Exclusive: The Scoop On America, Marvel's New Queer Latina Superhero Series

Courtesy of Marvel.
Variant cover of America issue #1, by artist Marguerite Sauvage.
We’ve got the goods on America Chavez, Marvel’s latest genre-busting superhero helping to transform the comic book business into the entertainment industry’s most surprising mecca of diverse leading characters. Chavez is the queer, ass-kicking Latina who built a devoted fan base with her small, but key role in Marvel’s 2013 run of Young Avengers, and later in subsequent titles like Ultimates and A-Force. Now America is ready for her own book. This marks Marvel’s latest effort to diversify the stories that it tells (an effort that included Marvel’s female Thor reboot two years ago, for example). And America will be one of 23 female-led titles currently in production, which Marvel says is more than any other comic book publisher.

In a Refinery29 exclusive, we got the scoop on what fans can expect in the upcoming release, including never-before-seen images of our new favorite badass, created by series artist Joe Quinones and cover artist Marguerite Sauvage. We sat down with America Chavez writer Gabby Rivera, who first garnered fame as the author of Juliet Takes a Breath, a YA novel about a Puerto Rican lesbian. The novice comic book writer sat down with us, alongside Wil Moss, her editor at Marvel, to share details about their vision for the first gay Latina superhero. The first issue will be out in March 2017.
Courtesy of Marvel.
A first look at America Chavez's character and costume design by series artist Joe Quinones.
You were a YA novelist. How did you come to write a comic book?
Wil Moss: "We’d been looking to do an America series for a while, and it’s just been a matter of finding the right person to have that voice for the character. I’ve been looking more in the Young Adult field for different voices for all kind of books that we do. There’s a lot of overlap between the YA audience and [the comic book audience]: like some of the fantasy elements and the personalities of the characters they write about. I heard good things about Gabby and eventually checked out her book, Juliet Takes A Breath."

Gabby Rivera: "I work at an LGBTQ non-profit called GLSEN as a youth programs manager. I got an email from Marvel when I was at work. And I was like, whaaat? What?! And the office is all quiet, everyone’s just like click-clacking away and I just left and I called my mom and I was like “Mom!! I got an an email from Marvel!” My voice went up 48 octaves. I was super-excited. Getting that email from Will was the first time a man had ever written to me about my book — let alone a white guy."

Were you already a comic book fan?
GR: "It’s kind of new for me. I have read graphic novels, and my family loves superhero comic books, so I grew up between their sci-fi world and their Star Trek world and their comic book world. But I have to be honest and say, I thought, maybe there wasn’t space for me in comics."

Comic book writers don’t necessarily create the characters that they write — America Chavez already existed in the Marvel universe. And that universe can be pretty convoluted: alternate dimensions, competing superhero teams. How did you research it all?

GR: "Will and Charles [Beacham, assistant editor on America] sent me all the Young Avengers to read and catch up on, and to get a sense of what has been written about America. What I also found really helpful was that there’s a huge queer women and trans women comic book online community. And one of my friends is Mey Rude — she’s a queer trans Latina, and she writes about comics for Autostraddle. And so before anything was signed, I was like, ‘Hey, have you heard about this America Chavez character?’ And Mey was like, ‘Oh my God yes.’ And so through her I was able to get an idea of what fans of America would want, her stellar moments and where there was excitement around her character. And I was able to pull those thoughts into a first outline."
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Courtesy of Marvel.
Author Gabby Rivera
What were some of the things that excited fans about America?
GR: "One is, the identities: Queer Latina. She’s also a positive presence and has these catch phrases, like ‘chico.’ And she has feelings for Kate [Bishop, a.k.a. Hawkeye]. But there are more questions about what her powers are, who she is and what is she interested in. My friend Mey was like Gabby, ‘Don’t try to write a superhero comic book. That’s not why they reached out to you. Put all the joy and excitement and energy and quirkiness that you did with Juliet and bring it to America.’ So what song does she listen to when she wakes up in the morning? Does she brush her teeth in her underwear? What type of girl is she? The fundamental questions you have about someone you want to be friends with."

What’s the story actually going to be about?
GR: "What I noticed when I was reading the Young Avengers was that it felt like America was being pulled in by different characters — [Thor villain] Loki wanted her to do this or that; the fight wasn’t hers. She was treated like a member of the team, but I always wondered what’s in it for her? So my thinking for this new book is that she’s finally asking herself that question: What’s in it for me? Why am I fighting with these people? What I want is to go to college and I want to start over, and I want to learn about myself and do this for myself. And so that is the big thing that I was thinking about. What’s more American than trying to go to college and trying to find yourself?

