As a kid, Vita Ayala grew up loving Wonder Woman comics. As an adult, they have gotten to write Diana of Themyscira twice. But Ayala isn't content with just living the dream of working on a big corporate superhero. The New York City native is making comics that give voice to people without money, power or privilege.
I started following Ayala on Twitter a while back, because they're the kind of burgeoning creator that I like to be aware of. The first work by Ayala that I actually read was a story they wrote in this winter's Wonder Woman Annual #1. It showed many of Diana's multiple facets well, with the Amazon warrior advocating for justice for someone who seemed not to deserve it.
I'd never met Ayala in person before but wanted to talk to them because their journey from fan to pro -- working in a comics shop, honing their craft while doing the graveyard shift -- exemplifies the idea that anyone can make comics. Speaking before New York Comic-Con 2017, our conversation ranged from their atypical childhood exposure to comics; what it's like to be part of DC's Talent Participation Program; and the kinds of personal, political stories they feel compelled to tell. You can read some highlights from our talk below.
On being part of the first wave of DC Comics' talent development program:
It's very much like a traditional college-style workshop. You do the work, you come in, you talk to each other about the work. You critique X amount of scripts a week. [All-Star Batman writer] Scott Snyder is the professor, if you will… He's a wonderful, wonderful man. It was just like going to college but with a bunch of comics pros. Some people had had work and other people who were just breaking in. There was a variety of levels and experience but it was geared towards showing writers -- who were serious about being in the industry but maybe weren't household names yet -- how it worked... It was incredible. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
The final project is the New Talent Showcase, where you get eight to 10 pages to tell a story. When we did ours, they wanted us to do trailers. It wasn't a complete story but it'd end on a cliffhanger so people would know you could draw in an audience. I got to work with Khary Randolph, who is… I mean, that dude is great. He's truly incredible and he drew my very first DC work and it was Wonder Woman. Which was super awesome. She's, like, top three [for me].
On writing Batgirl and Barbara Gordon in the present and the future:
Art from Batgirl Annual #1 (2016) by Eleonora Carlini, Mat Lopes and Deron Bennett
I'm a huge DC fan. DC was kind of my first love and Barbara Gordon specifically is one of my favourite superheroes, in every incarnation. I was not completely caught up and had to read half of the run to get caught up to who Barbara is now. It was such a joy to rediscover Barbara Gordon. Working on the Batman Beyond [issues] with Steve [Orlando], I got to play with Old Lady Gordon.
How did you make her different?
Besides having the background in Batman Beyond -- because I love Batman Beyond -- I just thought about what would an 80-year-old Barbara Gordon who's in charge of all these damn kids be like. I just feel like she'd be so tired. But there's something about Barbara Gordon, that steel core, that you can't wear that away. I wanted to get at that and that hope that she still has for the future, but from the perspective of someone who is no longer able to be the one in the tights.
On touching on themes of economic disparity/injustice in Batman Beyond #12:
That was originally there as the set-up of Nyssa/Batgirl Beyond. Barbara comes in and there are riots going on and bedlam. She's like, "Whoa, what's happening?!" And Nyssa says, basically, "You don't care about our neighbourhood so get out." When Steve and I were talking about it, we really wanted to continue that idea but show that there can be change and there is hope. As hard as things are, people can come together and work towards the greater good for everybody, not just the visible people. I thought that would be especially important because Nyssa is of colour and Max Gibson is of colour and Barbara Gordon was always someone who was a street-level, fight-for-the-everyman character.
On coming up with the heist story in Bitch Planet Triple Feature #4:
I knew going in that there was going to be a heist and that whatever it was was going to be symbolically important for the people that were sending her on the heist. But it had to be something that was going to make you pause when you finally see the reveal. It's in the last panel. I actually spoke to Kelly Sue about it; we went back and forth trying to figure out what it would be and she said this great thing: It has to be the future equivalent of a driver's licence in a time when most women didn't have driver's licenses. And I was like, "Genius." It's a symbol of this freedom and it won't necessarily make everything better but it's super meaningful. In a universe where women have almost no bodily autonomy and are basically arm candy, broodmares or disposable, I wanted to have a physical object that could have that kind of meaning for them.
[The object in the story] is based on a real book called The Birth Control Handbook. It was written by college students to educate each other about contraception, safe sex, and tangential things that had to do with intimacy that no one was allowed to talk about. It was actually illegal and if you had the book, you were in a lot of trouble. [Authorities would] burn if they found it. People were printing it in their college libraries, stapling it and passing it around. It was almost like Kelly Sue's Bitch Planet universe has come back thematically to this time of ultimate repression; that book was symbolic back then and I wanted to bring it back.
On her story in This Nightmare Kills Fascists, an upcoming horror anthology:
Art by Ben Bishop
Eric Palicki and Matt Minor spearheaded this anthology, post-Trump, and they asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. The idea was horror and turning all of the dread that we were feeling against the people who were making us feel the dread. My story is about the way that men can predate on women, especially women that are considered beautiful or available, whether or not they're actually available. [It's] about how that trauma reverberates through women, in general. Hearing about that kind of thing is a weight and experiencing it is more of a weight. It's about how, if you engage in that kind of behaviour, you will pay for it. Maybe not right now, but you're not going to get away with that forever.
On Our Work Fills the Pews, set in a different dystopian landscape:
This has been in the works for a while. I'm co-writing the book with Matthew Rosenberg. It's a Black Mask book. Thematically, the book is about what America would be like second-term Trump. When we first started talking this out years ago, it was a funny thing to say. It's not that funny any more but it still holds true.
Art by Skyler Patridge
The [central] idea is that, if you are a woman, you have zero bodily autonomy. Women are put into internment camps for their own "safety". If you are a queer person, you could end up the same way and there are very few people of colour walking around. It's about how the people in power turn marginalised people against each other and about whether just surviving is enough or whether there's more.
Art by Skyler Patridge
The plot is about this gay black man named Marcus who hunts women for the government. He finds women in the wild, brings them back, and puts them in internment camps. Queer people, especially gay men specifically, have a kind of false freedom if they work for the government and this is what he does for the government. Marcus ends up finding this little girl who is very young, has never ever been in captivity, and has very limited experience with men. He has this choice to make about whether or not he's going to bring her and put her in prison and all the horrible stuff that entails or if he's going to try to get her out of the country. If he's going to continue to just survive or try and live, basically. The artist on it is Skyler Patridge.
You can learn more about Vita's upcoming work by following them on Twitter at @definitelyvita.