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 the fifth edition of the “Unstoppable Wasp” comic, protagonist Nadia Van Dyne (known as the Unstoppable Wasp in superhero form) comes to terms with her mental illness.
Jeremy Whitley, writer of “Unstoppable Wasp,” said it was important to him and his editor to represent mental illness in a superhero’s life — particularly because in the past, comics have often associated mental illness with villains. …
Continue reading Juliette Virzi’s article at The Mighty.
This article from The Mightydiscusses Nadia’s Bipolar Disorder. It also includes links to other articles about fictional characters dealing with mental health issues.
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.
Heroic Girls: One of the core ideas of Heroic Girls is that by providing better and more varied role models for girls, pop culture can have a positive impact on the real world. Looking over your body of work, is it safe to say that you share that belief?
Jeremy Whitley: No doubt. That was part of my motivation for creating Princeless in the first place. I was looking to create a comic with a heroine whom my daughter could see her self in. Adrienne is a princess, but she is also a warrior. She doesn’t need a prince to save her. Unstoppable Wasp as a book had largely the same mission statement. We had Nadia and Janet (the original Wasp), but we also introduced a cast of other girl geniuses that reflected the real world population of New York City. We have Taina (our Puerto Rican engineer and robot maker), Shay (our African-American physicist), Ying (our Chinese chemist), and Priya (our Indian American botanist). The group reflects both a diversity of experiences and a diversity of expertise. Everybody is a bit different, but they have two shared passions: science and saving the world.
Marcotte, John. “Interview: The Unstoppable Wasp’s Jeremy Whitley”. Heroic Girls. 8 Jan. 2019