Marvel Voices: Pride #1 (the 2022 pride issue) came out last Wednesday. I was meaning to write a newsletter to celebrate, but I was traveling to Arizona for the American Booksellers Association gathering at the time, and then there was a ton of horrendous news. And then actual Pride happened here in San Francisco, including the Trans March. So here it is Monday already, and I'm finally doing a newsletter about this comic that came out last Wednesday!
The good news is, Marvel's pride issue should still be at your local comic book shop — it'll be on the "new releases" shelf today and tomorrow, and then on Wednesday it'll get moved to some other shelf. (Most comics shops I've visited have a display for last week's releases too.) You can ask the lovely person behind the counter to grab a copy for you, and if they sold out of their copies, they can still order it for you.
So Marvel Voices: Pride contains a TON of great stories by some of my favorite creators working today, and the last (and longest) story is the introduction of the trans superhero character I co-created: Shela Sexton, aka Escapade. Plus her dapper best friend Morgan, and their pet flying turtle, Hibbert. I already wrote a whole newsletter all about Shela, and everything you need to know about her — just check out the archives on Buttondown. Long story short: Shela is a trans girl who teams up with her best friend Morgan to rob evil jerks, using gadgets and cleverness. They call themselves supervillains, but they only want to help people and be nice to everyone, except for jerks.
Warning: Minor spoilers for this comic ahead...
Shela has a unique superpower: she can trade places with anyone. If you're holding her at gunpoint, she could be holding you at gunpoint instead. If you're the best guitar player, she could be the best guitar player instead. If you have cool sunglasses, those cool sunglasses could belong to her instead. And if you're the President of the United States, she could be the POTUS in your place. This power has some limitations: she needs to be within about six or seven feet to make the swap, and it only lasts a few hours. And the more ambitious/complicated the swap, the likelier it is to go wrong. She might try to become the POTUS, but end up just wearing the POTUS's shoes.
(I explain more about Shela's power in the issues of New Mutants I'm writing, which will be coming out this fall. Like, if she became the POTUS for a few hours, everyone would see Shela, but they would all sort of believe that a trans girl named Shela is the rightful President. Meanwhile, Joe Biden would be stuck on the sidelines, feeling somewhat confused because he knows he's the real president, but he also kind of knows that Shela is the real president. Someone with a strong enough will, or with psychic powers, could see through Shela's power if they're paying enough attention.)
Anyway, I already talked a LOT about Shela and the Pride issue in my previous newsletter, and on Twitter. I just wanted to talk about one specific aspect of the new comic this time around.
One of the many reasons I'm so proud of "Permanent Sleepover," Shela's debut story, is because this is the first time I really felt like I was taking advantage of the comics form, as a writer. I'd previously done some tiny comics for indie anthology projects, and a couple of short stories about She-Hulk, Squirrel Girl and Black Widow for Marvel anthology comics, and I'd done my best to think visually and write the script in a way that allows each panel to tell a piece of the story effectively.
(When you write a script for a TV show, you can say, "He sits down." But in a comic book, you need at least two panels to convey that action: one with the character lowering themself onto the chair or standing next to the chair, and then another with the character sitting in the chair. You can sometimes use one panel and just convey through context or body language that the character just sat down, but it's less intuitive. Also, it depends how important the action of sitting down is, and how much you want to emphasize this happening. I knew this kind of thing in my head, but it's taken a while for it to become intuitive.)
With "Permanent Sleepover," I was working very closely with Ted Brandt and Ro Stein, much more closely than I had worked with any other artists before. This was partly because they were doing the character designs, and we had some amazing conversations about how Shela and Morgan should look. But also, we just went back and forth about layouts and the best way to represent stuff that was happening. I also kept a sketchbook by my bed, and doodled a lot of very rough versions of scenes that I would like to have. I learned a lot, and it really helped me to write scripts that help an artist to convey action effectively. You're probably shaking your head at my naivete, but I'm never ashamed to have a steep learning curve.
Anyway, there's one aspect of this comic that I didn't talk about beforehand, because I was so excited for people to discover it for themselves: the newspaper strips, like the one a few paragraphs ago.
