I had written one comic book for the publisher, Bluewater Productions, which was about Elizabeth Taylor and they asked me to take on Marilyn. I said yes because I loved writing the first one so much, but I quickly realized that I had a ton of research to do if I was going to do this woman justice. Just because it’s a comic book doesn’t mean you don’t want to tell their story in the most entertaining, respectful way you can.
I only knew the basic perception of Monroe, even though I’d seen her films and some films about her. To be honest I had a hard time starting because at first I didn’t have a huge amount of respect for her, which I hate to say, but it’s true. I guess I needed to find some way to really identify with her or some little thing to hook me and lure me in.
Once I started researching her life I realized how wrong I was about her. I really fell in love with her, she was highly intelligent (supposedly she had a higher IQ than JFK), complex, and talented.
I got a big stack of books out of the library, and read Norman Mailer’s book Marilyn, as well as her poetry and journals, and I loved the book that had photos of Marilyn by George Barris and text by Gloria Steinem. The photos are candid and are so great, and I loved that Gloria Steinem wrote about Monroe and respected her so much. I watched every video of her online that I could, even if it was a two-minute clip. I found this Life Magazine interview on YouTube called “The Last Interview” that was fascinating, and an interview from Edward R. Murrow’s show Person to Person that was great. I tried to take it all in, write down everything I could, and then decide how to tell the story in twenty-something pages.
Like a film, you’re telling the story visually in a comic book so first I would highlight any information that I thought was especially interesting and that we haven’t all heard a million times. I loved that she and Shelley Winters were roommates and that they got drunk with the poet Dylan Thomas one night, which ended with him crashing a car into Charlie Chaplin’s tennis court. To me that’s more fun and worthwhile than rehashing the conspiracy theories about her death or talking about her affair with JFK. You can’t fit it all in, so you set the tone, find out what really moves you about this person and their life, and hope other people agree.
As for the process of creating the book, I write the script, which is the story, text, and the explanation of the visuals. So for example I would indicate that in a certain panel she should be hanging out reading poetry with Carl Sandburg, or in another panel we’re seeing three modern-day teenagers standing by the Eiffel Tower smoking cigarettes and talking about Marilyn. Then the artists go to work. Nathan Girten did such a beautiful job, I love the way the book looks. It’s always a little rush seeing it for the first time, kind of like seeing the scene of a film you’re making cut together. It’s not in your head anymore; it’s a real, tangible thing.
I think after My Week With Marilyn and all the new books about her, people understand that Marilyn Monroe wasn’t some vacant bombshell. She seemed incredibly smart, complicated, and passionate about acting and books and art in general. There’s no question she was vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean she was weak. She was also such a talented actress; her “wiggle” and her kind of air-headed persona were a creation. She didn’t just walk onto a set and act natural. In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes she’s as hilarious as Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, or Tina Fey are today. Her comedic timing was pretty impressive.
For the next book, I pitched a comic book about Mary Pickford to Bluewater, so I’m excited about that. It’ll be cool to tell her story in comic book form – I might actually put her in a cape, since she was a total powerhouse.
Check out the jump page for some terrific excerpts from Tribute: Marilyn Monroe.