20 years ago, May "Mayday" Parker was born. What If? #105 by Tom Defalco and Ron Frenz created the cult-favorite Spider-Girl out of a simple question: "What if Mary Jane had never lost the baby, and Spider-Man had a Spider-Girl?"
The issue spiked sales for the What If? series and garnered enough fan support for Marvel to take notice and spin Mayday off into not just her own series but a small line of three titled called MC2. Spider-Girl ended up running 100 issues from from 1998 to 2006, becoming Marvel's longest uninterrupted female superhero run ever.
For the anniversary of her debut, Newsarama reached out to DeFalco, Frenz, and artist Pat Olliffe to revisit Mayday and her family.
Newsarama: Tom, it’s been 20 years since you’ve created the character of Mayday Parker. Why do you think she’s an important character?
Tom Defalco: I don’t know if she is an important character. I just think of her as a fun character who had some interesting stories.
Nrama: Why do you think she resonates with so many people?
Defalco: I think the team and I did our job by crafting a world around Mayday that seemed real. We surrounded her with an interesting supporting cast, who all seemed to have their own lives and desires, yet told us something about Mayday.
Pat Olliffe: I think when Tom and Ron put the concept together they really hit on something. I connected with Mayday just like our fans did! Our being able to tell compelling super hero adventures interwoven with engaging stories about Mayday’s life as a teenager with her special gifts I think created something fans could really get in to. Plus, thanks to the diehard Spider-Girl fans, we were able to tell these stories consistently, month-after-month for years and the impact that consistency had on the SG fans can’t be underestimated. Spider-Girl ran for 10 years with one regular writer and only two regular artists! That is what builds a following.
Nrama: Why do you three enjoy working on Spider-Girl so much?
Defalco: Mayday is an open and optimistic person - a ray of sunshine who brightens the lives of everyone around her. I just like spending time with people like that.
Olliffe: It’s hard to pick one thing! Of course getting to work with Tom DeFalco is a big plus! I’ve always enjoyed working with Tom, a great writer and great guy as well! Having had a lot of fun drawing the teenage adventures of Peter Parker in Untold Tales of Spider-Man, getting the chance to draw the adventures of his teenage daughter felt very comfortable to me. Loved drawing all the cool MC-2 heroes and villains but I might have enjoyed drawing Mayday’s school/home life even more!
Ron Frenz: The team. Working with Tom is a joy, becoming friends with Mr.Sal Buscema is an honor and the whole team from colorist Mr. Bruno Hang to our letterer Mr. Dave Sharpe to our fantastic editors from Tom DeFalco to Tom Brennan and every one in between (even the one that didn't understand why Marvel continued to publish Spider-Girl) were professionals all and were irreplaceable parts of whatever success Spider-Girl can claim!
Nrama: What was your favorite issue to work on?
Frenz: I couldn't choose a short list of favorites. I'm very proud of the entire run. (even the ones I didn't work on!)
Defalco: That’s an impossible question to answer. I don’t like any of my stories when I’m writing them, I’m always struggling to make them as good as I can and I’m never satisfied. Once the story is finished and printed, I have favorite stories and favorite moments, but too many to list.
Olliffe: That’s a tough one, I was very fortunate to have a nice run on Spider-Girl so that’s a lot to have to choose from! Obviously the first issue stands out to me since that was my beginning with the character, but I would also pick issue #53, “An Invisible Girl." Tom did an amazing job with that very touching story and I just tried to do it justice.
I know I was supposed to only pick one favorite but I have to mention issue #24 as well! I was a huge Iron Fist fan and pitched that idea to Tom, he was kind enough to run with it and make it into an actual story! Loved working on that issue! I could go on, but I’ll stop there!
Nrama: One of my favorite issues from your work, Pat, was Spider-Girl #41 titled "‘Nuff Said." It was a silent issue after Spider-Girl blames herself for Crazy Eight’s death. You were able to showcase the anger and despair May was going through. What was your process like drawing that issue?
Olliffe: I remember when I was told about the silent issue concept I thought it was a great idea! Tom and I had worked together for a while at that point and we were very comfortable with each other as storytellers. Part of my job as a penciller is to read the script or plot and then tell the story visually as clearly as possible, as if no dialogue will be added. So my approach to this “Nuff Said” issue wasn’t a big departure from how I would usually approach an issue of Spider-Girl.
Nrama: One of the greatest qualities of May’s character is how she shows her emotions. She was allowed to be vulnerable and strong all at the same time. This helped May become such a relatable and multi-layered character. How did you express this through your artwork, Ron?
Frenz: By drawing her crying? Sorry. Teenage characters lend themselves to comic storytelling as they tend to feel everything more deeply and broadly. As mature as May was in some ways, she was still a young woman choosing to deal with a tremendous responsibility.
Nrama: One of my favorite aspects of Spider-Girl is the different styles May took on, from her clothes to the change of her hair. What was your thought process when coming up with these design ideas?
