One of the best surprises of 2019 was the turn @jrome58's #Marvel #comic Unstoppable Wasp took, exploring what it's like to have bipolar disorder. Psychiatrist @DocIssues of @CapesOnTheCouch takes a closer look. @Superherologist @Popcorn_Psych @AIPTcomics https://t.co/zk2DILTM70— AIPT Science (@AIPTscience) November 8, 2019
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.
I got to catch up once again with those War Rocket Ajax boys – Matt Wilson (@TheMattDWilson)and Chris Sims (@theISB) – to talk about the finale of Wasp and the upcoming launch of Future Foundation. We also talk about whether or not Artie and Leech are trash teens. Are they? You’ll have to listen to find out!
I’m honored that The Unstoppable Wasp was featured in bp Magazine. This magazine is part of an online community that strives to increase awareness of bipolar disorder as well as provide support for those in the bipolar community.
How did you go about creating a realistic, respectful portrayal?
I started off by doing some reading. Informative stuff about what the symptoms are, what the onset of bipolar looks like, especially in teenagers, but from that moving out to the personal. I worked with both a psychiatrist and a professor of psychology, but also with several people who either have first-hand experience with bipolar or who have friends and family members dealing with it.Forbes, Elizabeth. “The Unstoppable Wasp: Fighting Bipolar & Bad Guys”, bpHope.com. Summer 2019.
You can read the rest of the interview online here. You can also catch it in print in the Summer 2019 issue of bp Magazine!
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.
You can read the rest of this interview with Dan Grote, and more from the folks over at WMQ Comics. You can also find Dan hanging out online and getting excited about Wednesdays @danielpgrote.
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.
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.