Nadia Van Dyne and her genius friends star in the new YA novel The Unstoppable Wasp: Built on Hope by Sam Maggs. The book, which came out on July 14th, features Nadia struggling with a question we all face: how do we get everything done that we want to get done in the time that we have? We want to do things we’re passionate about, be there for our friends and family, and handle the many obligations life throws at us. So, being brilliant and all, Nadia uses a virtual assistant to “do less, experience more.” But is there a catch?
The novel builds upon the world of Marvel Comics‘ Unstoppable Wasp, bringing in characters and elements from those stories—elements like the G.I.R.L (Genius In action Research Labs) squad. Jeremy Whitley wrote those stories with various artists, including Gurihiru and Elsa Charretier. Maggs sat down with Whitley to discuss all things Nadia and the G.I.R.L. squad, and Nerdist listened in on the conversation.
Sam Maggs: First off, I’m curious to know about the genesis of the comic. Nadia already existed, but the G.I.R.L. squad was all you. Where did you (and editor Alanna Smith) come up with the concept for the comics?
Jeremy Whitley: I had gotten to know Mark Waid pretty well over the year or two before the comic started, and he and Marvel’s executive editor Tom Brevoort contacted me about doing it originally. I had done a little work for Marvel, and they thought I would be a good fit. I mention that because I may have begged Mark to tell me what to do. He had created Nadia with Tom and Alanna in Avengers only a few months before, so there wasn’t much to reference. He refused to tell me what I should do and told me “Write it the way you would write it. That’s why they hired you.”
So the G.I.R.L. angle was one of the first things I came up with. I really wanted to use the book as an opportunity to shine a light on the women scientists that were in the Marvel world. As you know, there weren’t nearly as many as there were male scientists and most of them were adults. I thought Nadia had a unique opportunity to bring more diversity and more science to the Marvel Universe. For everything that she missed out on, she doesn’t lack in intelligence and confidence, so I figured Nadia would just decide she could find them and march out to go do it.
Maggs: I love that all the G.I.R.L.s really are their own super heroes, even though (for the most part) Nadia is the only one with powers.
They’re all fighting their own demons and pushing themselves and their community forward in different ways.
Whitley: That was absolutely my goal (and something I think you did a great job of carrying over into the book).
Maggs: Yes! And thank you. With the book something we had to decide on early in the game was which relationship we really wanted to focus on for Nadia. We ended up deciding on Taina and exploring their connection in particular was really fun because they seem like polar opposites in so many ways. But in the ways that matter (loving their found family, caring deeply about the pursuit of science, not letting their past or their hardships keep them down) they’re really the same. But that optimist vs. realist dynamic is so fun to play with.
Whitley: Yeah, I love Taina. She became one of my favorite characters to write in the series. I knew from moment one that so much fiction involving people with disabilities has a tendency to write them as saintly and not completely realized characters. I wanted Taina to be somebody who just didn’t have time for that or any of the other nonsense people assumed about her when they saw her. Even though everybody in the team is smart, Taina’s the one that’s witty and probably (along with Priya) has the most sense when it comes to life and social situations.
Maggs: Did you like writing “Nadia’s Neat Science Facts?” Did you learn a lot? Were there any that you found really challenging?
Whitley: Oh, for sure. It was an idea that kinda sprung from an illustration Elsa Charretier did in the first issue of the series. You can see cutaways of the inside of the robot and I thought, “Why are those there? Well, that must be what Nadia sees when she looks at the robot. She’s science-ing.” So I wrote those in and then went back and squeezed a few more into that issue, then it became a regular thing. It did require a lot of research, especially the bit about how much electricity Times Square uses. Luckily, thanks to our profiles of women scientists, I happened to make friends with a few awesome experts who helped me out with some of the science facts in volume two.
Maggs: That’s great. I love that you profiled IRL lady scientists in the back of each issue. It’s so important that readers see role models like Nadia, but also real gals too, living their science dreams.
Whitley: I will say this for sure, writing somebody who is smarter than you is a difficult task.
Maggs: Yes! Nadia thinks and reacts both faster and smarter to every situation than I would. Sometimes I’d find my hands would get sweaty after writing her for a while. It would get my heart going trying to embody that same kind of quick-thinking. Nadia goes 100 miles an hour at all times. I mostly sit on my couch.
Are there any last words we should leave Nadia fans with?
Whitley: Well, should we talk about Janet Van Dyne at all? She’s a pretty important part of Nadia’s life.
Maggs: Yes, good idea. Having the A.D.U.L.T.s as an important factor in Nadia’s life, in addition to the G.I.R.L.s, was really nice in writing the book especially because I feel like oftentimes parents or adults are kind of absent in YA fiction. But as a teen, parents and adults were a huge part of my life. So exploring those relationships felt very true to Nadia’s life.
Whitley: And Janet is such a big part of Marvel history and lore. Especially with Hank not around, she grounded Nadia so solidly in the Avengers and superhero world. Having her and Bobbi as mentors was a big deal to me. Neither of them chose to have kids, but they’re both very passionate about Nadia and the gang. Also, they’re both extremely fun to write. And writing Janet talking about how she used to be in ads for Hostess fruit pies might be one of my favorite obscure references I’ve ever made.
Maggs: Bobbi and Janet are both such bosses. Bobbi as a mentor is perfect. It gives Nadia that same sort of opportunity to see a real, successful woman scientist (who isn’t related to her).
And Janet is a founding member of the Avengers, gave the group their name, and has overcome struggles in her own relationships… all important things for Nadia as she figures out who she wants to be. Also I’m convinced Janet is the only reason Nadia has good fashion. You don’t come out of a spy bunker at fifteen with fashion that good otherwise.
Whitley: Right. Janet has a lot of very real issues in her life, which ended up being very important both in how Nadia deals with what she finds out about her father and how she deals with her own very serious mental health issues.
Maggs: We actually used the same psychologist consultant on the book that you did on the comic. It was really lovely and so helpful to have that insight into how Nadia addresses and maintains her mental health. So many teens today struggle with mental health issues, so normalizing therapy is super important to me.
Whitley: That was big for us as well. I really wanted to have Nadia going to the therapist on panel. If I had my way, we would have spent a whole issue in therapy, but that didn’t seem very kind to the poor artists. And, I don’t know how many people realize this, she has the same therapist as Silk.
Maggs: Yes! I actually mention that in the book, too. Partially because Silk is one of my all-time favorite characters and I wish she got more love. “Psychiatrist to Super Heroes” should 10000% be a job in that universe.
Featured Image: Disney Books