After Tuesday night’s presidential election results, many African-Americans are in need of an escape, and a land where Black Excellence reigns supreme—ruled by a powerful king and his badass female bodyguards—seems like the perfect place to hide. Luckily, that’s the backdrop of Marvel Comics’ superhero franchise Black Panther, where T’Challa, the first Black superhero to appear in a mainstream comic book, rules the fictional Kingdom of Wakanda.
Black Panther has seen a resurgence in recent years with the popularity of the Marvel universe on screen. In 2018, Chadwick Boseman will bring T’Challa to cinemas around the world when Black Panther—and it’s Blackity Black cast—hits theaters. Recently, the comic book has also undergone a renaissance under the tutelage of award-winning writer Ta-Nehisi Coates.
A self-described comic book nerd, Coates has injected new life into the long-running series and has brought fresh voices into the Marvel franchise like writer Roxane Gay and poet Yona Harvey, who are the first Black women to helm a comic book series for the company.
In Black Panther: World of Wakanda, Harvey and Gay focus on the women of the kingdom, namely Shuri, T’Challa’s youngest sister, Zenzi, the leader of The People, and Ayo and Aneka, two members of the Dora Milaje, the protective force tasked with guarding the crown. In the World of Wakanda, Ayo and Aneka’s love affair blooms while they fight to protect the kingdom.
Recently, EBONY.com caught up with Gay to talk to her about the World of Wakanda, what it’s like writing a comic book, and what we can expect from the series.
EBONY.com: When Ta-Nehisi Coates approached you to be a part of this series, what were your first thoughts?
Roxane Gay: I was really surprised and then I was intrigued and very excited to take on something so different from the work I’ve done.
EBONY.com: Back in July, you described this as being “the most bizarre thing I’ve ever done,” but in “the best possible way.” Can you expound on that a little? What has it been like working on this?
Gay: It’s so strange to think both visually and textually. Perhaps strange isn’t the best word. It’s just different and a more expansive way of telling a story. I am having a blast so far and really getting into setting up scenes and thinking across issues. I love seeing the work come back from Alitha (Martinez), the artist. To see your words rendered so beautifully is just a joy.
EBONY.com: As a writer who often writes about body image and feminism, will we see some of that in the series?
Gay: Feminism is definitely a part of everything I do and in the final three issues of this run, you will definitely see women, their bodily autonomy and feminism at play.
EBONY.com: Were you a Black Panther, or comics, reader prior to working on this, or did you have to catch up?
Gay: I am new to superhero comics, though growing up I read Archie comics, religiously. I’ve been doing a lot of catching up, reading what’s out there and it’s been wonderful to see what’s going on in contemporary comics.
EBONY.com: You’re a great storyteller, but comics are very different than what you’ve written before. How did you approach this project?
Gay: I reminded myself that Marvel hired me for a reason, and I dove right in to telling an interesting story about two women who find themselves at a crossroads between what they think is right and what they are duty-bound to do.
EBONY.com: The Black Panther series is filled with very powerful women, but sometimes we don’t get their full back-story. Will some of those characters, namely Zenzi and Shuri, play a prominent role or are you creating a totally new set of characters? Will Storm make a cameo?
Gay: My run is very much focused on Ayo and Aneka. Shuri plays a role and we’ll see what comes next.
EBONY.com: Do you feel pressure to satisfy comic fans?
Gay: I do but I also realize that I can’t please everyone. I am trying not to let the pressure consume me.
EBONY.com: What can we expect from World of Wakanda?
Gay: You can expect to see an intense love story, and these two amazing women fighting for each other and for Wakanda and trying to be true to themselves and what they believe.
Black Panther: World of Wakanda is on sale now. Visit the Marvel Comics site for more information.