The Unexpected Return of Dakota North, part 2

In an earlier post, I talked about the Marvel comic Dakota North, which ran for five issues in the mid-80s and is now the subject of a brand new collection, Dakota North: Design for Dying.

Martha Thomases

Now Dakota’s creator and writer, Martha Thomases, has been kind enough to talk to me a bit about Dakota’s origins.

You wrote about the fashion scene as a journalist, so how much input did you have in the choice of fashions in the original run, such as what Dakota wore in a given situation?

For the most part, Dakota’s wardrobe was up to Tony [Salmons], as the artist. He was the person who knew what would look right in an action scene. Having said that, I flooded him with fashion magazines and newspaper articles. When I could, I urged him to look at department store windows. Since he lived in Connecticut and didn’t get into the city that often, I couldn’t literally lead him around.

If that sounds bossy or condescending, I’m not explaining right. The entire editorial process involved each of us sharing our areas of expertise. I know way more about gun recoil than your usual hippie girl from Ohio because Larry Hama insisted.

In the introduction to the new collection, you mention that Dakota’s appearance was based on your friend, the late model and author Norris Church. What was it about her look that you liked for the character? How did she feel about being the inspiration?

Have you read Norris’ book, A Ticket to the Circus? If you have, you will have noticed that, other than her looks, she is nothing like Dakota. She was the only model I knew, however, and seeing her portfolio, and her work on All My Children and Ragtime, gave me a sense of what models actually did. It’s not enough to have the right body-type and be beautiful. You have to control every part of your body, every muscle in your face.

Norris Church, the visual inspiration for Dakota North.

I think she was amused that I used her look. When I had the first photocopied pages from Tony, I showed them to her and to Norman [Mailer, her husband]. Norman looked at Dakota and said, “I’d like to see her naked.” I told him that he already had. Then I begged him to let me use that as a quote on the cover, and he refused. It would be another decade before I got another quote from him about a comic, for Neil Gaiman and Sandman.

Over the years, there have been some thoughtful retrospectives written about the series. Have you read them? Do you think readers are now more open to what you were doing?

I’ve read some of them. In a few cases, I was flattered, in others, not so much. Quite often, people seemed to assume I had some grand plan about how the story was going to go. I did not.

Are people more open to what I was doing? I don’t know. There are certainly more women writing and drawing comics, and more women reading them. That’s a good thing. More different kinds of books for more different kinds of readers mean more writers and artists can make a living.

Did you have first-hand experience of the various locations, i.e., Paris, or did you rely on research? (I’m old enough to remember how hard that was pre-Google Street View.)

I had been to Paris, Milan, Amsterdam and Barcelona at that point. And I lived in Manhattan and, before I had my son, my husband and I would go to CBGBs, the Mudd Club and the like.

How did you feel about Dakota popping up in other series after her own was cancelled? If you read them, did any one author strike you as getting closest to your original intent?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. [Christopher] Priest called me up to get my insights when he used the character [in Black Panther issues #18-35], and he ran everything by me to make sure he had the right tone.

If she was brought back, would you want to be involved? And if so, what would be different?

I would love to be involved. Whether or not I could meet a monthly schedule, I’m not so sure. I tend to really like my characters and don’t enjoy putting them in dangerous situations that make exciting stories. Also, I don’t think Dakota would let her father push her around in the same ways now as she did in the 1980s. So that dynamic would have to be updated.

And finally…how did you come up with the name?

I’m terrible at coming up with character names! But I had heard about an artist with the first name, Dakota, and thought it was really cool. “North” naturally followed.

By the way, I was contacted by a woman who was actually named Dakota North. She was excited to see the book. Now we are Facebook friends.

Immense thanks to Martha Thomases for taking the time to answer my fanboy questions. Dakota North: Design for Dying is available now, from all the usual suspects, but try your local comic shop first.

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