BLACK PANTHER Writer Don McGregor on Creating Killmonger (EXCLUSIVE)

Over the years,  Black Panther has been brought to life by many creators, probably most famously by fantastic black writers like Christopher Priest and Ta-Nehisi Coates. But back in 1973, Don McGregor began a run with the King of Wakanda in Jungle Action that’s often held aloft as one of the most radical, fantastical, and influential of all time. Jungle Action‘s 13-issue story arc “Panther’s Rage” launched under the pencil of Rich Buckler, a white illustrator, but the run saw the lion’s share of issues drawn by the accomplished Billy Graham, the first black artist to draw T’Challa for Marvel. Graham would complete that seminal run and go on to collaborate with writer McGregor on the truly groundbreaking Panther vs. the Klan story arc.

“Panther’s Rage” also introduced Erik Killmonger, whom the wider world recently came face-to-face with in Ryan Coogler’s record-breaking Black Panther movie. At Long Beach Comic Expo, I sat down with McGregor to talk about seeing his creations come to life, as well as the importance of keeping alive the memory of the hardworking comic book artists and writers who create the iconic characters that millions of fans enjoy on film.

McGregor created Killmonger out of a need for an important, vital counterpoint for T’Challa, who was returning to Wakanda for the first time after being displaced in a previous Avengers run that saw him moonlighting as a schoolteacher in Harlem. “Any costumed hero series needs a villain, so I know I need to create a villain that’s a little bit larger than life,” McGregor said. “When you just look at him, you think T’Challa doesn’t have a chance against this guy. He’s so fierce and so ferocious, and has lots of reasons for being the way he is. The real reason I created Killmonger like that is when they told me I was going to have the Jungle Action series, it was going to be a bi-monthly book and I would have 13 pages that would have to stick with the audience.”

McGregor laughed. “I thought, if I have to create a new villain every time, after about three issues the Wakandans would be saying, ‘Go back to Harlem! Go back to America! We were fine until you got here!’ So I thought that it all has to be connected.”

The thematic threads of oppression and uprising were key to McGregor’s decisions when it came to crafting the world of “Panther’s Rage,” one of the earliest and certainly longest story arcs that had been attempted in superhero comics at the time. “I knew I wanted to write about revolutions, the upheaval that it causes to everybody’s lives,” he said. “It would allow me to weave a tapestry where I could do one major theme that could go throughout the series and cross individual chapters. So I could do something political or something about domestic violence or something about religion. It gave me a format, whilst at the same time filling every Jungle Action with a comic sequence you’ve never seen. That’s why there’s dinosaurs, that’s why there’s white gorillas in ice.”

The visual landscape of “Panther’s Rage” is an exercise in fantastic collaboration, from the three pencillers who drew the story—Buckler, Graham, and Gil Kane—to Klaus Janson’s inks to the mesmerizing colors of Glynis Oliver, then working as Glynis Wein. “I would tell Glynis Wein that the moon in Wakanda is never pale yellow—it’s always red, it’s always orange, it’s always pink,” McGregor said. “This is a special place, a moving and enchanting place, and we have to approach it with color all the time. I think that’s why Glynis stuck with the book because she didn’t have to color New York City again and again, but [instead worked with] these visually evocative places, whether it was the ice or the jungle or these dinosaurs that could eat you up!”

When it comes to Coogler’s vision of Black Panther, McGregor, who attended the premiere, was a fan. “Michael B. Jordan was great as Killmonger,” he said. “The thing that actually struck me the most was that I love Chadwick [Boseman] as T’Challa. I always thought that T’Challa should have a quiet dignity. He doesn’t have to raise his voice, he walks in the room and he’s the guy. And if trouble’s gonna happen, you want him there to come in and back your play. To have Angela Bassett playing Ramonda, another character I created, was so beautiful.”

Remembering one of the moments he’d enjoyed writing into the comics so many years before, McGregor stated in near shock, “And of all things, I can’t believe T’Challa tackling the rhino made it in!”

Finally, I asked McGregor about what he wanted to see from his own stories in future Black Panther movies. As far as he’s concerned, it’s much more important that the franchise stays to true to the radical nature of the books, and he hopes that fans and filmmakers alike remember the people who created these iconic stories. “I would like them to capture the spirit of what the books were about and what we hoped to achieve,” McGregor said. “Most importantly, that the legacy of people like Rich Buckler and Billy Graham, who are both gone now, be kept alive.”

What would you like to see from the future of Black Panther! Let us know!

Images: Marvel Comics

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