Fangirling over Eve L. Ewing is a new pastime if you’re an African-American female writing in Chicago. Ewing is an academic, a social media maven, a poet, a playwright. Now, she’s adding Marvel writer to her resume. Yes, Ewing is penning the upcoming Marvel series “Ironheart.”
For novices unfamiliar with the heroine, the title centers on Riri Williams, a black teen girl from Chicago who is a genius. She, like many superheroes, experienced a loss in her life when she was very young (her stepfather who had raised her and her best friend were both killed in a drive-by shooting), and she’s trying to cope.
Riri’s intellect is so incredible that she is able to re-create the Iron Man suit on her own, without all the resources of a Tony Stark (aka Iron Man). Stark mentors her and for a brief time she actually takes over as Iron Man and wears the suit. Riri eventually strikes out on her own in her own suit.
“Periodically I have to sit back and go, ‘Omigosh, I’m a Marvel writer’ — there’s nothing more implausible and more amazing that’s ever happened to me,” Ewing adds. “When you’re a writer, oftentimes you’re grinding away and there’s a short list where you can tell your mom, grandma or your brother and they fully understand what it is. But this is something where everybody gets it; everybody understands the pop culture resonance with Marvel – what it means and what it stands for, so it’s really exciting.”
In a world where goddesses are us, Afrofuturism is now , national youth poet laureates are making their mark, and sisters are gracing the September covers of many a fashion magazine this year, Ewing joining Marvel’s ranks is the jewel in the crown that is Chicago’s literary powerhouse. Along with Nnedi Okorafor, who is writing a new comic book series on Princess Shuri from “Black Panther” in October, Chicago is on the Marvel map.
“Chicagoans, we do it big, especially black women from Chicago,” Ewing said. “We do it real big.”
Ewing was touring for her poetry book “Electric Arches” in late 2017 when she saw an email from Marvel in her inbox. Titled: “Marvel calling,” she said she almost fell out of her chair. Asked about her reaction when Marvel welcomed her into the fold, she said, “It’s been like a recurring sense of wild emotions.”
It’s exciting for fans of Ewing, too. A campaign to bring her into the Marvel comics family began in 2017. Her fans started a petition to gather signatures to let Marvel know they wanted her to guide Riri’s path. The movement picked up steam on Twitter, where she has 165,000 followers. Ewing had the writing chops, she had the passion for pop culture, so make it happen, was the cry.
We talked to Ewing before her “Ironheart” news broke, in hopes of getting the scoop on what black girl magic she will weave into Riri Williams. The first issue will be on sale in November, according to Marvel. The interview has been condensed and edited.
… on Riri’s Chicago ties:
“She was born and raised in Chicago, but because she’s a superhero, her adventures take her all over the place. She also had a lab at MIT, that’s also kind of her headquarters. Her mom still lives in Chicago. I decided specifically that she’s from South Shore.
Previous writers put in so much, in terms of beginning her autobiographical details, but as a Chicagoan, I want to get down and dirty — like where did Riri go to high school? What bus does she take? Does she eat hot chips? These are the things that are really going to make her a full three-dimensional person. I’m really excited about putting in some of those little Chicago details.” (As far as where she went to high school, Ewing has decided she attended King College Prep.)
… on attending Wakandacon with her “Ironheart” news under her belt:
“You know how hard it was for me to be at Wakandacon and not tell people my news? I wanted to walk up to strangers and shake them and be like: ‘I’m writing a comic book for Marvel — just random people that I saw. It was so hard. Never have I been so tempted to break a secret and be like: Guess what? I have something amazing to tell you!’ But I couldn’t do that.”
… on how much the 2017 online campaign had to do with Marvel’s decision:
“When the campaign was launched, it was really humbling and really inspiring for me, because it made me realize how much it would mean to so many people to have me take on the story, but it also made me realize how upsetting and angering it is for a lot of people to think about black women and people of color more broadly moving into this space — that was eye-opening.
I’m really grateful for the support that people have shown me, but I also had to kind of step up to the plate as a writer and prove myself. The campaign was for me to work on ‘Invincible Iron Man,’ but when Marvel said we’re actually thinking about doing a solo title for Riri, that was like ‘Omigosh, this is the coolest thing ever.’ It’s really special, because this is a character that has some groundwork laid already but is still very new in terms of her role in the Marvel universe; it’s almost like getting into business on the ground floor. I get to play a role in really shaping who she is and who she’s going to become.”
… on the issues, storylines she wants to highlight for Riri:
“People don’t just gravitate toward Hulk or Captain America or Spider-Man because of their powers, the reason they say so-and-so is my favorite superhero is because of who they are as people and about what they stand for. So I think the really exciting thing is really building out Riri, not as just Ironheart, but who is she as a person?
Specifically, what does it mean to be a teenage black girl from Chicago? Somebody who has lost family members to gun violence, somebody who understands the realities of the community is going to bring something very different to questions about justice and who the good guy is and who the bad guy is and what you do about that.
She’s also a teenage genius and because of that, she skipped over a lot of social things — she went to high school when she was very young, she’s already in MIT, so Riri is not really great with her peers, she doesn’t really have any friends. Being a genius and knowing how to fix stuff and build amazing gadgets doesn’t necessarily make you a happy person. So how do you figure out how to use the power that’s available to you and how to connect with and be accountable to the people around you?”
… on her heroes when it comes to comic artists and writers:
“In terms of actual comics, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman — those kinds of people are big influencers on the kinds of storytelling that I want to do. Maybe this is too wonky of an answer, but one of the biggest things that has been exciting to me as a writer, in superhero comics, bigger is better.
Go big, or go home. One of the most exciting things for me has been really pushing, pushing and pushing in a fight scene or when you’re thinking about a villain like just trying to ratchet the stakes up higher and higher — that’s something that in other forms of writing that I do, subtlety and those kinds of careful, quiet moments are something that I’ve gotten good at, but it’s now fun for me to be like, ‘No, now this huge, giant, crazy thing happened’ and mix that with the quiet moments of everyday life that make something feel realistic and moving.”
… on whether she’s intimidated now that she’s on Marvel’s roster:
“I’m absolutely intimidated. I think it’s definitely something where I feel the stakes. But I think the thing that has encouraged me is we have a really amazing artist who’s on board for the project — his name is Kevin Libranda, and his art is really incredible and really spirited. When I complete a script and see how he’s brought what I wrote to life, it reminds me that this character is fictional but she means a lot to a lot of people, including me. So I just try to focus on that and not be too intimidated. I definitely feel like I have to remind myself that it’s OK to not be perfect, and I’m often my own hardest critic.
I think that whenever you’re a black woman doing something, people are paying a little bit more attention and that’s a blessing and a curse, so I have to remember to keep it fun, and keep having a good time and keep exploring and stretching as a writer. That’s the thing about being a writer — my philosophy is, my job is to lay the groundwork for these stories, but a reader gives them meaning. A reader decides how a story is going to live in the world, and so I absolutely hope to meet some old Marvel fans and some new converts who might jump on board because they’re excited about this character. I’m definitely looking forward to that.”
… on one thing that you hope to add to the Marvel lexicon to show that Eve Ewing was here?
“There are heroes all around us, and anybody can be one. I love Shuri (from “Black Panther”), but I think it’s also exciting to have an ‘around the way girl superhero.’ Shuri’s a princess; Riri takes the No. 4 Cottage Grove bus to get places. I want people to feel there are superheroes all around us.”
Source: Chicago Tribune