Exclusive: Talking The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl With Ryan North and Erica Henderson

Yesterday, Marvel announced some of their biggest news of New York Comic Con's Super Week: that Adventure Time's Ryan North and Subatomic Party Girls's Erica Henderson will bring The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl to your local comic shop in January.

...Yes, that's big news. The book, which is designed to appeal to casual readers as well as continuity wonks, will take place in its own little corner of the Marvel Universe, where Squirrel Girl will start off her run by going to college and fighting Galactus. Like ya do.

North and Henderson joined ComicBook.com to talk about the series.

This book seems determined to be new reader friendly, with the "accessible version" of the Marvel Universe and a four-issue first arc. Is that a helpful structure to you, writing in the Marvel U for the first time?

Ryan North: It's actually not my first chance to play in the Marvel universe! Earlier this year I wrote a Young Avengers miniseries, Hidden In Plain Sight, that was part of the Original Sins book. That was a lot of fun: new characters, new universe, PLUS Chip Zdarsky was in the same book and he is a brilliant man.

But yeah, the idea of making it easy for new readers to jump into was always part of my pitch. I wanted it to be a fun book that didn't have 40 years of continuity knowledge being the price of admission. Squirrel Girl has been around for decades but this is her first starring role, which means she doesn't have the baggage that you might get with other characters - so it just seemed like a natural fit, you know? 

Is Squirrel Girl going to exist in kind of a bubble? I mean, given the current tone and stakes of the Marvel Universe, it seems difficult to picture a lighter, happier book interfacing with something like AXIS or The Death of Wolverine. It feels, to me, almost like when Giffen and DeMatteis would have their own little world going on with the JLI characters.

North: No, she's there in the regular Marvel Universe! But a lot of the time she's not considered when things are going down. When crazy things go down, it's not like the X-Men are saying "Hey guys, let's call Squirrel Girl on this one!" - the fact is, not everyone really knows she's taken down Thanos.

This lets her go on and live her own life without intervening every few minutes to help the Hulk in a fight, for example. And yeah, she's in a lighter and happier universe, but I don't see that as being a conflict with anything. Happy people are everywhere! PROBABLY.

On the flip side, the advantage is that when it makes sense, Squirrel Girl can hop out of her little world and lend a hand. Best of both worlds!

How many guesses would have needed to think your first major Marvel work would be on a Squirrel Girl ongoing?

Erica Henderson: Oh man. She's a character that's never had her own title before so I think the answer is however long it would take me to name all of the characters and teams who have had their own books and then just start guessing at random until I hit on it. I had no idea it would happen, but now that I know I'm not sure if there could be a better choice. (Off topic, if someone asked what I thought my first major Marvel work would be I'd probably guess Dazzler or Hercules.)

On that note, it seems like you've had brushes with all involved before. Did you meet everyone when you were approached for this book or did you know them from previous projects?

Henderson: The only person on the team I've met in person is Rico Renzi because he helps run Heroes Con. Wil I met via e-mail when he asked me about Original Sins (earlier this summer) and Ryan wasn't until this project. Wil was the one that pulled us all together. He's our Charlie.

Obviously there are a couple of genre savvy books on the stands right now, in the form of Deadpool and Harley Quinn. What differentiates this one in terms of the tone of the fourth wall breaking and such?

North: This one doesn't have nearly as much fourth wall breaking, for sure. Squirrel Girl started as a joke character, right? She's got a funny name and funny powers. But then people got really into her, for a lot of really good reasons. There's something there! And I thought that if you're laughing at a Squirrel Girl book, I wanted you to be laughing WITH her, not at her.

This is all to say that in her own ongoing series, having Squirrel Girl (or her squirrel friend Tippy-Toe) break the fourth wall often felt to me like it took you out of the action and lowered the stakes, and moved readers more "laugh at" than "laugh with". If Squirrel Girl is in on the joke, that kills the joke AND the sincerity of the comic. In other words, while the book itself may be genre-savvy, the characters aren't.

So...why "Unbeatable?"

North: Hah! It's funny: when the book was announced, I read somewhere that this was the first time Marvel had used "Unbeatable" in a title in their entire history of publishing, which I thought was great. Sure you've met Uncanny X-Men and Superior Spider-Man, but someone unbeatable? That's something new.

But to answer your question with a question: what other name could the book possibly be called?

Obviously this book is tonally very different from most of what Marvel has on tap. How have you found working with Ryan North's scripts so far?

Henderson: Ryan's scripts are great. I'm happy with any script that makes me laugh while I'm working on it. Also, just as important, we're both open to tweaks and changes being made along the way to make things work even smoother.

Probably a lot of readers don't know much about Squirrel Girl's non-hero identity -- and those are typically played down in favor of more superheroic interactions and event build-up in many current comics. Whose idea was it to make her college experience a big part of the book from the word go?

North: It came from my editor, Wil Moss! He suggested it along with a few other things and that was the idea I jumped on to, because it fit the character so well. Doreen Green is the unbeatable Squirrel Girl, sure, but why are we reading about her NOW and not five months ago or six years from now? Having her going through this big life change gave the book a great reason to be there: we're reading about her now because new and exciting CRAZY STUFF is going down, in both her private and superhero life.

I'm also interested in the way regular people in the MU get around, living in this world where there's all these super-powered people just walking down the street. College and university are places where you meet people you've never met before doing things you never considered, so it's a good fit!

 
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My first (new) Squirrel Girl commission!

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Did you have input on choosing Erica for the title? She seems ideally suited to the character.

North: I didn't! Actually I was working on outlines for Squirrel Girl when Wil emailed me and said "GUESS WHAT: we got Erica on art and here's some of her sketches" and my thoughts were "Okay, well, I definitely need to nail this now because this is going to be awesome."

She's such a great fit, and while writing I keep her artwork up on another monitor, because there's so much there that tells me who Doreen is and what she's doing. It's like I'm writing stories to go with her particular vision of the character, which is kinda crazy in a sense but also kinda amazing.

Erica, more or less everything you've done has fallen into that "weird, awesome tone" category. How does Squirrel Girl fit into all that? Does the working experience remind you of anything else?

Henderson: Squirrel Girl is definitely both weird and awesome. Like I said, it makes perfect sense to me, given the trajectory of my career so far, that she's who I would wind up with. I've also pretty much always worked on things that don't neatly fit in one genre, which this definitely is. I've been pretty lucky in my comics experiences- I've worked with either friends or people who quickly became friends, all of whom were easy to work with and had great ideas so really, this is a lot like all of my other experiences.

Is it challenging finding a way to ground all the absurd visuals of this character and this first arc in some kind of reality since it's ostensibly a Marvel Universe book?

Henderson: I think the thing with Squirrel Girl is that the world around her has always been normal, but she's just got a bit of a crazier Toon Town edge to her. So I think most things will be grounded (squirrels look like squirrels, it's all normal Marvel U backgrounds and settings and people) but the things that Squirrel Girl affects will be a little sillier. I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not worried about grounding Squirrel Girl too much.

Do you approach a book that's so unusual from a story perspective any differently than you would a more "straight" story, or is the visual language pretty much the same?

Henderson: The language of visual storytelling is pretty straightforward. I think the only concern is to make sure everything reads the way it's supposed to- especially with comedy. Nobody likes having to reread a joke a few times to understand it.

What's the most important thing you want fans to know about The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl?

North: I want them to know that she's awesome and fun AND that issue one of her book opens up with Squirrel Girl singing her own theme song. When you read it, it's going to stick in your head for the rest of the day. I know because I have already infected myself AND Erica with it. And this is in a comics, a silent medium!