Two of the most popular things in comics are manga and the X-Men. So why not put them together?
Once again, America – we give you what you want.
X-Men: Misfits is a new graphic novel from Del Rey that recasts the popular superheroes in a format inspired by shoujo manga. Co-written by married comic creators Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman, and illustrated by manga artist Anzu, it retells the familiar tale of a girl named Kitty Pryde who goes to a school for gifted youngsters, and finds herself torn between the cool kids of the school’s Hellfire Club, and the more straight-laced X-Men.
Telgemeier and Roman gave us an exclusive look at the making of the book, along with plenty of pages of art to whet your appetite. It’s the X-Men as you’ve never seen them before, and while many books claim that, this one delivers…
Newsarama: Raina and Dave, how did this book come about, and what made you want to work on it?
Raina Telgemeier: The good folks at Del Rey Manga approached me about writing the series, based on liking the work I did on the Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels.
They were looking to create an X-Men series to appeal to a similar audience. I asked if Dave could co-write with me, because he knew waaaaay more about the X-Universe than I did.
Dave Roman: It just seemed like too much fun to pass up! I always had a fondness for the X-Men characters and instantly started imagining how they could work in a shoujo manga setting.
In a single conversation with Raina, I started realizing how Xavier’s Academy could work as a private school…and, which mutants would fit into which social cliques, and it just kept snowballing so quickly that it felt like the book was practically writing itself.
Nrama: How long will this series last?
Telgemeier: We’ve written two volumes so far!
Roman: The second book adds more characters into the mix, and even though it wraps up story threads started in book 1, we left the door open for a lot more adventures and drama.
So I guess if people enjoy these versions of the X-Men characters, and want to see more, anything is possible! I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing more focus on Nightcrawler!
Nrama: Why did you want to go with Kitty as the main protagonist, and what do you feel is Kitty's central appeal as a character?
Telgemeier: We knew our central character needed to be a young teenager, and we wanted her to be relatable—a little bit insecure, despite the cool things she can do. Rogue would have been a good candidate too, but we felt that the first X-Men movie already did something similar with her character.
Kitty’s been a fan-favorite of so many people for so long, she just seemed like a fun character to write into the center of the story—and she already shared a lot in common with other great shoujo heroines!
Roman: Her powers tied really well into the themes of the story. Being insecure, and falling through stuff. Walking through walls, and being able to go between very different groups of people: the popular Hellfire Club, and the anti-social X-Men.
Nrama: What were some of the major tropes of manga storytelling that you drew from for this story? I should ask about Kitty's ears...
Roman: This book is a melting pot of homage and manga tropes. All in the spirit of good fun, of course! The cat ears just came out of the main character being named Kitty. I always liked how in the Sailor Moon manga, since the main character’s name was Usagi, they would use little rabbit icons on her caption boxes.
So we did that with cat icons, and also thought it would be fun if Kitty’s chibi persona was a cat-girl like Tokyo Mew Mew.
Telgemeier: There are also elements of Reverse Harem comedy (Ouran High School Host Club), Magical Girl (Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura), magic school (Sugar Sugar Rune, Negima), high school (Kare Kano, Love Roma).
And, as hinted at in the back of the book, the next volume will have cooking competitions and a fashion show!
Nrama: Conversely, what were some of the major X-tropes you wanted to draw from, and what were some of the things you preferred not to use?
Roman: The main things I wanted to avoid were aliens (Shi'ar Empire), time travel ("Days of Future Past"), and alternate dimensions. That’s why our Longshot is an Earth-based mutant rather than coming from the Mojoverse.
I think the X-Men movies did a great job of focusing on the social metaphors of being a mutant. It’s totally relatable, especially for teenagers and anyone who feels less than normal. But once you start adding too many other sci-fi elements, the themes can get a bit muddled.
Nrama: Tell us a little about Anzu. What was your collaboration like?
Roman: Working with Anzu was great! She really understands the language and iconography of shoujo manga. We knew from her samples that she’d be great with drawing the boy characters super pretty (a must for this genre!), but we hadn’t seen much comedy and chibis in her work.
But once we got the first batch of pages and saw how great she was with the over-the-top comedy, we started loading it on even more! There’s a lot of extreme emotional swings between serious and funny that Anzu just excels at. Stuff that Raina and I would never have been able to pull off in our previous books!
Nrama: Raina, what was your collaboration with Dave like? Dave, what was your collaboration like with Raina?
Telgemeier: I really appreciated working with Dave. He has way more experience writing scripts for other artists than I do—I’ve always written in thumbnail format, for myself to draw from.
Dave has a great imagination for story and character writing. It’s fun to watch him sit down, and an hour later, have entire scenes written!
Roman: Raina is the ultimate filter for my crazier ideas. She really keeps everything grounded, and makes sure the focus is on the human elements of the characters. The whole collaboration process with Raina has been so rewarding, that I can’t wait for the two of us to make more books together!
Nrama: I must also ask about Manga Colossus, who sort of has my favorite visual...
Roman: Colossus was a completely last-minute addition! When we got to the New York City scenes, we realized we needed another teacher, and figured a big strong guy like Colossus made the most sense to balance out the others.
But we didn't even include a description like we did for everyone else, and the artist was halfway through the book before our editor asked us what "our" Colossus looked like. I said it would be funny if he was sort of like Pops Racer when he was human, and a steampunk robot like Tik-Tok from the Return to Oz movie when he's covered in metal.
When we got the preview pages of the final book, it was a delightful surprise, and still makes me smile every time I see it.
Nrama: What are some of your other projects coming up?
Telgemeier: My first original graphic novel, Smile, will be published by Scholastic/Graphix in February. Right now we’re in early development on a couple of new projects, one of which Dave is writing for me to draw—we had so much fun collaborating on X-Men, it made us want to do another, larger project together. I’m also developing a high school romance story, which should be fun.
Roman: At the moment, my friend Alison Wilgus and I are co-writing a series of manga-format graphic novels based on the movie version of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Once we finish those, I’ll be getting back to work on my webcomic series, Astronaut Elementary, which will be collected and revamped a bit for First Second books!
I also hope to have a follow-up Agnes Quill book through SLG in the not-too-far future, and more Teen Boat mini comics with John Green.
X-Men: Misfits is in stores now.
Zack Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a regular contributor to Newsarama