This week, an era ends when The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #50 brings a close to the long-running series. The ending, which promises “explosions, friendships, and friendships forged in explosions”, will allow writer Ryan North to bring an ending to this chapter of Doreen Green's life on his own terms.
Over two volumes of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, North has turned Squirrel Girl from a jokey mascot to a symbol of superhero fun who symbolizes the lighter side of the Marvel Universe. She's also one of Marvel's most popular characters in the mainstream book market, and has become an animated hero in Marvel Rising.
Now, on the eve of the end of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, North chats with Newsarama, looking back at one of Marvel's longest running solo titles in recent memory - and setting a course for what he hopes will come in Doreen Green's future once he's told his part of the tale.
Newsarama: Ryan, under your watch, Squirrel Girl is now one of Marvel’s longest running current solo characters, and she’s reached heights of popularity outside mainstream readership and even co-anchors her own animated franchise in Marvel Rising. What are the key things you’ve kept in mind this whole time to guide you?
Ryan North: Really, the core of this has been Doreen as a character, and she'd been so clear from the start that it hasn't really been difficult! Though I can remember after the first eight issues, we took a month off and then came back with a new #1, and during that time I did somehow completely forget how to write her. The first few pages of that issue were bad and oddly Not Squirrel Girl, until I went for a walk and threw them out and started again. And after that: smooth sailing. Here's Squirrel Girl: she's smart, she's clever, she's funny, she's caring, she's powerful, and she can’t be beat. BAM.
That actually makes her a bit more challenge to write though, because she is so smart and thoughtful about what she does. If she's punched a criminal to make them stop doing crimes, and then for some reason they continued to do crimes, she wouldn't just punch him again. She'd try to figure out a third way. That makes for good stories and it makes Doreen awesome, but it means that as the writer,you always have to be thinking of smart and thoughtful solutions too! So since she always brings her A-game, you have to bring yours too.
Nrama: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #50 brings the series out on its own terms – you and artists Derek Charm and Rico Renzi made the decision to bring this story to its close. What led to that choice?
North: It's never easy to end a book, and it never feels like the right time. But by doing it now, we were in the rare (and very thankful) position of having a full arc to finish it with, so we really get the time to do one big final arc that hopefully sums up who Doreen is and what this book was about, and to give Squirrel Girl an ending – a real ending – to what's been going on in her life. Of course, nothing really ends, and there will be more Squirrel Girl in the future I'm sure, but this lets us wrap things up and set the stage for what comes next. And I'm excited for that!
Nrama: Looking back on two volumes, almost sixty issues, an original graphic novel and more, how do you see Doreen Green now versus who she was when you started writing her?
North: I really hope to have had some influence on her, to have left the character better when we're leaving than when she was when we first shows up. I think before she was mostly known as a joke – the idea that Squirrel Girl is the most powerful character in the Marvel Universe being used as a punchline. And now I hope she's known as a real hero: someone smart and caring and, yes, the most powerful character in the Marvel Universe. But now she's not a punchline, because you're not laughing at her. You're laughing with her.
I'm also really proud of how important her supporting cast has become to the character: Nancy and Tippy, Brain Drain and Kraven, Koi Boi and Chipmunk Hunk and Mary. I hope we get to see more of them in the future too.
Nrama: Which story or issue or moment is your favorite?
North: It's really hard to choose. I like #31 – Erica's goodbye issue – a lot, because it felt like we captured a lot about those two characters and the book as a whole in a single issue. Issue #42 – our "first" issue 50, if you count the first 8 – I was really happy with too, because we got to tell this on-the-surface simple Kang story, but one which did some neat tricks with time travel and the flow of information.
I liked the Savage Land arc because Erica and I came up with it together and because it had dinosaurs, which are and remain awesome. Really every story has a moment that reminds me of the people who made it in real life, and that's why reading the book is a very different experience for me than it is for most!
Oh, also, the moment where Squirrel Girl defeats Nightmare in her dreams with the combined power of squirrels, computer science, and throwing up horns. It was so metal.
Nrama: Conversely, is there anything you’d do differently given another 50 issues?
North: The book ends with Squirrel Girl in a very different place than when she started the series, and if I was writing another 50 issues, I'd love to explore where that takes her. But now I get to be just a regular reader and see what happens next without having to write it! There were really only a few restrictions on the character and the book, so it's hard to point to too many regrets or "if onlys".
