For Christina Strain, her comic book career launched into high gear with Marvel Comics on a young team of misfits known simply as The Runaways. These characters, created by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona and colored by Strain, brought old archetypes: a mutant, a magic user, a tech hero, etc. together in an inventive fashion: It let teenagers actually look and act like teenagers. That meant Alphona and Strain had a much bigger hand in their individual personalities than some art teams, designing new clothes for them every issue and contributing to their looks and emotions in a major way.
That experience, as well as years of other comics coloring work, led Strain to realize she wanted an even stronger hand in the creation of stories and inspired her to go back to school for creative writing. Now a successful part of the writers' room for Syfy's The Magicians (her first topline credited episode debuted a few weeks ago in Season 2), Strain returns to her comic book roots with Marvel and a young team of X-Men characters in Generation X, launching May 17.
Teamed with artist Amilcar Pinna and cover artist Terry Dodson, Strain brings Jubilee back into the X-Men fold to lead a team of youthful "lovable losers." Don't expect household names like Cyclops and Wolverine in this book; instead you'll get Nature Girl, Bling and newcomer Hindsight. You also get Eye-Boy and Benjamin Dodds, and of course the everyone-loves-to-hate Quentin Quire.
We chatted with Strain about the team, her character selection and creation, and when fans can expect the ratio of kissing to action to increase in the series (we'll have to wait, but the kissing is coming). She also brought along some exclusive colored Pinna art to show off his dynamic style, both in "everyday" school situations and in the action -- when mutant high schoolers have a disagreement, it looks a little different from the average schoolkid fight (unless you also use geese to fight your battles, then good on you).
Okay, Christina, you're back with Marvel, you're back with a young team. Gotta say, this line-up just screams "Christina dream job" to me.
Christina Strain: That's because you know me, though! (laughs) I'm so glad you say that, because everyone else is like, "Who are these people and why did they let her write this book?"
I want to talk about your new character, Nathaniel "Hindsight" Carver, who is obviously (to your friends) your new Rogue. He has issues with being touched like Rogue, but then he's suave like Gambit, so you've basically created their child.
Oh my god, you know me way too well. This is awful. Lucas, people weren't supposed to know that! I'm so transparent! You are frighteningly dead-on. He is a combination of my love for Rogue and Gambit, and he's also both loosely and directly based on someone that I know. He's an amalgamation of a person and characters that I love so dearly (laughs). You've blown me away. When Amilcar submitted his first design of Nathaniel, I was like, "No, you can't do that! You can't give him white bangs in the front, it'll be too obviously Rogue!"
And his power making it impossible for him to touch people … I mean, come on, you weren't being that subtle!
I may have a kink that involves no touching (laughs). I just don't think there's anything more emotionally devastating than being scared of touching another person. To me, that's the saddest thing in the entire world, wanting that physical contact and comfort and not being able to get it for legitimate reasons. Anything that creates an emotional block between two people? That's my thing, man. That will forever be my go-to romantic kink.
Oh god, you threw me for a loop with that one. I love it.
Was being able to create a new character always part of the deal when you were first talking with Daniel (Ketchum, Editor) and Marvel about this book?
No, actually for a bit I thought I wasn't going to create any new characters. My goal wasn't to create a whole new team of new people. What happened was when I was picking characters, there was that Rogue and Gambit hole I wanted to fill. When I was thinking about creating a character for my friend, it happened naturally where I thought, "Hey, I don't know if I'll ever work in the X-books again, so why not get that Rogue/Gambit story in?" I didn't go into it thinking that would happen, it just kind of organically did.
In all honesty, I think it'd be very easy for me to sit down and make this whole group of all-new characters led by Jubilee, but it was more fun to look at the 'discard' pile and see what we could do with these guys. There's something there, right? It goes more with the core concept of these characters being "lovable losers" if I'm using existing characters. We started this process last summer, Daniel and I started talking about it. Because I was in the writer's room for The Magicians, I had a ton of time to look through some old X-books and look for characters, find some young mutants that had a lot of potential but hadn't been tapped properly.
