Interview: Legion of Leia Founder Jenna Busch
Posted on June 2, 2014 at 3:55 pm
I’m a huge fan of Jenna Busch, co-host of Most Craved for CraveOnline. She co-hosted ‘Cocktails With Stan’ with the legendary Stan Lee and she’s written for sites like Zap2it, After Buzz TV, Fanhattan, Screen Crave, Inside Horror, Huffington Post, AOL, Popeater, Newsarama, JoBlo, Blastr, UGO, IGN, Moviefone, SheKnows, Coming Soon, Screen Junkies, Famous Monsters and Geek Week and Inside Horror. Her own site is Girl Meets Light Saber. I’m very excited about her new initiative, the Legion of Leia, to provide more support for girls as characters in and creators of comics and sci-fi. Many thanks to Jenna for answering my questions about it.
The Legion came out of a conversation a dear friend of mine and I had over dinner, right after the cast of the new Star Wars film was announced. I’d written a blog post about how disappointed I was in the lack of female cast members and posted a picture of myself dressed as Princess Leia as a little girl. She showed me one of herself and said, “I bet most of the women we know have a picture like this.” Part of the blog post was about how sad it was that a fan base as full of women as this one wasn’t going to be represented. Star Wars and its female fans have been around for decades and we’re not exactly quiet about it. I remember playing Star Wars with my girlfriends as a kid and having to change the gender of characters so we could all play. I was frustrated that my six-year-old niece is going to have to do the same thing, while my nephew will have a ton of characters to play.
The thing is, I didn’t just want to wag my finger. I wanted to do something positive to support women who create the things we genre fans love, inspire young women who want to be a part of this creation, give fans a place to talk and let the world know how many of us there actually are. On May the 4th (Star Wars Day), I started a Twitter handle (@LegionofLeia) and a Facebook page for the Legion and asked my friends to change their social media profiles to a picture of Princess Leia to support women in Sci-Fi and I was overwhelmed by the response. Not only did they do it, but a ton of celebrity women joined, from Buffy, Husbands and Once Upon a Time writer Jane Espenson to actress and reality star Adrianne Curry to the voice of Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Ashley Eckstein.
Since then, the support has only grown. I’m humbled and honored by the attention we’ve gotten and I want to take it further. We’ve started a website (LegionofLeia.wordpress.com) and began doing weekly profiles of women working in the industry and our new writer Sabina-Lissette Ibarra has been doing Sci-Fi Women Friday pieces for us, spotlighting a new female character we love each week. The plan is to host art and fiction contests, post advice from women who’ve made this their career, bring more writers on board and showcase women, both known and behind-the-scenes.
What was your first fangirl passion?
There were two, around the same time. Star Wars, without a doubt. I mean, I have two lightsabers and a Boba Fett helmet in my trunk! You know, for emergencies. I loved the fact that the Princess really didn’t need saving. Heck, I would put my hair in buns, find my white jeans and a while shirt (or a bed sheet if we were doing the final scene from A New Hope) and use a stick as a lightsaber. I even made her necklace from the last scene out of string and tin foil!
The other one was the Pern series from Anne McCaffrey. I loved Lessa, her powerful Dragonrider heroine, as well as Menolly, the young girl who ran away because she couldn’t live without music, despite the fact that women weren’t allowed to be Harpers. (I actually went into musical theatre because of her!)
Okay, so I told you about the musical theatre part of my career, but before I became an entertainment reporter, I was also a makeup artist. Halloween is my favorite holiday! I’ve been Leia, Rogue, and every sort of fantastical creature I could come up with. Fairies, dragon ladies, water sprites (with my hair covered in conditioner so it looked wet) If it involved face and body paint, I did it. I actually dressed as Cersei Lannister for Cupcake Quarterly for their geek pinup issue!
Who are your sci/fi-superheroine favorite characters and why? Your favorite writers/artists?
