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If you don't know Roxane Gay, get educated. The powerhouse writer has penned outstanding cultural criticism for places like the New York Times and Vulture, heartwrenching personal Tumblr posts, and several critically acclaimed books, including An Untamed State and Bad Feminist. Her writing is profoundly explorative, looking at issues of race and gender, and positively heart-stopping with exquisite turns of phrase and deep empathy.
Thankfully, Gay is taking her exceptional skills to the world of comic books with Black Panther: World of Wakanda, a spin-off of Ta-Nehisi Coates' Black Panther that explores the backstory of the Dora Milaje, the Black Panther's female bodyguards. Her story primarily focuses on Ayo and Aneka, two of the Dora Milaje who have previously been in Coates' Black Panther. More specifically, Gay explores Ayo and Aneka's budding romance, complete with mad sexual tension as the pair figure out their roles in fighting for Wakanda while falling for each other. Gay's work promises to inject even more diversity into the Marvel world and also explore a queer relationship between two women of color. Long live Roxane Gay's comic book writing career!
We got the chance to ask Gay a couple questions via email about where World of Wakanda might go, working in comics for the first time, and the pressure of being the first black woman as a lead writer for Marvel.
Were you a fan of Coates' new Black Panther run? And was the decision to focus specifically on Ayo and Aneka something you specifically suggested?
I love what Coates has done with his run of Black Panther. It is so intelligent and graceful and passionate. I am in awe of what he is doing. And the decision to focus on Ayo and Aneka came from Ta-Nehisi and Marvel, and I was thrilled by it.
How difficult was it moving into the world of comics? Was there anything specific that inspired you while writing this?
The biggest challenge was working with the Marvel Universe continuity. Because I am new to comics, there is so much I don't know, but I am learning. That said, storytelling is storytelling, so I haven't found the transition difficult. I've been inspired by all kinds of things—Ta-Nehisi's Black Panther is one hell of an inspiration. I've also thought a lot about Olivia Pope in Scandal and how capable, a little bit scary and a lot powerful she is, as well as La Femme Nikita, the USA [Network] version.
Were you a fan of comics before working on the new series?
I am a new fan to comics but growing up, I loved Archie Comics. Since taking this on, I've really gotten into Saga and I'm just getting into Sex Criminals and Monstress. My friend Pamela Ribon has a comic coming out soon too, called Slam! I cannot wait for that.
There's a lot of intersection with the Marvel Universe, especially with the latter half taking place during the recent Avengers vs. X-Men event, as well as being a prologue to the events we'd seen in Black Panther #1. What's it like being able to work within the Marvel canon?
Marvel has given me a lot of free reign to tell my story but when it comes to continuity they are, understandably, much tighter in the control they wield. And I'm grateful for it. You don't want to create a story that doesn't work with what has come before and what will come after.
Is it intimidating to be the first black woman to be a lead writer for Marvel?
Intimidating isn't the word that comes to mind. I know how to write. But I do feel a lot of pressure. All too often, black creators aren't allowed to make mistakes. We aren't allowed to fail. If we do, we're not only the first, we're the last. That keeps me up at night.
I was so excited to see that this is going to explore the love story between Aneka and Ayo. Judging from your tweet, are you expecting backlash from this storyline?
I'm sure there will be backlash from small-minded, homophobic cretins. I encourage them to bring it on. That kind of bigotry is pathetic.
Are you thinking ahead regarding future comic book work after World of Wakanda?
I certainly hope this isn't the last comic book I write, so yes.
Is there anything you can say about your other two upcoming projects, Hunger and Difficult Women?
Difficult Women, a short story collection, is out on Jan. 3 and Hunger, a memoir of my body, obesity, and trauma, should be out in June 2017. I'm proud of both books.
What do you hope that readers gain from your story arc in the series?
I hope they enjoy Ayo and Aneka's love story, as well as their journey to being true to themselves and Wakanda.