So I found some nice children that I could raise, and then break their hearts. It'll be great!
Yeah, it's a bit funny when the most "household" names in your book are Jubilee, and then … Quentin Quire?
I know! It's crazy.
It feels like no one's really gotten a handle on Jubilee post-M-Day, post-vampirism; is it hard, especially knowing your X-Men: The Animated Series roots, to find her new voice?
I mean, the funny thing is, if I'm being absolutely frank, part of the reason I wanted Jubilee is that growing up she was basically my go-to Asian American superhero. I'm currently in the process of adopting and I've just decided to throw all of my fears of child-rearing into Jubilee! So she actually hasn't been as hard to write as I expected! I have this terrifying thing coming my way, so what are all the things I'm scared of? Let's throw it all on this poor girl and have her deal with it!
So that's been really fun. The one thing I have to keep in mind, is that I'm way more sarcastic and probably a little more, "Yeah, it's all f***ed," while Jubilee is a little more optimistic (laughs). I have to remind myself, Jubilee's a little more up, Christina! I'm probably a lot closer in tone to Quentin Quire, honestly.
You're more nihilistic than a literal vampire.
Yeah! She's such a hopeful vampire, man. If she could sparkle, she probably would. Let's be honest. I know she had her dark moments, but we're bringing back that hopeful Jubilee that pops bubblegum. She's been really fun to write. I feel so lucky to have this opportunity.
Who is surprising you the most so far, now that you've gotten to write a few issues?
I don't know if I should be ashamed that Quentin Quire is so easy to write, but there's that; he's been fun, he caught me off-guard.
Benjamin Deeds has been weirdly fun for me to write. I think it's because the second I remembered that he releases pheromones that make everyone like him, I was like, "Oh, I like him! Maybe his powers extend beyond the page!" He's just this kind of link that does a good job of tying stuff together, and he ends up being the heart when he really doesn't intend to be.
The other one I really love is Nature Girl, who I don't want to talk too much about – I'll give her her moments to reveal herself. She's been a lot of fun! I'm having a lot of fun with her and Eye-Boy; there's an issue with them that's … I don't want to spoil it.
You've definitely taken the "lovable losers" thing to heart …
I totally see where you're coming from! But the thing that takes me off guard about Nature Girl specifically is – first of all, Amilcar loves sketching her; everyone loves her look. But she's also – she can call on animals and talk to plants! That's way more useful than I expected going in. The second I thought about how her powers work, I was like, "She should be on way more teams! She's really useful!" Maybe it's because I listen to things like Radiolab and learn about the nature of plants, I don't know. But she looks amazing and she's super useful, so I'm not sure why she never caught steam. I feel like I uncovered a little emerald and I'm going to keep her. She's mine!
I always felt that way about Doug Ramsey aka Cypher; the ability to communicate in literally any language and any form is super useful!
Aw, Cypher! It's funny you bring him up because he was kind of the inspiration for this whole concept. Like, he's super useful, but why the heck would you throw him in battle? Use him in a different way! He would be the model Ambassador. He should be working at the UN or behind the scenes stuff. It's not "I can speak any language, now punch me in the face!"
That's what it should be; take a second to understand what these kids are good at and what they're not good at and find the best use for them. There seems to be this thing that happens where you come up with a team and inevitably some of the characters emerge as better than others. Then those kids that aren't as useful, they get left behind in the X-Universe, which is really unfortunate, because I think you can get more of a story out of them. They are the misfits of the misfits. I want to go with them, see what they're good at and what they fail at, figure out a place for them that I'm sure the next writer who comes along will completely change! (laughs)
I know how much you love writing relationships, and you just tweeted the other day that "everything [you] do needs more kissing." And yet you have a character that can't touch and a character in Bling who maybe can't quite feel because of her metal skin. A character in Quentin who basically just hates everyone. A character who literally thirsts for human blood, a character with no bottom jaw or lips, and a character who has an eyeball on his tongue. Christina, where are you going to get the kissing here?
