Hello and welcome back to the Geeks OUT Creator Spotlight. For this edition I had the chance to speak to one of the most sought after and super talented comic writers working in the industry today, Vita Ayala! Vita Ayala is a queer Afro-Puerto Rican, born and bred in New York City, where they grew up dreaming dreams of dancing on far away worlds, fighting monsters on the block, and racing the fish along the bottom of the ocean. Their killer list of work includes THE WILDS (Black Mask Studios), SUBMERGED (Vault), QUARTER KILLER (ComiXology) all creator owned. They’ve also have been tearing up carpet in the mainstream on titles such as SUPERGIRL (DC), XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS (Dynamite), LIVEWIRE (Valiant), NEW MUTANTS and CHILDREN OF THE ATOM (Marvel), among others.
Chris Allo: We like to do a little educating here on the GeeksOut Creator Spotlight. With that in mind, as a queer non-binary person, how would you define that in a general sense? And what does it mean to Vita personally?
Vita Ayala: I can’t really define what queer non-binary means in a general sense, because those words and the identities “covered” therein are extremely personal. The “general” accepted definition for non-binary is a person who does not fall under the binary gender identities of “man” and “woman” in their societal context. But there is a lot that can be covered under such an umbrella term.
For me, I feel like I am a gender that is not “man” or “woman,” but not agender either. I don’t really have the language yet to full articulate it beyond saying that.
When did your interest in comics begin? What was your first comic book?
I have told those stories a lot, so I won’t go on too much about it, but my first comics were a Wonder Woman comic, an X-Men comic (with Storm and Bishop on the cover – or just Storm, my mind remembers both but also my mind is a labyrinth so who knows), and a Fisher Price-Marvel team up, Arabian Nights (which I still have).
I’ve always loved stories, and have had an active imagination. I was drawn to these books because they featured BIPOC people (and here, I admit that I misidentified Wonder Woman as Puerto Rican for a long time, but in my defenses, there are Reasons), and they were heroes. I would flip through the pages for hours, making up the words (since I couldn’t read at the time).
Who are some of the writers and artists (any kind of artist; they don’t have to be comic artists) whose work inspires you?
I’ll talk about some inspirations that are outside of Western comics – inspirations that have been with me since long before I was trying to become a professional writer.
Octavia Butler is a huge influence on me, as a creator and as a person. Her books saved my life, and rewired my brain.
Basquiat is one of my favorite artists. I grew up in the Lower East Side/Alphabet City in New York in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and his spirit was still in the concrete and brick, in the streetlights and subways. His work is incredibly powerful, but also, he as a person resonated with me a lot of a teen (and still).
Naoko Takeuchi has shaped my moral center a lot. She taught me what friendship could be, and how to love people for who they are not who you want them to be.
Bruce Lee – as an actor and creator and martial artist – is a huge inspiration for me. His drive and vision and self discipline are aspirational, holistically.
And I would be lying if I didn’t say that Lewis Carroll and Homer are both foundational figures in terms of my inspiration. Alice in Wonderland/Through he Looking Glass and The Odyssey are two of my favorite stories of all time (though, they are arguably the same story).
How has being a queer non-binary informed your work? What is it about being a queer non-binary writer that you feel gives you a unique and enlightened or challenging perspective that you channel into your work?
First, I don’t think that being any particular identity makes you enlightened just by virtue of being it. Enlightenment (if it can even be achieved) is a lifelong pursuit and requires a LOT of work.
This is a question that there are plenty of canned answers for, but the honest truth is that everyone’s perspective is unique and personal, and absolutely informs their point of view. My intersecting identities have shaped both how I am perceived in the world and how I perceive the world, and that in turn is channeled into the world.
I also believe that there is no objective state of being, and no way to creator “objective” work. Everything we do – whether casual or purposeful, art or science or whatever – is informed by our biases and experiences.
What drew you into wanting to work in the comics industry? What was the first comic or graphic novel that made you realize the power and potential of the medium?
I started working at a comic shop when I was 19, partially to justify dropping out of school, and partially to feed my comic and manga habit. I ended up working there on and off for 10 years (with breaks in there to attend college), and my understanding of Western comics as an industry was born and nurtured there.
I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t actually consider entering the industry as a creator until 2012, when I was working at the comic shop with Matthew Rosenberg. He was incredibly supportive, and he (having a lot more knowledge about the professional side) really helped guide me through my first few years/attempts to “break in.”
So great to hear about the support from Matthew. He’s a very talented writer as well.
There were two books that really reshaped my understanding of what comics could be. The first was Gotham Central – I could talk about this series forever – and the second was Strangers In Paradise, which was a book that also saved my life. And when I say certain books saved my life, I mean it literally. I would not be here, alive, if they hadn’t found me when I needed them.
In terms of work-for-hire projects, what kind of stories do you most enjoy writing? What are some of the projects you’ve worked on that particularly satisfied you as a writer?
I like writing a wide range of things, but I think I tend to be most immersed when I am stress testing what makes a character who they are, or I am trying to get to the answer of some sort of question I have a bout a character/set of characters.
It’s hard to single out a particular project that made me feel satisfied, because I get different things out of different projects. I don’t think I would be able to work on a project that I wasn’t invested in, and so I am very satisfied with having worked on things once they are done.
Also, honestly, the gift of collaborating with such incredible creators through these projects is a blessing. Every collaborator I have had has been both an inspiration and a wonder, and even when I am stressed, knowing I have such amazing partners (artists, colorists, letterers, editors) to work with me brings me energy and joy!
So great to hear you say that, Vita! Comics are a truly a collaborative effort.
