Roxane Gay Becomes First Black Woman To Write Marvel Comic Book

Zenzi, in green, a revolutionary in Wakanda, the home of the Black Panther. Credit Marvel Entertainment
Zenzi, in green, a revolutionary in Wakanda, the home of the Black Panther. Credit Marvel Entertainment

The world of the Black Panther, the Marvel Comics hero who hails from the fictional African country of Wakanda, is about to get bigger. Marvel announced on Friday a companion series, World of Wakanda, which is to premiere in November.

And just like the current Black Panther series, which is written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the author and a national correspondent for The Atlantic, the new comic will be written by newcomers to the industry: the feminist writer Roxane Gay and the poet Yona Harvey.

“My agent was not thrilled that I was taking on another project,” Ms. Gay said. But learning to write comics exercised different creative muscles, which she said she found exciting.

“It’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever done, and I mean that in the best possible way,” she said.

Her story, written with Mr. Coates, will follow Ayo and Aneka, two lovers who are former members of the Dora Milaje, the Black Panther’s female security force. “The opportunity to write black women and queer black women into the Marvel universe, there’s no saying no to that,” she said.

The first issue of World of Wakanda will include a 10-page second story by Ms. Harvey about Zenzi, a female revolutionary who incited a riot in the first issue of the Black Panther series. Mr. Coates, who recruited both writers, said he thought it was important to have female voices help breathe life into these characters. “The women in Black Panther’s life are very, very important,” he said.

Mr. Coates recalled a conference about two years ago, where Ms. Gay read a zombie short story. “It was the most surprising, unexpected, coolest zombie story you ever want to see,” he said. “When we started thinking about writers, she popped up right away.”

Ms. Harvey, of Pittsburgh, is his friend and, perhaps, also a chance to test a theory. “I have found that poetry is so correlated with writing comic books,” Mr. Coates said. “That’s just so little space, and you have to speak with so much power. I thought she’d be a natural.”

It is no surprise that Marvel would try to capitalize on the success of Black Panther. Eager anticipation greeted the announcement of Mr. Coates. And the comic book, drawn by Brian Stelfreeze, is a critical and commercial hit. The first issue, which was released in April, sold more than 300,000 copies, a number undoubtedly boosted by collectors and the curious. Issues 2 and 3, whose sales for any series are typically more indicative of sustained readership, each sold more than 75,000 copies.

Having such a diverse group of creators, particularly women, comes at an important time. While superhero comics have been making great strides in the diversity of their characters, the same is not always true of their writers and artists. This disparity was part of the discussion when Marvel revealed that Riri Williams, a 15-year-old black genius, would don Iron Man’s armor. She was created by the writer Brian Michael Bendis, who is white, and the Brazilian artist Mike Deodato.

“Why should we be prioritizing white male creators’ takes, when a nonwhite, nonmale character is put in the foreground?” wrote Abraham Riesman, an editor for Vulture, the New York Magazine website, who covers comics. “Aren’t we losing a tremendous opportunity by not having people who look like those characters tell their stories?” His conclusion: “Marvel just needs more black creators and women creators, period, doing all kinds of series.”

Axel Alonso, Marvel’s editor in chief, said, “I wouldn’t be too quick to conclude that the online reaction” — referring to the debate over whether a white man should create Riri’s tales — “is indicative of the fan response” overall.

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Source: The New York Times | GEORGE GENE GUSTINES

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