Gillen, Stevenson,Tarr & More Talk Young Superheroes and Teenage Angst in Comics

Teenagers are notorious ticking time bombs of emotions, hormones and heartbreak. Even as adults, there is still a part of us that connects deeply to those tumultuous years of awkward embarrassment and intense feelings. Now imagine if, on top of all the normal joys of puberty, you suddenly found yourself with superpowers. At Comic-Con International in San Diego, some of the finest creators of young adult superheroes gathered together to talk teens.

Moderated by Jessica Tseang, the panel included Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Babs Tarr, Sana Takeda, Marjorie Liu, Noelle Stevenson and G. Willow Wilson. Tseang kicked off the panel by asking each of the creators why stories about teenagers were so important.

Stevenson, who almost exclusively tells stories about teenagers, shared that "Everything is of equal importance to a teenager. The world might be ending, and prom is tomorrow, but those things are equal."

Liu called upon seeing the apocalyptic action movies of the 1980s as a source of her own teen angst. "Growing up, I really felt like the apocalypse was upon us," she said. "From my own experiences, it all felt very fear-based, and it didn't help that adults were always telling me to be careful."

And how did this impact her work on such titles as "Monstress"? "When I write fiction, my reaction to this as a person was having to be stronger and mentally tough and physically tough," Liu said. "When I write teenagers, especially young girls, who are surrounded by danger, they have to rise to the challenge and combat that--and sometimes the danger is from within."

Takeda, artist and co-creator of "Monstress," added that she relates deeply to the main character of their comic, a teenage girl who has a literal monster inside of her. In her teenage years, Takeda felt that she had something uncontrollable inside of her as well, and while it wasn't a monster, it was an experience she thought young adults could connect to.

The dialogue turned to Gillen, who uses superpowered teens as a metaphor, particularly the way they're able to turn up the volume on any story. Between his work on "Young Avengers" and "The Wicked + The Divine," his stories explore a sense of alienation coming from transitional stages in life, something he's attracted to in all of the stories he tells. "Teenagers can change, and that change is necessary."

Tarr felt it necessary to make certain changes through her art during her run on "Batgirl," in order to make the story more approachable, especially for a teenage audience. "We made it super user-friendly," she said, acknowledging that the amount of Batgirl stories that already exist could feel daunting for a new reader. "Opening a door and giving a reader a way to fall in love with comics was our goal."

Wilson, who is known for introducing Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel, and drawing in an entirely new audience to comics in the process, mentioned the importance of recognizing that there is no default human experience. "Everybody has had a conflict with their parents at some point, everyone has gone through their teen years with conflict between facing peer pressure and what their parents want from them," she said.

And how did she know she was striking a chord with her readers? "The real indication we were onto something was people who weren't Muslim, but grew up Mormon, or in an orthodox Jewish community, but still connected to ['Ms. Marvel']. The value in these characters is, you don't know what people are carrying inside of them, you don't know what about their story is going to strike a chord with people."

Stevenson agreed, adding further insight into her approach to developing stories. "When I write a teenage character, its about the feelings I had as a teenager, but also about hoping someone else out there like me will find it."

Writing her Eisner Award-winning "Nimona" was a project she worked on for her fifteen-year-old self, remembering how she felt at that time in her life. Stevenson connected deeply with weird girls in stories, longing to be a shapeshifter and change her own body. "My hope in writing 'Nimona' was that some chubby, punky kid in the South could find it, and things could make sense for her. Maybe its hard, and you have a lot of feelings, and you're mean sometimes, and you're not perfect or beautiful, and don't have it together, but you still deserve love."

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