Mariko Tamaki And Joëlle Jones On Writing A Teenage Superhero — Alien Zits And All
We all remember what it was like to be sixteen: high school, pimples, hanging with your friends, having the ability to crush diamonds with your bare hands... it's a complicated time, especially when you're trying to balance all that teen drama with otherworldly superpowers. The new mini-series from DC Comics, Supergirl: Being Super, is a coming-of-age story for our favorite Girl of Steel, with plenty of heart and adolescent irony. Writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Joëlle Jones tell Bustle all about the process of bringing Supergirl to life — alien zits and all.
Caledcott Honor and Eisner Award winning author Mariko Tamaki is best known for her critically acclaimed graphic novels, including Skim, Emiko Superstar, and This One Summer. Eisner Award nominated artist Joëlle Jones has provided the art for many comic books, including Superman: American Alien, and she's the writer and artist behind the much loved series Lady Killer. Tamaki and Jones are joined by inker Sandu Florea, colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick, and letterer Saida Temofonte, to round out an all-star team of comics greats.
All together, they're a force to be reckoned with in this brand-new take on the Supergirl story. Tamaki and Jones shared a few thoughts on Supergirl's legacy, and what it was like tackling her teenage years:
Supergirl may not be quite as famous as her cousin Clark, but she's a well-known and widely-loved hero in her own right, too. How do you reinvent a character with so much history?
Probably the first thing you notice after picking up Supergirl: Being Super is that Kara Danvers feels like a real teenager. You can easily jump into the story with no background on superheroes and still be immediately invested in the characters. From the art to the dialogue, Kara and her friends are definitely a group of girls you'd love to ironically watch bad movies with.
But when Kara flips into saving-the-day mode, she is just as heroic as any other incarnation of Supergirl.
"I think you have to factor the history of the character in so much, as there are some boundaries as to what you can do with a character based on their history," says Tamaki. "That said, for me, one of the interesting things about reading superhero comics is seeing these characters reinvented and reinterpreted over time. I’m a huge fan, for example, of what Gene Yang is doing with New Super-Man right now. I’m also a big fan of G. Willow Wilson, and the list goes on. I think there are a lot of amazing people writing both comics and superhero comics right now and I find their works a great motivator."
"I wanted to stay true to the Supergirl books Jim Mooney did in the 60’s," says Jones. "They have such a sense of play and fun and I wanted to use that as a jumping off point for my part of the storytelling. Mariko’s script has all of it, but balances it out nicely with the complications of a teen’s life."
The first chapter of Supergirl: Being Super follows Kara on her sixteenth birthday: studying with friends, being embarrassed by her parents, and wondering where she came from before she was found in that strange alien pod in a corn field. She just wants to figure out her history paper and do well in the big school track meet... but she seems to be suddenly losing control of her secret powers.
It's not easy, to write characters that feel so uniquely real, and yet fit into the larger world of DC heroes. "In terms of my process, I spent a lot of time prepping for this story, getting acquainted with all the particulars of the DC Universe as it applied to Kara," says Tamaki. "Part of that involved having a lot of long and somewhat strange conversations with my editors. Mostly though, it was just really fun to write a superhero story. Superheroes are awesome."
Both Tamaki and Jones grew up with superheroes. "I grew up reading The Punisher and X-Men," says Jones.
"I was a huge fan of Wonder Woman," says Tamaki. "Big surprise, right?"
That genuine love of the superhero genre shines through in Supergirl. The first chapter is mostly Kara's day-to-day life as her powers grow increasingly erratic, but there is a beautifully balanced sense of reality and wonder in those pages, even without any conniving super-villains or explosive fight scenes.
Clearly, Jones and Tamaki complement each other's storytelling.
"Joelle and I work separately," says Tamaki, "Sometimes she sends me an image of what she’s working on and I get all giddy. Mostly though, I send the scripts in and then just do a little dance waiting to see what she’s going to do with it. So far, pretty incredible stuff."
"Working with Mariko was very collaborative" adds Jones. "I would get the script, which is very open and isn’t broken into panels. I got to feel very much a part of the storytelling process."
Above all, Supergirl: Being Super is fun. The sarcastic characters, the teenage angst, the gorgeous flying scenes—it's clear that a lot of passion went into this book.
"I’ve really enjoyed writing this story," says Tamaki, "I can’t say why in particular. I love the characters and I love the friendships in this story. I think it hits on a lot of themes around adolescence that I just really dig working on. I love getting to write about people flying, that's pretty cool."
"I loved all the great characters!" says Jones. "Not just Kara but all the people that make up her small town. I really enjoyed that!"
Whether you're a longtime Supergirl fan or someone completely new to comics, Supergirl: Being Super will take you back to all the awkwardness and fun of being a sixteen-year-old alien. It's a perfect read for anyone who's ever wished for the ability to fly, or just really, really wanted to see someone pop a huge alien zit.
Images: DC Entertainment