Single Issue Stories: A Conversation With Vita Ayala on New Mutants #15

Anole, No-Girl, Cosmar, and Rain Boy fight in the forest. Rod Reis, New Mutants #15, Marvel, February 2021.

Vita Ayala and Rod Reis’ New Mutants #15 is an issue that marked a personal turning point for the new Krakoan paradigm in what we can expect the stories of this era to tackle. This issue is an unfolding promise to tackle concepts such as identity, bodily-agency, and belonging in ways that no X-Men story has really done before. Ayala’s writing and Reis’ art make this issue a masterpiece which will likely be one of the stand-out milestones from this era of comics for many. So, of course, I could not pass up the opportunity to talk more with Vita about this issue, the New Mutants title, their creative co-conspirators, and what it all means for the queer and brown agenda that Vita continues to champion.

The New Mutants team is ready for battle in a neon blue and pink battle. Dani rides Warlock, who is shaped like an angry pegasus. New Mutants #15 (Marvel, January 2021).

[This transcript has been edited for length and clarity]

Dani Kinney: WWAC-ers and WUH-WAC-ers alike, thank you for joining us today. Of course, I am Dani Kinney, one of the writers here at WWAC. I go by at trans_rage on Twitter where you can see me popping off an unreasonable amount about something or other on any given day. And today I have the honor, the privilege and the true joy of being joined by Vita Ayala. Vita, if you want to introduce yourself.

Vita Ayala: Yeah, hello. Hello, Wuh-WAC-ers. I love that. My name is Vita Ayala, and I write comic books. I too, on occasion, will pop off on Twitter, but mostly now I’m just trying to retweet animal pictures and stuff. Because I’m tired. But yeah, I have the honor and the privilege of speaking today with Dani. Thank you, thank you, so kind, so kind.

DK: So, New Mutants. It’s got a lot of buzz on that Twitter-verse. You know, I have to say that when they announced that you were coming on to New Mutants, it really—New Mutants was the book that brought me into the X-Men proper. It was the first series that I was able to follow, able to go back and collect back issues on and when I saw that you came on to the book, it just it made my heart sing. So could you you talk a little bit about what your approach coming into the title was?

VA: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s very hard to follow Jonathan Hickman and Ed Brisson. In terms of writers on a book, I’m just gonna put that out there right now. They really did a lot of fun stuff, with the New Mutants and their kind of various casts. So I wanted to make sure that I picked up as many threads as I could, but also I did something that was very me because I didn’t want to do my version of what they would do.

And for me, New Mutants—we’ve been talking; the X-writers talk all the time, we talk all the time, all day. We have a place where we just group chat and organize ourselves. And we’re constantly talking about everyone’s stories and throwing out ideas, and helping workshop and stuff like that, and asking a lot of questions. So one of the questions that I had been asking for a long time as I was working on Children on the Atom was: who’s running things on Krakoa? And by running I don’t mean like, government running but like, what’s everyday life like on Krakoa? What’s it like for these mutants that have never had their own safe place? Like, once you get in, what do you do? Like, paradise to me, it sounds well and good for vacation, but they’re these are people that are used to being fists-up all the time. What does that look like when suddenly you have this weird new space to explore? And I would just constantly ask all kinds of questions about the map. Like, you can’t name something the Wild Hunt and not tell me what goes on there. That sounds incredible.

And you know, Jonathan, we call him Papa Hickman sometimes, Jonathan would just turn it around and be like, I don’t know; you tell me. What are the answers to your questions? Like, let’s talk it out. And as we would start to have these these conversations, you know, I thought this would be really great to do on the page. And that’s kind of how a lot of people are running their books, I think, is that they have these things that they want to work through, but they want to work through it on the page so that people that read the books are going along with us as we’re having these conversations and these journeys.

So when I was given the opportunity to write New Mutants, I was like, it seems to me like so far, New Mutants is about is trying to find your place in this new paradigm, right? Through the eyes of these characters who are not The X-Men,  you know capital X, capital M, even though some of them have been X-Men. But they’re not the babies anymore. They’re this like kind of middle generation. So what does it look like for people in that kind of situation? What is their new role? So that’s kind of I was like, alright, great. This is that’s the perfect vehicle for me. Examine these questions that I have. So my approach to New Mutants is, if I have questions, then I just work them out on the page.

DK: Speaking of questions, I’m gonna throw you my trademark interview question. It’s how I like to start things off. It’s like a fun icebreaker. So, you know, feel free to run wild with it. Dani Moonstar: does she sleep with socks on or socks off?

