The Marvel Universe opens up their gates this week for a new school for people with special powers. No, this isn’t a school for mutants or Avengers; instead, it’s an institution for magic users called Strange Academy.
This week, writer Skottie Young and artist Humberto Ramos introduces new magic users to the Marvel Universe as they learn from the very best in the fresh setting of New Orleans, a city rooted in the mystical arts. Although the students shouldn’t get too comfortable, because Skottie Young teases new magical threats that will interfere with the kids’ studies.
To prepare for the first day of school, luckily, Newsarama had the chance to talk to Young about what fans can expect from Marvel’s new magical book. Young takes a deep dive into the large cast that populates Strange Academy, why he chose New Orleans as the setting of the book, and what other popular magic users fans can expect to see rotating in and out of the series.
Newsarama: Skottie, the Marvel universe has had schools for mutants and Avengers - what made you decide that it needed one for magic users?
Skottie Young: It's just such a powerful thing that so many characters and people in the Marvel Universe have access to, and it's maybe one of the most unknown elements of power really out there because it's magic, right?
So once you get to a place where you're thinking about how to make sure that all these young people in the Marvel universe deal with what they have access to you start getting a little scared like we should probably be teaching them how not to end everything - that’s where my head was at the beginning.
It seems almost like the most logical thing to teach these kids how to deal with something that's so big and really unknown.
Nrama: What was the pitching process like for Strange Academy?
Young: That was really just me. I had kicked it around for a while. I grew up reading Generation X and I loved that book. I loved Chris Bachalo and Scott Lobdell's take on that when I was younger. I think Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo did a great job with Wolverine and the X-Men back in the day. I've always loved the younger characters. I drew a long run on New X-Men in the early 2000’s and I just love those kind of characters. I like the coming of age story that goes along with it.
So, I had just started kicking it around. For the longest time when I first broke into the industry, I thought, "Oh man, it'd be really cool to relaunch Generation X." But at some point, I just felt like that the mutants had been done so many times that I didn't know that I had a fresh take on that with those characters/those kinds of characters.
A couple of years ago, it was probably 11:30 at night and I had texted C.B. [Cebulski, Marvel's Editor-in-Chief] and was like, "Hey I've been kicking this idea around about doing a magic school in the Marvel Universe." He was like, "Wow, that seems like a really cool idea and kind of a no brainer. Somebody should've said this a long time ago." I threw it out to him as just a text. He was like, "Oh, that's really cool." And I kind of kept it in the back of my mind and I'd throw notes down every now and then.
Then I went to an executive editorial retreat, I was the only creator at this retreat and we were talking about different things. I looked at the agenda for the next couple of days, and somewhere on there said Scotty's magic book. I was like "Oh." He was like, "Well yeah, I just thought you could just share it with everybody and see what all the editors think." I was kind of on the fly, and realized I was pitching it, and I just did what you do - you’re like a grown-up kid.
I just started talking to the room about these weird and funny ideas that I had about a book very much like a kid playing pretend. So, I just was really throwing all these kind of general ideas that I had out. I don't know that I had it really solid there yet because you don't want to go too far down a rabbit hole before you know that the project is going to become real or not. And I totally expected everybody to be like, "Okay, cool, thanks," and then move on. It really was the opposite. Everybody really reacted well and throwing out things.
So, the pitch for it went over really well, and then it was just a matter of, okay, well this is really going to happen now I've got to figure how to schedule this into my life because at the time I was writing Deadpool full-time and I have my creator-owned books, kids, and the whole nine. From that point, it just came down to like doing some adjusting and seeing when it could happen.
Nrama: Tell us a bit about the main characters of your book.
Young: I have a post-it note on my computer with all the names to make sure that I'm getting everybody. I think there's about 10 main characters. Those are all brand new characters, but within those 10 there's a few that are stand out that we’re clearly focusing on a little bit more.
Emily Bright I say is one of the main characters. She's the lens in which the reader gets to view this new world. Girl from the Midwest writes a letter to Doctor Strange because she realizes that she's had a magic ability her whole life, but if you have that you don’t even know what to call yourself. She's like, "I don't know, am I a magician? Am I a witch? Am I a sorceress?" She doesn't know. So, she's trying to figure these things out.
So, we've got Emily Bright who's really good and connected with magic, and it’s good timing that the school is opening up.