One of the big problems I had with writing "Permanent Sleepover" was the sheer amount of backstory I wanted to cram in. I had twenty pages, which sounds like a lot until you realize that you need two panels to show someone sitting down. I knew that the emotional heart of this story came from Shela's relationship with Morgan, which is the axis that everything else revolves around, and the flashbacks I wanted to include would anchor us in that relationship. I also really wanted to deal with Shela's journey to come out as a mutant and as a trans woman.
That coming out journey included something I was very keen to include: Shela comes out to her parents twice, first as a mutant and later as a trans woman. And her parents are totally able to accept her as a mutant, because after all her genes came from them, and she didn't choose to be a mutant, and they love and support her. But her parents cannot accept her as trans — they say all the stuff that you can find people saying on the internet right now. She's been brainwashed by peer pressure, it's a phase, she's sick, and so on. I wanted to include this for a couple of reasons: first, to make it clear that Shela's mutant status isn't a metaphor for her transness but rather just another aspect of her identity. And second, to show just how toxic and awful transphobia is right now.
I wrote two scenes of Shela coming out to her parents as mutant, and then as trans, and it was pretty clear this was going to take up a big chunk of my twenty pages. I tried combining them into one scene, but it didn't have as much impact and still took up a lot of space. And honestly, the more I thought about it, the more I didn't want us to have to meet Shela's parents. The important relationship in her life is with Morgan, and we needed to spend as much time with him as we could. And I felt like we could get the impact of Shela's parents rejecting her for being trans, without having to hear directly all the hateful things they say to her. So I decided we could see Shela telling Morgan about her conversations with her parents instead.
(Side note: I've done this sort of thing in my prose fiction too, and I've never regretted it. When I want to focus on one or two major relationships, it can really help to remove the clutter of scenes that service extraneous characters and non-essential relationships. In prose, you can also hear about a thing that happened via a narrator, and it can take only a couple of sentences to describe what could have been a long scene. Especially in short fiction, I try to be ruthless about which characters get speaking parts.)
Anyway, I still had the problem of too much backstory, because there were so many moments with Young Morgan and Young Shela that I wanted to include, which provided the underpinnings of their present-day story. And each of those flashback scenes was going to have to be at least one page, out of the twenty that I had to work with. So we came up with a solution that actually uses the format of comics, and the versatility of comics art, to tell the story. We created "Young Shela and Morgan" newspaper strips, featuring important moments in the relationship between these two characters. I love the way these strips stand out and "pop" in the midst of all the superhero action, and they pack a huge emotional punch relative to the small amount of space they take up. A story that might have taken up a page of comics could be boiled down to three panels (or six, in some cases) with dialogue that cuts right to the heart of the matter.
And once again, here's where it helps to work with incredible artists — because Ted, Ro and Tamra made these newspaper strips so expressive and lively and beautiful, I was just blown away. Every time I look at some of these strips, I get a bit verklempt. They convey a lot of information, but they also make you understand how important the bond between Morgan and Shela really is.
I'm just going to mention one more time that Marvel Voices: Pride #1 is OUT NOW and you can pick it up wherever you buy comics. If they sold out, they can order more copies. I can't wait for you to read "Permanent Sleepover," and all the other stories in there are lovely as well.
Also, I have published a TON of books lately! There's my YA trilogy: Victories Greater Than Death is out in paperback now, and the sequel, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, is out in hardcover. Victories just won a Locus Award over the weekend! Also, I have a short story collection called Even Greater Mistakes, which ranges from very silly comedy to dark intensity — and it also just won a Locus Award over the weekend! Finally, I have book of advice on writing yourself out of hard, scary times called Never Say You Can't Survive: How to Get Through Hard Times By Making Up Stories.
On Weds at noon PT, I'm taking part in a virtual panel on "Queer Optimism" organized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, featuring Chelsea Manning, Kochina Rude, Tracee McDaniel and others. Just search for "EFF at Home: Queer Optimism" and you'll find it.
On Sunday at 11 AM PT, I'm co-hosting the Trans Nerd Meetup at an outdoor location TBA in San Francisco. Google "trans nerd meetup july" and it should pop right up.
On Saturday July 9 at 7:30 PT, I'm hosting another Writers With Drinks, featuring Amy Schneider, Nina LaCour, Elsa Sjunneson, Claire Light/Jadie Jang and Jordan Ellenberg. It's $5 to $20 sliding scale at the Make Out Room on 22nd St.
Here are some book covers!