VA: Oh, that’s a good question. I think it depends on how cold it is. I feel like for me, if she’s sleeping in socks, it’s like fuzzy, big socks, because she’s cold. Otherwise, I feel like she’s kind of one of the people that likes to feel the ground with her feet, if that makes sense.

DK: Absolutely. Makes sense. So Dani, as a segue, is a character that is one of the two pillars of the story that we’re starting to see unfold, that kind of articulates a really wonderful deconstruction of mutant body politics. And I’m wondering specifically why you chose the characters of Dani and Cosmar to route that exploration in. What made you think that those two characters would be the pair to kind of go for?

VA: I needed to have the two sides both be very reasonable and very sympathetic. For example, Dani is—you know, New Mutants has been going on since the ’80s. People know who Dani Moonstar is. She, to me, is the kind of character who I would be friends with. She’s kind of a ride-or-die person—someone that you trust. And so, as we’re getting into these more nuanced conversations, I wanted that side of it to be to be someone that you thought of as a reasonable person, even though clearly no one is perfect. I think that she is a very flawed character, but that’s kind of why I love her.

And on the other side, there was kind of two reasons why I thought Cosmar would be good character. One, she was just introduced. So she’s new to being a mutant. And, you know, that comes along, it’s very raw place to be, but especially for such a young girl, and someone who—she’s not even from America, right? Like she the way Ed set it up, she’s very much not used to the way that any of this stuff works with the X-Men, or it seems like anyway. And so having someone really, really fresh and raw, made a lot of sense. But also because the second result, is that the transformation in her was very dramatic, physically, as well as, emotionally and mentally. She does not resemble what she looked like, even whatever in-world time is a couple of weeks ago, or whatever it is. And that’s really jarring. That’s really scary. For someone—it’s, again, her position seems very reasonable. Her pain, and her confusion is all very reasonable. And they’re — we feel very, very sympathetic towards her. And I needed that kind of dynamic, because if we’re having any sort of conversation, then if there’s one side that is not as understandable or relatable than the other, then I don’t think it works.

DK: Yeah, absolutely. It’s really interesting, because, as I was reading it, I kept asking myself the question of if this was any other character in Dani’s position, how I would interpret it and how Dani’s specific character—almost kind of undermines the sense of—I mean, there is obviously a there’s a privilege there. But obviously, Dani having the experiences that she’s had, being from—having so many different experiences just as a human being and then after coming into her identity as a mutant, and then as a Valkyrie, and then being empowered. It’s like, if anyone has a deep sense of of embracing one’s body, I feel like Dani has a really interesting vantage point. And, you know, it’s interesting within the context of the issue to where we see two sides of Dani being framed and I think in the scenes with with Rahne, There’s such an obvious kind of warmth and compassion. And then framed against Cosmar there is there’s a feeling that that Dani was being dismissive of Cosmar’s experience. And I think that balance is so interesting. And I’m wondering, in juggling these two stories, side by side and using Dani as a pivot point, what were the things you were hoping to draw out from those relationships, running these two stories side-by-side?

Rahne and Moonstar hug, two panels. The first is them hugging in front of a bright pink background The second is a muted green background. Dani says, "I'm always with you." and Rahne says, "Thank you, Dani." New Mutants #15 (Marvel, January 2021).

VA: I think I wanted to show how, in both of them, how sometimes people are having conversations and they don’t really understand. Like, they’re talking past each other. For Dani, who’s someone who survival has always been the utmost thing that she is concentrating on and all of the X-Men and the New Mutants and even Gen X, like all of those mutants, they’ve gone through so much stuff, or it’s just like, we just need to live in a very real way, like, yes, everyone tries to self actualize, but for her base minimum, you know, embracing who she is in a holistic way is so important. And it is about survival for her. Whereas with with Cosmar, in her short amount of time, she’s been through some—I’m trying very hard not to curse.

DK: I think you can curse. I curse I mean, this is going on WWAC. And I’ve, I’ve popped off in a hot way there multiple times.

VA: Fair enough. You know, in a short amount of time, she’s been through some really, really messed up shit, like I am 0% minimizing that, but also like, for her, she’s looking to—she’s close enough to her coming into being a mutant that she’s like, “maybe I can go back,” and not necessarily get rid of her powers. I don’t think she’s thinking that far ahead. But it’s like, you know, “a very scary thing has just happened to me. And it’s changed me in a way that makes me almost unrecognizable to myself. I just want to go back to the way it was.” And I think that Dani is so far beyond that. Like maybe Dani from the New Mutants OGN would be at this place, but like, Dani is gone through so many other things that like just the way that she conceives of being immune and of bodies, and all of that kind of stuff is very different.

