VITA AYALA [NYCC 2018 Exclusive Interview]: From ‘The Wilds’ to ‘Livewire’.
ALEX AMPADU: How were you first introduced into reading comics?
VITA AYALA (@definitelyvita): I grew up in New York City on the Lower East Side. When I was six or seven my mom, being a single mother, would take us to this little Korean Bodega. The Bodega had a spinner rack full of comics. We were in there one day and there were two Comics that immediately caught my eye. One of them was a very shiny X-Men comic with Bishop on it, and I was like “there’s a black dude!”
ALEX: Bishop with the mullet?
VITA: Jheri curl Bishop! My man. I like him bald too. Wonder Woman was the other comic [and] immediately caught my eye because I thought she was Puerto Rican. I’m Puerto Rican and she looked like one of my cousins and I was like, “I want to read this book!” That started my love affair with comics. That Christmas my parents got me an Arabian Nights Fisher Price comic that came with a cassette that would read you all of the words. Oddly brown, right? Arabian Nights had all these stories about brown people and I was obsessed with it. That was my introduction to narrative storytelling. Brown people were my introduction to comics.
ALEX: Excellent origin story. You’ve written many titles. Which one most conveys the message that is important to you as a writer?
VITA: That’s hard. It’s gonna sound like I’m cheating, but I don’t think there’s anything that I’ve written that doesn’t have a thesis statement to it. For example, I wrote a 10-page Wonder Woman story that was part of the annual that came out before the movie. In it, I got to talk about how we demonize people who look different. That story is as important to me as my creator-owned stuff like The Wilds, where I get to talk about how we exploit black women and how that’s not OK. Everything that I write has something to say in it. I prefer longer form, and with something like The Wilds I had five issues to fully unpack what I had to say. I think as a writer if I can’t do that in 10 pages then I have to restructure. I do love everything i’ve written in terms of being able to say what I want to say.
ALEX: You’ve worked on Batman Beyond. Your books, The Wilds and Submerged have post-apocalyptic themes to them. What interests you most about post apocalyptic fiction? Do you think you’d be interested in exploring themes of Afrofuturism?
VITA: What I find most interesting about post-apocalyptic fiction is that the stakes are already so high no matter what you do the drama is already there. Everything you have to say is heightened. All of the danger is already built in, you don’t have to create it. What you really have to worry about is the characters. Another one of the things that interests me about post-apocalyptic fiction especially from the Brown perspective is that if we [brown people] are the ones creating it, then we really get to see something new. There’s still not enough stories from our perspective being told by us. I like the chance to explore things that you think you’ve seen before but when you see it from our perspective, you’ll see something new.
I love Afrofuturism. Cyberpunk is my second favorite genre of all time, I’m obsessed. I’m constantly working on that kind of stuff in my head. I have many ideas for Cyberpunk stories, many of which I need to start pitching soon. I love the crime noir aspect but the aesthetic and the style… it came from us. We have a lot of flair and a lot of style and I think we need more of it.
ALEX: Amanda is in a dark place after the events of Harbinger Wars 2. She was forced to make decisions that some would consider to be villainous. She’s slowly becoming more like Toyo Harada, her former mentor she swore to oppose. How does this influence the direction of the new Livewire series?
VITA: What we wanted to do with the new series that I’m working on with Raul [Allen] and Patricia [Martin] is take her to a place where she understands the darker consequences of her actions, acknowledges them and moves on. To me, what makes the clear distinction between Amanda and Toyo is that Toyo believes in culling the herd for a better tomorrow while Amanda just believes in survival. She wants people to leave Psiots alone but she has no interest in hurting other people, but she will fight you if you put her into a corner. Her actions were born out of that [mentality]. That team, [Matt Kindt and Tomas Giorello’s on Harbinger Wars 2] did a great job of setting up why [Amanda] did what she did in the moment. Because it was a reactive action, she didn’t think all of those consequences through. Through Harbinger Wars 2, they do a good job at keeping her in the moment so she doesn’t have time to stop and acknowledge that people got hurt. Our series is the redemptive story. It’s not about redeeming her necessarily in the eyes of the public but about bringing her internally to a place where she can work towards [her personal] redemption.
ALEX: Raul Allen and Patricia Martin did an amazing job illustrating Amanda in the Secret Weapons series. I especially like the way her hair is styled. Many people of color have strong connections to their hair, natural styles in particular. [Vita fluffs her natural hair] How important is Amanda’s hair to you?
VITA: Incredibly. Their [Eric Heisserer, Patricia Martin and Raul Allen work on the Secret Weapons limited series] doing something with her hair where they upstyle it which I really love. They are so good at portraying her hair. There are other characters of color in the book and I’m really excited to see how they deal with the hair. When I look at a book I low-key think to myself “can you draw black people? Can you draw natural hair?” Their attention to detail is truly incredible. From the clothes to the hair. When I heard who the team [for Livewire] was, I breathed a sigh of relief and then I started freaking out because they’re so good! It’s important to them as well to portray someone who seems real.
ALEX: Ninjak and Livewire have a very interesting relationship. They seem like two star crossed lovers who are always trying to run away from their passion for each other. Are you going to explore Livewire’s relationship with Ninjak?
VITA: No. For the first arc especially, it’s about her [Livewire] rebuilding herself. Before we can tackle how she feels about such a strong relationship that isn’t her kids [the Psiots] we really have to build up who she is and let her explore what she’s done.
ALEX: The Valiant universe has a vast array of characters. Many of them are very unique with various origins and abilities. Which character are you most excited about interacting with Amanda? (which other characters in the Valiant universe would you like to explore?)
VITA: I would love to write any one and one interaction with [Amanda]. I love Quantum & Woody and Archer & Armstrong, it would be interesting for her to interact with those characters to bring out her fun side. She’s always at 11 and is hyper-aware that she is fighting for her people so interacting with someone who is very light-hearted would be fun.
ALEX: I have a couple of quick-fire questions for you:
-Vampires or Werewolves?
VITA: Werewolf! Do you see my hair? [chuckles] I’m very feral. I think they both have a place in terms of their allegory. Vampires are very much about the monster within that we fear but are still attracted to. Werewolves are about the part of ourselves that we’re trying to keep in and repress, but if we accept it would be a lot more peaceful. I can’t choose, I’m a big horror fan!
-If time travel were real and you could only travel in one direction, would you travel to the future or the past?
VITA: The future! I’m black, what are you crazy? I would maybe go back to the height of the Harlem Renaissance for a quick minute. Just to be there and hug everyone then I would leave. It’s rough out there! I want to see Afrofuturism. I want to see what happens when we get our chance.
-Michael Jackson or Prince?
VITA: Why are doing this to me?! I love them both. This is hard. I realized things about myself listening to Prince that we’re very deeply personal so I will always go purple. But I acknowledge the king [Michael Jackson].
ALEX: That wraps it up. Thank you so much!