Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality
She’s the greatest adventurer in this, or any other galaxy, the kind of old-fashioned, classic science-fiction heroine that can successfully defeat The Time Raiders of Xaxium, brave the wonders of The Glass Planet, survive The Perils of Yor, and battle The Infinity Class to a veritable standstill! All while facing the one enemy that perhaps even she cannot defeat, a microscopic poison rushing through her veins, courtesy of her greatest adversary, Cyrus Vega. With only one year left to live, Miranda Mercury will have her morality tested and values shaken to see her life’s mission completed…
Archaia Comics‘s The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury: Time Runs Out was first published in August 2011 to critical acclaim. The book, written by Brandon Thomas and illustrated by Lee Ferguson, is fantastically plotted, beautifully drawn, and features a pulpy science hero who happens to also be a woman of color. The book was nominated for four Glyph Awards, made the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)’s 25 Great Graphic Novels for Teens List, and was on the Library Journal’s list of 25 Graphic Novels for Black History Month. A 33-page preview of the book is available online at Scribd!
Graphic novelist Brandon Thomas has written comic books for several publishers, including Marvel, DC Comics, Arcade, and Dynamite. He is currently writing Voltron for Dynamite Entertainment. The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury is his first creator-owned project. At his blog The Fiction House, he chronicles his experiences in the comic book industry and his love of writing and music. His decade-running column, Ambidextrous, which has run on SilverBulletComicBooks and Newsarama, includes 300 articles chronicling his experiences breaking into the field and his thoughts about diversifying the industry. Mr. Thomas was also a panelist at our multidisciplinary writers panel at ComicCon 2012, Creating Spaces for Diverse Characters and Representations, and this year at ComicCon 2013, he will be a panelist on our Sunday (July 14th) panel, Shattering Convention in Comic Book Storytelling!
Racebending.com interviewed Brandon Thomas about Miranda Mercury and his experience developing creator-owned comics!
RACEBENDING.COM: What was the inspiration behind Miranda Mercury (both the character and the book?)
BRANDON THOMAS: The character isn’t really based on any particular woman, but probably more an idea of women, and how they are and aren’t normally portrayed in modern comics. There are certainly some shining examples spread all over the medium, but I don’t think many would argue that we’re all doing our best in this regard as an industry.
So it was very important that Miranda Mercury not exist as the female version of another well-established character, but a complex, nuanced character in her own right that isn’t destined to become the victim in her own story. Attitude-wise, she’s probably based on all of the strong women I’ve known in my life—wife, mother, grandmother, cousin, etc.
“It was very important that Miranda Mercury not exist as the female version of another well-established character, but a complex, nuanced character in her own right that isn’t destined to become the victim in her own story.”
Far as the book and the actual stories in it, there’s a lot of the original Star Wars trilogy in there, and more than a decent helping of Saturday morning cartoons. Being obsessed with those two things as a kid is ultimately what got me on the path of wanting to be a writer in the first place, so when you combine all that with my love of comics–which came a little later– you get the initial kernel of the idea of Miranda Mercury. It’s designed to really be a very public love letter to the things that made us want to create in the first place, and really tap into those all-consuming feelings of excitement and anticipation that grabbed us by the throat as kids and still haven’t quite let us go.
RACEBENDING.COM: Miranda Mercury is unique from other superheroes in that she is a woman of color and explicitly a “science” hero. How far into development did you determine that these aspects would be a part of her character and identity?
BRANDON THOMAS: That was always the plan for Miranda, and I never thought to simply make her a superhero, because I wanted to preserve some level of real vulnerability for the character. There are superheroes in her world, (Jack [Miranda’s sidekick] went out with one for a long while) but I wanted her to be the product of intense training, discipline, and intelligence. Which makes her more than a match for most superheroes that cross her path. But the humanity and the flaws within her are what makes her fun to write, and it seems that it’d be a little harder to get there if she had powers.
Plus, the series had to have ray guns and jetpacks, which are things most decent superheroes don’t require!