And you know, one of the things that I wanted to show is that they’re not—they’re both right. Dani is coming from a perspective of, “You are alive and you are whole. You’re beautiful, and I will protect you and I will kill for you and no one will ever be able to touch you. Humans are not going to be able to hurt you.” And Cosmar’s like, “Ah, my eyeball. Humongous.”

When I think about Cosmar, and I think about her character, I’m like, her senses are completely different. Like, she’s—her body is alien to her. Like, that’s really like, even if in the future she thinks it’s cool, right now it’s traumatic as hell. So she’s having a completely different conversation than Dani is. But they’re because of that they’re talking past each other. And I wanted to illustrate that. And then, when talking about Rahne, and Rahne and Dani’s relationship—I wanted to show too that here are these people who are trying to do their best. And Dani really is trying to find a way to support her friend. But Rahne isn’t able to fully articulate what she needs. And so Dani can only act on what she knows instinctually because they have such a close relationship, but also what’s being presented to her. And sometimes that leads to misunderstandings that can be really devastating, even if that’s not intentional on both sides.

Full Page; Dani says she can't help Cosmar by being her partner in the crucible which breaks Cosmar's heart
New Mutants #15, Vita Ayala & Rod Reis, January 27, 2021, Marvel Comics

DK: Yeah, absolutely. I think that that’s one of the things that I saw people really consistently responded to so positively is that, in this relationship between the way Dani and Cosmar both navigate their own senses of body autonomy, and how that conflicts with a sort of larger and larger mutant body politic. That, you know, neither one of them have the high ground and this is kind of where we’re diving into a lot of the way that Cosmar’s story is being perceived by a lot of folks I’m seeing on social media where it really does feel like a strong allegory for experiences had by trans and gender variant people. And you just the amount of immensely different varied, and yet somehow similar experiences we can all have while navigating our own body, our own identity can still often conflict. And I’m wondering, you know, obviously there’s a narrative element that is looking at how this impacts New Mutants, but were their intentions to sort of use this to speak about those types of body politics in our world, as they take place and within the community.

VA: I think for me, the intention was to explore what, what it felt like, not necessarily as a trans person, but as a person whose body changed very dramatically in a very short amount of time. And how that made me kind of feel alien to myself, and, you know, I’ve come to a place where I now appreciate my body—not that there aren’t things that I wouldn’t change. But I’ve come to this place where I feel a little bit more at peace. But that’s because I’ve started to look at myself in the context of myself as opposed to trying to compare it to other people.

But I remember being nine years old, and I literally developed breasts overnight, that just straight up overnight, like, I went to bed, and my shirts fit and I woke up, and I could not fit in my shirts anymore. And, you know, my mother I put on my shirt, I remember very distinctly and my mother looked at me at the table and was like, we gotta go shopping for bras. And it was like, a glass shattering noise. It was the worst thing that had happened to me so far. Which is not true. But it felt like the worst thing that happened so far. And I’ve talked to a lot of people, that that puberty hit real hard.

And it was something that like, kind of across gender identity. People were like, this is really jarring. And I felt like not myself for—it was really hard to recognize myself, not just in the mirror, but in the way that I moved and all these kind of things. And I was like, we’re told, “Oh, this is a good thing.” Right? And it’s not that it is a bad thing. But when you develop at that—especially if you do it when you’re younger, the way that the world treats you changes in such weird and jarring ways. And I wanted to talk about that. And I think that like, for me, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t—I wanted to be as careful as I could be while still having that conversation, if that makes sense.

DK: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think it really it articulate something about that kind of moment—I always referred to it as like the moment of like, politicization, like where your body literally becomes… it is no longer your body, but it is your body, in relationship to the expectations that are imposed on it, whether they’re consistent or not. And I think it’s really, I mean, it’s really powerful to see that played out on the page. And I think-

VA: -and with Cosmar too, like, it’s so fresh; it just happened. I wanted to see if we could talk about that moment, as much as possible. Because how many people you know, when someone is developing in puberty, it doesn’t matter what their body does, it changes, right? It changes drastically, no matter who you are, but how many adults are going, Oh, this is great, or, you know, whatever. Mazel Tov, like, whatever, and you’re just like, Oh, my body’s doing things that it did not do before. And I do not like this. Or maybe you do, I don’t know, I’m not saying that It’s always a thing that’s traumatic, but it can be.

