Ta-Nehisi Coates on Creating Black Superheroes


When Marvel Comics announced in September 2015 that Ta-Nehisi Coates would be writing a new Black Panther series, the timing could not have been more fortuitous. That same month, Mr. Coates, who writes regularly for The Atlantic, was awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” and, two months later, a National Book Award for nonfiction for “Between the World and Me,” his passionate letter to his son about being black in America.

The momentum for the hero was also tremendous. Issue No. 1 of Black Panther hit stores last April and went on to sell more than 300,000 copies, according to Marvel. He then made his big screen debut in May, with “Captain America: Civil War,” and was played by Chadwick Boseman, who will reprise the role in a solo film next year. In July came “Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet,” a collected edition of the first four issues of the comic. It was followed, in November, by World of Wakanda, a companion series in which Mr. Coates introduced two more newcomers to the roster of comic-book scribes: the feminist writer Roxane Gay and the poet Yona Harvey. This April comes a new series, Black Panther and the Crew, a team comprising only black heroes, written by Mr. Coates and Ms. Harvey.

Mr. Coates answered questions about the success of Black Panther, his approach to writing, the members of the Crew and what’s next. (The interview has been edited and condensed.)

Q. Does the response to the Black Panther series surprise you?

A. I guess I am in awe of the response a little bit, but I don’t know, man. I’m in the zone of writing, and that place is still really, really hard and really, really challenging. What I’m trying to do is to learn more. I’m reading a lot more, and reading as a fan is very, very different to reading as a creator. Maybe reading as a critic is close to it, but actually trying to figure out what people are doing and why it has certain effects on me is a very, very different way of looking at stuff. Selling is important because I want the book to continue, but when I’m done, I want people to say: “This was a classic run. This is one of the best things Marvel ever did.”



I do think about it but I don’t think it will probably be knowable until a few more years. I don’t mean to impugn anybody that’s buying the series — I really, really appreciate it — but I think, often times, things may not always be appreciated in their time, where it turns out later that this was actually something great. And at the same time, there are probably things that are appreciated in their time that probably don’t pass the test of time.

How much of this is the movie? How much of this is Panther’s improved profile right now? How much of this is “Between the World and Me”? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. What I want people to feel ultimately is that this is part of the entire oeuvre that I put together. I don’t want it to be “Ta-Nehisi just took a break and did comics.” It is not a break for me.

You always seem to be working.

I try to be prolific, but not in a bad way. I don’t want it to be that I was just turning stuff out. With the Crew, I made the decision to put them in the Panther comic relatively early, and we had talked about a series. But unless I had what I thought was a really, really compelling story, and something that was compelling to me, there didn’t feel like that was a reason to do it.

So now you have a story that justifies the spinoff?

I think I’ve hit upon a story that I feel people should read, that people are going to want to read. I think the biggest influence on this book is Ed Brubaker’s work both on Captain America and some stuff he did after he was gone. I’m just hoping — I can’t be Ed Brubaker; there’s only one Ed Brubaker — that it’ll have that influence.

The Black Panther book itself is so steeped in Wakanda, the fictional African country of his birth. Is this a nice break, given that the new book is set in Harlem?

It is, but Wakanda is part of even this story. I like being in Wakanda. I was a big Dungeons & Dragons player when I was a kid. It’s a chance to just go back and be in this world that you create. At the same time, it has these moments where it intersects with the Marvel Universe, which is pretty cool, too. keep reading 


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