Zoe Quinn Delves Into the Origins of Her Comic 'Goddess Mode'

The writer and game developer opens up about where her new DC Vertigo title came from.
Robbi Rodriguez/DC Vertigo

The latest series to launch as part of the revitalized DC Vertigo line is perhaps one of the most anticipated titles: Goddess Mode, a blend of cyberpunk and magical girl genres that comes from game developer, writer and online abuse support network Crash Override founder Zoe Quinn.

In the new monthly series, Quinn, along with artists Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi — the art team that created Spider-Gwen, one of the central characters in the upcoming Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse movie — create a near future in which all of humanity’s needs are fulfilled by an all-powerful A.I. However, where there’s artificial intelligence, there’s also tech support, and that’s one of the tasks that the title’s protagonist, Cassandra Price, has to deal with. That, and the opportunity to change the world for the better as one of a group of superpowered beings living inside the system.

Quinn spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about creating the series, and her feelings about working on her first comic book.

How did this start? Did you have this all in mind before Vertigo came calling?

I mean, the world building, a little bit less? Aside from just being a giant cyberpunk nerd — I’ve got lowkey augments myself; I’ve got a magnet in my finger and a chip in my head, and I try to write about that — it’s something I daydream about pretty frequently. And, as someone who’s actually worked in Silicon Valley and tried to make the internet better and tried to humanize these systems that govern what we see or hear about or think is real, it’s just the most natural thing.

And magical girl, I grew up with. Sailor Moon was the first time I could say I was a super-duper-fan of something. I remember watching before school, at like 6 a.m. along with Dragonball Z or Beast Wars, depending on the months.

So, it’s something I’ve had in the background. The actual characters and stories are something that has been in my head for a while, and it’s drawn from a lot of common experiences I’ve seen shared by a number of people who are on the front lines of doing the work to change the world for the better, whether that’s activism, or inventing new things, or running rehabilitation programs, or what have you. The commonality is there, and wanting to tell those stories in a more abstracted way, and in a way that — it’s hard for me to sit here and tell you exactly what someone who moderates the content on Facebook goes through, and what that experience is like. I don’t want to speak for other people. I think it’s easier to use fiction sometimes to get people up to speed, to express how something feels, rather than just dictate to them what’s going on.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the first issue is that there is a sense of authenticity to the book. Often, you read or watch something that screams "cyberpunk," and it’s written by someone who clearly has never seen the internet.

(Laughs.)

There are things, even throwaway aspects like having an ad-free existence by signing up for the premium service, that have this legitimate, lived-in world that feels entirely real.

I didn’t want to do the same cyberpunk that we had when cyberpunk was created. As much as I love Blade Runner — and I love that stuff — I don’t want to talk about the future the 1980s was worried about. I want to talk about the future I’m worried about, the future I think a lot of us are worried about. And there are legitimate concerns — I don’t want people to be able to see a giant screen with all my information on it, that thought horrifies me. So I’m trying to think, as someone who built tech: Where is the future actually going? Versus: Where the future has already been?

Maybe related to that, it feels like you found a link between cyberpunk and the magical-girl genre in this book, even if it’s simply that the idea that, in virtual reality, the rules are different. And this is just stated as a fact, without any hand-holding. It respects the reader. You’re not trying to explain, “This is how virtual reality works.”

I want to assume they’re smart. (Laughs.)

So who is the target audience of this book? Are you writing toward a particular reader, or type of reader?

I think I’m writing for specific aspects of extremely specific people that changes page to page. There’s one page that I had in mind, trying to personally attack a specific friend of mine. I knew that, if there was a really mean villainess sneering down at you, she’d lose her shit. It’s little things like that; I’m directly attacking this friend of mine.

I think having a specificity, down to a particular person, is something I like to do as a writer. You’re never alone in feeling a thing, and for me, the more I’m being personally attacked by a creator, even if I’m not the intended target, it’s such a magical feeling: “Oh my God, this is exactly my kind of trash! This is my dumpster!” I love it. (Laughs.)

We’re talking about the technological references, but it’s really a very human book. It speaks to something that you do in a lot of your work, which is to make things easily understandable, and easy to empathize with.