DK: There’s definitely that in congruence where there are a lot of people in your environment who are really taking Dani’s position, and they’re, they’re encouraging you to celebrate that phenomenon, celebrate those, those changes and to, you know, have everyone preaching how you should feel and encouraging you that this is great and wonderful and-

VA: -and they think they’re doing something good, right? And that’s for the most part. Like people really do think like, “Oh, yay! We’re celebrating you! And it’s like, you are coming at this 20 years down the line or whatever, it is like you don’t—you have forgotten. You don’t remember how jarring this is.

DK: It fails to really recognize the traumatic nature of those changes for anybody and I think, one of the things I found really exciting is whether you’re trans or cis, whether or not you have one aspect of a transition or not. Whether you choose to transition or not wherever you are in navigating your own identity and your body, this experience in this issue is so understood. And I think it can really be used—I think it’s a really strong educational tool in that regard, to demonstrate how varied and yet similar these experiences and that sense of destabilization can really be. And I think it’s—I want to just commend you yet again. I think it’s probably the best I’ve seen the mutant metaphor utilized to talk about the body and identity in that way.

VA: And these were conversations that we were having—people have been having, as long as they’ve been reading X-Men, I’m sure. But this particular group of writers were very much in communication. And we also just, we’re just all super big fans. And so we talked about it, and we have these conversations, you know, behind the scenes, and, this was something that like, felt like, we should let people into this conversation. This is a conversation that Leah [Williams], Tini [Howard], and I have, especially, but also the boys. They’re all wonderful. But, you know, Leah, Tini, and I have our own little side communication space or almost like safe space that we we just go off all the time. And we were like, you know, we have this opportunity and the support of all the other people in the room to have these conversations, we should do that.

DK: Yeah, I think maybe it’s…to get a little bit more behind the scenes, on a few different aspects, I’m really interested in the direction that you’re taking right now in building New Mutants as this sort of really strong ensemble with folks who overlap from one book to another. Folks who’ve moved around titles, newly introduced characters, hard-rooted characters with like, 40 years of continuity. And, you know, I guess I’m just sort of really curious about what the process of that handoff was coming into New Mutants. What types of conversations were had where you found yourself kind of taking that baton, and what that process was like in terms of generating a story in that shared Krakoan space in that paradigm?

VA: Well, one of the things that became clear, especially to me, just because I was working on something that wasn’t really out yet. So I got to enjoy everyone else’s stuff and kind of take it all in, was that there was no book that was really set on Krakoa. All the books touch on Krakoa, that’s true. And I think, you know, books like Marauders tends to end up in Krakoa. But there was no daily life—loosely using those terms—daily life Krakoa book. And I was like, this is the place where all of the generations come together. What does that look like? We’re seeing nation building, but I wanted to see the, the day to day of the nation.

Full Page: Cam expresses that they have no knowledge of the events of Prisoner X series and is rude to Gabby
New Mutants #15, Vita Ayala & Rod Reis, January 27, 2021, Marvel Comics

VA: And so Annalise [Bissa] and I have—my editor on this book—started just having conversations about what that would be like, just because it was a fun conversation to have. This is even before they offered me the book, just, you know, the room would just have these kind of silly conversations. I was like, I like all that stuff. When do we get to see this stuff. And so when, again, when they offered me New Mutants, I was like, oh, this feels like the right place for that. This feels like the place where we go, you’ve created more meetings, what does it look like when they’re just hanging out or causing trouble? You have these you know, we have the New Mutants, capital M, but like, what about, you know, the kids that came after, like the next generation or whatever. And to me, it felt like the right place to get into that kind of stuff.

Because not everyone can be an X-Man. There are mutants that will never be on a team, but we should at least get to see them. Because that’s, you know, that’s what makes the world feel lived in. We need this touchdown place. If we have this new country, we should see it, we should see what happens there. We should see what it looks like. And also, it was an excuse to to do stuff that like would just be super silly and fun as well as sad stuff. Which is why I love New Mutants, like the OG New Mutants, right, because it’s like you get Demon Bear and then sleep over.

DK: Exactly. Yeah. And I think and, you know—brace yourself. I’m going to I’m going to gas you up real quick. You and Rod—

VA: Rod. So good.