Seriously though, her being black and coming from a long line of black adventurers, heroes, and inventors is very intentional, and something of a repudiation of the lack of minority characters throughout a great majority of science fiction and even comics. When it seems that most times black people aren’t even allowed in space, when it comes to Miranda Mercury—well, black people pretty much run space and have achieved a degree of widespread respect and adoration from most of the universe they operate in.
“[Miranda] being black and coming from a long line of black adventurers, heroes, and inventors is very intentional, and something of a repudiation of the lack of minority characters throughout a great majority of science fiction and even comics.”
RACEBENDING.COM: Indie comics can be heartbreaking to create, publish, and promote. What challenges did you have to face when creating Miranda Mercury, and how did you overcome them to create such a polished product?
BRANDON THOMAS: Oh wow, it was an adventure, that’s for sure. First thing I think was that our publisher, Archaia, stopped putting out comics shortly before our second issue was scheduled to release. That hiatus led to some team members having to take a step back from the project, which led to finding other options: one of them proving to be someone who simply pretended for 3-4 weeks to be working on the book when they were in fact not. That was certainly interesting and unexpected. Add in everyone moving to/from new houses/apartments, some unfortunate deaths in the family, the discovery of Chinese drywall in a creator’s home that was making him and his family sick with strange, persistent headaches, nosebleeds, and respiratory infections, and what you end up with is a book with a lot of life in it.
I can just go through it and tell you exactly what was going on with every one of us in the background, and it’s kinda cool that the first volume is like this little time capsule of our lives and careers over a period of years. The benefit of all this was that being forced to take a little more time with everything ultimately made for a better book. I thought I was ready to write all of this when the book first debuted in ’08, but in hindsight I really wasn’t, and the extended production schedule allowed everyone to go off on their own, learn more and get better at their respective crafts, which was then brought back to Miranda Mercury.
Now all that said, I don’t want to make it sound like this stuff is atypical, it’s really not–name almost any creator-owned project that exists and you’ll get stories very similar to ours. Like you said, it’s just a major challenge, and after finishing Miranda, I had such a better understanding of what goes into producing some of my favorite creator-owned projects, and a deeper appreciation for that journey. A long road to be sure, but always well worth it in the end.
RACEBENDING.COM: You’ve written for big properties like Robin, The Fantastic Four, and Spider-man, based on characters created by others. What is it like writing for your own creation, Miranda Mercury? How is it different than writing for an established franchise?
BRANDON THOMAS: Well, both opportunities are great ones with their own sets of pros and cons, but writing a character that you didn’t create is like being the QB of the big team. You’re (if you’re lucky) driving the book creatively in a direction that’s been discussed with and approved by editors and other decision-makers, who are the ones that go out and assemble the rest of the team necessary to execute things. They also make sure everyone is paid, which is a very necessary element, and that the trains run on time, problems are solved (and there’s always something), and that everyone has an opportunity to do a great job. That’s shorthand of course, but that’s about how it is.
Creator-owned work means that you as the writer are responsible not only for the scripts, but everything else that must happen to create a full-fledged comic, in essence serving as QB, Head Coach, GM, and Owner, all at the same time. And every role is just as vital and important as the actual writing, which is something that will slap you in the face before too long. While it’s a lot of work producing your own work, at the end of the day, it’s your own work and there will always be something special about that. Being the last word on everything is intoxicating in a lot of ways, and having the capacity to do it will help in sustaining a career that’s always under pressure from a host of external, sometimes uncontrollable factors.
RACEBENDING.COM: Volume One of Miranda Mercury directly addresses the racism that James Mercury, Miranda’s grandfather, experienced while living in segregated America. How did you decide to incorporate this history into the Mercury family story line, and was it difficult to write?
BRANDON THOMAS: Well, I wanted that to be a really significant element on how she viewed the universe, but like many people living in a much more tolerant landscape, an outrage that was passed down and internalized by people she loved who actually did experience it. And like a lot of people, even a few generations removed, the realization that some of these same prejudices and feelings still exist (far more often than we’d like) is something that gives her an anger and rage that she’ll always struggle to control. You saw this in her response to the selective evacuations of The Glass Planet in issue #296, and though it’s not something that’s going to be referenced a ton over the life of the book, it’s there and a critical part of her character and history.
