Henchgirl follows Mary Posa as she struggles with her career, her ambitions, and the expectations placed upon her. As the black sheep of a superhero family, she’s chosen to carve her own path in life and landed squarely in the trenches as a henchgirl working for the supervillian Monsieur Butterfly.
Once a webcomic, Henchgirl is teaming with heart, hilariously sly visual jokes, and enough butterfly puns to make anyone roll their eyes fondly. There’s no way to avoid cracking a smile when Katie Pillar and Chris Salis make appearances.
We caught up with Kristen Gudsnuk, creator of Henchgirl, at New York Comic Con 2017 to discuss her graphic novel and the catharsis that came with exploring Mary Posa’s life. Continue reading to learn about the evolution of Henchgirl, how expectations can affect a person, and the puns that didn’t make it into the book!
Can you talk about the evolution of Henchgirl? I know last year when I talked to you [about Secret Loves of Geek Girls], it was still a webcomic.
Part of the reason it’s not online anymore is just because it ended and I was like, ‘Why would I pay to keep an archive up online for free?’ So I felt like the next step was for it to be a trade. Also, it’s just a hassle to maintain a website that’s not really in use.
But it was a pretty fun journey. It actually all started a really long time ago when I won a voucher for a free comic book making class and I was like, ‘Oh I should come up with a comic idea, so I can work on something in this class I’ve got to take!’ I was just brainstorming a lot and I came up with the concept for Henchgirl, so it was literally to use a voucher. But it worked out really well in the end, you know?
It was supposed to be a quick comic idea and then it just kept getting longer and longer and the world kept expanding, so I just kept rolling with it.
Was it a raffle? How do you win this?
I was at a drink and draw at a bar and I drew a sad cowboy and they liked my sad cowboy. He was munching on a piece of hay and looking forlorn and yeah, I don’t know! This was like five years ago. It was really random, but a lot of things in my career have started from completely random happenstance.
Can you tell me how you relate to Mary, the main character of Henchgirl?
I don’t want to say she’s a thinly veiled author insert, but her problems came from my problems and her perspective is, in a way, my perspective. I’m probably less of an outright terrible person because she literally robs people, but I approach it as a way of poking fun at my shortcomings and humanity’s shortcomings. A lot of my humor is, ‘Wow! Look how terrible people are!’ In a way, some of that was self-reflective.
Did it feel cathartic to explore that?
Oh yeah definitely, there were a lot of moments. In a way, it’s a little like therapy because I didn’t even realize that there were all these plot points – I don’t want to spoil anything! But there are these plot points where you can line it up to my real life and see what I was filtering into fiction, but I didn’t realize it at the time so it’s really weird to look back.
Why focus on henchgirls specifically?
I thought it was very odd that even the title Henchgirl was available because I was like, ‘What? No one’s done anything about henchgirls?’ There was nothing! There were no stories with that title and I found a ton that were about henchmen. I was like, ‘They’ve got ladies there too, right?’ So I started from that perspective and also I was thinking about where I would be in a superhero world. I figured I would be the person in the background who gets punched in the face by Batman and then runs home with a bag of money.
Can you talk about how Mary’s occupation as a henchgirl affected her relationships with her roommates and her parents?
In the comic, her parents don’t know that she’s a henchgirl. They are actually superheroes who were really big in the 80s – her mom has giant hair. So, in a way, it’s her way of rebelling against her parents expectations or meeting their low expectations of her because she’s the black sheep of the family.
But I thought it’d be fun if her roommates were super used to the fact that she’s a criminal. She comes home smelling like gunpowder and smoke sometimes and is on the news, but they’re like, ‘Whatever she gets her rent paid on time, we’re okay with that.’
That’s all it takes these days! Given Mary’s story and given her relationships, do you feel like it’s better to have more or less expectations put upon you?
[laughter] That’s a tough question! I think it’s better when people expect more of you because then you try to live up to what people expect of you. When people don’t expect anything of you, there’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’ll become the thing that people expect you to be.
Mary’s problems are all self-generated, so I can’t blame them on anyone else, but maybe that is part of the problem that she has in life? Everyone expects her to be terrible, so she is. I don’t know! It’s a very interesting question.
How much fun was it to come up with the superheroes and villains alter-egos?
Thinking of dumb pun names or really lazy names, like Mr. Great Guy – you can probably tell that I thought of that in a second – but that to me was part of the fun of writing it. Having a character who is an important guy whose name is really stupid. I think I roll with that a lot with a lot of my naming conventions. It was great.
All of the villains in her gang have butterfly names. The first few were pretty easy and then I was really running out of butterfly puns. And they’re all really bad puns, like Coco Oon is a cocoon and Larry Va is like larva. I was like, ‘Okay I did Monsieur Butterfly, what are other butterfly-related words? There’s only like four!’
Were there any that you wanted to use that didn’t make it in?
Yeah! This one I didn’t come up with, but I went on Reddit and was like, ‘I’ve got to think of more names!’ Of course the people on Reddit came up with way better puns than me. One of them said Arthur Pod and I thought that was so funny, but I didn’t do it. Arthur Pod, I think that’s what a butterfly is. It’s part of an arthropod family. I googled it long ago, but it didn’t make it in. Probably because it was so smart-sounding that it wouldn’t have realistically come from me! I don’t know things about science!