A Wave Blue World’s ‘Sharp Wit’ Is Reinventing The Warrior Woman Story Through A Queer Lens

Sharp Wit The Company of Women

You know the drill. A sexy, half-dressed woman gets drunk, hacks her way through a million barbarians, and then goes back to getting drunk. Unless, of course, you’re talking about A Wave Blue World‘s new anthology, Sharp Wit & The Company of Women, edited by Michele Abounader, which is completely reinventing the warrior woman story, often through an LGBTQIA+ lens.

“One thing I always try to do is offer a safe space for people to tell their stories authentically–never trying to make something more palatable for straight audiences, which is something that a lot of queer creators face when trying to get their stories in print,” Abounader told Comic Book Club over email. “We were very clear from the start that we would only be accepting pitches from people who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community and the theme of ‘women with weapons’ really seemed to resonate within that community.”

To find out much more about the anthology — which is now available in stores everywhere — read on.

Comic Book Club: One aspect of this book I was extremely impressed with is how there’s a ton of variation. Given you’re dealing with a subject that could go very narrow, how do you make sure you have that wide variation of settings, tones, etc?

Michele Abounader: We initially crowdfunded this book, so we opened up submissions and received around 150 pitches. Our editorial team read and reviewed every single entry and we tried to put together the best collection of diverse stories that played into the theme!

There were a lot of really dynamic and surprising takes on the anthology premise, which is always an advantage when you’re working with such a broad range of different contributors. There are a few stories in the book, for example, that really shifted our thinking about weapons vs the idea of “arming yourself” with something else. I think the best examples of this from the start were “Dear Geniveve”, “Joan, Nineteen”, “The Shield Maiden,” and “A Partition of Pride and Persistence: The Last Squabble.” I don’t want to give too much away about these stories, but these ideas were unique and stood out in our minds from the start.

Similarly, I’m always curious about how folks handle flow in an anthology. What was the thought process to create the, for lack of a better term, tracklist?

I often describe anthologies as “comic mixtapes”, so tracklist is actually really appropriate! This book is meant to be read from start to finish, and it’s really about the tone of the stories themselves. Organization of a collection like this isn’t accidental, you really have to consider a lot of elements to have it mapped out well. How is the reader meant to feel while reading it? How are they meant to feel after? What is the best way to play into those emotions? When should we give them a break from something emotionally heavy and move into something meant to be more fun? I usually start with how I want to begin and end, and then fill in the rest in between.

Not to call out any characters in particular, but I don’t think there’s a chainmail bikini in sight in this book (could have missed one). Was the thought process here to get away from the male gazey warrior women of the past?

Lol well…It’s easy to not play into the typical “male gaze” depiction of warrior women when it’s mostly women and NB creators? We had barely any men apply, and “male gaze” truly wasn’t anywhere to be found in our submissions. In all seriousness though, our writers and artists crafted these characters and journeys for them. It’s all about perspective, and the creative teams gave me the stories they wanted to see, stories they can see themselves in. I love providing the platform for people to tell authentic stories. 

Including the term “women” in the anthology title was really sort of a play on the old school way of calling a woman queer by saying “she prefers the company of women.” We had fun coming up with the title, Sharp Wit obviously being sort of a play on words here, too . . . pointy swords and sharp weapons, but also referring to the stories we were telling. It’s always something I focus on, maybe even a bit too much–making sure titles have a few meanings and are a bit clever. For example “Iron Deficiency” being a story about vampires who are picking up weapons…I’m sure you can see where I was going with that title. We did clarify when accepting pitches that not all the characters needed to identify as women, it was more of a general, sapphic feeling we wanted to weave into the book. Always happy to platform stories about marginalized genders.

How did you gather these teams? As above, I was impressed not just with the different storytelling modes, but with the wide array of art on display as well.

We matched up a couple of the creators (writers applied with story pitches without an artist attached), but mostly the teams arrived together and ready to go when they submitted their pitches. When going through the submissions, it was important to consider a variety of art styles to make sure the collection would feel dynamic throughout. Different styles and colors from story to story is one of the best aspects of making anthologies.

But narrowing down the submissions from there was honestly really hard. We received so many incredible pitches, we could’ve probably made three volumes! The important thing for us here was to keep the stories diverse in their message, not have any two stories that read the same or repeat overall. We initially thought this would be more difficult, but the pitches were really all over the map.

When matching up unattached artists and writers, this is mostly about the vibes. What is the story about and how does the pitch/script make me feel? Which artist’s portfolio/personality in their work sort of invokes a similar feeling? That’s one of my favorite things about being an editor, I really love getting those matches right and seeing the harmony in storytelling that comes from it.

I don’t want to make you pick your favorites, so I’ll call out the one I was most surprised by: the Joan of Arc story. What can you say about this one, in particular? Or did you just get it fully formed?

This was one of my favorite pitches from the start actually. I have always really loved Joan of Arc, so when I read this story pitch, I knew I wanted to include it in the collection. The theme of fighting chronic illness is something that resonates with too many people in our world, and Lillian Hochwender’s pitch was really moving, there was no way I was passing on it. It’s definitely difficult to pick favorites, all of the stories are so loved by me for different reasons!

Very broad question, but there are a ton of really lovely queer relationships throughout the book… Is that something the warrior woman genre naturally lends itself to? Or was that more up to the creative teams?

That was up to the creative teams; they are all made up of people who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. So, though it wasn’t a requirement that the stories showcase queer love, that happened naturally.

One thing I always try to do is offer a safe space for people to tell their stories authentically–never trying to make something more palatable for straight audiences, which is something that a lot of queer creators face when trying to get their stories in print. We were very clear from the start that we would only be accepting pitches from people who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community and the theme of “women with weapons” really seemed to resonate within that community. We already had a strong reputation based on the success of THE COLOR OF ALWAYS [an LGBTQIA+ romance anthology also published by A Wave Blue World], which had come out recently. So, I think that encouraged a lot of incredibly talented creators to jump in on this project with stories they’ve always wanted to tell but haven’t had the appropriate space or opportunity to do so.

All of her covers and art are great, but that Tula Lotay cover is just fire here… What was the direction for that? If any?

We are all big fans of Tula Lotay, her work is always so eye-catching and incredible. We wanted the cover to be sexy but powerful, and she really delivered.

Sharp Wit and the Company of Women Tula Lotay cover

Now that you’ve got this in the rearview mirror, will we be getting a Sharp Wit 2? Or do you want to tackle something else?

I know there is enough content out there to do a second volume of this, so you never know! A lot of the books I work on start out almost as self-indulgence. What am I interested in seeing? What would I want to read? There tends to be a lack of options for queer stories that are made with a queer audience in mind, and the fix for this presents itself organically when you hire people in the LGBTQIA+ community to create more stories about themselves.

Sharp Wit & The Company of Women is available in stores now.

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