Former Astounding X-Men writer Marjorie Liu has announced today her new Image comic coming out this summer, Monstress – a tale of an alternate history, a brave girl, and really, really big monsters created with her former X-23 collaborator Sana Takeda (Ms. Marvel).
We spoke with Liu for an exclusive interview previewing the new series, and have a first look at some of Takeda’s art as well.
Newsarama: Marjorie, tell us the basic premise of Monstress.
Marjorie Liu: A young woman named Maika — an outsider, an outcast — begins to unravel her mysterious past, and in the process discovers she’s got a tenuous psychic connection to a powerful, otherworldly creature, one of many such Leviathans that roam the earth.
This link puts her in the crosshairs of an old battle between competing supernatural and human factions, all of whom desire control over these elusive creatures.
What none of them count on is Maika herself — her courage, her intelligence, her compassion— or the fact that she’s slowly becoming something more than human.
A dark fantastic adventure set in an alternate 1900s Asia, Monstress is buried deep in the supernatural. It’s a story I’ve wanted to tell for a long time — it just took me awhile to put all the pieces together.
Nrama: How did you come up with this premise?
Liu: There are a couple different origins for this book. Like I said before, I’ve had certain images in my mind for a long time -- tenuous ideas — but I wasn’t sure what the hook would be.
Until about a year ago, when I found myself lounging against a statue of Godzilla in front of Toho Studios in Tokyo. And I’m standing there thinking, “Wow, wouldn’t it be cool to have Godzilla as your friend?” And that was the moment when it all fell into place.
Now, this story doesn't deal with Kaiju in the slightest— not in that pop-culture way that we’re so familiar with — but it does deal with monsters and friendship, and what it means to be “monstrous” (in all its varied forms).
But again, that moment only triggered one small aspect of the story. My time spent living in Asia, my desire to tell a story about women, filled out the rest.
Specifically: The 1920’s was as much Shanghai as it was Paris. Prior to World War II there was a universe in Asia that brought together all of Europe, all of the United States — Russian and Jewish immigrants — that was completely destroyed in the 1940’s.
As someone who lived in China, who still has family artifacts from that era, I have deep connections to that period of time. I wanted to imagine a world where that still exists, the Asia of the past, both real and imagined: a cosmopolitan otherworld.
And in this world I wanted to tell a story about what it means to be a young woman with power — a woman who exists on the margins of society, who is just beginning to realize that she has power.
Nrama: Tell us about your protagonist for this series, Maika.
Liu: Maika is a young woman who has lived most of her life as a war refugee, forced to move from place to place, always starting over at the bottom in cities and societies where she’s not often welcome.
It’s a life that has created a deep resilience in her, and compassion for those who exist on the margins.
Nrama: And you have this alternate reality, one where the monsters are part of everyday life. Without getting too much into spoilers, how has this world developed differently, and how much have you developed this history?
Liu: In some ways these creatures are forces of nature — like an earthquake, a typhoon, a blizzard. We can’t control them, but sometimes we can prepare for them, predict when they’ll happen. Humans have learned to adapt, and part of that adaptation requires a very select amnesia —in the same way we forget about natural disasters in our day to day lives.
Yes, these monsters exist — yes, there are things you learn to do in case they show up — but if it occupied your every living moment, you’d lose your mind.
Nrama: What's it like working with Sana on this, and what makes your collaboration particularly satisfying for you?
Liu: Sana Takeda is a genius. It’s really that simple. Her vision and sense of story and beauty is beyond compare. I loved working with her on X-23. I knew, though, that she could do much more beyond the constraints of a traditional superhero story.
But also, this is one of the first ongoing monthly comics written and drawn by two women of color, two Asian women — Chinese-American and Japanese — and that’s also satisfying on a totally different level.
Nrama: What's it been like working on this at Image as a creator-owned series?
Liu: The creative freedom is amazing. It has allowed us to stretch ourselves in ways we never imagined would be possible.
Nrama: Hard sell: why should readers pick this up?
Liu: Every single girl in the world has had to fight to have herself heard, to have space, and to have a self in societies that try their best to deny them all three. Every single girl, whether we want to recognize it or not, is a warrior. And me writing about a young warrior woman is less a fantasy than a reflection of what it means to grow up a woman in societies like ours.
Think about all the stories we have that contemplate men and power, masculinity and power, millions upon millions of such stories, and then think about how difficult it is for our society to even imagine women and power. The reason we don’t have a Wonder Woman movie is because society cannot contemplate what might be possible or what might be undone if a woman was given the power that men imagine daily for themselves.
Powerful women are always imagined as monstrous — it’s as old as patriarchy. Bringing women, monsters, and power together — and setting this in a world that was, never was, and could be — is something that is long overdue and will speak to a lot of people.
I've written a lot of kick ass women before, but I think this one is going to kick the most ass of all. And who doesn't want to see a young woman battling for her life with only a gigantic monster on her side?