I can't tell you where the kissing comes in because that ruins things! But I can tell you that it's not easy to earn that damn kiss, or those multiple kisses, because I'm an idiot! I picked characters where it's like, "This doesn't even make sense!"
The tricky thing for me is, writing this book, you know me, I do love a romance more than anything. I know in this feminist era maybe I shouldn't, but I do! I love a romance story! My favorite things in the entire world are people who make each other better, who want to be better people for each other. The weird thing in Generation X, because I've figured out in my head what I want their arcs to be, the majority of them have nothing to do with relationships and everything to do with inner struggles on a personal level. So I'm like, "Ugh! Why didn't I figure out more romances? Why can't I just have a scene where they're all just like making out in corners?" That'd be a great book! (laughs)
But I can't do that, because it's not serving the story properly. I do miss writing make-out scenes, though.
It could be like that Young Avengers issue where all the teen teams got together for a party.
I do have a party issue in mind, but it's so far down the road that it seems forever away.
That's the other thing, the most difficult thing for me personally, is that relationship stories take time to develop. In Generation X it's the start of a new team and you have to build that team dynamic. It just takes so long to get started! Why can't we know how everyone feels right away so I can have them roll around on the carpet?
All the press that you've done for this so far has been very focused on the individual characters, but not a lot about the story so far, and if they'll be superheroes or just be hanging out in a room having a chat.
Here's the thing, it's an X-Men book. It's not going to be a talking heads book, there will be action. The school gets attacked. The question is, yes, there are villains, yes there is action, but are they going to be good at it? The answer is: God, no, most of the time they're going to be awful.
In the first two issues, the Purifiers attack the school, so there's that, and you'll see in issue two primarily how they handle that. It doesn't go well, and that escalates. There'll be other times … there's a stand-alone issue down the road that involves a battle with an … animal, and they have to go, "Are we supposed to be impressed by this? That villain wasn't very impressive."
So there will be superhero antics, it won't just be them sitting in a classroom learning math. There are trials that they have to go through. My thought is that by the end of this, or the end of my run, it's not about the kids all finding their place and being happy. It's more along the lines of, they're all in this together, trying to figure out the best way to use what they've got going for them and that's going to take them down different paths. Some of them are trying to prove that they belong in the X-Men and some of them are just trying to learn what they learn and then go home. It's different for each kid!
But I mean, it's an X-book. There are superhero-y things happening, then Christina Strain is ruining everything (laughs). That's the gist of it.
Okay, I have to ask about the use of Chamber, the only original Gen X-er used in this book (and my personal favorite). We've seen Chamber go through some … weird stuff, like that strange New Warriors team (with Jubilee) using tech to recreate his powers, and a lot of stuff with Apocalypse … what Jono are we seeing here?
I'm going to be frank again: we're seeing the version of Chamber I have in my head, which is the original Gen X Chamber, except older. The hardest thing about writing an X-book is reading everyone's different interpretations of the characters and trying to figure out who they are to you.
Bling was an interesting one. If you read her original few issues and who she is in more recent issues, they're two different people. I had to make an amalgamation of those and write that.
With Chamber, I was just like, "I just want my Gen X Chamber, only older." In my head, he's still, I call him my "Sad Boy," but he's less sad. I feel like guys who grew up in that emo/Smiths place, they still have that in them but they're a little more accepting of it. You get a little older and you're like, "Yeah, it blows, but now I can kind of roll with it." He still has these moments of, "Yeah, you're laughing at my tragedy," but he's not coming out of the shadows and spouting weird lines of poetry. You're not that guy anymore, dude.
I do have a joke that I hope will clear Editorial that pokes fun at him, though. We'll see if it makes it through.
You can find out when Generation X #1 launches May 17 from Marvel Comics. Contact your local comic shop or Comixology.com to pre-order the series!