When approached about writing an article for Black History Month, I didn’t want to look backwards, because History is being made every day. Enter writer Vita Ayala, a striking talent honing her skills in comic book writing through the DC Talent Development workshop and debuting amazing works for the comic book world to save the day!
I was fortunate to meet Vita a few months ago, and was instantly taken aback from her charm and charisma. There are writers, and then there are talents. There are those who tell a great story, and then there are those who make you feel a good story. The difference is passion.
Vita’s passion was as obvious to me from our first encounter, and I know that passion will carry her far in her career. This passion has opened doors for her to from writing Livewire, Supergirl, Wonder Woman to Submerged (and more!), she’s worked for the powerhouse publishers sharing her talent across the pages of comics.
So when this opportunity arose to tell a story for Black History Month, I wanted her voice to be included.
Lucky for me I had the privilege to speak to her about her feelings about Black History Month, her life and experiences, and her impressions of how race and gender influence her field.
I can’t imagine how it feels to be on the cusp of history, adding a valuable voice to the fabric of comics being made today. So naturally, I asked her (along with a handful of foodie questions!):
1. What do you think American Society as a whole thinks about when they hear “Black History Month?”
I think it depends on what sub-group of society we are talking about.
Generally, I think, it is treated as the time of year we are allowed to celebrate and acknowledge the accomplishments and struggles of people from the African Diaspora. Like at Christmas, when you are allowed to listen to the music and wear the ugly sweaters and people nod and accept it because it is that time of year.
2. Black History Month was created to give not only respect, but a voice to the community, but considering what is going on in this country, what does Black History Month presently mean to you?
I think this is a month in which we ask for the very basic human empathy that – especially in the last few years – is often not extended to us as Black people.
Now more than ever, it is important to uplift and celebrate not just WHAT Black people have done for America (we are more than the things we make/produce/invent/etc), but WHO we are. We have a history that is rife with adversity, but also JOY, and we need that joy (our joy) and ourselves as people to be valued.
3. As far as minority representation in comics (and the larger media) is concerned, what was your relationship/experience with it like growing up? Were you ever cognitively aware of misrepresentation and erasure? How is it different from your experiences now?
I think I had a sort of double advantage coming up, because I grew up in New York (Alphabet City), and most of the people I knew and saw everyday were some sort of Brown. Even in school, most of my classmates were of color, many Black and Lantinx, so I viewed the world through a lens that centered people of color.
I read comics as a kid, and also grew up watching Science Fiction and Horror, where even though very much sidelined, people of color EXISTED. I often misidentified white people in media as Brown (Wonder Woman as Puerto Rican and Dr. Strange as half-Chinese most famously, haha).
I think it hit me first in prose. We were CONSTANTLY reading about white people – especially white boys and men – doing things, and at best Black people were servants and villains. And then from there, I started to reexamine the characters I thought of as of color, and realized that I had been doing a lot of erroneous filing in, and it really hurt. I suddenly felt like I was dying of thirst while adrift in this ocean of water that could not sate me.
Things have VERY much improved. It is truly amazing the changes even the last decade has made. In really fleshing out older characters of color, really making them three dimensional, and in the creation of new characters and stories that depict versions of people who weren’t seen before.
4. In regard to accurately depicting diversity, what do you see for the future of comic books?
I couldn’t know for sure, but the fact that comics are now more accessible than ever (in terms of creating them), I think that we will see more and more inclusion and authentic Own Stories. It would be VERY hard to put that genie back in the bottle, considering how hungry readers are IN GENERAL to see new and inclusive stories. I am very hopeful.
5. Your characters always feel fully realized and emotionally 3-Dimensional. It’s clear that you put a lot of heart and thought into them. How have your life experiences impacted your work and the way you build your characters?
Absolutely! I try to connect with each character I write – whether creator owned or on a work for hire project – try to find something in me that can empathize with them. When I create the characters whole cloth, I get to really think about what I want each character to represent, but even WFH leaves a lot of room to play.
I am a huge fan of world building, and characters are a very important part of that process.
6. Everyone has a fictional hero; typically, the ones we are drawn to the most are the ones that reflect ourselves, either in representing a part of who you are, or a dream of what you want to be. What character (comic book or otherwise) do you relate to the most? Why?
My top three characters of all time are Xena, Wonder Woman, and Renee Montoya. These are characters who make a very conscious choice to use their power (whether it be their skills, strength, or authority) to do good.
Renee Montoya was the first time I can remember seeing a queer Latina character in anything that wasn’t played for a joke. Her struggles with anger and depression speak really deeply to me. Her choice not to give in to the urge to seek vengeance (which she totally would have gotten away with) moved me, as did her drive to helping people, even after she gave in the badge and gun.
7. Comic books have been around for so long, and some people out there wish nothing would ever change about them. Yet, no industry or genre is perfect. That’s why they must grow, evolve and adapt to the culture around it in order to survive. What is one thing you hope comic books or the industry will evolve, moving forward?
I think comics is one of the most accessible and welcoming mediums for people able to experience them. They are ways in which people have been able to see themselves as fully realized characters long before most of mediums, and a wonderful vehicle for empathy. I hope that as an industry, we don’t lose sight of that.
8. What inspired you to get involved in an industry that historically has been produced by and represented predominately white male culture?
I grew up in a city of millions, where you could find all sorts of things that maybe you couldn’t other places. My comics had Brown people in them from the beginning. And as I continued to read, I was exposed to independent comics and then manga. Maybe the mainstream was for and by cis-het (mostly white) men, but comics for me was much richer and broader than that.
What made me want to get into comics is the desire to tell the stories that I needed to see as I was coming up, but didn’t. I write for younger versions of myself, and for people different than me because representation is key to empathy.
9. Every creator brings something special and unique to their work, whether they intend to or not. A good character is like a good meal, with layers of flavors to be enjoyed. What flavors of your writing style do you hope your audience tastes?
I can only bring my own perspective to my work. Whether I am writing characters that are very much like me, or not at all, everything will be through the lens of my experience. I hope that people that read my work find themselves connecting with my perspective, whether or not we are alike.
10. And just for fun, because the weather has been so crazy this month: What’s your comfort food on a cold day?
Knishes! I don’t get to have them much anymore, but that is the perfect cold day snack! Also pasteles…
Author Kristen J Linder
This article expresses the opinions of the author, and not the opinions of Midtown Comics