Ryan North on Returning to Squirrel Girl for New Marvel Podcast (Exclusive)
The pairing of writer Ryan North and Marvel superhero Squirrel Girl has resulted in an "unbeatable" combination. North, along with artists Erica Henderson and Derek Charm, and colorist Rico Renzi, helped redefine Doreen Green's place in the Marvel Universe during a four-year run, with North penning new adventures for Squirrel Girl in a Marvel Unlimited Infinity Comic and scripted podcast. Marvel's Squirrel Girl: The Unbeatable Radio Show! is a collaboration between Marvel Entertainment and SiriusXM, with North writing the six-episode podcast series starring Milana Vayntrub as Squirrel Girl.
ComicBook.com spoke to North to learn what it feels like to return to writing Squirrel Girl adventures again, what podcasts or radio shows he listens to for inspiration, the differences between writing for the comic book and audio mediums, writing for celebrity guest stars, and much more.
Returning to The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
ComicBook.com: So what's the feeling been like to return to Squirrel Girl after ending your original run?
Ryan North: Yeah, it was really fun, and the nice thing for me as a writer, was that I didn't have to like spend a couple of days saying, "Who does this character sound like? What is her voice?" It's like, "No, I know these. I know Doreen, I know Nancy, I know Brain Drain." Like we can hit the ground running on this, but it felt like coming home in a nice way.
And how did the podcast project come about?
So I got an email from Lorraine Cink, who was one of the producers, and she was like, "Hypothetically, if we were doing a Squirrel Girl call-in show as a podcast, would you want to be involved?" And I was like, "Hypothetically, yes and also literally, yes." And so we started throwing around ideas of what it could be like and who could be involved and who would call up and what would it be? And is there a way to do this so it's not just Doreen answering calls and can we actually tell a story in this format? And have an arc and then it very quickly became clear that this is going to be super cool. So I was like, "Yes, I absolutely want to do this. Let's make it happen."prevnext
Squirrel Girl Infinity Comic
The Infinity Comic obviously ties into and leads into it. Was that an instance of the podcast coming first and then coming up with an idea of, "Oh, let's also try to wrap it into this Infinity Comic and get some more eyeballs on everything?"
Yeah. So the idea with the podcast, when I was starting was I wanted it to continue where the comic left off. If you read all 58 issues, you feel like this is still the same Doreen, still the same world, everything's identical and I love it, but also, I wanted to be accessible to new people. If you've never heard anything about Squirrel Girl, then you should still be able to listen to this and enjoy it and not feel like you're lost. And so that idea of accessibility was always kind of built into it. And then when we finished the podcast, we were like, "What if we did an Infinity Comic that sort of led from one to the other?"
It was great because I had already knew what that connective tissue looked like and then getting Derek Charm back to do the art, made it feel like this is the exact same thing we had before. And you're getting to see Doreen sort of deal with these issues that the podcast deals with, where her identity has now been made public and she's trying to figure out, "What do I do with this? How do I live my life with this? What's the best way to be both Doreen Green and Squirrel Girl and live authentically?" And this idea that maybe the way to help most people is to just do a call-in show where people can call in and ask questions and I'll give them advice, even if they're supervillains.prevnext
The Idea of a Podcast and Favorite Podcast Shows
How did you land on Squirrel Girl hosting her own show? Because it seems like a sort of natural progression because even listening to it, you can almost visualize how everything's going in your head.
Yeah, thank you. The idea with Squirrel Girl is that she is a smart woman. That means when you're writing her, she has to be thinking, "Is there something better I could be doing to help these villains than punching them until they stop doing crimes?" And so this leads to, "Can I help these people with their actual problems?" Which isn't that far from doing almost what Frasier Crane would do, where you'd have a college show and be like, "Let me help. I'm here to help. I'm Doreen Green, I'm Squirrel Girl. What's going on?" It feels like it makes sense for the character, but also feels like it makes sense for the format. And of course, this would be something Doreen would do. It doesn't feel like we have this box to put her in, it felt like this is where this character would naturally go because she wants to be a good person to help people.
Are you a listener of any different podcasts or video shows?
Oh yeah, too many. I feel like I don't know what I did before podcasts. Whenever I drove anywhere, I guess I would just be alone with my thoughts. So I would listen to the radio, but now it's like, I've got all these episodes of whatever things to catch up on. So yeah, it's helped to already be deep in that universe as a listener, so that I would know what these are like. But I mean, the truth is from Doreen's point of view, she's doing a radio show. And so I did have one hour of experience on college radio at CIUT in Toronto, where I was called in as a ringer and filled an hour of airspace with playing music and chatting. And it was great, and you get that sense of nobody here quite knows what they're doing, everything can fall apart at any second. But we're all having fun and as long as something's on the air, we're in good shape.prevnext
Adventures in Live Radio
It's funny you bring that up because you can feel that in the episodes because you add in all these different quirks that only people that worked on radio shows would know about. Like muting the mic and the soundboard with the special effects playing and taking calls. I think at one point someone mentions how, "Oh, we have a Line 2. I didn't know we had that." So that was funny.
The mute button came from when I was doing an interview once with a journalist, I think in Australia. And in Toronto, they rented this really nice recording studio that I went into and that there was a mute button on the microphone. So I was playing with that. And then they were like, "This mute button doesn't work. Because I can hear everything you're saying."prevnext
Differences Between Comics and Audio Shows
Have you found any differences between writing for the comic book medium compared to audio?
Yes. I was worried initially because comics are a visual medium. And so you describe what's happening and the artist can do a version of that. And It works really well, but I didn't want it to be in audio where you'd have to have characters say like, "Oh no, he is attacking with his freeze gun from his left fist. I'll have to block it with my hands." Like that doesn't flow. And so I actually went back to old-time radio dramas from the 20s, 30s, and 40s and listened to them and how they would describe the action and get action across by having the characters explain to you what they're doing.
