Author L. L. McKinney (“A Blade So Black”) and artist Robyn Smith have teamed up their first graphic novel, “Nubia: Real One,” along with colorist Brie Henderson,” to thrust the first Black female superhero back into the spotlight.
“Nubia: Real One” explores what it’s like growing up as a Black teen (and superhero) in a world saturated with racial inequality, police brutality, school violence and other issues affecting young people today.
ShineMyCrown: How did you come up with the idea for Nubia: Real One?
L.L. McKinney: It actually came from a Young Justice pitch! I had thrown out an idea for a story about the team, and I was gonna sneak Nubia in there as a side character that I planned on treating like a main character. I thought I was being slick — they was gonna publish her one way or the other! But her part of the pitch and her interactions with everyone is what the team wanted to focus on, so they asked if I would pitch a Nubia story on its own. And I did!
SMC: When did your love affair with comics/ graphic novels begin?
Robyn Smith: When I was about nine, I picked up my first Archie comic, and since then, it has informed everything I do. Growing up in Jamaica, the best places to get comics, besides newspapers, were the supermarkets. They had only one on display ever, and that was the Archie digests, from the 60s through to the 90s. So, when I say Archie comics, I don’t mean the new stuff. I mean Harry Lucey, Dan Decarlo, Samm Schwartz stuff. Lemme stop ’cause I could talk about Archie forever.
SMC: Outside of Nubia, who are some of your favorite heroes and why?
LM: Spider-Man. Not just because of the story above, but because he was a regular dude—regular as you can be with superpowers, that is—trying to do the right thing, and the world hated him for it. Like, my man couldn’t ever catch a break! That resonated with me. I love Storm, literal goddess, Vixen, Wonder Woman, Magneto, Black Panther, just good characters with great stories and awesome powers.
RS: Aqualad for suuuuure, I love his design, and any sort of ocean dweller is gonna be my favorite. I also really love Ms. Martian. Her story in Young Justice is really important to me. And the fact that she got her whole earth personality from a sitcom made me think of how I used American sitcoms to try and understand American culture when I first moved here.
Also, embarrassingly enough, Captain America is one of my favorites. Like the whitest man laughs but I appreciate the empathy that is essential to his character.
SMC: We know it’s important to see images of ourselves not just in the media but everywhere. How did not seeing reflections of yourselves in mainstream media and publications affect the way you viewed yourself?
LM: I come from the world of prose publishing, books and such. And my first book is about a Black girl in Atlanta who visits Wonderland and fights monsters. That’s the first book I published, but not the first book I wrote. The first book I wrote was about a white boy. So was the second. And the third. I wrote that because that’s all I read as a kid, so that’s what I thought you had to write to get published. Not seeing myself meant I didn’t give myself permission to be the hero of my own damn stories.
RS: My life is rich and full with beautiful Black people. My life is, and has always been, abundant with beauty. Being from Jamaica, not seeing myself in mainstream American media mattered less to me because I recognized the abundance of beauty all around me in my everyday life. Having moved here, however, I realize the importance of shattering these American standards, and I am very glad to have a part in that.
SMC: DC is huuuge. How does it feel to be under the umbrella of such giants?
LM: It’s wild. Sometimes I can’t believe it even though I have the book on my shelf now (YAY AUTHOR COPIES!) and can look at it every day. Young Elle is over the moon.
RS: I don’t think I meditate too much on the size of the umbrella so much as the size of the story and task itself. The actual labor that went behind this project was a true labor of love, and so that love is the feeling I come back to, the feeling I meditate on.
SMC: How would you like to see the story of Nubia progress in the future?
LM: I love the original Teen Titans series and Young Justice and the JLU, so I would love to see her team up with other heroes! The group dynamics and relationships that develop in those stories are some of the most fun I’ve had with characters in a while. Watching, that is. Bet it would be just as much fun to write! And all of this did start with my trying to sneak Nubia into Young Justice after all.
LM: This is my first foray into comics, and I was fortunate enough that I had other works in another industry before dipping into this one, so I was able to lean on that a bit. I had my lines in the sand about certain things, like having a Black woman artist for the book. And I was upfront early on about those lines. Then I stuck to those lines, which is a weird sentence to type, but you get what I mean. This has been a blessed experience, and it’s wholly because I had a team who knew who I was when they came to me, and so when I brought something up, they knew where I was coming from, and we were able to adjust.
RS: I don’t really want to get into any details, but what I know to be true is that Black people facing challenges isn’t anything new. This story is not a new one. What I also know to be true is that in spite of that, we continue to excel in everything that we do. I’ve overcome those challenges because I’m sure of how great we are, and no one can tell me otherwise.
SMC: What would be your dream collab/ project?
RS: If I were to ever get my hands on Ms. Martian, especially — If I were to get a chance to write and draw her! Oh, man! That’s the dream. Young Justice definitely set up the parallels between her experience and that of an immigrant, but I’d love to push that even further.
LM: Ooooooh, there are a number of them. I would LOVE to be able to write something else with Mikki Kindall or something with NK Jemisin, Eve Ewing, Gail Simone. I’d probably pass all the way out. I’m a fan of their work, both in comics and beyond.