“Respect My Craft” – Gwendolyn Willow Wilson

In this consumer-based industry, it can be easy to forget the years of hard work that the people in the business put in. Behind every panel, it takes a skilled writer, artist, inker and colorist to make the product complete. Hush Comics’ weekly article “Respect My Craft” will dive into the history of these comic book greats that will hopefully give a new perspective on how the men and women behind the pen (or stylus) contribute to the collective awesome-ness of comic books, or at least give you a reason to invest in their work.

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Name: G. Willow Wilson

Profession: Writer

Notable WorkCairo, AirVixen (mini-series), Ms. Marvel (right meow!)

“You need to have integrity, even when you’re writing fiction. If you tell a story that gives a false or misleading impression about a real person or a group of people, you’re accountable for that, just as you would be if you were writing a nonfictional story. Fiction is not a license to lie.” – Gwendolyn Willow Wilson

You may recognize the name as the writer of the new Marvel series, Ms. Marvel, but G. Willow Wilson has been dropping knowledge for over a decade. Her path to Ms. Marvel was a unique one, as where she ended up is nothing compared to the journey that got her there. We may be a little biased because Wilson hails from Boulder, Colorado. Through all her worldly travels, she still considers Boulder home, although she lives between Cairo and Seattle now. “Like Frodo at the end of The Lord of the Rings, I can’t quite go back to living in the Shire, much as I might want to. I’ve seen too much of the rest of the world, and living in a small town involves a lot of pretending that the rest of the world does not exist.” If Boulder is the Shire, then Cairo must be Mordor itself. After graduating from Boston University, where Wilson got her first gig in the industry as an intern at Komikwerks (a defunct online comics publisher), she moved to Cairo to teach English.

In Egypt, Wilson took up various journalism jobs, writing for The New York Post MagazineThe Atlantic Post and the Egyptian anti-government publication Cairo Magazine that frequently challenged the Murbarak regime, years before the Arab Spring. However, GWW’s passion wasn’t always in journalism; She is a self-claimed fangirl and has been an avid comic book reader since she was a young girl. Thus, within a day of landing in Egypt, G. Willow Wilson was writing her first graphic novel, CairoCairo is the fantastical journey of six individuals and how a stolen hookah containing a Jinn (genie) leads them to a path of enlightenment. A lot of elements in the book were borrowed from her own life, which added to the honesty of it. There is a noticeable religious undertone in Cairo, but it feels neither forced nor preachy. Wilson should be applauded for her ability to share culture with readers, as opposed to making us showing it off. From Fortieth Day to Jinn mythology to dialect, G. Willow Wilson’s Cairo is educational for some, and warmly familiar for others – the embodiment of how graphic novels should be used to explore cultural diversity.

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What makes her perspective so unique in the comic book world is that she is not a typical American, nor is she a typical Muslim. At first glance, she is not automatically accepted as either identity. As an Egyptian-American, this resonated with me. Growing up “too American” for my Egyptian peers and “too Arab” for the guys on the basketball courts, I gravitated towards books like Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Wilson’s style seems much of the same. You are who make yourself, and in a male-run industry with so few Muslim contributors, G. Willow Wilson’s success is a huge motivator for other outliers like myself trying to break out in the industry.

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Cairo opened the door for Wilson to write Air in 2008, a peculiar series about a flight attendant named Blythe who finds herself traveling through time and space. It was a “very, very weird” book, as Wilson puts it. It garnered enough acclaim to become nominated for an Eisner Award, but flat sales led to its cancellation after 24 issues. Now, this wasn’t to say that DC wasn’t impressed with her writing skills, as she wrote several one-shots and mini-series for DC over the next several years. After writing Air for Vertigo, Wilson had several runs with varying mini-series, notably the five-issue run of Vixen. G. Willow Wilson described the run as Dan Didio’s attempt to “do a DCU story set in Africa that didn’t involve armed, talking gorillas. It seemed like a worthy goal.” Vixen plays the familiar part of an outsider among her own people. It’s fascinating how universal of a feeling alienation can be, even with people of the same ethnicity, beliefs and economic background. Overcoming those feelings is the reason that we read comic books in the first place.

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Wilson has also written two novels: The Butterfly Mosque and Alif the UnseenThe Butterfly Mosque is a memoir that chronicles when she converted to Islam, fell in love with a Cairene man, and other findings during her time in Egypt. Alif the Unseen follows an Arab “hacktivist” trying to spark a digital revolution in an Arab police state. The latter was a book that was released during the Arab Spring, which has seen Egypt in political and social turmoil after the revolution that finally saw Mubarak, and subsequently the Muslim Brotherhood..

Another challenge in the transition for Wilson was writing somebody else’s character instead of her own, and it’s an especially interesting one because most writers who start out in the industry go the opposite direction – writing somebody else’s character so they may create their own work some day. However, when GWW writes a character, you know that she wrote it; her blend of down-to-earth hilarious quips is somewhat of a trademark of hers.

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G. Willow Wilson has already lived such a wondrous life, and thankfully has chosen to share it with us. She’s written a post-9/11 story about a nation drenched in ignorant fear. In Egypt, she contributed to a magazine that was a cog in the revolutionary wheel and wrote two novels that share the beauty of Islam and Egypt in a way that makes readers learn, have fun and want to come back for more. Just one issue into Ms. Marvel, and I already like I relate more to Kamala than I do to Batman (and that’s saying something).

Checked out her bibliography and still want more? Check this out:

G. Willow Wilson is strong on the Twitter scene, and her blog is full of social commentary about race and gender in comic books. Wilson frequently interacts with her fans on an individual level.

Staying involved in the community is important to Wilson, as she frequents comic book conventions and other geo-political conventions. We will be visiting her in just a short couple of weeks for Emerald City Comic Con.

I wanted to point out that none of this art is mine; it is all credited to the original publishers (Marvel and DC/Vertigo Comics) . Thanks for all the love and support for You Nerd Like A Girl. Look to us next week for more “Respect My Craft!,” featuring the industries most talented contributors.

Written by Sherif Elkhatib

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