One of my very favorite humans and authors–as well as a long-time friend of the show–Seanan McGuire was just announced as the writer of the upcoming X-Men: Gold Annual #2 (cover above). I caught up with Seanan on Discord for an x-clusive chat about her history with the X-Men and what it’s like to write your childhood favorites.
Keep going for the full interview, as well as the cover to X-Men: Gold Annual #2 (WITH BUNNIES)!
SEANAN: Your handle* is legit cracking me up right now.
JAY: I’d forgotten that I’d started setting up a Discord server months ago, then never bothered finishing. Theoretically, there’s a mutant revolution floating around somewhere out there, with nobody but me inside.
SEANAN: Story of my life, there.
Except that now you officially ARE the mutant revolution. Or possibly the mutant establishment?
SEANAN: I’m aiming for the mutant fifth column.
JAY: Would you mind briefly introducing yourself, for folks who’ve first heard of you via the X-Men announcement?
SEANAN: Hello! I’m Seanan McGuire: I write a lot of books, both under my own name, and under the name “Mira Grant.” As myself, I tend to do urban fantasy, modern portal fantasy, and superhero interrogation; as Mira, I write biomedical science fiction thrillers.
JAY: I know you’ve been cartooning for a pretty long time; but is this your first official comic book?
SEANAN: I do cartoon, mostly my extremely intermittent webcomic, but I’m not the artist on this one–thankfully. I would cross-hatch myself into oblivion. This is actually my second official comic: my first was The Best Thing, with Thrillbent Comics, which is a sort of magical-girl apocalypse story.
JAY: You’ve been gunning for the X-Men for a while, though, right?
SEANAN: Since I was about nine years old. I spent a lot of stamps trying to convince Marvel that I was their best choice.
JAY: Aw, man. I want to see the story nine-year-old Seanan would have written, too!
SEANAN: I’m sure my mother has my early attempts at Pitching The Perfect Team somewhere in her boxes of papers. Lots of Illyana and Kitty, maybe some Boom-Boom, because who doesn’t love a mutant time bomb with authority issues?
JAY: Bad people, probably. Supervillains.
SEANAN: Anyone who enjoys their stuff not being exploded.
JAY: Them, too, I guess.
SEANAN: But really, that sort of dependence on material objects, probably they’re supervillains.
JAY: Considering that your upcoming X-Men: Gold annual is a Kitty story, those priorities have stayed remarkably consistent!
SEANAN: I sort of found my groove early, and stuck with it. I mean, Emma Frost also hadn’t done her first solid heel-face turn at that point, so the idea of using her hadn’t occurred to me yet.
JAY: How much are you allowed to tell us about the annual?
SEANAN: Not too much yet–this is my first gig with Marvel, and I want more, so I’m being extremely careful about staying in boundaries. I can say it’s a Kitty story, because she’s on the cover, and I can say that it’s a backstory annual: it takes place in an era a lot of us know and love and would like to spend more time in. Which was great, because it gave me an excuse to re-read a lot of old issues to get the dialog right.
JAY: As someone who spends a lot of time digging through backissues, I’m always curious to hear about the things people rediscover when they revisit old favorites as adults. Were there any surprises–good or bad?
SEANAN: The clothes were… occasionally bracing. Also, comics exist in this sort of eternal “now.” Like, Rogue has some of the most “flavor of the month” hairstyles, and her hair during the ’80s was, well. There’s a reason those panels are so cramped. But people mostly don’t tease her about it in modern continuity, because the “everyone is doing it” justification for her hair being cut like that is over. Rogue wouldn’t have that hairstyle if it wasn’t modern enough to be what you get at the discount salon when you sit down and say “just get it out of my eyes”; Rogue is basically the same age in 2018 that she was in 1986; ergo, while the hairstyle is still canon, we sort of collectively agree that we will not speak of it. Unless the joke is really, really, really funny. There’s dialog like that–some of the slang is sort of astonishing–and there’s also been an overall shift in the way we handle dialog and exposition. It’s like we’ve moved from soap opera to prime-time teen drama in terms of how much is too much.
JAY: Was it a challenge to shift the tone of your own script from the stuff you grew up reading–and the era it’s rooted in–to the stuff coming out now?
