NUBIA & THE AMAZONS’ Stephanie Williams on Her Creative Process

Comic creator and writer Stephanie Williams’ ascent to notoriety was seemingly inevitable. She garnered a large audience via Twitter, expertly combining erudite discussions about comics history while also hilariously blending pop culture happenings into her posts. Williams is an expert at bridging the gap for followers who aren’t DC and Marvel comic scholars, allowing those expansive comic universes to become more accessible through her commentary.

Williams utilized her brilliance to create her own comics, including Parenthood Activate!, But What If Though?, and fan favorite Living Heroes, which imagines several Marvel heroines through the lens of the popular ‘90s sitcom Living Single. Her creativity caught the eyes of Marvel and DC Comics, the latter of which smartly tapped her to pen Nubia & the Amazons, a six-issue run set to wrap its dynamic story in March 2022. 

As this limited series nears its conclusion, Stephanie Williams sat down with Nerdist to talk about the mechanics of building Nubia’s story, her historian-level comic knowledge, how Jersey Shore helped her craft dialogue, and much more.

Stephanie Williams photo at HeroesCon booth
Courtesy of Stephanie Williams

Nerdist: What did your general process of crafting this comic in terms of world and character building look like?

Stephanie Williams: For Nubia & the Amazons, it was two-fold because we already had a preexisting world with Themyscira, the Amazons, Diana, and pre-existing characters but there was still world building that needed to take place. Even though Themyscira has been around for a long time, there isn’t a whole lot we know about it because Diana, if she’s there, is not around for a very long time and there weren’t too many existing series focusing on life there. 

Readers have to care about not only the island itself, but Nubia as its queen and her subjects. I thought about the things that are going on in this island politically. There must be some kind of tension, right? Sure it’s Paradise Island, but is that really true if the basement leads to hell because of Doom’s Doorway, Hades, and all of that? There’s also the fact that other Amazon tribes are not on Themyscira, which hints at a contentious history. There’s varying degrees to look at things and figure out how to build upon this already established society.

From there, the outline was built from asking those questions. What things could you introduce to build to make it feel more like a society? There’s elements like the fight club, there’s a bar that pops up in Nubia & the Amazons #5, and just little things that show their way of life. What are the foundational cornerstones of things that we already have in our society and how does that look a bit different for Amazons? 

comic page of nubia and the amazons
DC Comics/Alitha Martinez

That’s such an interesting and detailed approach. I love Nubia & the Amazon’s ability to strike this balance between creating something that’s really wholly unique and accessible to comic readers of all knowledge bases yet have something for avid DC Comic readers, too. How did you manage to maneuver that line? 

Funny enough, my comics journalism background with deep dives into characters helped a lot. I discuss characters or story arcs that people are unfamiliar with and talk about them in a way that allows new readers to feel welcome. One way I do this is through comparing them to something like the Real Housewives or a soap opera or anything that people might connect with. But, I also want to dive into those nuggets that really make the story and characters what they are and long-term readers will hopefully appreciate that. 

I brought that approach to Nubia & The Amazons with the help of [writer] Vita Ayala and leaning on “show don’t tell.” Comics are a visual medium and that shouldn’t get lost in the sauce. If you’ve read this series, it’s pretty obvious that George Pérez is such a heavy influence and I include a lot of things from his work. For example, when Nubia’s getting ready to go back behind Doom’s Doorway, Philippus says, ‘I’m not here to stop you because I know what happened last time I tried to stop a queen who was trying to do what she needed to.’ That’s an Easter egg referring to Wonder Woman #11 in 1987 when Hippolyta and Philippus had a fight. 

Those moments are great callbacks for fans who have that in-depth knowledge. Nubia & the Amazons sounds like it was quite the labor of love and deep dive journey for you. How has this process shaped and sharpened you as a writer and creative? 

It has had a tremendous impact on me. I went back to read my very first draft ever for issue one and whoa, I don’t know what that Stephanie was writing! She was trying to figure it out but the heartbeat of the story was very much there. There are some things that are totally different from the original outline, but that’s because I’ve learned that it is very important to be open to pivoting in your story. 

You start to see things differently during the process. You have the first draft of the script but then the artwork comes in and that changes how you think about what to say in dialogue. You look at the lettering pass and the story in a different way where you have to work with the artist to figure out the right word economy. By the final copy, it just feels different overall and you have to be okay with what you thought would work tonally not working anymore. I’m a stronger storyteller now because I know how to rely on the collaborative process of comics, where art is just as vital as words. 

