Gabby Rivera never thought superhero comics would become a part of her writing career, but when the call came, she answered with geeky enthusiasm.
Marvel Comics reached out to Rivera, perhaps best-known for her novel “Juliet Takes a Breath,” and asked whether she’d be interested in being the writing voice behind America Chavez, a Latina, queer, superpowered and super-popular character who made a name for herself in the pages of super-team titles “Young Avengers” and “The Ultimates.”
Rivera says the chance to write such a character is like the dream she never knew she had coming true.
“Superhero comics seemed so out of my league that I never even imagined it as something I could do. But the second the opportunity came my way, it felt so right,” Rivera told The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. “I’ve always dreamt up wild, powerful and carefree superheroes that look like me and my family: thick, brown, goofy, beautiful. And now I get to see them come to life. ‘America’ is going to be all those things and it’s [going to] be wild.”
Before beginning to write “America,” the new solo series (illustrated by Joe Quinones) that debuted in print and digitally last week, Rivera dived into stacks of comic books featuring the superstrong heroine who can fly and punch star-shaped dimension-hopping holes into the air. Rivera called it her “crash course” on all things America.
The biggest difference for Rivera between writing novels and superhero comic books? Time.
“I take my sweet old time writing my stuff. But working on ‘America’ has been like riding a jet or a Jet Ski or something fast and fun,” Rivera said. “I’m churning out 20-page scripts while working full time at a national LGBTQ nonprofit. It’s intense and challenging and I love it.”
Rivera says it is “dope as hell” to be the first queer Latina writing for Marvel Comics. She is aware that her presence at Marvel represents efforts by the publisher to make sure their diverse heroes have diverse creative talent on the production side as well. Especially in the current comic-book-reading era that includes social media, where diversity decisions are praised or critiqued.
“I mean, folks have been wanting intersectional representation in literature and the creative arts since forever,” Rivera said. “Social media just heightens the scrutiny and gives people a space to connect. [Online] groups like Black Girl Nerds, Latinx Geeks, and Geeks of Color are doing their thing.”
Just where exactly America descends from is something that hasn’t been publicized yet. Is she Puerto Rican? Dominican? Cuban? Mexican? None of the above?
Rivera, who grew up in the Bronx, infuses some of her Puerto Rican culture into the first issue of “America,” adding some “wepas” and having America study (in another dimension) at Sotomayor University (named after Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor). But she won’t say where America descends from just yet.
The series “is definitely going to tackle America’s ancestry and ethnicity. But it won’t be as neat as some folks might want it to be. For me, being Latina is really damn complicated, especially when it comes to tracing my roots,” Rivera said. “America’s going to wonder where she really came from and who her people are. She’s going to explore what it means to be brown across the dimensions. And like many people who’ve had to leave home at a young age, she’s dealing with that feeling of disconnect, the you’re a foreigner here and out of place when you go ‘home’ type of feeling.”
Inspiring readers who for the first time have a relatable mainstream superhero helps balance out any pressure of Rivera’s first superhero writing gig.
“I get to see groups of little brown girls and their moms all done up in their America Chavez cosplay gear. And the stories that we tell through ‘America’ will be part of their pop culture experience,” Rivera said. “And, hell yeah, there’s pressure, but also I love it and it’s making me a better writer. It’s a blessing.”