I had a chance to talk with Matthew Scott Kirkham of The Bard’s Gambit podcast about The Unstoppable Wasp.
He also did a write up for Medium about the comic back in February.
Whitley’s work in this first run does more to humanize a character than any other comic I’ve ever read. In this run, Nadia is established with clear, reachable goals (claim citizenship, save friend, find smart women), she’s given a personal role model (Mockingbird/Bobbi Morse), she and Janet organically fall into their surrogate mother/daughter roles, she’s given a close-knit group of friends (a diverse and colorful group of friends at that), and most importantly, clear and apparent weaknesses. Nadia may be intelligent and powerful, but she can’t solve everything on her own, and every aspect of the comic reinforces this idea as a very clear theme. She can’t claim citizenship without Janet, she can’t save her friend Ying without the help of the intelligent women she’s come across throughout the story, and she couldn’t have found those women without help from Jarvis (the avenger’s butler, also strongly characterized in this series).Kirkham, Matthew S. “Let’s Talk About Nadia Van Dyne”, Medium.com. 27 July 2019.
You can read the article “Let’s Talk About Nadia Van Dyne” in its entirety over at Medium. You can also read “Let’s Talk About Priya Aggarwal”. This article dives into Priya’s role in Unstoppable Wasp #5.
This letter comes from the final page of The Unstoppable Wasp #10.
I love that I have a job where I get to tell stories. It’s the job I’ve wanted since I was five and I haven’t gotten tired of it. Sometimes there are roadblocks and sometimes there are stories that you just have to finish, even though you may not feel enthusiastic about them. That’s what makes it a job and not a hobby. And as you do it more, you start to realize that not every story has the luxury of being “important.” Some stories are fun. Some stories are puzzles and once they’re solved there’s little novelty to them. Some stories are just gigs.
But as I write this, we are putting the finishing touches on Volume 2 of the UNSTOPPABLE WASP and while I feel a sense of loss that Nadia won’t be in my life ever day, the thing I feel the most is profoundly thankful. I’m thankful to Marvel Comics, to C. B. Cebulski, to Tom Brevoort, to Guirihiru, to Alti Firmansyah, to Joe Caramagna, to Espen Grundetjern, to Mark Waid, to all of my consultants, all of my Agents of G.I.R.L (both in the book and on Twitter) and most of all, I’m thankful to Alanna Smith. Alanna has been my editor for both volumes of UNSTOPPABLE WASP and she’s just as much a part of this as Nadia, Janet and I. It has been her guidance that helped me turn this from a well-intentioned story to a truly well-told story.
“Nadia,” the name, means “hope.” That has been the driving force of this book from Day 1. From the Pakistani pastry shop and the immigration office to G.I.R.L. Expo and Shay’s hospital room, it has been the one constant. Nadia spreads hope to young girls, to female scientists, to friends and strangers and sometimes enemies. That’s what makes her special.
Telling a story where Nadia had to face her own mental illness and, for a time, lost sight of hope was a difficult and sometimes exhausting task. After I finished issue #5 of this series, I couldn’t write for two weeks. I kept convincing myself that I had done something terrible and I kept going back over the pages. I consulted with people who both treat and deal with mental illness every day. I talked to other writers. I talked to Alanna. I panicked. Maybe that story got better for my anxiety. I don’t really know. But I know something else for sure.
I got to write an important story here. I got to tell a story that incorporated issues with mental health, sexuality, gender expression, found family, race, ethnicity, culture and science. And the response I got from people both in person and online will never leave me. There has been some crying on both ends, and…the idea that thanks to these ten issues of comic books, I know for a fact that readers have both recognized themselves in Nadia and gone to therapy and at least one friend and reader has come out publicly about sexuality are the sorts of things that can’t be canceled. We’ve done something good here and, hopefully, along with Nadia, we’ve spread some hope. Thank you for being here and reading this, whether you’ve been with us from issue #1 or this is your first issue.
In the long scope of things, everything is a limited series. But hope…hope is ongoing. Share your love for the book and maybe we’ll get to come back to tell more stories. Alanna and Gurihiru and I will all have more books. In fact, I’m already writing FUTURE FOUNDATION as we speak. But in the meantime, please share these stories. Please share hope.
In this interview with Comicosity we discussed the challenge, and necessity, of writing about characters with diverse identities.
But how do you prepare yourself to build this kind of representation and give it an accurate and empowering face? We talk about how creators manage all kinds of representations, and Whitley himself has a lot of experience working across identities not his own in his Princeless and Raven the Pirate Princess titles. Racial boundaries and different sexualities are crossed in both titles, and there’s a lot of work to making that feel authentic.
Likewise, there’s a lot of work that goes into ensuring that mental illness is represented without bias and negative stereotype. How can a writer get ready to handle that? It’s a big barrier for a lot of creators: acquiring enough knowledge to tell a story well, past the usual, ‘well, I have this one friend…’
“You start by being far enough ahead on things that you don’t end up pushed to deadline,” says Jeremy Whitley, hitting a practical note for creators. “I wanted to spend the time to present things accurately. I did my own reading on bipolar disorder and made sure I felt like I had a pretty good grasp of the basics — understanding what it would look like.
“And then I listened to stories about bipolar disorder by people who deal with bipolar disorder. I wanted very specifically to follow Nadia through a manic episode in this story and not have it feel like a thing seen from the outside.Thomas, Allen. “Health and Inclusivity”. Comicosity. 20 March 2019
You can head over to Comicosity to read the interview at length. While you’re there, be sure to check out Allen Thomas’s other articles about health and inclusivity. These fantastic articles range in subject from the representation of LGBTQ characters to generational trauma.