For Mohale Mashigo (aka Black Porcelain), the role of creator is the most important and always comes first. Her CV includes loads of awards for writing and performing and comic-book collaborations. Recently she landed the job of teaming up with the Marvel franchise to work on their Marvel Voices: Legacy #1 comic in celebration of black heroes and Black History Month.
Why do we need Superheroes?
We need stories, and superheroes are part of a certain kind of story that has endured over the years. These are the kind of stories where we get to imagine the best versions of ourselves; super strong, making sacrifices and helping those in need.
The earliest Marvel female superhero is Claire Voyant, codename Black Widow from 1940. How have female superheroes evolved?
Bringing in writers from different backgrounds with varying life experiences has improved the way female superheroes are written, treated and supported.
I grew up reading Wendy, Spooky, Casper and Archie Comics. Archie definitely had a problem with how young women were portrayed. Superhero comic books come from a particular time and were created by mostly men. When I joined Team Kwezi, it took me a minute to point out the lack of females represented in the comic. This had never occurred to the team because it was made up of two men, and they were writing what they like and know. Now Azania is part of the team, and we have been creating more characters that aren’t just buff chiselled males.
If you were a South African Superhero – what would your name be, and how would you be a force for change?
I would probably be more of a vigilante character who exposes abuse of power from the highest to small-time criminals. I would love invisibility and the ability to “speak” to machines. An Artificial Intelligence ability. I would want the readers to name me, and perhaps I would have a different moniker in different languages and neighbourhoods.
Kwezi is different from his peers. He doesn’t fit in with the norm. You are a trailblazer too – a girl from Soweto who writes comic books. Did you feel unconventional when you were growing up?
I think my parents indulged my weird ways and only ever expected that I would enjoy my hobbies and still do well at school. My brothers first introduced me to comics. I was not alone or viewed as a weird kid. Perhaps others thought our parents indulged us too much, but I come from a home where creativity and exploration were encouraged. I knew that our family was weird in some ways, but it was the only family I knew, so it was MY weird.
What would you say to readers who feel othered?
You belong in stories too. The book you’re waiting for is out there or is still being written.
Working on comic books is a collaborative venture. The Marvel team includes heavy-hitters and industry super-stars. Did you ever doubt yourself?
I’m naturally anxious, but I didn’t doubt myself nearly as much as I thought I would! I was confident with the story I had come up with and trusted that only I could tell it the way it needed to be told.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I write for a living, so I simply cannot afford writer’s block. If I struggle with a certain aspect of a story, I either take a nap or break from the writing. I do not believe in punishing myself to create the perfect story. Kindness is a necessary part of the process.
What have you learnt from comic book writing?
Writing comics taught me a skill I didn’t even know I needed: writing fight scenes. There is so much action in superhero comic books that you need to describe it for the illustrator perfectly. I haven’t written a fight scene in my long-form, but I can’t wait to add one soon.
Tell us about a perfect Sunday in Cape Town.
I prefer not to wake up to an alarm on Sunday. When I do wake up, I head to the yoga mat and get in some stretching. I love cooking Sunday lunch or supper, so I take care of that and then just hang out with my best friend until suppertime. I hardly ever leave my house on Sundays.
What are you tackling next?
Working on my second novel and hoping for the best.
Words | Susan Symondson