DK: Oh, yes, we’re gonna get there. I think that I mean, that’s what has always drawn me to the New Mutants is, you know, as a X-Men fan, I love and consume almost all of it. But New Mutants has this really special spirit that feels so grounded where like you said, you you have the Demon Bear Saga. And then a sleep over. You have you have that sense of stakes that really feel so relatable, where it’s like the stakes of this world ending thing are just the same as like, hey, like Roberto’s making eyes at your wife, Sam.

VA: [laughs] Right?

DK: Like, he’s sending her some daggers, right? It feels so similar in terms of just like how, how much care and thought goes into it. And I really, you know, I think a lot of people talk about the [Chris] Claremont and [Bill] Sienkiewicz era as kind of being really emblematic. And I feel like you and Rod right now are carving out something that is like, kind of what I feel like is just the perfect distilment of what the New Mutants, you know, at the best moments, what New Mutants really is and how it succeeds. And I think you’re working on something that is gonna be historic for the line.

VA: I feel like, you know, Rod, well, Rod is incredible. And I’ll get back to that in a second, I surely will. But for me, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants here. And one of the things that I think is a strength for me, as is—just in general as a person—is that I look at whatever it is, you know, if I’m watching a movie, or if I’m reading a book, I look at all of the pieces, and I go, all right, here are the things that are that are absolutely core to this thing. That’s a fun game that I play with myself all the time. Okay, what are the fundamental important parts of this story? And so I try as much as possible to have that be my True North, whenever I’m working on something. And with New Mutants, there’s just been so much really great stuff to pull from, and it’s been remarkably consistent in terms of what’s core to the New Mutants—not any characters in particular, but to a title that is called the New Mutants. So I’m lucky in that way, where I’m like, aha, I get to cheat because I look at all the things that people have done before. And I can go, okay, what does that look like now? Let’s take all of these things that are clearly foundational and go, okay, now we’re going to do it in a contemporary kind of context. And then A) Rod was on the book before me so he was already in his groove, but (B) when you have someone like Rod who is to me like, he comes from…like his family tree art wise is like a Phil Noto and a Sienkiewicz. Like they just come together. He himself has said that he’s very, very, very influenced by Sienkiewicz’s stuff. He’s, to me, the perfect person to be working on a New Mutants book.

DK: Absolutely.

VA: Yeah, it was meant to be and not just because his style feels like what we think of when we think of New Mutants, but also because what he enjoys drawing and the storytelling that he enjoys doing is exactly what a New Mutants book should be. He likes creepy stuff, but he also loves the acting and the emotional scenes. We’ve had had conversations and I’m always like, what are you really digging? Because you always expect it to be like, oh, I like action. And he does like action. But he’s like, I really love when people are having these intense, nuanced conversations, and there’s a lot of emotions, and that you can do more than one emotion, like a complex emotion on a page, or in a panel. He loves doing, like,  when you’re crying, but you’re happy or that kind of stuff. And that’s exactly what a New Mutant book should be. It’s very complex, but it’s also very energetic and kind of like—it’s weird. They’re young adults; their brains are all weird, and that’s really well translated through Rod.

DK: Absolutely, I mean, I think to take it back to New Mutants #15 specifically. It’s #15 or #14…? Yeah, #15 sorry, the numbers…

VA: I know, I’m sorry.

DK: No, you’re good. You’re good. I get my monthly mail order from Amalgam Comics in Philadelphia—you should check ’em out. But I’ll get all of my comics in like a monthly chunk. So I’ll read them all in like bursts of like doing like #14 through #16 all at the same time. And then I’m like, what issue actually has this. But I think that scene with between Dani and Cosmar—I think it’s such a beautiful distillation of why the writing and the art are just working so well, where there’s that kind of one or two pages of that conversation. First off it feels so monumental, it feels like it takes up half of the book. And yet it’s, it’s like a handful of panels. And it really, it just has so much meat.

But the way specifically I think of where Cosmar is hearing Dani, and Dani is kind of articulating her feelings regarding you know, how Cosmar should feel this about her body, she should accept it, embrace it. And the way that it’s framed the way that you know, the, the lettering just is trailing off, the way Cosmar’s image is almost being scratched out of the panel, it’s points like that that take the story and really run with it. And you can tell that this is somebody who just like is really thinking through character in a way that I don’t think you see as often.

VA: I think that Rod is an incredible storyteller. And we have this relationship—which I value so much, it’s so nice—where I can go, here’s what I want to feel here. Like this is the feeling that’s happening. And then he will come back with, you know, something like that page. So those, you know, I don’t remember what page it’s on. But I know it’s the the middle three panels have like a nine-panel grid, which is crazy. I don’t mean crazy. But you know what I mean?

