Reporter's Notebook

Conceptualizing the Black Panther
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Here’s all the blogging from Ta-Nehisi on his “Black Panther” series from Marvel, which produced this slick preview:

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The Mighty and Adored

Ladies and gentlemen, Brian Stelfreeze…

When I took on Black Panther last year, one Wakandan institution that really interested me was the Dora Milajae—the all-female troop of bodyguards to the King and potential wives. My misgivings about them and their portrayal are a matter of record. But you can’t just walk into a comic book and disregard everything you have misgivings about without really violating the soul of the book itself. You can however look at those things from another perspective.

What we really tried to do is depict the Dora Milajae—as much as possible—from their own perspective, and not from T’Challa’s. When writing and drawing them, we tried not to think so much about what T’Challa sees—or what the average male comic fan wants to see—but to imagine what the characters, themselves, would see. We really wanted them to have their own interior lives and motives, independent of T’Challa.

Costuming is so important in comics and while Brian hit early on with a cool Midnight Angel costume, we didn’t really think as much about the broader order of the Dora Milajae. But last week Brian sent in a fantastic cover sketch that forced us to start thinking harder about it. Basically the cover featured the Doras in their old school uniforms and we both wanted something that better reflected their own self-regard, their own form and function as warriors. I had no idea what this might look like. I sent some vague notes about “something that mirrors the Midnight Angels—but maybe lighter.” I wanted to be as if the Midnight Angels are wearing plate-mail, I imagine the Doras in some sort of chain-mail. If the Midnight Angels were paladins, then the Doras were our rangers.

The image above—which I think is just incredible—is Brian’s breathtaking response. There are all sorts of opportunities for weaponry and defense in these suits that we will be employing. I have to say that working with both Brian and Black Panter’s colorist, Laura Martin, has just been incredible. It’s never been the case for me, as a storyteller, that I had two people who could take a notion I had in my head, run with it, remix it, clarify it, color it and then make it their own.

It’s an amazing thing to be a part of.

Marvel

(Editor’s note: These questions from Atlantic readers—in bold—and replies from Ta-Nehisi were compiled from an “Ask Me Anything” he did with the TAD group on 1/12.)

As someone who’s largely a DC [Comics] reader, Black Panther is effectively my first real introduction to the character. What immediately jumped out at me was the dialogue. It feels a bit different from most comic books (in a good way!), and I look forward to seeing what happens in it down the road. Is there any other comic book you’d love to write? Or do you think Black Panther might be it for you?

I expect to be on Black Panther, or BP-related things, for a while.

How would you like to see the Black Panther series (and world) grow and change? Any inclusion of other, missing characters? What would they be?

Want it to get bigger. Much, much bigger.

When discussing writing Black Panther, you’ve talked about the need to disregard fan opinion on some level to work toward the goal of creating work that will hold up five or 10 years from now. As the stories you’re writing have progressed, has the fan reception of your work changed that outlook for you or confirmed it?

Still believe it. I don’t want artists making work that they think I want to see. I want them to pull from their heart, and if I love it, I love it. If I don’t, oh well.

Where does feminism intersect with your work? Does it at all?

Right now, it’s most prominently in my comic books. I don’t want to blow the story, but basically one of the main threads is a revolution launched against the main character. The facts of sexual plunder, a society ignoring that plunder, and the fact of resistance to it, basically runs through every issue.

And that is how it’s manifest in its least subtle ways. I think in a lot of other ways, it’s much more subtle, but there. Snuck in an Audre Lorde citation in the last issue.

I don’t expect everyone to read comic books, so if folks aren’t seeing this, it’s cool. But it is there. Here’s a good summary of the early stuff and the most obvious aspects of it.

Any specific female writers that you’re engaging with right now? (I so vividly remember the days you were reading Southern Confederate female writers.) Who are the female voices that, I dunno, really speak to you and influence the work you’re doing on the comics? I know that Roxane Gay was tapped to work on the prequels.