Over the course of more than 40 issues of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (and an OGN), writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson have established a creative team-up as indefatigable as their title character. But with April 11's Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #31, Henderson says farewell to Marvel's unlikely it-girl.
(And North and readers will say "Hello!" to a new artist in May. More on that in a bit.)
Over the course of their run, Henderson and North have turned Squirrel Girl from an underuitilized gimmick into a woman who, in their words, reflects their common reality - and a superhero who has a reputation for killing her opponents with kindness before jumping into the fray (though anyone who has seen her take down Dr. Doom knows she can hold her own when the chips are down).
Now, having sent Squirrel Girl all over the Marvel Universe - and even into outer space - North and Henderson's partnership on the title is coming to an end with Henderson's departure (though she'll remain on covers). Just ahead of Henderson's final issue, Newsarama spoke to the creators about Squirrel Girl's unbeatable rep, their favorite stories they've created together, and what's next for Doreen Green with North remaining on the title.
Newsarama: Ryan and Erica, together you’ve created over 30 issues of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (with no sign of her adventures slowing down). Did you know when you set out on this adventure that you’d stick together for one of the longest writer/artist runs in recent memory?
Ryan North: If you count the original 8 issues before we started over with a second #1, the 29 issues of Volume 2 Erica did, and the OGN (which is at least five issues worth of comics) then it's actually over 40! Not bad us.
I didn't know anything when we started, but it's always great to find a creative partnership and friendship that just works, and this was definitely that.
Erica Henderson: I honestly didn't think we were going to make it past issue #3. Love it or hate it, you have to agree that it's very different from what's out there and especially what was out there three years ago. So, I liked the book but I wasn't sure anyone would give us a chance!
Nrama: For both of you, how does your vision of Doreen Green when you took on this project compare to your vision of the character now?
North: I've told this story before, but in the very first draft of the very first issue, Squirrel Girl defeated Kraven by getting squirrels to go down his pants.
It worked, but it was a "standard" superhero victory - at least as standard as Squirrel Girl gets. Our editor Wil Moss told me that he always saw Doreen as the kind of person who helps people with their problems, and it was like looking at the back of a teacher's manual where all the answers are. I told him to ignore the draft I sent him and read a new one I'd send over real quickly, and in that version - the same as in the published one - Squirrel Girl and Kraven work it out, instead of fighting.
That's been a defining aspect of Squirrel Girl ever since - her ability to listen, to empathize - and while that was there in the first issue, it wasn't there at the first draft of the first issue!
Beyond that - even as I was writing the first issue I had Erica's drawings of Doreen up on another monitor, because they were so full of life and personality that they instantly captured who Squirrel Girl is. We ended up putting them on a variant cover!
Henderson: I knew a little about Doreen, mostly informed by her debut and a bit about how she always wins fights. For this book though, I had no idea. The pieces of art that Ryan was talking about I drew before I knew who might be writing it or what the tone or target demographic of the book might be - or if there would even be a book! This is why I always think it's funny when Ryan says that my pictures were an influence because I drew a whole bunch of things in the hopes that one might be on point.
Nrama: Erica, you’ve got one more issue in your run on Squirrel Girl. How does it feel to be saying goodbye?
Henderson: It's bittersweet, I think. I'm glad for the opportunity to do different and varied things but Squirrel Girl represents over three solid years of my life (and almost 1000 pages of work). It's something that Ryan and I have really built into something special and that's not a thing one easily casts aside.
Nrama: Your last story is a one-and-done in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #31. Did you get to throw in any last “wish list” items?
Henderson: There were no formal requests but this issue does have a lot of costume changes and is about Nancy and Doreen's relationship so I'm pretty happy.
Nrama: Ryan, you’ve thrown nearly the entire Marvel Universe at Erica and, like Squirrel Girl, she’s got an unbeatable track record. What’s your favorite moment from your run together?
North: There is an upcoming moment in #31 that made me cry when I saw how Erica drew it, it was so perfect. You'll know it when you see it on Wednesday! And then I later found it that this was revenge on her part, because I made her cry with a scene in the OGN (Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe), so at the last moment, we're finally even.
On top of that, the first page of the first volume’s #5 - where Squirrel Girl is fighting a suspiciously neon-green T-Rex at the statue of liberty - was just gorgeous, and Erica was the nicest and gave it to me as a gift. Erica is so great, you don’t even know.
Nrama: Erica, what’s the most challenging thing Ryan put in a script for you?
North: Erica, please ignore the 32-panel spread we did.
Henderson: Is there a word limit? *Winking Emoji*
Actually the 32-panel spread wasn't an issue. I think managing the number of panels has been (if you've followed us on twitter you'll have seen this) an issue but he's learning! That's the magic of working for three years straight on intense deadlines. We were not the same creators going in as we are now.
Nrama: Ryan, you’re continuing Unbeatable Squirrel Girl once Erica departs. What can you tell us about the next chapter of Doreen’s life?
North: The next story brings us back to the beginning with Kraven the Hunter. Squirrel Girl has always found the good in everyone - even Kraven! - and because of her he's had this really redemptive arc in our book, since our first issue. But he hasn't always walked the straight and narrow - even after knowing Doreen - and this will be a story exploring that. Also, they get locked in a deadly escape room and Howard the Duck is there too! And that's just the first issue, actually.
Nrama: Can you tell us who your next artistic collaborator will be?
North: I can! The next arc, which starts with May’s #32, is being drawn by the one and only Derek Charm, who is terrific. We've worked together on Jughead (in fact, at the last Eisner awards Erica and Derek and I were all seated at the same table and won Eisners together, for both Squirrel Girl and Jughead. That’s right I worked the Eisners we won into the conversation!) so I have the advantage of already knowing each other and being award-winning friends (that’s right, I did it again!), we're able to hit the ground running. I'm really excited to start showing off the work he's been doing! And Rico Renzi – who has been coloring the book since Day One – is coloring Derek, and the pages look terrific!
Nrama The question that must be asked: will Squirrel Girl be part of Marvel’s “Fresh Start” relaunch?
North: In that she stars in an ongoing comic book published by Marvel and that every day is a chance for each of us to make a fresh start: yes!
Nrama: Erica, what’s next for you now that you’ve wrapped up your work on Squirrel Girl?
Henderson: I'm working on a very action intense book next. More R-rated. It's not announced yet so that's all you get for that!
What I can talk about is the fact that Brandon Montclare of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur and I signed a two-book deal with Penguin Random House. So after the first still-secret book, I'll start on the art side for our middle reader graphic novel series, Secret Book Club.
Nrama: Ryan & Erica, Squirrel Girl has become a ubiquitous part of the Marvel Universe in the years you’ve been writing her. What, in your opinions, makes her truly “Unbeatable"?
North: For me it's the fact she wants to talk before getting into a fistfight - in our universe that's how most of us live our lives (rght??) but in a super-hero context it's more rare. I love how competent she is (she's smart, she's super-powered, and she's got amazing friends!) and it's that - plus her compassion - that makes her unbeatable in my eyes.
Henderson: It is very hard for me to answer things when you take all the talking points, Ryan!
I will say this, a lot of times when you have a smart, competent woman she has some sort of bizarre trait to make her more down to earth - remember how in the 90's smart women in movies fell down a lot? (Now, she's not threatening to your masculinity, guys!) Or it's a comedy so they're insufferably twee. Or she has a job and therefore can't even cook ramen noodles. Doreen isn't perfect, but she's a more well rounded human than I think a lot of women are allowed to be and that's important to me. She is literally a two-dimensional cartoon but she's not presented as one.