Like, it’s so incredible that, like you have a nine-panel grid, which seems like it would be really static and like all these things, and he’s just makes it super dynamic. But I — talking heads to me can be really boring. And so, I know that Rod loves to do emotional stuff. And he’s able to do visual interpretations of things, where I don’t have to be as specific. So I can tell him like, her world is just shattered. Like, she feels alone. And like, she’s going invisible. And he’ll come back with something like that, which I was like, that’s the one man! Holy smokes, man.

Dani tells Cosmar to accept her mutant form as beautiful while words trail off and Cosmar begins to cry
New Mutants # 15, January 27, 2021, Vita Ayala & Rod Reis, Marvel Comics

DK: You can just feel it like, you can feel the floor drop out from under Cosmar in those three panels. And like, when I say it feels monumental, every time I’ve written about the issue, I like go back and I expect, in my head, I perceive of those three panels as like, a two page splash. And then I go back and I remember like, it’s in the middle of a page. And it’s just like, you’re right. It’s wild, how monumental that really feels. For something that is like, you know, in air quotes, a very conventional comics layout. And yet, it’s just transformed in that really exciting way.

VA: He, for me, one of the things that is—I’m a very sound oriented person. I love like, to me, I’m most affected in a movie by like the soundtrack and stuff. I listen to music all the time and all of that kind of stuff really hits me. And so for me, the one thing that comics, like, I really wish you could do is sound because it really affects the mood, right? But Rod is a an actual genius. And he’s like, nope, we don’t need sound, I can do it, I can do individual. And he managed to create a sequence that feels like that moment where the sound just falls away in a movie. Where, you know, there was a lot of noise because there are a party and suddenly, like, the camera pulls in, and there’s no noise and it’s just this like ringing sound right? Like he he managed to do that just—I was like, oh, I’m sad that we had to put words on the page. Like, I don’t want to cover any of this art. I think that that, it does it so well. Yeah, he’s he’s truly a genius and working with him makes it—it makes me think about things in ways that I hadn’t necessarily previously because I know his instincts as a storyteller and I would like to play to that as much as possible. And he will add panels. He will do—I love that kind of stuff. I love when artists go absolutely like buck wild. He will add beats because for him He’s like, no, we need we need to linger on this or we need to make this feel frantic or whatever. And this was one of the instances I think this was like maybe a six-panel page and he was like, we need a couple more.

DK: Rod’s like, hold my drink.

VA: Yeah, exactly, exactly.

DK: So I want to pivot to a different different point about issue #15. That was really notable. And if you know folks were on X-Twitter it, it was, it was like the scene at the end of Return of the Jedi. There was song there was fireworks. So this issue introduced-slash-re-introduced us to Cam, who we know now is one of the first, if not the first, non-binary mutant, and judges are still out on whether or not—

VA: I believe Sina [Grace] introduced a non-binary [character]—

DK: Yeah. So yeah, and I think one of the thing—I mean, so I work as a sensitivity reader and consultant, and, you know, I read this story and immediately breathed a sigh of relief when I was seeing that, you know, the story with Dani and Cosmar did not immediately rope in the gender variant character on the page. Because it’s always my fear is that these things are going to be just rooted in the only forms of representation that we get are when we’re, you know, dissecting the trans experience. And I wanted to, I wanted to hear a little bit from you on why you chose to keep them so separate. Like, why didn’t you write this story around the non-binary character? Why did you choose to give them space on the page for themselves?

VA: And that, to me, that’s also something that I understand why it happens. But I don’t think it has to happen all the time. And again, like, I want to be very clear and say that, when it does happen, I totally get it. I don’t, I’m not upset that people want to explore those kinds of things in their own journeys through, you know, through those characters, that 100% make sense to me. But I feel like when you have mutants, you have the opportunity to do all kinds of different things and to just have various mutants just living their life. And for me, Cosmar was a character I didn’t—I didn’t invent Cosmar. I didn’t bring her to life. That was Ed—thanks, Ed.

And, to me, she felt like the character that it made the most sense, especially because this arc, ignoring—don’t ignore it because it’s really fun—but ignoring X of Swords. This arc comes right after Cosmar’s introduction. So for me, that was that was the perfect person to explore that stuff. And then with with Cam, I’m like, listen, just let just let non-binary people and trans people just, we can just live. We could just exist, we could just be cool. Like, everyone. Also, too, with mutants, it’s built in that we’re all — the mutants are all like, angsty and sad and shit. Like, that’s just all of them, just every single one.

