Chicago Artist Credited With Breathing Life Into ‘Wonder Woman’

Couple that with the slow nature of painting a comic, and new work is infrequent.

Thompson grew up in a second-floor two-flat. Her father managed parking lots, her mother worked at Swiss Colony.

"The first comic book I had was an 'X-Men' with (the character) Kitty Pryde, who was about 13 years old and had curly hair and lived outside of Chicago. It pushed all the right buttons at the right age, and my Saturdays would consist of riding my bike to the comic book store and buying new comics with money I saved. I saved enough for a sandwich, too. Then I would ride home in time for the 12 o'clock monster movie on Channel 32, followed by 'Buck Rogers' and 'Star Trek.' Meanwhile I drew the entire time. That was Saturdays, and in a way, it shaped my life.

"My dad took me to my first comic book convention. It smelled like old pulp. We made a quick circle of the ballroom, then he said, 'Had enough?' He was checking his watch. I bought a Conan portfolio and said I couldn't wait to go to another convention. I'm sure my dad slapped his forehead. He dropped me off after that. Congress Hotel on Michigan Avenue. He'd say, 'Meet me outside at 4:30,' and I'd get a little carnival ticket, and I would walk around with my spiral sketch notebook. I was the only girl there, and I would stand beside ('X-Men' artist) John Byrne's table and just watch him draw all day.

"When I started sending art to Marvel, I was 11 then, and totally Marvel-centered, I would get back this beautiful form letter with Spider-Man on it that listed out in bullet points the things every artist needed to know, with the applicable boxes checked off next to each topic: anatomy, animals, perspective, buildings, interiors. I was submitting on loose-leaf paper with notebook holes and had no idea how comics were actually created. So it was always sad to be rejected at 11, but it couldn't have been a nicer way to say, 'Look, you suck.' It was like getting a recipe every time of the things I had to work on."

Thompson eventually attended Chicago's American Academy of Art, former home of many an ad-men innovators, as well as comic legend Alex Ross and (briefly) Kanye West. Berger said that when Thompson entered the comic book industry in the 1980s, "You could count on one hand the number of women who were drawing in the industry, and unfortunately it stayed that way only until recently." Thompson, for her part, said that "as stupid as it may sound, any criticism I got I felt was always based on talent, not gender. School had already taught me to prepare for a lot of rejection, and I was rejected a lot."

Not until "Sandman" in the early '90s did she feel recognized for her work.

"This is an embarrassing story," Gaiman said, "but I was signing comics in San Diego, and this fan brought me a picture of (his character) Death that Jill had drawn for her. I had to find her, and that afternoon Jill was in my signing line, and I said I saw her drawing and asked if she was interested in working on 'Sandman' and she thought I was toying with her, and so I called Karen and asked if we could spring her from Wonder Woman."

After that, Thompson was so in-demand as a collaborator, by the time she began "Scary Godmother," she realized she didn't know how to draw her own stories. She fell back somewhat on her years in an improv group in Cleveland: She would put the names of characters, activities and places in separate hats and assemble the stories at random. Two decades later, some things have changed.

She has won seven Eisners and been nominated for more. "Scary Godmother" has such a cult following that a Canadian animated adaptation has become a Cartoon Network staple at Halloween. But also, her taste in comics, which had gone from superheroes to alt-comics, evolved, and Thompson became oddly protective of Wonder Woman.

She lobbied DC for years to do a new Wonder Woman book, she said. "I thought her situation (daughter of a queen, fathered by a god) would make for being spoiled. She would grow up with massive privilege and have to learn to appreciate peace. But DC didn't want to change her origin." During that time, her husband, DC writer Brian Azzarello, was given license to change the origin tale (and wrote several years of "Wonder Woman"); then Rucka was allowed to change the origin details yet again.

In the film, Diana Prince leaves her island with a man to save humanity.

In Thompson's book, which stands alone and is not considered part of the character's monthly continuity, Diana Prince leaves her island in shame and disgrace, on a mission to prove herself worthy of her gifts. The story is ambiguous, full of character flaws and uncertainty. But it's not her property, Thompson said, then left the kitchen for her studio.

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