Who are some contemporary writers and artists in the comics industry you enjoy most these days? Who inspires you to want to continue to work in the industry?
I am so incredibly lucky to know so many skilled, passionate, wonderful creators. I am most excited, awed, and inspired by my collaborators and peers.
Again, singling anyone out is hard because that means I am leaving people out, so I’ll just touch on a few I bought recently.
Trung Lê Capecchi-Nguyễn’s book, The Magic Fish, wrecked me. It’s incredibly beautiful and touching, and I had to sit with it for days afterwards.
Agreed, quite an amazing and empathetic tale.
Leah Williams and David Baldeón’s work on X-Factor has been consistently moving and interesting, a mix of joyful and melancholy. I love that book so much, and I will miss it desperately when it is gone.
Martin Simmonds and James Tynion IV have absolutely smashed the button in my brain that was made for Vertigo comics. That book is really incredible.
I’m a big Vampire the Masquerade fan, and the comic is a gas. I have been loving what Tini and Blake Howard are doing with the backups in that book.
I didn’t know about those! Will check them out!
My wife and I have been on a big 20th Century Boys kick lately, and Naoki Urasawa always energizes my brain!
What lesson or advice would you give to aspiring writers today? What do you wish you knew then that you know now when it comes to being a working creator in today’s industry?
I guess the advice I would give writers is to get into the habit of writing regularly. I don’t mean “you must write everyday” or anything like that, but more, figure out a routine that works in your life, and stick to it.
You have to hone your craft as much as possible, and you can’t wait for “inspiration to strike you” – keep a journal if you don’t feel like you can write fiction on a schedule or if you feel like you have writer’s block. Writing is a skill that you have to practice at to become more proficient at it.
As for what I wish I had known? I guess I wish I had known to try and get an agent as early as possible, or to hire a lawyer to look over contracts. Having an advocate that is purely on your side is important, and having someone to make sure that your interests are being made priority in legally binding documents invaluable.
As an artist’s agent myself, I whole heartedly agree!
The creators (writers, artists of any kind, designers), we are what brings value to the industry. We should be respected and treated accordingly.
As someone who frequently works in mainstream comics, what do you think the future of LGBTQ representation looks like there?
I have no idea, I haven’t been to the future haha.
I walked into that one…
If you mean what I would like to see going forward, I want to see more and varied representation. More intersecting identities. More, more, more.
Here’s a lighter question: who is your favorite existing queer character and why?
I have pretty standard answers (Renee Montoya, Xena, Katchoo), but I think that closer to the truth is the queer characters being created and pushed by queer creators.
I’ve expressed the same thing myself. I want authentic queer characters.
I love every queer character I had the honor of helping bring to life. I love every queer character my friends have put their sweat and tears into. All of them. They’re my favorite, because they are labors of love, and they are for us by us.
If you could put together your own superhero team from any queer characters who are out there, who would be on your team?
It would honestly depend on the story/what the goal was.
Are they investigating something? I have answers for that. Are they adventuring to the center of the Earth to find buried treasure? I have answers for that. Are they repelling space invaders or making magic? I’ve got answers for that too.
Although, I think whatever the goal/team, you should definitely bring John Constantine along.
What are the projects you are most proud of right now?
I can’t say what projects make me most proud, because I feel honored and blessed to have worked on every project I have been involved in.
But I will talk about the books I am currently working on/recently worked on a bit.
I am working on three series right now (New Mutants, Static, Children of the Atom), and have the absolute pleasure of teaming up with folks like Nikolas Draper-Ivey, Chris Cross, Rod Reis, Paco Medina, and David Curiel for art, and Travis Lanham and AndWorld Design for letters.
Some top notch creators! I love Paco, Reis and Chris Cross is amazing! I can’t get enough of his art!
I recently got to work with Skylar Patridge, Jose Villarrubia, and Ariana Maher on on a Question short for DC Pride, which what an incredible team!
Nice! Villarrubia is so gifted and a role model for me!
And of course, my creator owned work and partners hold a special place in my heart. Emily Pearson, Marissa Louise, Jim Campbell, Lisa Sterle, Stella Dia, Rachel Deering, Jamie Jones, and Ryan Ferrier have my unwavering love!
It’s promo time! Can you tell us about some of the creator-owned projects you’ve worked on that will be coming out in the next year? What’s your next mainstream project that you could talk about? Or not talk about–whatever you’re comfortable with!
As for WFH, mainstream, as I said above, I’m currently working on New Mutants (Marvel), Children of The Atom (Marvel), and Static (DC).
Loving your NEW MUTANTS and can’t wait to read STATIC!!
Not to mention the two stories you have in the Marvel Voices: Pride and DC Pride one shots!!!
I don’t have any creator owned work coming out in the next year, but as I said above, my creator owned work holds a special place in my heart.
Submerged (Vault Comics) is a contemporary queer, Brown retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth that takes place in the New York City subway.
The Wilds (Black Mask Studios) is a post-apocalyptic story that center queer BIPOC leads, in which the end of the world is beautiful.
Quarter Killer (Comixology) is a Black cyberpunk Robin Hood of the ‘hood story set in a near-future New York City that centers a Black non-binary character and their family.
Thank you so much, for your time and for speaking with me! Happy Pride!
Part two with Vita coming soon!
Chris Allo is a freelance editor and artist’s agent. He has been a serious comic geek since his early teens. He breathes, eats and sleeps comics and comic art, and is an X-Men fanatic. Aliens and Star Wars are his second favorite things in all the world. He also loves animals and has a cat named, Mugsy. He has a separate business with his partner, Puppet Punx!, specializing in costumes and puppets.