With Dynamite’s new Xena: Warrior Princess ongoing series hitting this April, fans old and new will experience a fresh take on the Chakram-throwing bad ass. Leading the series is writer Vita Ayala (Black Panther, Shuri, Wonder Woman, The Wilds) with newcomer artist Olympia Sweetman making her comic debut. Rebecca Nalty (WWE, Sparrowhawk) on colors and letterer Ariana Maher (James Bond 007, Nancy Drew) complete the creative team. The story puts Xena and ever-loyal Gabrielle in the middle of a village filled with superstrong children, and the pair suspect God-meddling yet again.
The Beat chatted with Ayala and Sweetman about why signing on for this new book was a must.
Deanna Destito: What is it about Xena that sets her apart from others?
Vita Ayala: I think that there are a few things that made me so attached to her. When she first came on the scene, I was about nine. I was super into genre stuff – movies and TV, video games, comics, etc. – and there weren’t a lot of women protagonists who were allowed to exist without somehow being in need of a man or of saving. Although Xena was a spinoff of Hercules, she was immediately set up as capable across the board, cunning, and comfortable being herself (guilt aside). That was really big for me. A lot of Xena’s love interests were of color. Seeing that handled in a way where it wasn’t a big deal was really eye opening. Something about that – her character not having any sort of hangups surrounding that – made me happy. And, I think most importantly, most of her important relationships were with other women and femme presenting people. Her character was not made to stand apart from women or look down on them just for being women, and the way that she clearly showed respect to and interacted with other femme people really helped shape my understanding of how I should be treated and how I should treat others. Also, I have been queer my whole life, and that show (and character) were MONUMENTALLY important to me because of that.
Destito: Vita is a huge fan of the show. Were you a fan before signing on?
Olympia Sweetman: Yeah! I used to catch the show when it aired on TV with my mother, although it’s been a while since I’ve watched it. I did a fair amount of research before taking on this comic, browsing a bit of the Xena subreddit and watching whatever videos and episodes I could find of the show to put on while I’m working.
Destito: Vita, as you watched the show, did you dream up your own plots and have you been able to incorporate any of that in this run?
Ayala: I definitely have an old notebook from middle school filled with Xena fanfic that I showed no one. I didn’t dip into it for this run, though! My editor Nate [Cosby] and I met up and he had some base ideas that I thought were a lot of fun, and the story came from that. If I ever get to do more, I may have to find those composition notebooks…
Destito: What about this world is so appealing for you as an artist?
Sweetman: To me, the exciting thing about fantasy or fantasy-adjacent genres is that they allow you to really stretch the limits of your imagination and draw and design from a broad visual library. It’s really thrilling to me to design things, like the locations, costumes, and the people. Xena is in that sweet spot of familiarity but has such a rich and interesting world which lends itself to a variety of compelling stories and approaches. Vita’s vision of the world also has robust main and supporting characters. They create great opportunities for some fun character acting in the drawings.
Destito: With such familiar characters how did you make sure they were recognizable but still in your own style?
Sweetman: It was a pretty easy task to make Xena and Gabrielle look like themselves because they have very stunning and iconic looks, and Rebecca is definitely contributing a lot in this regard with her amazing colors. For me, the main challenge was figuring out the details of their costumes. I resisted looking at other artists’ approaches, but after collecting reference I settled on my own design with details that I figured would be fun to draw. After working on the comic where I had to draw the details of the costumes over and over again, I simplified some things and distilled them into their recognizable components to keep them consistent. That might be an overly practical answer, but it was certainly a learning experience that I wanted to share.
Destito: How has it been working with this creative team?
Ayala: Really wonderful! I have a pretty easy relationship with Nate (my editor), and I have gotten to chat with Ariana (our letterer). I am a big fan of what Olympia does! She blows me away with every page! And I recently got to look at Rebecca’s colors, and I legitimately had to sit down, they were so beautiful! I honestly couldn’t ask for a better team to work with on this book!
Destito: Since this is your first big comics gig, Olympia, how has the experience been?
Sweetman: It’s been challenging but thoroughly fulfilling and enjoyable. Nate has been very encouraging, giving valuable feedback and a wonder to work with. I really appreciate him taking a chance on me! As soon as I read Vita’s pitch I absolutely adored the story, and I am grateful to be working on it.
Destito: Is this new series accessible for readers who may not know much about Xena?
Ayala: I think it is pretty accessible. I tried to center the story around what was happening on the page and not have it necessarily refer to anything that won’t be covered in the series itself. I think the only thing people need to know going in is Xena used to be a bad guy but has turned over a new leaf and fights for good now. Gabrielle is a bard and Xena’s partner. The Gods are real and like to meddle in the lives of mortals. The series takes a LOT of liberties with history and timelines (as did the original).
Destito: What familiar faces can we look forward to seeing (if you can tease us!)?
Ayala: I think I am allowed to say that the Goddess Discord plays a big role in this adventure. But otherwise, you’ll have to read to find out!
Sweetman: Well, if I’m allowed to say: without a doubt, the page that introduces Discord, page 12, [is my favorite page so far]. I love drawing interesting cosmetic details like her crazy outfit, and the plumes of smoke and sparks, and Xena looking fierce. I can’t wait to see Rebecca’s colors on it.
Look for Xena #1 this April at your local comic shop or online.