An interview with X-Men Black: Emma Frost and What If? Magik writer Leah Williams.
Since their debut in 1963, the X-Men have sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them. But you know what? Here at AiPT!, we’ve got nothing but love for Marvel’s mighty mutants! To celebrate the long-awaited return of Uncanny X-Men, AiPT! Brings you UNCANNY X-MONTH: 30 days of original X-Men content. Hope you survive the experience…Comic book readers aren’t always the easiest audience to please. However, in the short time Leah Williams has been writing for Marvel Comics, she’s managed to win over more than a few readers. And in the case of X-Men fandom, way more than a few readers. Perhaps it’s because the writer behind the recent X-Men Black: Emma Frost #1 and What If? Magik #1 was–and remains–a fan herself. Williams was kind enough to speak to AiPT! about balancing those fan urges with her Marvel assignments, the appeal of Emma Frost and much more!
AiPT!: So, how did you break into comics, in general, and then make your way to the X-Men side of the Marvel Universe?
Leah Williams: How did I break into comics professionally? I got an email from Chris Robinson, Marvel editor. He’d read my first book, which is a self-published YA fantasy book, and he remembered me from back when I was working in a comic shop years before and writing about that. He asked if I had any interest in writing comics and I, who read that e-mail while sitting in front of a 15-foot-long vinyl X-Men poster on my wall and knew exactly who the $%#@ he was, had to take 12 hours to calm down before answering, “Yes.”
AiPT!: In your appearance on the Battle of the Atom podcast, you mentioned you were a fan of the X-Men before you had a chance to write them. I’d imagine it can sometimes be difficult not giving in to all of your desires as a fan. How do you go about balancing your responsibilities as a writer and your wishes as a fan?
Williams: Very relevant question. The first time I ever felt terror because of this, specifically, was while writing X-Men Black: Emma Frost. I felt out of control with ideas and excitement–it’s not a chill or professional look. I was effectively emailing my editor Jordan D. White fanfiction–600 words of gushing, loving speculation on Emma and where I could see her ending up. Like, I knew what I was doing was face-in-hands cringingly extra but I couldn’t not because it really felt like everything I was saying about her was THAT important to say to the senior X-Men editor. The reason I was still permitted to write X-Men Black: Emma Frost beyond the “do you want to” and then idea generation phase is because Jordan D. White is a very nice man. The fact that I get to write anything at all in comics professionally is because an editor is being very patient with me–I approach everything I get to do with the same endless energy and enthusiasm, but with X-Men Black: Emma Frost I was scared because I could feel very keenly for the first time how loving a character can be a liability because I’m not really rational about her. That can be a kind of blindness.
AiPT!: Which past or current X-Men creators would you say have most influenced your writing style on X-Men projects?
Williams: Undoubtedly Chris Claremont, and recently I had the opportunity to say this to him in a small, wavering voice. On the verge of tears. His work has a sensitivity and tenderness to it that I really imprinted on–especially in Excalibur, when it gets packaged with gentle comics irreverence and straight-up goofiness. I cannot explain how important his work is to me.
AiPT!: You’ve described your work writing the original cast of Excalibur and Emma Frost as love letters to those characters. I have to ask–are there any other X-Men characters left on your love letter bucket list?
AiPT!: Speaking of Emma–you’re a big fan of the former White Queen, but not every reader feels the same way (especially some Jean Grey fans). Why should readers who remain skeptical of Ms. Frost give her a second chance?
Williams: Consider this: there are no two people better suited to understand each other more than Jean and Emma. They are the only people in the world with the unique shared experience of being women telepaths, and of loving Scott. Jean and Emma are better together than at odds with each other.
AiPT!: While we’re talking Emma Frost, Trevor Richardson, the AiPT! staff’s self-proclaimed “Emma stan,” wanted to know what your favorite Emma costume or look is.
Williams: I love her current white look but I have a soft spot for the white costume she donned in Morrison/Quitely’s New X-Men. The corset will always have a place in my heart. Recently, in Hopeless/Ibáñez’s Young Jean series, Emma wore this white blazer look that I am still longing to see again. It was so cute.
AiPT!: Trevor also wants to know… what song Emma has on repeat in 2018?
Williams: I will let you know when the Emma Frost playlist I made for Marvel’s official Spotify account goes live. It’s one of the last few songs.
Note: [The playlist, which wasn’t ready at the time of this interview, is now live.]
AiPT!: Finally, Trevor was curious… what is one sentence you would use to prepare new readers for the pleasure of meeting Ms. Frost?
Williams: Emma Frost has a brutal heart, and it makes her radically compassionate.
AiPT!: I felt like your “Domino & The Rejex” story in Domino Annual #1 really highlighted the magic of the X-Men universe with humor and heart. A group of mutants who can’t easily disappear into a crowd of humans learning to accept what makes them so special. How did this idea come about?
Williams: To me it seemed like something obvious–like low-hanging fruit. I’ve always loved the “uggo” mutants like Maggott or Marrow because in any other genre, they would be body horror. They would be presented as something tremendously disgusting. But because they’re characters in X-Men comics, what would disfigure them in other genres is what empowers them here. RejeX is just the tender lens I view these folks with. I love them and I’m proud of them. This idea came about during a casual conversation with my editor Chris Robinson when we were just speculating on how their obvious mutant appearances would affect their day-to-day lives. I maintain that Domino probably wears SPF 1 million every single day.
AiPT!: Finally, what new adventures await Leah Williams in the X-Men Universe?
Williams: I have a one-page short coming out in the X-Men Holiday special this December.