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Roxane Gay: The first black woman to write a Marvel comic

Promotional art for Black Panther: World of Wakanda. The series will be co-written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay
Promotional art for Black Panther: World of Wakanda. The series will be co-written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay
Promotional art for Black Panther: World of Wakanda. The series will be co-written by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - NOVEMBER 16: Roxane Gay his honored with the Freedom to Write Award during the PEN Center USA's 25th Annual Literary Awards Festival at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on November 16, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

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The new Marvel comic book Black Panther, by Ta-Nehisi Coates has been a SMASHING success.

The series is the latest about the African King slash super-hero who rules the fictional country, Wakanda.

With huge sales and critical acclaim, it's little surprise that Marvel is expanding on the property with an upcoming title - Black Panther: World of Wakanda.

For this venture, Coates tapped another prominent Black writer - Roxane Gay.

She's a novelist and the author of the essay collection Bad Feminist.

To get her on board for the project, Coates made Gay an offer she couldn't refuse.

"A few months ago I got an email from Ta-Nehisi and he said, 'I have a crazy idea.' And I said, 'Oh I like crazy ideas. What is it?' And he suggested that I write about the Dora Milaje- the all women guard for Black Panther," she told Take Two's Alex Cohen.

Wakanda's  Dora Milaje members are not only all black women but two of them -Ayo and Aneka- are also queer. "To write black queer women into the Marvel canon is just an opportunity I couldn't turn down."

Blazing a trail for other black women

Luckily for Gay, Marvel is giving her a lot of free reign to tell the story. "That's been one of the most exciting and intimidating aspects of working on this project," Gay says. "That they have basically said, 'You can do what you want.'"

One of the main things that Gay wants is to incorporate a better representation of black women into World of Wakanda; something's that still rare in most mainstream media.

"I think that we have to remember that there is no one representation of black women," Gay says. "And there are absolutely black women nerds out there ... and I'm really excited to see Black Women who are already working in comics, hopefully, getting more of these high visibility opportunities."

Black female representation is hard to come by in the main two comic book publishers. This is something that Gay is especially conscious of, being the first Black woman to write a comic at Marvel.

"I think it's really frustrating," she says. "But I know I won't be the last. I think [this] shows that change is possible even if it comes a lot slower than we would like and, quite frankly, slower than we need."

Transitioning to the story-telling of comic books

There's no doubt that Gay has clout as a story-teller, but she has never written a story for the comic medium. In fact, prior to this gig, the only comics she'd had extensive experience with as a reader were the Archie comics when she was growing up. So how does she plan on making this transition?

"Very carefully," she says. "I'm starting with the big picture. What's the over all story that I want to tell? And then I'm breaking it down into four to six episodes or issues. It's so different from anything that I've done, but at the end of the day, it's still story-telling. So I'm just remembering that I do know how to tell a story. And I think I know how to tell it pretty well. The things I don't know about comic book writing specifically, I'm going to learn."

And she's been doing her homework as well. She's picked up popular comics like "Saga" by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples as well as the recent DC reboot of Wonder Woman by Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette and Nathan Fairbairn. Gay says, "I'm definitely seeing the relationship between word and image and seeing how there's a dimensionality to the story that you don't necessarily have in a traditional short story or novel."

The exciting and terrifying parts of a new medium

Black Panther: World of Wakanda was just announced last week at San Diego Comic-Con. Gay says that the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive. But she's got a lot of emotions as the project picks up steam. 

"What excites me is having so much freedom to tell such a story and being able to write women that are fierce and capable... and becoming these figures of justice throughout Wakanda," Gay says.

"What scares me is being the first [black woman to write a Marvel series]. And all of the pressure that comes with that. And knowing that because I'm not from the world of comics, there's going to be a level of expectation. I just don't want to let anyone down."

Marvel's Black Panther: World of Wakanda will be on store shelves in November.

To hear Take Two's interview about how Marvel recruited Ta-Nehisi Coates to write the latest Black Panther series, click here.

To hear Take Two's interview about how Black Panther fits into the history of black characters in comics, click here.

To hear the full conversation, click the blue player above.