"So America is gonna be going to class, but her class will be in Earth-616 [the main Marvel universe] and then she’ll also go to other dimensions. So she gets to punch into her Women in Power class; and she gets to punch into Tribal Ancestry and You 101. Just like rad classes that I would want to take in the university of my dreams."

WM: "She can travel to alternate universes — so there’s our earth, and then she can go to alternate versions of different earths. So she’s going to the same college but alternate versions of it to take all these wide variety of classes to get a big broad experience."
Courtesy of Marvel.
Variant cover of America issue #1, by artist Joe Quinones.
Where does her superhero element kick in?
GR: "America doesn’t know how powerful she is, but she’s gonna find out. And the powers she does have are going to be expanded upon and she’s going to learn how to control and develop them — in the same way that comic book movies have those scenes where they’re training. I think some of the really fun Marvel moments are gonna be when we bring in key players like Captain America and Storm. They are going to be able to help America on her journey. And teach her things about her powers or lead her along the way. Her ancestors will aid in the development of her powers as well."

Who are her ancestors?
WM: "America is from this Utopian dimension where I think it was all women. [She has two moms who] seemingly sacrificed themselves to protect both that world and the whole multiverse, including ours. And when her moms left, America took this chance to venture out but now she can’t get back. She’s been cut off."

GR:
"And that’s another element too, like where are my moms? Are there any pieces of them left in the universe? How can I find them or find more about myself? So it’s really like a discovery of herself."
Let’s talk about the title: America. That seems to have taken on new meaning since Donald Trump was elected president. What did the title mean to you now, after the election?
GR: "I am still learning how to navigate this world, but to not include elements and emotions of what is going on would be a huge missed opportunity on my part — on our part. But it’s also a balance between connecting with people and alienating people. ‘Cause Latinos voted for Trump too. My family voted for Trump."
Courtesy of Marvel.
Variant cover for America issue #1, by artist Jamie McKelvie.
Comic book fans can be a tough audience. Given your background and your lack of experience in comic books are you worried about how your story will be received?
GR: "It’s a little bit terrifying and intimidating to be a queer woman entering the Marvel universe. Internally I’ve been like, man are people gonna read this and tear me apart because of my identities? Because I’m a woman? You read online that folks aren’t too kind. And there’s harassment. Or just the: 'You don’t belong here because you don’t know the history of like every single thing.'"

Are you worried about trolls?
WM: "Every comic book gets picked apart by the internet. That’s just the way that the internet is."

GR: "Am I worried about the trolls? No. I’m worried about not telling the story. I’m worried about little kids out there who wouldn’t get the story because we would be afraid of trolls. That’s ridiculous. And hey, honestly, I was an internet troll when I was 15 and I was scared of coming out. I behaved badly online when I was a teenager for like six months because of the pain of being closeted. So whenever I see internet trolls there is a part of me that’s like damn what are you hurting from? What hurt you? What do you need? Can we talk to you? Where is this pain? So, that’s kind of how I view it."

Who did you troll?
GR: "Lesbians.

On Twitter?
GR: "Oh my god, thank you. [I’m 34] I’m talking, like, AOL chatrooms. I was so scared of who I was that I would go into lesbian AOL chat rooms and be like, ‘The lord hates you.’ And then this one Lesbian from a chat room wrote me back and was like, ‘Let’s talk; are you okay? What do you need? I want to understand you.' And that was the first person that made that connection with me. And it changed my whole life. And it put me on the path to find out who I am and why I was channeling my frustrations that way."

WM: "There’s also a little bit of trollness in the threat that [the character] America has to face in this first arc. There are aliens. There’s a physical threat. They also kind of represent warped negative emotions. So that leads to America having to step up and use her new powers to face this new threat."

How about the art? Over the years there’s been an effort to make comic book art more female friendly — less tits and ass. In Young Avengers, America wears shorts and sweatshirt. Is that something that you guys are maintaining?
WM: "Yeah. That’s one of America’s things that people respond to — she’s got such a unique look. She’s got her own sense of fashion, and that’s gonna continue in this book for sure.

"We’ve got an amazing artist on this book whose name is Joe Quinones, and he can draw pretty much anything. All his drawings have a lot of personality and character to it. He just drew the Howard the Duck series for us. He made that character so believable and real. He just has a way with people of all types."

Will women of other shapes and sizes be represented?
GR: "That’s the plan. I love women. I love myself. I feel like sometimes I’m not considered a woman. People assume I’m a masculine kind of person because I wear hats or boots. And to me, womanhood is so flexible and so ever-expanding and how beautiful is it to show all the ways that it manifests? And especially when it comes to Latinas and Black women. Our bodies’ shapes and sizes vary, and are equally supported by the community and equally loved. And so, yes. Yes to that question."
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