Poet Yona Harvey’s first foray into writing comics went so well, she’s at it again.
Harvey’s friend Ta-Nehisi Coates tapped her and writer Roxane Gay to pen last year’s Black Panther spinoff, World of Wakanda, with him. The experience challenged Harvey, but she found getting lost in the Marvel universe “addictive.” So when the opportunity arose to work with Coates again on Black Panther & The Crew, a Marvel series revival, she jumped at the chance. And this time, she’s making history as the first Black woman to write Marvel’s Storm character.
Harvey is the author of a poetry collection, Hemming the Water, winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award from Claremont Graduate University and finalist for the Hurston-Wright Award. Her work has been anthologized widely, and she is an assistant professor in the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh.
In this EBONY interview, Harvey talks about transitioning from poetry and prose to comics, what she hopes to bring to Storm in The Crew, and what her kids think about her new gig.
EBONY: What’s The Crew about? How does writing The Crew compare to your experience writing World of Wakanda? Are you more comfortable now writing in this genre?
Yona Harvey: Black Panther and The Crew is set in Harlem and is essentially about getting conscious. The Black Panther, Misty Knight, Storm, Luke Cage, and Manifold each have unique connections to Harlem. Those connections put them a little at odds with their superhero roles in the Marvel universe. This experience feels more expansive than the World of Wakanda experience. My story in World of Wakanda was only 10 pages long–not nearly enough to explore Zenzi, the character I was writing. But Black Panther and The Crew is a much larger story that explores a murder mystery, friendships, and romantic love. I become more comfortable writing with each issue.
EBONY: You’re the first Black woman to ever write the Storm character. What do you aim to bring to the character that’s unique? Unexpected?
Harvey: It’s hard to answer that while I’m still in the midst of writing Storm. Obviously, I want to write her very well. But I’d love to bring glimmers of Black women poets to Storm’s voice. It’s fun thinking about the poetry of her diction and voice–and the fact that she’s a Black woman in addition to being a mutant.
EBONY: As a literary artist, what has it been like to transition from poetry and prose to comics? Has the experience changed you as a poet?
Harvey: So far, it’s been a positive experience. The transition hasn’t been terribly difficult because I love comics so much. I’ve enjoyed reading comics and graphic novels over the years and have always connected with my undergraduate students in the office hours about what to read. When some of my previous colleagues were freaking out about the students referencing and–gasp–being influenced by, say, Sandman or fantasy, I was like, Sandman? That’s awesome. What else would you recommend I read?
I’ve honestly never had a problem moving back and forth among the so-called highs and lows of literature. A good story is a good story. I’m not sure if the experience has changed me as a poet. Let’s check-in in another five years! The experience has definitely opened me up as a person.
EBONY: What motivated you to accept the opportunity to write comics, a totally new genre for you as a writer?
Harvey: I love reading them so much! The opportunity was just too good to pass up–that includes learning about the writing process and collaborating with Ta-Nehisi. That said, reading comics and writing them are two completely different experiences. Writing comics is the most difficult writing I’ve ever done. But I love the challenge!
EBONY: As someone who usually writes solo, what is it like writing collaboratively?
Harvey: It’s so liberating. And it’s helpful, whenever I feel stuck on something. Ta-Nehisi shares lots of images, poems. And our editor will pass along these beautiful sketches that Butch Guice creates. His drawings are so expressive and energetic. What a joy getting a peek at those! It all keeps me on task. And I’ve always embraced writing collaboratively in poetry with the renga form, [a genre of Japanese poetry].
EBONY: What do your kids thinking about you writing comics now?
Harvey: My daughter is 17, and she has been so excited about all this comics writing stuff. She’s also very political and an activist who’s invested in the ways Black women are drawn and written in popular culture. She’s also coerced me into limiting my freakout moments to once per week. I get really anxious about the whole process sometimes. Ha. My son is 13, and he’s much cooler. He’s a big Walking Dead fan, so everything outside of that is kind of secondary to him–even if his mother is the writer.
EBONY: What’s next on the writing front for you?
Harvey: I’m wrapping up my second poetry manuscript. And I’m also working on a memoir about my younger sister’s struggles with depression and her subsequent death at the hospital where she went in search of psychiatric help. That’s quite a lot. And it goes without saying, I hope, that I want to write more comics.