Frenz:Certain aspects of Mayday’s look were accidental, others quite deliberate. I never intended May to be a tomboy by putting her in overalls in What If? #105 but that's the direction Mr. DeFalco and Mr.Olliffe took it. That made it character development when May began wearing skirts as the series continued. Also, I bought way more teen fashion magazines than a guy my age should be buying. If our editors Nicole Wiley and Molly Lazer liked what I was doing I was content. Mayday's hair stayed long after her "sabbatical" because the editor and the fans liked it that way. I would have had her cut it short again.
Nrama: May had some cool villains throughout her hero career. What was your favorite to design?
Frenz: They were all my babies and some of my favorites were designed by Mr.Patrick Olliffe!
Nrama: One of the series’ most powerful stories was the dynamic between Normie and May, ending the Goblin/Spider War. Was it always your plan for Normie to be redeemed?
Defalco: Nope. When Normie first appeared, I thought it would be the only time he appeared. It never occurred to me that he and Mayday would eventually become close friends.
Nrama: Another important relationship in May’s life was her dynamic with April (her clone). Can you tell us a bit about the thought process going into building that relationship and how you made the decision to end April’s arc the way you did?
Defalco: Ron Frenz and I kept talking and talking about April. The more we talked, the more we found little interesting story bits that we could do with her. I think Ron is the one who really had a vision for the end of April’s arc and I went along for the ride.
Nrama: Is there any MC2 characters (besides Mayday) that you wish you could have worked on more?
Defalco: All of them - especially the Buzz and J2. Those were two fun characters.
Nrama: Tom, you and the rest of the team had an opportunity to tell more Mayday stories after the events of "Spider-Verse." Fans were able to get a peek at what she was up to and you gave us a little glimpse of her supporting cast. May’s supporting cast is such an important aspect of your run on Spider-Girl. What do you think some of these characters are up to - Wes, Courtney, Davida, etc.?
Defalco: I think they are living extended versions of the same lives they have always lived.
Nrama: Unlike many superheroes May was actually pretty good at keeping her secret identity… well a secret. There were always hints that maybe some of her friends knew. Is this something you can confirm?
Defalco: I can neither confirm nor deny that assertion.
Nrama: Ron, when May returned in “Spider-Verse” and you had the opportunity to draw May again for back-up stories, how did you integrate May’s “Spider-Verse” designs and your own style for the character?
Frenz: In “Spider-Verse” visually I ignored my own preferences for the character and used all of the "wrong" costume and design elements of the other illustrators involved to distance myself from what was being done with the character and play devil's advocate as to whether or not it was our Mayday at all.
Nrama:In the Secret Wars: Spider-Island back-up, May received a new costume mixing her old look with her father’s Spider-Man design. What was your thought process in adding Peter’s webs to May’s costume?
Frenz: In the Spider-Island back-ups, Tom and I more fully embraced the situation in which Mayday found herself and put aside game-playing with the character to better explore the emotions brought about by what had been done to her. The new costume was an eleventh hour decision to give May back her individuality since no one who had followed the Spider-Girl series was waiting for May to "inherit her father's webs" and "mature" she was always very much her own character. The mix of Maday's costume elements with Pete's was to get the design past the editor.
Nrama: We saw a glimpse of this in your stories post “Spider-Verse,” but what is the family dynamic like after the loss of Peter?
Defalco: The dynamic will have totally changed. I’m not exactly sure how things would be different, but Pete was such a large part of Mayday’s life - and the series -that I can only assume everything would be different.
Nrama: What are your thoughts on Marvel’s current comic book, Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows? A comic book that has a similar premise to Spider-Girl.
Defalco: I’m afraid I’ve never read it and don’t have any thoughts about it.
Olliffe: I’m aware of the book but to be honest haven’t read it. Based on the concept similarities I’m sure there might be some overlap between the two series but Spider-Girl was unique all on her own due to the creators that brought her to life and the fans who followed her adventures.
Frenz: I haven't read any of Renew Your Vows, I'm aware there are some Spider-Girl fans who enjoy it.
Nrama: Throughout your run on Spider-Girl, May was always in high school. Did you ever have thoughts of putting May in college or seeing her as an adult?
Defalco: No, not really. People often said that it was a big mistake to allow Peter Parker to graduate high school and then college. Pat, Ron and I decided to keep Mayday in high school and I think it worked for the series.
Nrama: Pat, you very much embraced the 90’s and early 2000’s in your character designs. What would be your take on what the character would look like today?
Olliffe: If I was given the chance to redesign her look today? Well, I know this sounds like I’m ducking the question but, I can’t think of anything I’d change. Ron’s decision to put her in the Ben Reilly costume was great and can’t improve on that!
Nrama: If May returned again for a mini-series or ongoing series, are there any changes you would make to her character design. How would she embrace 2018’s style? Would you change the look of any of May’s supporting characters?
Frenz: I would have to consider those questions under the conditions it was happening - If it ever happened - and talk with Tom about such things. I would be all for putting her back in her original costume!