The most difficult part I’d say was looking up reference for Lee [Ferguson, the book’s artist]—seeing photos of “colored” signs on bathrooms and water fountains gives the whole thing a certain kind of permanence that talking about it simply doesn’t.
RACEBENDING.COM: Although there are several creators of color and characters of color in comics, the industry is still mostly dominated by white men. What advice would you give creators of color interested in breaking into the field?
BRANDON THOMAS: Create your own comics and your own characters–then create some more–and some more after that. One of my personal regrets is that I devoted so much time and energy trying to make it into comics through the most difficult avenues possible, and though I’ve had some success at it, having the option of dictating your own fate is always going to be incredibly important in building a career as a storyteller. And that’s really what everyone is after in the end…the ability to tell stories that people are interested enough in to keep you at least marginally employed.
I am extremely proud of Miranda Mercury, but she is only one of the many concepts and characters I have taking up space in a series of those black and white composition books. I’d encourage writers to embrace the fact that it’s about more than just the writing. You also have to be an editor, publisher, talent scout, marketing person, etc. along the way. The sooner you can accept this and adapt, the more successful (and abbreviated) your journey will be. I had problems with that part of it myself, and when I started trying to force my way into comics, I approached things almost solely from the perspective of a “writer,” but it’s not nearly as simple as that. The more things you know and intimately understand about how the industry really works, and what it takes to actually get something made and out into the world, the better off you’ll be.
But the internet and digital comics have made it even easier and more economical to publish your own work and bring eyeballs to it. Focus most of your attention on that and everything else will take care of itself with the right mix of talent, patience, and overwhelming stubbornness.
“Embrace the fact that it’s about more than just the writing. You also have to be an editor, publisher, talent scout, marketing person, etc. along the way. The sooner you can accept this and adapt, the more successful (and abbreviated) your journey will be.”
RACEBENDING.COM: What can fans to do support diversity in comics and books like Miranda Mercury?
BRANDON THOMAS: Hah, you must’ve caught me on the right day, and please forgive the mini-rant here, but to put it very simply—you have to BUY IT. Buy it today, and tomorrow tell someone else you know whose tastes and sensibilities you know and understand that they should buy it too. Don’t put it on your Amazon wish list as something to buy after you’ve bought all those other books on the list you clearly want to buy more—buy it today. Right now.
Cause here’s the truth of it—people like to talk a good game and co-sign all of these articles that sprout up every February, bemoaning the lack of black and diverse voice in comics, while attacking the offending companies with red hot pokers of indignation, ignoring the fact that it’s not just the companies putting out the books. It’s all of it, which includes the fans and commentators that are saying all the right things in public, but in private, are just as much of the problem as anyone. All some people are doing is talking about the books instead of buying the books, and there could be any number of reasonable explanations for that, admittedly, but I know for a fact that the numbers of people appearing “concerned” about this whole thing far outnumbers the additional sales of any books that might benefit from this sentiment.
“All some people are doing is talking about the books instead of buying the books, and there could be any number of reasonable explanations for that, admittedly, but I know for a fact that the numbers of people appearing “concerned” about this whole thing far outnumbers the additional sales of any books that might benefit from this sentiment…Talking about it is one (very important) thing, but to really effect changes in the proliferation of both minority creators and characters throughout the industry, we have to identify and then buy the professional quality work being put out.”
Answering this question actually turned into an entire column on the subject, which is posted over at my personal blog–but that’s the magic bullet right there. Talking about it is one (very important) thing, but to really effect changes in the proliferation of both minority creators and characters throughout the industry, we have to identify and then buy the professional quality work being put out. And it is out there if you’re willing to do a little extra legwork and look. Hopefully in the next couple months, finding it will become less difficult, and I have some very specific ideas on how to help things along in that regard. So stay tuned for that, and thanks for listening.
Miranda Mercury Will Return in 2013….
For more information on Miranda Mercury, please visit http://mirandamercury.com/ and Archaia Publishing.
A preview of the graphic novel is available at at Scribd and the entire comic is available for purchase at Amazon and other comic book retailers (call your local comic book store and place an order to support local small business, small press, creator-owned comics, and diverse leads all at once!)
Racebending.com would like to thank Brandon Thomas for this interview.