Two outstanding authors discussed their process and craft at New York Comic Con on Thursday. We wanted to share some of their best insights.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is known for his work as a national correspondent for The Atlantic, a memoir, The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood and novel, Between the World and Me. He currently writes Marvel’s Black Panther.
Jason Reynolds is the author of nine novels including Ghost, a National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature. He also wrote Marvel YA novel Miles Morales: Spider-Man.
On switching to writing for Marvel:
Coates said that even though reading comics informed his literary sensibility there was still something of a learning curve when he began Black Panther. “There’s a lot less words. You have to learn to speak to the artist. Most of the script is me describing the scene, not dialogue”.
On representation in comics:
Both authors said that representation mattered deeply to them. In Spiderman, Miles Morales is just a kid figuring out how to balance high school with his newfound powers. In Black Panther, the protagonist is a full grown man, a king. When you only have a few characters representing a whole group of people you can’t possibly capture the full human experience. Individuality matters, both have very character driven stories.
Coates: “In comics and in pop culture there’s a hunger among black fans to just see a black dude bust some ass. White fans regularly get someone like The Punisher all the time.
But, it wasn’t spider man’s power or wolverine’s power that drew me in… it was always the conflict. Always the idea that this [power] comes with something. So when I went to Black Panther I went away from the impulse to watch him bust ass. That just didn’t interest me for some reason. What interested me a lot more was ‘yes, but what comes with the crown?’ Does this dude even want a crown? If he could design his life himself is this what he’d be doing? And even if he does want to change it the crown is a crown…he was born into this. You can’t walk away from your nation…I was really interested in that.’”
Reynolds: “I try to give some scope about what it means to be a young black boy in america
There’s no one answer to that. I don’t think we get enough of that narrative. We get like a sliver of it, like, Tsk tsk that boy’s not like the rest of them he’s going somewhere…There’s a big spectrum and most of us fit on all the dots of that spectrum that’s how you get whole images of young black boys.”
On politics in comics
Great stories reflect your world and no world is really free from politics, even in Marvel Comics.
Coates: ”What do you think X-Men is? Captain America, his name is Captain America, his uniform is made out of a flag. I write Black Panther… that’s his name! Black. Panther. You’d have to actually do something to not make it political. So for me it was traditional. There was nowhere else to go but politics.”
“Maybe not a single great story is told without political implications,” Coates added.
On comics as escapism:
Even stories about superheroes aren’t divorced from reality. Reynolds did what any good author should do write a story you would want to read, and think about how real people behave. He said that “with great power comes great responsibility” is a great concept, but he couldn’t see a teen adhering to it. “I thought about my neighborhood and one thing we never would’ve said was ‘you know if I had more power I’d be more responsible,’” he said.
Coates: “I do think there’s a kind of power fantasy…there’s a desire to believe that some sort of being with more power than us but with correct…sense of morality will come down and save us+make everything OK..”