And I also had the benefit of having this really great team where I could say, "In this moment, we hear a freeze ray being fired." And I don't know what that sounds like. There's no example for that in the real world, what a freeze ray is. But then they create and put in this sound effect and you would just hear it and be like, "That is clearly what a freeze ray sounds like."
So It helps a lot to just be able to have the idea of the sound communicates the story in the way that you don't need words to do it.prevnext
Celebrity Guest Stars
There are a lot of highlights in the first two episodes I got to listen to, including the celebrity cameos like Lea Thompson and Paul Scheer. What was the collaboration process like to get them cast in the project and did you get to write out their lines or was there some improvisation given?
I did. Yeah, I got to write out their lines. So we would approach the celebrity and instead of saying, "Hey, we're doing this Squirrel Girl show, would you be interested?" We'd say, "Hey, we're doing this Squirrel Girl show and here's the role for you and here's what you'd be saying. Would you be interested?" And so, this is probably completely unwarranted, but I did take it as like a little perk, a little benefit that when they said "Yes," it was because they had read what I had written and didn't hate it. And they said, "Yeah, I would be willing to say that, let's do it." So it was fun. I mean they're celebrities, all of them were people that I knew their work and suddenly I'm writing lines for them. It was the first time my wife said I'd ever had that. Because I'm only writing lines for fictional comic book characters and these are actual people playing themselves, engaging with Squirrel Girl, and asking her for advice. And it was just fun. Like I got to be in the room with these guys and thinking, "Be cool, be cool." Just don't embarrass yourself. Just like, "Oh hello, celebrity. I wrote your words, You say them well."
So you said you got to be in the room with them. Was everyone brought into one room to sort of piecemeal the whole project? How did that work?
Yeah, I said room, but it's COVID so it was a virtual room. So we did some days in which it was everyone together, like the full cast running through. And we did some days in which everyone wasn't in the room, we just had the main people and other people come in later. And at first I thought, "This seems like a mistake." Because how will this flow naturally? You'll have these people having two halves of different conversations. And when I heard the rough cut, I was like, "No, of course this works great." Because these are experienced actors and directors and producers and I can't even tell that they weren't all recording in the same room, that anything wasn't recorded in the same room.
So I think part of that is it's the improvisation, it's the fact that these are professionals, and they know how to do the job. But it was just fun to be on these 20 people Zoom calls and hearing everyone say these words that I wrote.
Did you get to select which celebrities to reach out to or was it a team effort of coming up with the different names?
In the scripts, my first draft, I put in celebrity names. It was very much, "Maybe we can get this person," and we did. And I was like, "Wow. This feels like a power I didn't know I had."
That's got to feel good. So aim for the moon and go for a big name?
Yeah. So you look at the celebrities and you're like, "Man, these seem like a lot of people that Ryan North would enjoy meeting."prevnext
Format of Show
Are all six episodes going to follow in the same format of the meat of the show is her and her friends doing this radio show and then a threat pops up near the end?
Yeah, there are some twists and turns that show up later on as the ongoing story arc escalates. But Squirrel Girl is unbeatable and has not and will not be beaten. For she finds a way to make it all work. My whole idea initially was, "What if this podcast just felt like we were tuning into radio in the Marvel Universe?" So it's all dietetic, everything counts, and this is just an artifact from another world. And so we keep that framing of it, but she does get to go out of the booth and get into some scraps.prevnext
Squirrel Girl's Best Atrributes
What do you find to be one of her best attributes?
I kind of pranked myself with the first issue of Squirrel Girl because I was writing her as a clever woman and then a clever woman, even if she has superpowers, is probably not going to try to punch people all the time. She always had to come up with new ways to help these villains and solve the problems. So for me, the core of Squirrel Girl, the thing I admire the most about her is that she does look for these empathic solutions where she understands that we're all humans on this Earth and we kind of owe it to help each other if we can.
I hope that's routine or normal in our world. But in the superhero context where usually the first stop is a fistfight, it feels a little bit more revolutionary, and I love that she exists in this Marvel Universe of heightened drama, but can still sort of say, "Well, hold on a minute. What are we fighting about? And can I help you, we don't need to punch each other here in Manhattan? But can we solve this?" Now it fits nicely into this whole radio show. It makes sense that you would want to do this radio show and try to help the most people she can by broadcasting her voice over the radio wave. So I guess that's the long answer to say like I really like how thoughtful and kind she is.prevnext
Obviously, you're very good at writing comedy. I want to find out what were some of your inspirations when it comes to writing?
Oh gosh, that's a good question. So many. I will tell you that writing comedy, I find it's kind of the hardest, but it's also kind of the easiest. Because when I'm writing comedy, I am trying to think of a joke and make sure it's funny. The way I can tell that it's funny is if I laugh at my own joke, which is a really embarrassing thing to do, so I always write alone where no one can see me. But it's kind of this form of writing where your body tells you when you're doing it right. Like you got this chuckle and you go, "Oh, that was a good joke. Thanks." So the writing that I love, the comedy that I love is the stuff that accomplishes that, that gets me to laugh out loud at words on a page, which normally is pretty tricky, right? Like comedy is so personal and it has to surprise you and the words on the page can't react. But when it works, it's great.
And with this podcast, it was the same thing where I was writing these lines that would make me laugh. And then the crazy thing during these recording sessions, I knew what the actors were going to say most of the time. When they weren't improvising, I wrote their words and I knew what these jokes were going to be. But I was surprised because their delivery was so good, it surprised me. I was like, "Wow, this is great." Now I want everything I ever say to come out of the mouth of a talented actor instead because it sounds so much better. These are professional speakers, they do a really good job.prev