By Adam Karenina Sherif
The New York Public Library hosted a wide-ranging and powerful conversation between Marvel Comics Vice President Content & Character Development and Kamala Khan co-creator, Sana Amanat and American Library Association Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table President, Amie Wright. The talk was themed around Amanat’s own personal trajectory, her motivations, and scholar Adrienne Resha’s concept of the new ‘blue age’ of comics.
Amanat opened the conversation affirming that “libraries are my favorite place,” before delving into her own origin story. She grew up in New Jersey as an avid reader of comics and was massively affected by the lack of representation for Muslim Americans. Originally, she’d intended to be a political scientist or lawyer, in the hopes of changing perceptions of Muslims and “bridging the East / West divide”. Wright suggested that that’s almost exactly what she’s managed to do in her work at Marvel Comics.
While she got her start at smaller publishers a decade ago, Amanat was clear that part of what keeps driving her at Marvel is the cultural power that they have, and how tangible the impact of her work there is. She recounted a tale of meeting the first-ever Ms. Marvel cosplayer just months after G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s series launched in 2014. Discussing the origins of Kamala Khan, Amanat mentioned a conversation with Marvel editor Stephen Wacker in which they discussed their vastly different life experiences. It led him to support the introduction of this new character with sincere enthusiasm.
Speaking of the process of character design with Kamala Khan, Amanat said that “the most fun was trying to figure out what would make this character, and what would feel real.” Reflecting on how so many stories that included Muslim characters at att in Western media tended to focus on 9/11, Amanat wanted something which would give space to the smaller, more everyday aspects of the Muslim American experience in a way that would actually ring true to Muslim readers. Wright added that this authenticity of experience was a key aspect of what made Ms. Marvel such a runaway success. When the series debuted, Amanat was confident it could secure new readers “not just because it was a younger book, but because people believed in what it stood for and showed out for that”.
Addressing the notion of the 2010s as a new ‘blue age’ of comics, blue as reference to the color schemes of social media platforms which have radically altered the proliferation of comics this decade, Wright mentioned that Ms. Marvel has been crucial in altering the landscape for trade paperback sales. Amanat agreed the book’s success specifically in this format is “a sign of changing times and what’s to come.” The increase in middle-grade content, and the success of trade paperbacks / graphic novels has unquestionably been a real positive for industry recently. Wright also cited Raina Telgemeier’s latest graphic novel, Guts, being the best-selling book in the US as a crowning achievement and marker of just how broad the audience for comics really is.
Amanat sees better understanding and recognition of audience at publisher level as essential. “We try to do everything in our power to make comics as accessible as possible, and we try to see every single comic as someone’s first comic”, she said. Likewise, Wright added that whether they already read comics or whether they want to read comics, “everyone deserves a seat at the table”.
Towards the end of the conversation, Amanat showed some teaser footage from Marvel Rising: Operation Shuri. She described Marvel Rising as being about the next generation of heroes, and the next generation of readership. She also mentioned an upcoming project named Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends for the pre-school market.
Amanat closed proceedings with a thoughtfulness that really characterised her conscious, meaningful approach to comics publishing: “I hope people don’t perceive my work, or Marvel as a whole as being for only a specific demographic. Because Marvel is such a strong brand, we have to be mindful and responsible with the content we provide. And we do need positivity, now more than ever”.