Absolutely. Of course, the crux of this storytelling is about getting to know Nubia. The average reader can’t relate to being an Amazonian queen but there’s something familiar about Nubia’s journey as a leader. What do you hope that readers learn from Nubia’s overall experience?

That this Black woman superhero is not perfect and that is okay. She has moments of vulnerability because that’s very real. That doesn’t take away from her ability to lead the Amazons in the direction that they need to go. It doesn’t take away from her ability to body slam a manticore, any of that.

I felt for her as someone who was champion of Doom’s Doorway for so long and then was just thrust into being in a queen because she was the only one that was willing to stand up and do what needed to be done. Even for the toughest Amazon would pause and think ‘Did I make the right choice?’ You go from being sequestered away at the Door to having face time with people that you haven’t seen like that, which is jarring. 

This comic was a really great opportunity to focus on her and a lot of the interpersonal stuff that she has going on. It’s something that I don’t know I would’ve been able to do if she was thrust onto the Justice League to take Diana’s place or something. There is stuff happening on Themyscira, but there’s also room for quieter moments.

It really gives us a chance to know her. Another aspect of her story that stands out is her relationship with Andromeda. Why was that relationship vital to this comic? 

The starting point of their relationship came from Medusa. We needed to introduce a villain that would, again, not just challenge Nubia physically, but also mentally as well as test her morality. Andromeda’s story allows Nubia to see Medusa differently. When these women come to Themyscira, they have been failed by Man’s World and fallen in horrific ways. Andromeda’s reason for being there is very similar to how Medusa ended up there. 

We needed to create someone who, at one time, Nubia had either romantic interest in, or was someone that she was willing to help. That established relationship and Andromeda acting as essentially a vessel for Medusa are tied together. And Medusa and Andromeda’s connection allows Medusa to say, ‘Hey, this is why you should help me. This person who is now queen also failed you in a similar way that she’s failed me.’ It sets Andromeda as a connective piece between Medusa and Nubia. And I’d love to expand on her story in the future. 

comic page from nubia and the amazons
DC Comics/Alitha Martinez

I can’t wait for that day. Let’s switch gears a bit. Tell me what’s inspiring you right now in terms of comics, music, entertainment, and other influences. What are the things that are keeping you going and helping you spark ideas?

I recently discovered Rochelle Jordan. I really leaned into her song “Broken Steel” because it made me think ‘yeah, this reminds me of a Black superhero woman.’ It describes how people want [Black women] to be but the fact of the matter is that we aren’t. Sometimes we aren’t as strong as steel and we can be broken. I cannot wear who I am as a cape to save everybody. That was something that just sparked a few things that I hope translated on the page.

I’m already watching reality TV shows, but I rewatched Jersey Shore all the way through and The Real Housewives of Potomac too. I did that to catch some of the snappy dialogue and the comebacks because I’m like, ‘how do the Amazons drag each other?’ I figured if I had those on in the background that dialogue would come to me…and it did. 

As far as comics, it was The Many Deaths of Laila Starr written by Ram V. I read that and thought it was a beautiful comic series with gods. How do you make gods seem personable? He does a really excellent job of doing that and it was important to me because I wanted to include the goddesses in this comic series.  

I would be remiss if I do not mention that Madeline Miller’s Circe was the jumping point for Nubia & the Amazons and the reason why in the series it’s just predominantly women. Women are the heroes, the villains, the in-between all of that because I just thought that that was really important because we’re at Themyscira so make that the focus.

split photo of writer Stephanie williams and Nubia comic character
Stephanie Williams/DC Comics/Alitha Martinez

I love that you let everything from great comics to reality TV influence your creative journey. I know that there are probably some projects that you can’t talk about and maybe a few that you can. If you’re able, which of your upcoming projects are you most excited for this year and why?

The project that I’m most excited for I can’t talk about. But it’s another DC thing. I’ll say that much, but what I can talk about, which will be out very soon, is Trial of the Amazons, which is very exciting! First, I’m very thankful and grateful because my first go at a major comic book series led to an event that is also huge in its own way. It’s been a while since we had a Wonder Woman crossover of this magnitude. I’m excited for everyone to see all of the things that we were able to do.

We can’t wait to hear details about Stephanie Williams’ big upcoming project! And, as always, we will continue to keep an eye out for all the things she’s doing in the comics arena and beyond. 

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