In this interview I discuss the origin of my love of comics, the complexities of breaking into the comics industry, upcoming projects, and hope for the future.
Nrama: Your work primarily focuses on all-ages/coming of age stories. What do you like about this form of storytelling?
Whitley: I feel like this is the home of what’s made comics great. All-ages comics are the foundation of modern comics. Telling stories that offer hope to kids and adults alike is important. There’s a place for dark and scary stories, and I have a few of those pitches too, but comics are about hope, love, and justice for me. And while I’m unlikely to say that the world needs another gritty deconstruction of the superhero mythos, we do need hope. We always need hope.
Calamia, Kat. “The Secret Origin of JEREMY WHITLEY (And His Love of All Ages Stories)”, Newsarama. 7 June 2019.
At the point that we started working on it we were about to have my daughter, and although I’d gotten back into comics, unfortunately, there wasn’t much out there for me to read with her. The New 52 had just launched and it was a very aggressively straight white male time in comics. And for me, especially having a daughter who’s a young woman of color, I wanted something that she could herself reflected in, where it had the kind of messages and stuff that I want her to get. So I started writing [Princeless] with the intention of meeting her and other girls where they were at with princess stuff. I’m not trying to force girls to not like princesses, but I can make a princess who actually saves herself and does the kind of things that I want my daughter to be able to see role models doing. That’s kind of where it started, re-writing the fairy tale trope. It just kept getting bigger and bigger.
Horne, Karama. “INDIE COMICS SPOTLIGHT: WHY JEREMY WHITLEY CREATES CHARACTERS AS ROLE MODELS FOR HIS DAUGHTER” SYFYWire. 8 April 2019.
I had a chance to talk with WMQ about the need for diversity in comics.
WMQ: Without getting too personal, have you or someone close to you had struggles with mental health? Did that make you want to write this story? I’ve struggled with anxiety and OCD for much of my life, so seeing this treated with such respect is really important and means a lot to me.
Jeremy: Honestly, while I feel like it would be easier to say “there was this one experience I had,” it’s not that simple. There are a lot of people in my life who have struggled with mental health, be it depression, anxiety, bipolar or more often something undiagnosed. I deal a bit with anxiety myself from time to time, but honestly it’s tied to all of these things but not just any one of them.
We’re in a period where superhero comics are dealing with diversity in ways we haven’t seen in the past, and I think dealing with characters who aren’t neurotypical should be a part of that. Just like comics of the past have often relied on stereotypes about race, ethnicity, and religion to provide villains for their heroes, the same is overwhelmingly true of characters with mental illness. But for me, the best superheroes have always been ones that fight through their limitations to do amazing things, and I think it’s time we started treating mental illness with the same respect we now mostly show to things like race and ethnicity in comics.
Grote, Dan. “Jeremy Whitley Talks Mental Health” WMQ Comics. 8 April 2019.
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
In an interview with Men’s Health, I had a chance to talk about the impetus behind a superhero who struggles with her own mental health.
Jeremy Whitley has built his career on smashing taboos and opening up representation in popular culture. The comic book writer, who’s worked for Marvel among other companies, started the award-winning series Princeless in 2011, depicting a young black princess who starts to question what it means to be a princess—and, instead of waiting for her prince charming to save her from imprisonment in a tower, trades her dress for armor and does something about the situation.
“I have two daughters who are both young women of color, and I wanted them to see themselves reflected in this fairy tale where they often don’t get to see themselves reflected,” Whitley told Men’s Health. “And that sort of blew up into a larger thing over time that’s still ongoing.”
His latest accomplishment is bringing a nuanced understanding of mental health, and bipolar disorder in particular, to Marvel’s current Unstoppable Wasp series that he’s writing. (Issue No. 5 recently came out, and Issue No. 6 will be released on April 10.) …
You can read the rest of Paul Schrodt’s article at Men’s Health.
In Issue No. 5 of the Unstoppable Wasp, which arrives in comic stores on Wednesday, the title hero comes to a realization: “I need help. I think I’m bipolar … and I don’t think I can handle this alone.”
I got a chance to discuss The Unstoppable Wasp, and specifically, Nadia’s bipolar diagnosis, with Marvel.com.
Since the very beginning, Marvel Comics has presented its Super Heroes as, above all else, people.
Matt Murdock manages his blindness, Bruce Banner copes with his anger, and Charles Xavier contends with his paralysis while, concurrently, Daredevil protects Hell’s Kitchen, the Hulk smashes Super Villains, and Professor X leads a school of gifted youngsters.
While these characteristics are what help make our heroes human, they do not define them or weaken them; they’re simply a part of who they are.
In the same way, today’s UNSTOPPABLE WASP #5 sees its eponymous hero at a crossroads in her life. As Nadia Van Dyne encounters her mental illness for the first time, she and the Agents of G.I.R.L. grapple with its powerful effects while never losing sight of their love for—and responsibilities to—themselves and each other.
Lizzy Garcia, writer for But Why Tho? The Podcast, and I discussed the legacy and future of Rainbow Brite … and my love of Steven Universe.
But Why Tho: Why do you think Rainbow Brite is so important?
Whitley: I think Rainbow Brite is important because it is a story where the hero solves many of the problems by talking to others and making an attempt to understand them. Rainbow Brite, in what was a pretty rare move in the 80’s, demonstrates what are generally held to be feminine attributes in a heroic way. The emphasis isn’t on strength, anger, will, determination, rage or any of that. Rainbow Brite saves the day using kindness, compassion, empathy, and love. I feel like there are some adults out there that could learn a lot from characters like her and Steven Universe.
Garcia, Lizzy. “Rainbow Brite: Shining Light on a Franchise – An Interview with Jeremy Whitley” But Why Tho? The Podcast. 2 February 2019.
I got to join the Ladies of Valhalla – Sarah Miles, Bronwyn Kelly-Seigh and Jessica Garris-Schaeffer – to talk about some comics!
Ladies of Valhalla is a Talking Comics podcast. Each month, they discuss media either produced by female or female-identifying creators or featuring female or female-identifying characters. You can find Sarah, Bronwyn and Jessica on Twitter (@ValhallaLadies) or Facebook (ValhallaLadies).