Culture

Rashida Jones’ Side Hustle Is Writing Feminist Comic Books

Rashida Jones is a multihyphenate — a class of entertainers growing increasingly common in Hollywood. She can act. She directs. She’s produced a handful of great TV shows.

And, she writes comic books in her spare time.

It’s that last notch on her ever-expanding resume that might seem most surprising, at least to casual fans. The daughter of actress Peggy Lipton and legendary music producer Quincy Jones, the former Parks and Rec star was more than likely destined to carve out her own space in the entertainment industry, but it’s not an impressive lineage that has propelled Jones to her current status as one of Hollywood’s most prolific creators — it’s her irrepressible drive to constantly reinvent herself and push her own artistic limits.

After all, Jones could’ve remained content to deliver her own brand of funny-woman in front of the camera. She spent years reimagining the role of the “chill girlfriend” on shows like The Office and the unfailingly supportive best friend on NBC’s other aforementioned hit workplace comedy. She was the remarkably understanding fiance to Paul Rudd’s friendless man-child in I Love You, Man, a no-nonsense detective surrounded by all kind of nonsense on the criminally underrated comedy series, Angie Tribeca, and, most recently, Bill Murray’s estranged daughter in the delightfully fun On The Rocks.

But telling stories rather than just interpreting them seems to be something Jones was drawn to early in her career. It’s why she penned the awkwardly funny Andy Samberg-starring rom-com Celeste & Jesse. It’s why she decided to produce a documentary spotlighting the young women drawn to the porn industry in this new internet age with Hot Girls Wanted. And it’s why she ventured into the comic book space, crafting a decidedly feminist graphic novel that feels revolutionary — even a decade after its first issue dropped.

Jones, along with Christina Weir, Nunzio DeFilippis, and comic artist Jeff Wamester introduced her version of a kick-ass action hero in 2010 with Frenemy of the State. Centered around a young heiress named Arianna Von Holmberg, the series imagines a socialite exhausted by the vapid demands of her wealthy lifestyle and plagued by a succession of bad decisions, one of which leads her to a mutually-beneficial gig as a CIA operative. Because what better cover than that of a globe-trotting celebrity with time to kill?

According to Jezebel, which referenced a Vanity Fair interview Jones had given during that year’s awards circuit, the premise for her comic debut came thanks to Paris Hilton. More specifically, our culture’s obsession with women like Hilton — debutantes forced to live their lives in the public eye.

“I had this funny notion that she’s actually some crazy genius who knew exactly what she was doing, and she was just conducting this elaborate anthropological study on the world,” Jones told Vanity Fair at the time. “I imagined that she was going home every night and whispering into her mini-recorder: ‘Day three hundred and twenty-seven. I continue to have them all fooled.’ That was sort of where the idea for this comic started.”

Over the course of five graphic novels, Arianna defuses nuclear warheads and contends with tabloid fodder takedowns; narrowly escapes hostage situations and attends high-society masquerades. Far from a superhero imbued with mystic powers or a street-smart teenager bitten by a radioactive spider, Arianna felt like an entry point for young girls who hadn’t seen enough representation in comics up to that point … and like a stand-in for every female celebrity who had the misfortune of ending up on Perez Hilton’s gossip blog.

The comic infused wit and a cheeky kind of social commentary in its overarching story about a privileged elite struggling to find her purpose — and some semblance of privacy — in her complex and unforgiving world. Jones poked fun at the tabloids and gossip blogs we so venerated back then, while also portraying her heroine as flawed, prone to making frustrating mistakes, and sometimes intolerably entitled.

“When I was writing ten years ago, I took what is typically considered a male character and would give it to the woman. I’d get feedback saying, ‘She’s not likable,’” Jones told Net-A-Porter in a 2018 interview. “I would think, ‘So f***ing what. Every guy isn’t likable until he is.’ Women are taught to be nice. Men are taught to be powerful. I want to find a way to tell stories from a woman’s perspective that doesn’t feel like it’s been put in the mouth of a woman by a guy.”

With Frenemy of the State, Jones was living out that desire to bring another layer to the two-dimensional female characters she’d encountered throughout her career, and she was doing it within a medium that has historically failed the target audiences Jones was hoping to connect with — young women who wanted to see themselves, or a more kick-ass version of themselves, between the pages of a comic book.

“It’s intended for a girl much younger than me, about age 20, an interesting age for girls as they make that scary jump to adulthood,” Jones told Variety after news broke that the comic series would be optioned as a movie. “She has lived a life of privilege, attended the best schools, and learned every language, but her obsession with spying on exes gets her into trouble and she is recruited to be a spy in exchange for not going to prison. There is a comic element to it, this girl who is so conscious of social standing and wearing the right shoes, suddenly becoming responsible for these dangerous, life-threatening missions.”

That film adaptation has stalled, but Frenemy isn’t the last comic-book-inspired project Jones would sign on for. In 2017 it was announced that the actress and Kerry Washington would work together to bring the popular Goldie Vance series to life on the big screen. And, just a few years prior, she launched an advice column with Glamour that was done entirely in the style of a graphic novel excerpt.

Side hustles are expected at this point, especially if you’re a talented A-lister in need of a creative outlet, but it’s empowering to see women like Jones pushing their artistic boundaries, not for money or more clout, but because they want to make space for other voices to exist in mediums that have fallen behind when it comes to diversity — because they want to tell fresh, inventive stories in ways we don’t expect them to.

So, the next time you think of multihyphenate Rashida Jones, just be sure to add “comic book author” to her list of credits.

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