SEANAN: A bit, yeah. Because it’s not just slang that changes, it’s our understanding of where certain lines are located. I needed Kitty to sound like Kitty, but I also needed her to sound like a modern teenager, and like someone we would root for, not excuse as “oh, that’s how they did things back then.” She’s always been such a great character, and the writers who’ve worked with her have, by and large, genuinely loved her, which I think made my task easier, but there was still a lot of finessing to find that line.
JAY: How does it feel to write a character you grew up loving? Do the stakes feel higher?
SEANAN: I thought about trying to be cool for like, five minutes, and then realized there was no possible way I was going to fool anyone, both because I am not cool–I am the Baymax of cool–but because it would be a massive, unsustainable lie. It feels…comic scripts are broken down by page and panel, right? You type “page 1,” and you drop two lines, and you type “panel 1,” and then you start describing things for your artist. I cried. I literally sat at my computer and looked at the first sentence I had written, and cried, because I have wanted this for so long, this is everything I dreamed of as a little girl, and it’s really happening. And of course, it’s an annual, and I really do want to write an ongoing, which made the stakes feel even higher, because this issue is sort of my audition piece. “That Seanan, she can really understand the X-Men, give her a team,” y’know?
JAY: If anyone at Marvel is reading this, by the way, I absolutely second the “Give Seanan the X-Men” sentiment.
But that also kind of leads to the question we ask almost everyone we have on here: Who–and when–is your definitive , Platonic-ideal X-Men team? When you think of “X-Men,” what’s the lineup–and medium or artist or era–you default back to?
SEANAN: Oh, gosh. I actually have two, and only one of them is technically the X-Men. Is that cool?
SEANAN: My “this is the team that made me an X-fan, this is the team that when I close my eyes and think I am starting from this foundation” team is the New Mutants, second lineup, so including Doug and Illyana and Amara and Warlock. I was also reading the main team, but they were all adults–except for Kitty–and while it seemed totally reasonable that adults might go to space and fight aliens and have wild mall adventures and eat planets, whatever, adults are weird, they were a little too old for me. Whereas the New Mutants were the age of the kids I desperately wanted to be, and everything they did was incredibly cool, and why couldn’t I have super powers and sleepovers and a magic sword from another dimension. You know. Normal kid stuff.
I kept reading as I grew up, I have favorite characters and stories from almost every era, and then the ’90s happened. And they happened like a hammer. I was in high school for a good chunk of the time, I was in college, I had very little money, stories had to be incredible to keep me interested, and the ’90s lineup did not do that. There was a lot of focus on characters I didn’t care about, the art style was not as appealing to me, all sorts of factors came into play. I drifted away. I stayed gone until a friend of mine shoved the first volume of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men into my hands and told me I should check on the mutants. I… did not expect to fall in love with so many of those characters and his interpretations of them. I certainly didn’t expect to walk away with a new favorite and a greater appreciation for some characters I had always tried to avoid. So while that is not My Perfect Team, Let Me Write Them, they are my platonic ideal modern X-team.
JAY: And it’s the first X-Team Emma Frost was officially on! (I’m not counting Generation X, because that was in a purely faculty capacity.)
SEANAN: Emma’s my girl!
JAY: I have to say, though–I know Emma’s your favorite, but after reading the first few Wayward Children books, I would really like to see you get your hands on Illyana.
SEANAN: Illyana was actually my ride-or-die teenage favorite. I love her so much, and she’s been treated so poorly by the world.
JAY: Looping back to pretty much the beginning: where would you recommend that folks who enjoy the X-Men: Gold annual dive into your other work?
SEANAN: Oh, golly. Well, if what they enjoy is the “teenagers being teenagers” aspect, Every Heart a Doorway is probably your best bet. It’s not technically a YA novel, but it’s set at a school, and has a lot of teenagers talking openly about their lives and their adventures. If what they enjoy is the plotting and the quirks that come with a compressed story, Discount Armageddon is sort of about superheroes with no powers and a lot of knives. And if they’re in that rare category of “people who only like to read things about actual superheroes,” Velveteen Vs. the Junior Super Patriots is about actual superheroes.