For me, I don’t think there’s anything more human than technology. That’s a big thing separating us from other animals: we make things, we build things, we create machines. To me, technology is arguably one of the most human things that exist. There’s an idea that, “Oh, the more technology you have, or the more you modify your body, the less human you are.” I think that’s super gross, and inaccurate, and also offensive to anybody who relies on technology to live. It’s dumb! It’s a false dichotomy. Everybody, now, has cybernetic [elements] — it’s really not a thing. And [in Goddess Mode], we’re far enough into the future that you basically have to have it in order to survive climate change. Rather than dying, humanity evolved around it.

Technology isn’t the villain that it gets made out to be in some cyberpunk stories. It’s all humans. It’s what we do with it; technology is neutral. It didn’t come out of some void; humans created it, and humans, almost universally, are the problems with what is done with it.

The first issue reminded me of Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, especially in the way that it felt like it was a carrier wave for a number of ideas and theories that the reader might not be otherwise exposed to.

Yeah. I kind of bit off a lot for my first comic. [(Laughs.) Especially in [the first issue]. It was like, “OK, this is my first one, what am I doing? Well, I’m inventing an entire world that has a complete system of technology, but also a complete system of magic, and I have to establish all of that in 20 pages. That’s fine.” 

So, were you scared writing it?

Dude, I’m still scared. I’m terrified. It’s kind of a relief that the courier lost my advance copies because it means I haven’t held it as a physical object yet. It’s like, “Oh, maybe it’s fine. I don’t have to think about this. I can just focus on writing the thing and I don’t have to think about it as real and where it has consequences.” I’m not just going out here and talking about tech and magic. There’s a lot of personal stuff that I’m venting, even just working on this and writing Cassandra — the person she wants to protect most in her life is her dad, and last week, my dad went into the ICU. Writing during that, there’s a lot of bleeding onto the page. There’s a lot that I have to say, that I can’t say in other words, so I’m putting it into the work and saying things I’m afraid of saying out loud through other, fictional, people. So hopefully I do a good job of that, and it lands, and it’s not just me being a weird trash monkey. I mean, it’s my first comic. I’m freaked out.

We have to talk about the way the book looks. What Robbi Rodriguez and Rico Renzi do with this world is amazing.

Oh my God. I feel like I got away with something. As soon as they came on board, I was like, “Really? Is this allowed? Do I get to work with them? That’s really cool.”

The transformation at the end of the book, it’s something that feels visceral to the reader, and a large part of that is down to their art. What’s your collaboration like? Did you approach a scene like that by saying, “OK, I want it to look exactly like this,” or…?

I hadn’t really met Robbi before we signed the contract. We’d had one phone conversation, and I felt like he was the right person for a number of reasons, not just the art. When we met in person and got along so well, I was just, “Thank God.” (Laughs.) When we got to the transformation sequence, in particular, I really want to talk about the hard work he did. I think he watched all of Sailor Moon, which is, like, a 200-episode anime. That’s not a small undertaking. It was one of the references that I was way more versed in, and was really important to feel right, and he really ran with it and I was super blown away. It’s been really great collaborating with him, and I can tell when he’s had fun with a page. Now with scripts — you know how I said I was personally attacking people? Now I can personally attack my artist. “Oh man, Robbi would draw the hell out of this, where can I put this?” I want him to have fun with this. Goddess Mode isn’t just me; it’s Robbi, it’s Rico, it’s Simon [Bowland, letterer] and Andy [Khouri, editor] and everybody who’s touched this book at Vertigo, the entire editorial staff.

Are you having fun with this?

Yes and no. (Laughs.) I never thought I’d actually get a chance to make this comic, and if I did, it’d be after years and years and years, after I’d gotten better at drawing and hopefully way less slow at drawing. I come from a games background where, on a lot of games, I did everything. So being able to write a bunch of stuff and then getting art in — it just makes my day. Being able to work in comics at all — I know I came into it from a different medium, but I’d like to stay here. It’s not like a weird touristy thing for me. I loved the medium and I do even more now. So that part has been fun.

And not fun, because I care so much about this. I’m really good at stressing myself out: Am I doing this right? Can I do this better? And some of the things I’m talking about, it gets kind of heavy. I’m writing with all of my guts, for better or worse, and it’s hard to put yourself out like that without fear. But I would rather write fearlessly than write well. Hopefully I get to do both.

It’s nerve-racking to do your dream project in your dream medium, and have it be your first project in that medium. Hopefully, I just get everything right. I hope it works.



Goddess Mode No. 1 is available digitally and in comic book stores now.