we are doing with Vampirella into context.
Were a person like Vampi walking around in our world (or riding in a taxi with me), she would be misinterpreted, and every word she says would be drilled into looking for the worst possible interpretation of it. I can’t help but wonder why anyone anywhere speaks publicly because no words spoken by anyone can withstand this level of ridiculous scrutiny.
Oh please. If I’m correct here and he did go easy on Joe Biden before, that’s something he could’ve avoided, but for somebody who allegedly has issues with political correctness, he’s still succumbing to the same.
Nrama: In another response you state “It’s like the world woke up in the last few years and realized we actually have two genders and both of them matter”. While not assuming your intent one way or another, it seems it to overlook genders outside the male/female paradigm. Can you speak to that?
Priest: Gender: noun
1. either of the two sexes (male and female), especially when considered with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones. The term is also used more broadly to denote a range of identities that do not correspond to established ideas of male and female. “a condition that affects people of both genders”
I wrote an ecumenical commentary in support of gender and and LGBTQ issues, Chris. I invite everyone to read it.
It was a simple interview. I was promoting a comic book and, as a really busy writer, I was typing really fast and speaking honestly while engaging with you.
What I won’t do, not even for my own safety, is censor myself or try and anticipate every horrible way someone might choose to misinterpret something I’ve written or said. If anything, that just makes my point for me about how free speech is being compromised.
It’s a tough environment to publish comic books in because every publisher is terrified by the spectrum of extreme possible reactions from an increasingly intolerant environment where everybody’s playing “gotcha” and looking for the worst possible and most extremely negative interpretations of everything.
The whole point of free speech is my duty to defend others’ rights to have it, not to shout them down or demonize them.
Well good for him. And the interviewer’s certainly not innocent here either, seeing how he tried to inject the subject of trans-sexuality into the mess, and yes, he was doing what Priest speaks about. Certainly it’s good if he doesn’t buy into all that social justice propaganda, or how there’s all sorts of creepy characters out there who make petty issues over peanuts on sites like Twitter.
Even so, Priest has a lot of flaws that, again, make him a writer whose work has to be taken with a grain of salt, but congratulations to him for getting a gig writing Vampirella. Hopefully he won’t adhere to leftist ideologies, and won’t clearly pan Mr. Biden, the man who may have played a part in developing some of the problems now faced in today’s society.
Originally published here