Then you have Doyle Dormammu, which is the son of Dormammu, the big Marvel magic bad guy. Who knows how many kids he may or may not have out in the world? Is this really his kid? A lot of weirdness goes on when you have like the Lord of the Dark Realms. Doyle is a really cool character that I like writing because it's hard to know where he lands. Clearly, he's the son of a major villain. I think we all fight against the expectations of us. People expect him to probably follow in his father's footsteps, which is going to be a big challenge for his life - trying to subvert people's expectations. You get some coming of age things that we all go through - will we or will we not repeat the history of our parents or grandparents or whatever?
We have Erik and Alvie, who are twin brothers from Asgard. They've got a little cockiness to them. They very much come from a world of gods where almost everything's perfect. They look up to Loki, one of the craziest tricksters or magicians that they've grown up watching. So, they're interesting duo. You've got one that has a little bit more of a Type-A personality in Alvie and Erik is a bit more of the wild card. You may or may not like him. Sometimes I don't like him, while writing him [laughs], which is fun.
We have Zoey, who is a descendant of Doctor Voodoo’s mentor; Doctor Voodoo is running the school. We have Desi, who is a demon from limbo who can access everybody's torment. She basically can see everybody's pain and inner torture. She carries that around with her all the time. So, that makes her an interesting character to write and interact with.
We've got Gus who is a Frost Giant, which is really cool. I can't wait for people to check out how we deal with Gus, in the school because he's so huge.
Nrama: How does he fit through doors is the big question?
Young: That's the fun stuff that you're going to see is that he may not fit through doors. Gus may have to participate in class in other ways. You're going to see a lot of Gus peeking through windows and things like that. Yeah, so Gus is really fun.
We've got Calvin, who is one of the younger kids. He's an orphan who has been bounced around from foster home to foster home. Not the greatest life, but you would never know it from his attitude. He really keeps a pretty positive attitude despite his rough upbringing. At one of his foster homes, he found a leather coat, which is his magic coat. He has abilities through that.
You’re going to find out that each kids have access to magic through different things. Some of it's very internal. Some of them it's going to be potions and spells. Some is going to be some inner energy - animal type, spirits that they can manifest themselves through or staffs or tattoos. It's going to be very different for each kid, depending on where they come from. We've got a kid from Weird World, he is the son of a crystal warrior and a man thing. So, he is like a crystallized looking man thing kid. You’ll see how Humberto draws him. It’s just amazing.
Those are some of our main characters that we're starting off with. So it's a huge cast, and on top of that, we've got Doctor Voodoo, who runs the school; Zelma who is the librarian, who came from Jason and Chris’ run and has been around in this Strange universe ever since. I love her. I love the dynamics of her and what she's grown into. Then Marvel favorites we're going to just kind of weave in and out as we want. We’re going to throw Magik in there from time-to-time, Scarlet Witch. Populate the world with some characters that you would know, but this book is definitely going to focus on the kids.
Nrama: Speaking on Illyana, is Krakoan politics going to play a part with Magik or other mutants are at the academy?
Young: I'm not playing with it yet. I think Jonathan Hickman and everybody he's been working with on the X books have been really amazing and they are still building on that and setting that foundation in the Marvel Universe.
For the time being, I'm really going to be focused on just setting this foundation and not getting too much into that quite yet. I'm not saying that it won't start to happen, but we really wanted to make sure that we give readers a chance to get to know this pretty big cast of characters and a new kind of paradigm for the magic universe at Marvel before we start getting too tangled up in the other things going on in the X-universe. The X politics are obviously crazy right now. So, we wanted to keep off that.
Illyana, still being a part of that world, we still feel like she has such a connection with limbo and for me that’s really what I’m focusing on more than her connection with X-Men.
Nrama: You’ve mentioned that this book will be focusing more on the students, but what can you tease about the dynamic between the teachers and staff?
Young: The way that I'm approaching is it’s definitely going to be kid centric in that you’re going to have some students that kind of idolize these characters who have been rock stars to them in a way. They've probably seen them on television. They've been saving the day for as long as you've been around.
Then we're going to explore the other side of kids and they're going to be skeptical of these adults. Same questions that you asked, why are you starting a magic school? What are we doing and why don't we get to know everything? It’s going to be a very typical kid versus adult type of story between all of them. It will also depend on what character shows up, there's going to be a lot of lessons to be able to hand down from the different characters that we're going to weave in and out.