So like, that doesn’t have to be the non binary or trans character story. They can have another one, we’ll assume that they have complex internal lives and angst because they are mutants, yes, true. But like, no, I just wanted to make like, like a mean, like a mean non binary character, I have a really sweet one, you know, coming up in other issues, and there’s, you know, all kinds of trans people, I’m just like, No, just, some of them are hooligans and, like, really nice people, they — just let them be.

Their stories will have to deal with that kind of stuff. Because I would like to see that. Like, I would like to see just us living our lives and being whoever we are just like trans people, non binary people, gender variant people. We’re just as complex as cis people, personality wise, so just let us be.

DK: It’s really it’s so refreshing because I think a lot of the times I’ve seen conversations come up around trans characters in media and there’s always a sense of like, well we got to make it about them being trans or about what’s hard for them as a result of that or like—you’re right the the mutant aspect of this gives you a way to talk through those things without having to solely tokenize the characters and really like, just let them have personalities. Let them be messy. Let them be bullies. As as a grumpy, hairy non-binary person, I feel so seen by Cam.

VA: I love Cam.

DK: Damn, that’s, they’re really coming for my flavor here.

VA: Cam’s great.

DK: They are. I love them.

VA: They’re also just like, they’re super cool. Like, they’re a little aloof, and they’re kind of mean, but they’re just super cool. And I just was like, can we have a non binary character that is just like super, super grumpy. Their girlfriend really tries hard to smooth them out.

DK: More and more this is sounding very relatable to me!

VA: I wanted to—I feel like also Cam is a character like—they’re a giant cat. So that is kind of weird. But like, that’s not the weirdest thing. No, even in this book, like it’s, you know what I mean? I feel like, they’re probably, to me, this character in particular, when I think about them, they’ve already gone through the like, that part of their journey. They’re together in terms of like, they’ve already thought about that right? Now they have to worry about like hair balls and stuff, like, you know, like, more of that kind of stuff.

DK: What conditioner will I use?

VA: Oh my god—full body! Full body conditioner! How do they even—I love them so much.

Also, you know, shout out to German Peralta who designed Cam and designed some of the mutants that will be showing up. He designed all of the the non-binary and trans mutants that I’ve had the pleasure of introducing, so far in this run. I always have to shout out the person who actually did the design. You know, who brought them to life.

DK: All right. Yeah, I was actually gonna ask a little bit about that. Because I love Prisoner X, it was during the Age of X. It was one of two series I could actually afford to purchase the issues of.

VA: I feel you.

DK: They are among the few single issues that I have hung on my wall. They just meant so much to me at the time. And it was interesting going back and reading through, like, when you had said that Cam had appeared and prior issues, and there were other trans and non binary mutants that have been in the peripheral. Was that something that you had planned in advance? Was that something that you found an opportunity for? Were you laying breadcrumbs for yourself? Like, what was kind of the experience and picking them up from Prisoner X and bringing them into New Mutants.

VA: So German and I created like 20 mutants for Prisoner X.

DK: Wow!

VA: With full backstories and powers and all that kind of fun stuff, which, eventually, I’m sure they’ll make make their way online. I’m sure I’ll do my best. But, you know, in speaking with Annalise, and just people generally about what I wanted—mostly Leah and Tini as well—about what I wanted to do in this arc. And I was, like, we need mutants that like, we know very well, to have that can be like secondary and tertiary mutants, because I wanted this to feel very full. I wanted it to feel like, you know, when you walk around your neighborhood, when it’s not COVID times, you know what I mean? Like, you’re like, oh, there’s just a bunch of people that I see all the time that I do not know, or like, that I interact with mildly. And I was like,  I was putting together a cast list and stuff like that. And I was like, oh, we have a bunch of mutants that we’ve never really seen again. Can I just make them real? Like, because that way I can also—I won’t feel like I’m stepping on any toes, if I need to do things with them. I know their personalities and I don’t have to make someone fit into a role. I just have people that I know, fit a role. And so we kind of worked out a way for them to be real babies. Which I thought was really fun.

And I thought too, you know, I want Rod to be able to draw whoever he wants in the background or for interacting or whatever. But he seemed into it. Like, yeah, these look great. It looks super cool. And I know that they’re like going on in the background of everything that is happening. Mutants are being resurrected all of the time—mutants that were victims of the mutant massacres and all that kind of stuff.