Nrama: You made it through one of the longest running modern Marvel titles with just a few artistic collaborators - a rare feat these days. How did that consistency inform the stories you were able to tell?
North: It was pretty incredible! We were Marvel's longest-running ongoing series that wasn't Star Wars, and I don't think too many people thought a comic called "The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl" would do that.
And on top of that we only had two main artists: Erica Henderson, and then taking over from her, Derek Charm. (We had a few guest artists too – not to mention the zine issue with tons of different artists that I got to collaborate with! – but they were our two series regulars). It helped a lot, I think: not just in making the book feel different or special, but in letting that relationship develop, establishing that trust and rapport that turns you from colleagues into collaborators and friends. The book would not be what it is without Erica and Derek – and Rico Renzi, too! His work on colors gave the book a visual identity from day one that's been solid throughout the entire run. And Travis Lanham has been very kind in putting up with the ridiculous things I ask of letters. They're all just champs, and they've all put their mark on the book.
In a more literal sense, it let us do fun things like having a time travel story that switched to Erica's art for the flashback scenes, and then used Derek's art for the present. You don't normally get that sort of meaning infused in the artist on a book!
Nrama: This last arc is with Derek Charm, who’s been drawing Squirrel Girl since longtime artist (and current cover artist) Eric Henderson departed. You’ve worked with Derek a few times - how has working with him on this title developed that relationship?
North: Derek is the best. Everyone says this about other people but in Derek's case it's true. He'd done one arc on the book - the "Kraven and the gang get arrested during an escape room" story – and knocked it out of the park, and then we did a silent issue where he'd basically have to carry the whole show. And he did. In retrospect it was trial by fire, and I wouldn't have done it if I didn't know Derek was more than able to really do it justice. Sorry Derek, you're rad!!
Nrama: The solicitation for Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #50 promises “explosions, friendships, friendships forged in explosions” – what have you got in store for us?
North: I literally can't tell you much, because basically every single panel of the issue would spoil something. It's an ending, and I don't want to give it away! Especially since #49 ended with Squirrel Girl in mortal peril, and a book ending really gives that "will she or won't she survive" cliffhanger some weight. AM I INSANE ENOUGH TO KILL HER OFF ON MY WAY OUT THE DOOR? You'll just have to see!!
But honestly it's a really heartfelt issue and I hope people love it. So far I only know two people outside of Marvel who have read it and they both told me they liked it, so I'm breathing a small sigh of relief. AT LEAST TWO PEOPLE LIKED IT!
Nrama: What’s next for you? Can we expect more Marvel Comics work in your future?
North: Yeah, for sure! There's no ongoing books or anything for a while – I'd like to give that a chance to rest – but I'll be popping up here and there with some shorter things.
I believe November 20 is when Spider-Verse #2 drops, a one-and-done story about Aunt May getting bit by a radioactive spider and fighting crime as Spider-Ma'am. I'd done a story about her before and kinda fell in love with the character, so it was fun to come back and do another story.
And of course there's always other books by me coming out – the paperback version of my nonfiction time travel survival guide, How to Invent Everything, just came out! You can find out more about that at www.howtoinventeverything.com, and keep up with me at www.ryannorth.ca.
Nrama: What has the experience of writing such a well-loved and longrunning series taught you? What do you hope Squirrel Girl has taught your readers?
North: The fun thing about working in the Marvel Universe is the shared continuity – stuff is always happening around you, and you've just got to roll with it. And it's helped the book a lot! We were going to do a story with Doctor Strange, but then it turned out that when the issue would drop, Loki would've taken over that position as Sorcerer Supreme. So we used him instead, which was great because Loki already had a relationship with Nancy, and it made tons of sense.
Happy little accidents like that which can only happen when you're writing a monthly series and don't know what the universe will look like 2, 3, 6, or 12 months down the road. Now that I think about it, the Doctor Doom time travel storyline we did as our first arc of the new series was partially inspired by the fact that I wasn't 100% certain what the Marvel Universe would look like after Secret Wars, and going back to the 60s bought me some time to figure it out. [laughs]
As for the readers of the book, I never forget what an insane privilege it is to be invited into people's homes – their brains – once a month with this story. I think that it's been clear what Squirrel Girl – the book and the character – believe in, and I hope the people who have read it and will read it down the road will find it helpful in their own lives.
Put simply, I hope they eat nuts and kick butts.