In Diana: Princess of the Amazons, the latest in DC’s new line of graphic novels for younger readers, Wonder Woman is only 11 years old and still figuring out where she belongs.
New York Times best-selling co-authors Shannon and Dean Hale were particularly interested in how a young girl would feel on an island with no other children.
In fact, Themyscira is not only devoid of other kids like Diana, the island is filled with powerful, perfect adult warriors.
The Hales have co-authored other graphic novels, like the Eisner-nominated Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack, as well as illustrated books in the “Princess in Black” series and, in prose, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.
Diana: Princess of the Amazons features artwork by Victoria Ying, a veteran of animation who’s making her debut for DC.
Newsarama talked to the creators to find out more about the book, how Diana’s feelings of isolation are relatable to any age, and what Ying learned about writing by working with experienced authors like the Hales.
Newsarama: Shannon and Dean, how did you first hear about this project? Was it your idea to write a story about a young Wonder Woman?
Shannon Hale: We first heard about it when DC contacted Dean and I to see if we would be interested in writing a book for their new line. At that time, it was really early on, so they asked which character we’d be most interesting in writing, which was super exciting, to have the whole vault, which would be your first choice?
Dean Hale: And immediately, I said Blue Devil.
Shannon: And then after you said Blue Devil, I said Wonder Woman.
Shannon: No, we both love Wonder Woman. I grew up playing Wonder Woman games in my Wonder Woman Underoos. And fast forward to now, for the last nine years, I’ve been driving a minivan with a Wonder Woman symbol on the hood. So Wonder Woman was just an obvious choice for us.
Dean: It was one of my best Christmas presents ever. I got the Wonder Woman logo and put it on our minivan on the 24th of December nine years ago.
Shannon: It was an excellent Christmas present. Every time I drive our four children…
Dean: You know who you are.
Nrama: Victoria, what about you? How did you hear about the project?
Victoria Ying: I heard about it because there’s a social gathering of, like, science fiction writers that I would go to. And I met my editor there, and she asked what I do. I hadn’t had anything published yet, because I’ve been in animation for so long and I was just transitioning into comics.
And then she asked me to send my stuff, and after she saw my stuff, she said, “Hey, would you want to work on this project for Shannon and Dean Hale for Wonder Woman?”
I just remember losing my mind and saying that would be amazing! Wonder Woman as a character is just so cool, and to get to work with Shannon and Dean … I’ve been a big fan of theirs for a long time. The “Princess in Black” series was just so cute.
So I was really excited to get offered my dream project, basically, with DC.
Nrama: Shannon and Dean, out of everything in Wonder Woman’s mythos, why did you choose to come at her story from this direction?
Shannon: We were fascinated with the idea of growing up as the only kid in your entire world. And that’s just not something we’d seen explored very deeply with Wonder Woman.
Yes, she’s an Amazon, and she’s incredibly strong and has a sense of justice and is one of the most powerful superheroes. And we’ve seen her relationship with her sisters on Themyscira.
But what was it like before that?
What did it feel like to be the only kid?
Given that we were writing these books for younger readers, I thought that was something kids would be really fascinated with. Imagine being the only kid in your entire world, and then imagine that everyone else is an immortal, perfect warrior.
How do you find your place there?
That’s where we began.
Nrama: You mention the younger audience. Did you tweak Diana at all? Did you make her seem more modern? Or are you sticking pretty close to her origin on Themyscira?
Shannon: We’re trying to really be true to what would Diana be like at age 11? What was she passionate about? What was she interested in?
I feel like the best way to connect with young readers is just to be as honest as you can about how it feels.
It doesn’t matter if you’re immortal or where you live or how long ago. We all have these same emotions and same experiences - feelings of betrayal and wanting to belong.
So we tried to be really true to that.
Nrama: Well, it’s definitely relatable these days that she feels lonely and is trying to find a friend.
Dean: Absolutely. I was an only child. I always say that I was raised by a cousin, because there were no male figures in my life, but there were many strong female figures.
Being able to grow up and have all this incredible support, and yet still feel a little bit like an outsider - I think it’s something that a lot of people can relate to in different times of their lives.
There’s always a time where you are part of the group, but you still feel like you’re alone.
Nrama: Victoria, you mentioned that you came from animation. What was that transition like, to work on this book?
Victoria Ying: There were some skills that transferred, and the biggest thing I brought over from animation was my knowledge of how to, like, stage shots and think about it almost cinematically.
But a graphic novel has its own challenges. For me, when I was in animation, I was working as a concept artist, so a lot of this stuff was just coming up with new ideas and cool stuff, but for a graphic novel, you have one thing and have to draw it over and over again.
That was definitely a challenge for me, that the character had to look very consistent the whole time. And the environment was the same one from different angles.
So yeah, it was a new challenge for me. But I was able to transfer many of the skills from animation.
Nrama: What was it like working with Shannon and Dean?
Ying: Oh I felt so lucky to work with them, because they had experience working with illustrators. Their scripts were so clear - they definitely understood what it was going to look like visually without being too restrictive. Like, it wasn’t the super-detailed panel descriptions, and they left a lot of room for the art to speak.
It was just great to be able to work with people who were so familiar with being able to write graphic novels and work with artists.
Shannon: That’s so great to hear.
Ying: It’s true! I also write graphic novels, and based on your script, I realized, like, wow, they’re so much better than me. So being able to see the way you guys wrote has influenced the way I write.
Shannon: We try to be very clear about what’s important, but give no more information than is absolutely necessary, because you don’t ever want to put an artist in a situation where they feel like what my one friend calls a “drawing monkey.” Like, “draw exactly what I’m visualizing, and it must be exactly what I’m visualizing.”
What’s the point of working with a great artist if you’re micro-managing that way? You want an artist to come in and be their amazing self and bring all of their thoughts to it.
So we really try to keep it to what’s the most important for the storytelling, and it hopefully leaves enough room for the artist to come in and do their amazing work.
Nrama: Shannon and Dean, you’ve worked on both prose and graphic novels. How would you describe the difference between the projects?
Shannon: I think graphic novels are the most challenging. Screenplays are easier than graphic novels. You’ve got motion and sound and all these other tools. With graphic novels, you’ve got to make it work in these few images, and you don’t want to have any more text than you absolutely need.
It’s a visual medium, so you want the visual to tell the story as much as possible. And you need to find a visual for each panel that works in a freeze-frame, that communicates what you need.
It takes a lot of thought, a lot of revision. And I think a lot of prose writers might jump into it thinking it’s easier because they don’t have to do all the work. But I think to do it well is really challenging.
Nrama: Do you have more Princess Diana stories that can fit in this world? And did you write the ending of the book with an idea of what comes next?
Dean: Oh, so many ideas.
Shannon: We have so many more ideas. We would love to do another young Diana story, absolutely.