As I said, I’m a fan of Anne McCaffrey. I also adore Wonder Woman, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Katniss Everdeen (I love the books and the movies), Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica, Aeryn Sun from Farscape, Buffy the Vampire Slayer — I guess what they all have in common is that they don’t need anyone else to save them. They do it themselves. As far as artists, I’m a huge fan of Cat Staggs and I hope to get to work with her one day! I also love Janet Lee’s work. In fact, I brought Return of the Dappermen (which she won the Eisner Award for) on G4’s Fresh Ink when I was guest hosting and she saw it. I kind of gushed. Then we ended up working together on a piece called “Ladybird” with co-writer Rachel Pandich in the comic anthology Womanthology.
Are female fans accepted as equals by geeks and fanboys?
That’s a hard one to answer. I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded, even as a kid, by fanboys who never give my gender a second thought. There are many, many guys out there who support women who love this stuff. In fact, I lost count of the men who supported the May the 4th event. I heard so many stories about their wives, girlfriends and daughters who love the genre and it was absolutely wonderful. On the other side, there are certainly guys who either have issues with fangirls or hold them to a different standard. For instance, I frequently see and hear about women who say they love, let’s say, Batman. They’re immediately quizzed about every single tiny detail of his history and told they’re not real fans if they don’t know something, where a guy is less likely to hear that. I’ve talked about this before, but there was an incident in a comic book store I was doing a podcast at, where a woman had just seen Thor, the movie. She told the guy at the counter that she’d seen it and didn’t know where to start with Thor comics. He laughed at her and told her that just because she thought Chris Hemsworth was hot, that she wasn’t a Thor fan. Things are better than they were, but it’s still an issue.
What do you think about the plans for the new “Star Wars” movie?
I’m thrilled to see Luke, Leia and Han back and I absolutely loved the creature in the J.J. Abrams video. I’m so happy that they’re doing a lot of practical effects. As I said, of course I’m disappointed in the fact that there aren’t more women in the cast. I hope they’ll be adding more.
What indicators do you have that more female stories and characters are being developed?
Well, actually, I think there aren’t enough. I hope that will change. We’re still seeing one “token” women in a cast. Avengers, for instance. Or Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I mean, Lois is in there, too, but as far as superheroes, there’s just Wonder Woman. That said, we’re certainly seeing more than before! I think that, the more the industry realizes that there is a huge female fan base out there, the more we’ll get.
Womanthology is a good example. We did a comic anthology (created by Renae DeLiz) with art, writing, penciling, etc., all by women and it exploded. I think our goal was $30K and we ended up with $109K on Kickstarter. The industry was shocked! Not only do women love to read comics, but we create them as well! I still get chocked up talking about this, but when I was at Comic Con, right after it was published, a little girl pulled on my pants leg. Tiny little thing. She asked if I was in the book. When I said yes, she asked if she could hug me. Her mom told me that she loved comics, but didn’t know that girls could make them. That’s what I want to change.
Is television a better place to find strong female characters than comics or movies?
I certainly think so. Look at things like Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, Once Upon a Time, Game of Thrones (and yes, these women are strong, despite their situation), Orphan Black and Arrow. There are more characters and time to develop them, which sometimes keeps studios from classifying a show as something as “for boys” or “for girls.” Sci-Fi is certainly on the forefront in terms of strong women (and by strong, I don’t just mean women that “act like men,” but women with a complete character) and worlds that are populated the way our world is. They often have a realistic split between men and women, gay characters, trans characters, people of color … imagine that!
Which comic book heroine deserves a starring role in a feature film?
I’m holding out for a Ms. Marvel film. I have been for a long time. Also, after David Goyer’s terrible comments about She-Hulk, I’d love to see her get one!
Does today’s generation of tweens and teens have a better range of sci-fi/superhero female characters to choose from?
Absolutely, but we have a long way to go. We certainly have more, but they’re often marketed to us all as “badass sexy chick,” doing the “butt pose” in posters. And if she can’t “soften” or fall in love, they kill her off. Now, I have absolutely, positively no issue with sexuality, nudity, love or anything of the sort. There is no reason at all why they shouldn’t be sexy, in love or own their sexuality. In fact, quite the opposite. But there is a difference between someone owning their sexuality and using it in any way they wish, and that being their only justification for being there. I’m just saying, write characters, not caricatures.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Oh, I live in Los Angeles, so it’s definitely Force Push so I could move the other cars out of my way in traffic. (I did say I was a Star Wars geek.) Or maybe flight, so I wouldn’t have to deal with a car at all.