"We’re enhancing the dialogue around comic books, and I think that’s pretty amazing."

By Andrea Towers
February 02, 2016 at 05:30 PM EST
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Sana Amanat, Marvel’s Director of Content and Character Development, can be called a game changer or an inspiration in the comic community, where she’s edited boundary-breaking books like Captain Marvel, Daredevil, and most notably Ms. Marvel. Speaking by phone from just outside Los Angeles, where she’s appearing at this year’s Maker’s Conference — a three-day symposium with speakers that include powerful industry leaders like Katie Couric, America Ferrera, and Gloria Steinman — Amanat’s right at home with those who’ve made massive impacts on pop culture.

But if you try to call her a superhero in her own right for being any of those things, she’ll humbly deflect the question. “I never really think of it in those terms,” Amanat tells EW. “But it’s really quite wonderful when I’m at a convention, or just talking to a fans who I’ll meet a comic shop, and I see how they’ve reacted not only to Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel, but also how they’ve become a fan in very recent years of comics and superheroes. So much of what I wanted to do was try to help and make this industry a bit more inclusive.”

“We had a big blueprint of what we wanted to do. We knew we wanted to have a Muslim-American character, we knew we wanted it to be her own solo series,” she says. “The idea was, how do we create a character that wasn’t about that?” The answer? Establish a major theme. “Once Willow and I had defined what we wanted the message to be, about identity and the flip of the Peter Parker paradigm in that saying with great power comes great opportunity, and Kamala deciding who she was going to be when she had an opportunity to be anyone, we had a very strong idea of concept,” Amanat explains.

On the surface, Ms. Marvel is your average teenage superhero with powers. But like those who have more to offer than their physical appearance, it’s the character’s ideals that matter — and that have made an impact. “I think for her, it’s always been when she first took on the mantle, she wanted to be Carol Danvers more than anything else. And over time she realized it was, more than anything else, an idea,” says Amanat. “You can call a Muslim South-Asian woman a hero, but I think the ultimate ideal for her is being good and helping people. That’s such a simple and beautiful concept, and I think that supersedes any label, any category, and that’s ultimately what Kamala wants — she wants to help people, and she wants to do it on her own terms.”

Asked what she hopes people at the conference will take away from her talk, the answer is simple: awareness. “I’d love for people to look at comics and superheroes in a different light,” Amanat says. “People from the outset feel like they already know what comics are, and with Ms. Marvel, with a lot of the recent series — with Thor and Captain America and Miles Morales’ Spider-Man — we have so much content happening at Marvel that is flipping the paradigm and expectations of superhero comics.”

Amanat further hopes to emphasize the importance of comics by showing people their greater purpose. “We have a responsibility to tell stories that are empowering and send messages, and that’s exactly what superhero stories do,” says Amanat. “And now the fact that we’re changing them a little bit by having a Muslim character take on a very important legacy, by having an African-American pick up the Captain America shield…those are really strong messages of what the American dream actually means. So if people can connect with that and understand the true emphasis of what superhero stories are really about — and if they’ll buy some comics along the way, too, I’m going to be very, very happy about that.”

Catch Amanat’s Makers panel live streaming on makers.com Tuesday, Feb. 2 at roughly 10:45 a.m. PT.

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