Nrama: As an artist-turned-writer, what’s your collaboration been like with Humberto Ramos? How much description do you give in your scripts and is there anything you are very thoughtful of as someone has been on the other side of a script?
Young: The collaboration with Humberto has been amazing. While he's not that much older than me, he broke in so early and has been drawing comic books for so long that he's been a hero of mine since before I broke in. So, to be able to be working with him on a project like this is amazing. I think he's one of the best artists in the business to draw the youthful characters. He’s outstanding. It was a dream that he agreed to do it. He's just so good that I trust him with so much.
Really what we did at the beginning was we worked on the character designs and by we, I mean I just described what I thought of the characters from just their characteristics, not necessarily the visuals, but just kind of like "Here's what I think these characters are and here are their personalities." Then he just went off and started sketching and he nailed them so easily. Once we got the character designs done, there really wasn’t anything we needed to go back and forth on.
I do write full scripts, and I've been writing for other artists for enough years to where - I think the hardest job is picking the artists that you trust. And if you find that artist to work on a book with you, then your job is so much easier because hiring him, that's pretty much the job. Anything that I do on the script is pretty much just me saying on her, on him - I trust him. He knows the emotion of the moment. He's going to do the acting. I don't really need to say, okay, the camera is now on the floor and X, Y, Z.
Having somebody like Humberto on board, he does most of the work for you because unless very specifically I want the camera in a place to achieve a certain idea that I had in my head. I don't need to go through all that. I can basically say, "Okay, we're in a library on Zelma, on Emily." I write the dialogue and then I hand it to him and then the pages that he did are like bananas. It's crazy. It's so fun because I can just really spend the majority of my time leaning into the characters and not the mechanics of staging shots. I've learned half of what I do based on him, so I don't need to tell him how to do it. He knows exactly what to do with it. He's such a professional.
Nrama: Why did you pick New Orleans as your setting, instead of New York, California, etc.?
Young: I try to figure out ways to put an individual stamp on our book and to be able to tell some stories that are location specific that haven't been done. It's very difficult to think about something in New York that hasn't been covered a million times by almost every comic book on stands because that's where so many are based. So, trying to figure out what would be new, that these characters got into some scrapes, of course, they'd be running the streets of New York or they'd be in Central Park, which is cool, but it's been done. And so as new we're like, "Where should we, where should we put these kids?"
So, when we were like where should we put these kids, Humberto and I were like around the same time, what if we did New Orleans. There's a darkness to the history there. There's a lot of folklore there with the darker mystic arts. So, there's a lot of connection with that.
Me, Humberto, Nick Lowe and, other editors on the book, Kathleen Wisneski, and Danny Khazem, went out to new Orleans and my wife went out and photographed us for three or four days and roamed around. We took swamp tours and went and in and out of these voodoo museums and really just engrossed ourselves in the world to see if we were making the right choice and we absolutely did. We walked out of there with so many fun story ideas and elements that have landed in the book already and we’re just a handful of issues in. So, New Orleans was definitely a cool place to decide to set it.
Nrama: What can you tease about the magical threats that will be affecting your book?
Young: That is something that I'm holding on to. I'm not going to tease it very much. We definitely have some cool and creepy groups that are going to start becoming aware of this new surge of magic happening around there. But other than that, I'm keeping that one a little bit closer for the time being because at the beginning we're focusing on the kids, establishing the school, a day in the life of the school, and things like that. But the big magic thing coming is such a big part of the overall story that I don't want to give too much away yet.
Nrama: To wrap, what are you most excited for fans to see with this series?
Young: I'm excited for fans to meet these new characters and see who gravitates towards who. I think that there's a character in there for everybody. I think that we're were doing such a good job of building varied characters that I feel like anyone can find a friend in them.
So, I'm excited for that and I'm really excited for people to see the world that Humberto is building with these kids, the school, the way we’re inserting magic, and just the fun over the top action and acting that he's doing. He's really going to be the star of this. If people don’t like artwork then maybe I should just walk away from comics. I don't know. [laughs] They're doing such a great job that I can't wait for people to open up every issue and just be in awe of what he's doing. I think he's doing the work of his career.