And so I was like, oh, great, then we’ll have a way to bring people out so that other people can use them in their books too. Which is also very important. I like that kind of synergy stuff, I like seeing a character weave their way through a bunch of books. I think that that’s really fun, even if it’s just in the background or whatever. But having as many—”toys” is like the weird way that we talk about it, talk about them, almost like action figures. So having, like, as many toys in the toy box that anyone can reach for, to me sounded really fun. And to be able to do it—to flesh out these trans and non binary and queer characters. There’s also characters that are cis, but also queer, that we’ve introduced and are introducing—to be able to flesh them out a little bit more so that other people could reach for them whenever they needed. It just seemed like really fun, like a great opportunity. I mean, this is no secret. My agenda is to make things as queer as possible.

DK: And bless you for it.

VA: I feel like just—just slow and steady stream of lots and lots of queer folk.

DK: Yeah, I mean it’s interesting that you say that because—no surprise to anyone who knows my work—I’m very critical of the fact that, in 60 years of X-Men continuity, there are two characters prior to us learning about Monica, Cam, Jacob, and Leona—Liana…?

VA: Well, Liana is queer, but Leonora—Leo. My sweet trans girl.

DK: Okay, yeah.

VA: Yeah there’s a lot of—I gotta tell you—a lot of the characters I introduce are queer

DK: I assume that the baseline is, you know, if Vita created them, they will be queer character.

VA: I’m not always allowed to say out loud. But yes, that’s true.

DK: There it is. Now we know. But it’s so refreshing to go from like, if you want to find trans characters in the in the x men, go back to 1994. or read the Iceman solo. And that’s it. And now it’s just like, you are just like, you’re tossing them out at us like candy at a parade

VA: I want as many, you know, it’s something that like, all of us actually feel pretty strongly about this—like representation across the board. But especially with like, I mean, queerness is like a thing, right?

DK: There are no straight mutants!

VA: I don’t think so. I certainly don’t think so. But, you know, it’s one of those things where it’s like, sometimes things can be hard. And the tipping over of being able to take characters that you didn’t personally create and do things with them can be difficult. Sometimes partially, just because it’s like, I didn’t make them up. So I can’t—do I get to make that call? Is that right? And so for me, I just wanted to be like, all right, I’m gonna take that uncertainty step out. We’re just gonna—I’ll do it. I’m gonna bite that bullet. I’m gonna jump on that grenade. Here, now, you can just have a bunch of beautiful queer babies running around all the time. And anyone can use them. And you know that it’s okay. Because you know that they are actually queer, because I am saying it explicitly. Because that’s probably you know, like—they knew what they were getting when they hired me. And so Uncle Gerry, if you want to do really cool stuff with some queer baby mutants, here you go. There’s a bunch of them. You know, Ben, please be careful with them. You’re a little rough. Go.

DK: I love it.

VA: I want—I mean, I do have a clear agenda. But also, I think that I want to make sure that—I think I am in the position because they know who they hired to be more explicit about the characters that I helped create in that way. And I’m in a position in New Mutants that like, I have a very large cast of characters. So I get to introduce lots of characters just by nature of what book I’m writing. So I’m going to do that so that other people can they’re not making that call. I’ve already made that call. So, don’t worry.

DK: Pre-approved.

VA: Yeah. It’s gaaay. So yeah. There ya go.

DK: Well, I look forward to seeing all things that happen in New Mutants. I look forward to Children of the Atom as well coming out.

Thank you so much. Thank you for sitting down today and really being so generous and sharing your interior thoughts, your joys, your passions, your pains. It’s been a wonderful conversation. Do you have anything you want to plug, anything you want to say before we leave the WWACers to the rest of their day?

VA: If you—if you’re super into the queer brown agenda, my creator-owned work is all very queer, very brown. I co-wrote a cyberpunk book called Quarter Killer about a non binary black person who’s the Robin Hood of their hood. That’s a lot of fun. That’s a that’s like a team ensemble book. It’s very, very fun. I co-wrote it with Danny Lore. I have written two other creator-owned projects, The Wilds and Submerged and they’re both about brown queer ladies.

DK: Thank you, Vita. Thank you, WWACers for coming on this journey with us and… I don’t have a sign off because this is the first time I’ve done this so… Be gay, stay angry and—

VA: Rage out!

One thought on “Single Issue Stories: A Conversation With Vita Ayala on New Mutants #15

  1. I loved this interview–I’d love to hear more of these from Dani! I also hope Vita writes on New Mutants for a long long while.

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