Enter The World Of Wakanda: Roxane Gay On Facing The Hype And Writing The Dora Milaje

San Diego Comic Con, in what is now a great mid-summer tradition, dropped some great announcements this past weekend. Among them, Marvel’s new The World of Wakanda, the new companion series to the current record-breaking Black Panther run. World of Wakanda is going to be written by two Black women authors and drawn by two Black women artists. This is a first all around and worthy of all the excitement it has generated around the Internet. We were lucky enough to steal a few minutes with Roxane Gay, one of the authors for the new series. Gay is new to comics but brings with her a significant writing resume, with novels (An Untamed State), essays (Bad Feminist), and op/ed columns to her name. We talked comics and Marvel, the Dora Milaje, and dream projects. We’re happy that we get to share this with you.

Black Nerd Problems: Needless to say, we’re big fans around here of the work Coates and Stelfreeze on Black Panther. How did Coates bring you on board to write World of Wakanda?

Roxane Gay:
Ta-Nehisi and I have been acquainted over the years. We did a reading together at 826 Boston during the AWP conference a few years back and he remembered the story I wrote. A few months ago, he e-mailed me, saying he had a crazy idea. One thing led to another and here we are.

BNP: So I know you’re a new fan. I’ve only been a comics reader for a few years myself, so I know that learning curve is steep. How are you going about researching the universe where the comic will be set?

RG: I am trying to read all the comics I can and I am also, as cheesy as it sounds, reading books on how to write comics. But I also know they brought me in for a reason so I am trying to trust myself and remember that I don’t need to know everything about writing comics. I need to know how to tell stories and that, I can do pretty well.

BNP: Did you know your fellow new writer, Yona Harvey in advance? Either artist, Afua Richardson or Alitha E. Martinez?

RG: I do not yet know my collaborators personally but I have been familiarizing myself with their work and it is an honor to share these pages with them.

BNP: How is the process of working with the artist going for you? How different is it from working solo on a book?

RG: We haven’t gotten to that stage yet so I cannot speak to it. I am realizing just how collaborative writing comics are. I’ve been given a lot of room to do my thing but in comics, words and pictures tell the story together so I look forward to the next steps.

BNP: The significance of your placement as “the First Black Woman Writer at Marvel” isn’t lost on anyone. How do you manage the hype that surrounds that title?

RG: I didn’t realize I would be the first Black woman writer at Marvel. It is overwhelming and also pretty frustrating because this is 2016 and there are many Black women and other Women of Color who are working in comics. I cannot think about the hype. I just cannot. It’s too much pressure. I’m focusing on what I’ve been asked to do, which is to tell the story of the Dora Milaje.

BNP: Is Marvel setting a precedent for POC comic book writers, that they have to have mainstream, non-fiction chops to get in? Or is it more a matter of “Coates did great, let’s dip into that well again?”

RG: I don’t think they are setting a precedent. I think they are trying new and different things. I would like to believe they would look beyond the world of comic book writers for white writers, too. And I would also give a lot of credit to Ta-Nehisi, himself. His work on Black Panther has been amazing and he is able to bring other writers of color into the sandbox to play with him.

BNP: What draws you most to Ayo and Aneka, our former Dora Milaje?

RG: I love how committed they are to each other, and to the greater good. I love that I will be able to tell their love story while also telling a superhero story. All too often in superhero stories, they have some dark, conflicted love story. I don’t want to write that. It holds little appeal to me. Superheroes can fight the good fight and come home to loving arms.

BNP: I have a friend who theorizes that all superheroes are on a spectrum of Justice vs Mercy. Where do you think Ayo and Aneka will fall on that line?

RG: They are all about justice.

BNP: Outside of Wakanda and her defenders do you have other comic book style stories you’d like to tell?

RG: I would love to get my hands on Riri [Williams] as Iron Man or Blade and it would be a DREAM to write Black Widow. And who knows. I also wrote a short story about a world without sun that would look great in the comic book format.

BNP: I keep a list of inspirational quotes of #BlackWomenDreaming pinned on my wall. Do you have a favorite quote that would fit that space?

RG: I don’t really use quotations in my day-to-day life but I love everything Audre Lorde says in “The Uses of Anger.” A choice quotation from that piece is, “It is not the anger of other women that will destroy us but our refusals to stand still, to listen to its rhythms, to learn within it, to move beyond the manner of presentation to the substance, to tap that anger as an important source of empowerment.”

“…anger as an important source of empowerment.” — That can clearly apply to Ayo and Aneka, as well as to any number of situations we find ourselves in these days. Thank you Roxane!

There will definitely be plenty more information and hype to come as Black Panther keeps rolling into the Fall and is joined by The World of Wakanda in November. Gay and Coates are co-writing the main story with the artistic talents of Alitha E. Martinez. The issue will also feature a 10-page backstory on Zenzi, written by Coates and Yona Harvey, with Afua Richardson creating the art. Look for it at your local shop or get those pre-orders in as we dive deep into the Blackest imaginary place in the Marvel Comics Universe — Wakanda.

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  • L.E.H. Light


    Editor, Writer, Critic, Baker. Outspoken Mother. Lifelong fan of sci fi/fantasy books in all their variety. Knows a lot about very few things. She/Her/They.

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