With Marvel’s Black Panther series debuting to critical acclaim, it only made sense that the comic book company would turn to its just-as-acclaimed writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates, for suggestions of potential writers to helm a spinoff series focusing on King T’Challa’s native land of Wakanda.
Coates’ suggestion? None other than fellow bestselling writer, Roxane Gay.
Now Gay, along with poet Yona Harvey, make Marvel history as the first black women to write for Marvel. In their series, World of Wakanda, Gay tells tales of the Dora Milaje, the Wakandan royal family’s elite all-women fighting guard, while Harvey focuses on female revolutionary Zenzi, who fights for her country’s rights.
“Historically, the Dora Milaje have served the Black Panther loyally and without question,” says Gay of Wakanda’s political climate when the series kicks off. “But because of a series of events that culminate in the current arc of Black Panther, the Dora Milaje are questioning their loyalty and their mission. World of Wakanda looks at how this evolution rises.”
With World of Wakanda about to kick off on Nov. 9, EW caught up with Gay to discuss writing her first comic, her storytelling influences, and who she’d like to see pen their own comic.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Everyone has some idea of what they’d like to see in a superhero comic. What did you want to do when Ta-Nehisi Coates first pitched you writing this series?
GAY: When Ta-Nehisi first approached me, I just knew that I wanted to write fierce women who could be as intimidating as they are intriguing. So far, I have been able to bring these characteristics into the women I am writing for World of Wakanda. Things are about to get really interesting as I work on the third issue so I am looking forward to that.
Readers may not be familiar with Black Panther. Was that something you were considering as you approached writing this series?
It wasn’t my first consideration because for the most part, World of Wakanda can stand on its own. That said, I have had to think carefully about continuity within the Marvel universe, so I’ve tried to write into each issue what readers unfamiliar with Black Panther will need to know to fully appreciate the story I am telling.
Writing comics is a very collaborative process. How has working with [artist] Alitha E. Martinez affected your storytelling?
Writing comics has forced me to think about storytelling in a much more fine-tuned manner. I also think a lot about how my ideas are going to look on the page. Every time I see Alitha’s art, I am just thrilled with how she takes my words and then adds her own interpretation. It’s unlike anything I’ve done before.
Your story in World of Wakanda focuses on Ayo and Aneka, two former Dora Milaje, as well as on their relationship. What were you most excited about when delving into them as characters, and as a couple?
I was just so excited to write black queer women into the Marvel Universe, and to write women who are lethal? That’s even better.
What is it about the Dora Milaje that speaks to you as a writer?
I love the idea of an elite unit of bodyguards comprised entirely of women who can take care of themselves and the people they are assigned to protect. It’s such a compelling role reversal.
As a fan of pop culture in general, were there any non-comics works (shows/movies/music) that influenced or inspired you?
Now that you’ve started writing comics, have you been reading more of them? Are there any series you’re a big fan of?
Absolutely. I wanted to read comics to get a more contemporary sense of the genre. I am loving Saga, and of course, Black Panther and I am about to dive into Sex Criminals.
Since Ta-Nehisi Coates suggested you as a writer for World of Wakanda, who are some writers you’d like to see take a Marvel comic series of their own?
I’d love to see the writer xTx take on a comic book series. She has a dark, engrossing and cinematic style that would lend itself well to the medium. Lily Hoang would write one hell of a comic and also, Morgan Parker, Saeed Jones, Karolina Waclawiak and Carmen Machado also come to mind.
Black Panther: World of Wakanda is currently available for pre-order and hits shelves Nov. 9.