If you aren’t familiar, allow us to introduce you to Marvel’s secret weapon.
You think the Marvel Cinematic Universe is giving us hits? Oh man. You should see what’s going down in print.
The comic book industry, at least on the side of Marvel, is going through an interesting time. The popularity for superhero stories are at an all time high, and this wave is occurring alongside great strides in the fight for gender equality and minority representation — factors which both contribute to greater demand for diverse storytelling. So, not just straight white dudes. And yet, the medium of print struggles, and critics in the form of gatekeeping edgelords insist that girls and POCs aren’t allowed in the treehouse of comic book geekdom. What gives, edgelords?
Clearly we have a long way to go until we get to a place of satisfying inclusivity, but man, we’re at a better place now than we were before. A world with a black-Latino Spider-Man and a female Thor. A world where Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing Black Panther stories. But let’s focus on one champion right now, the incomparable Sana Amanat, one of the minds behind the creation of Ms. Marvel.
As Marvel’s Director of Content & Character Development with a background in journalism under her belt, Sana knows more than most people about what makes a good story. Even in her position, her job can be very challenging. While Sana believes that she has it good nowadays since many people in the comic book industry want more women included, it still hasn’t been easy. “It’s a little bit difficult being a woman in an industry that is male-dominated,” she says. People might not take you seriously at first, they might not feel like you have the same type of connection an history in the comics world. […] There’s a little bit of ‘What are you doing here, do you deserve to be here?’”
Regardless, she’s got the credentials to back it up, but it isn’t only her background that helped create the first Muslim character to be the star of her own comic book. It was also her personal experience growing up as a young, Pakistani-American woman in America. What we get from that is the hero of a generation — Ms. Marvel, whose cultural heritage is a crucial factor in changing the comic book landscape, and whose powers include making her fists super freaking huge(which, by the way, must be super helpful with regard to punching bad guys).
As of writing this, the trailer for the MCU’s Infinity War movie is circulating and generating buzz, but Ms. Marvel doesn’t necessarily find strength in such cosmically large events. Ms. Marvel reads sort of like a coming-of-age story, like comic book YA. For Sana, Ms. Marvel isn’t just about a superhero beating up villains. It is also “simply just the story about a teen girl in high school” who has trouble at school and deals with the weirdness of boys — a story that definitely resonates with anybody in the same position. “Those are the kinds of stories that I love reading,” Sana says. “I still love young adult fiction, I’ve loved it my whole life.”
Perhaps because Ms. Marvel is a comic that is especially mindful of — and especially targeted at — young comic book readers, it might be off-putting to the old guard gatekeepers of the comic book fandom, the aforementioned edge lords who see the fight for representation as more bane than boon. But judging from Sana’s easygoing and hopeful voice over the phone through which this interview takes place, she isn’t worried. For one thing, she knows that representation and craft are not mutually exclusive things, that good storytelling happens when storytellers are more open to the kinds of lives that don’t resemble their own. Besides, Ms. Marvel is doing well in terms of readership.
“The diversity of our fanbase alone is quite incredible,” she says. “Yes we have more minorities, more Muslims, more women coming in because of who Ms. Marvel is. But I’ve met people who’ve been collecting comics for years, the regular sort of, quote unquote white male, the white comic book guy, and they love Ms. Marvel.”
As for the future of Ms. Marvel? Sana sees her role in it as editorial, optimistic, and she is convinced that one of the best things the industry can do is bring “more creators of different backgrounds,” then get people interested in the stories they create, knowing that the best stories come from environments where different points of view get to interact with each other. And though Marvel still has its own hurdles to go through (come on, C.B. Cebulski), it’s good to know we live in a world where Ms. Marvel exists, even though I can’t grasp that joy as fully as the kids her story was made for.