Sitting on my desk at work, in a place of honor next to my personalized signed books, are Sam Maggs’ The Fangirls Guide to the Galaxy and Wonder Women. I procured both nonfiction titles at my first New York Comic Con, and I remember recognizing Sam’s name from following her on Twitter and being in awe of her writing talent. Sam is a woman in the geek space that I continuously look up to—someone who is unapologetically enthusiastic about comics and fandom. I am beyond excited that I got to speak to Sam about her latest, The Unstoppable Wasp: Built on Hope, a super fun and exciting story centered on Nadia Van Dyne. Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its tie-in novels will adore this one!
Read on to learn more about Sam’s fandom writing, her favorite comics for new readers, and what’s next for her!
TYF: In The Unstoppable Wasp, your sophomore novel, you introduce Nadia Van Dyne—a teenage superhero. For fans of Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Van Dyne name is familiar but maybe not as well known mainstream. Can you tell us a little bit about the Van Dyne’s as a superhero family and how they fit into the Avengers?
Sam Maggs: Absolutely! Hank Pym was the original Ant-Man, and he was married to Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp. Not only is Janet a fashion designer, entrepreneur, and scientist, she is also one of the founding members of the Avengers – she even gave the team their name! But before Hank married Janet, he was married to a Hungarian scientist called Maria Trovaya. Unfortunately, Maria was captured by the evil spies of the Soviet Red Room (where Black Widow was raised), and she gave birth to her daughter Nadia while in captivity, shortly before her death. Nadia was raised in the Red Room’s science facility by evil spies hoping she would have her parents’ skills. She did – and she reinvented the Pym Particle, becoming tiny enough to escape the lab. She tracked her father Hank to New York City only to discover he had passed away. So Janet took Nadia under her wing (metaphorically and literally), and Nadia took her last name and a new version of her Super Hero name. Now Nadia is part of that Avengers fam, and has started her own lab in NYC called G.I.R.L. (Genius in action Research Labs), where she recruits all the smartest teen gal scientists in the six boroughs.
TYF: What was it about Nadia Van Dyne that drew you to writing about her story?
Sam Maggs: I relate closely to Nadia for a bunch of reasons – I’m not a Super Hero, and I’m certainly no STEM super-genius, but we have similar cultural backgrounds, a history of mental health challenges, and a big group of women friends and family members. But mostly I relate to Nadia’s need to do and perfect everything – she wants to say yes to every opportunity, and then she wants to be the very best at whatever that thing may be, from being a good step-daughter to being a good driver to being the best science lab leader in the state. That pressure to do everything (and to do it well!) is something I think a lot of teenagers can relate to, as well. I really wanted to tell the story about a Super Hero trying to do too much and what the cost of that can be.
TYF: As someone who got their start in comics and is a big name in the comics space, how does it feel to be telling the story of a superhero?
Sam Maggs: First of all I’d just like to thank you for being the first person to ever call me a “big name,” I’m extremely flattered! But it’s both incredibly exciting and daunting at the same time. The first Super Hero I ever wrote was Captain Marvel, who had always been my favorite (even when she rocked the thigh-high boots), and I felt so much pressure to deliver that it paralyzed me at first! Being able to push past that to deliver something I’m really proud of helped a lot when I started thinking about writing for Nadia. I love working with established characters and IP because it really helps you to focus on character development and thematic storytelling without getting bogged down in stuff like worldbuilding. It’s part of why I think fanfiction is such a valuable medium for writers, too. It’s been so much fun!
TYF: I personally love stories about teenage superheroes—Spider-Man was always one of my favorite heroes to read about and I loved the recent Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home. Do you have an opinion of why teenage superheroes might be so popular?
Sam Maggs: I love them too! I think personally it’s because there’s probably no other time in your life that’s quite as difficult and confusing and exciting and brutal as when you’re a teenager; add the pressure of saving the world into that mix and it’s an instant recipe for drama. With Nadia I thought it worked especially well because, like so many teens (and adults!) being a Super Hero is just one of the many, many, many different things in her life she’s trying to balance and master at the same time. We put so much pressure on ourselves (and especially on teenagers) to Do It All – Super Heroing just adds an extra dimension to that!
TYF: What advice would you give to young women hoping to break into comics writing and media and find their own space in the medium?
Sam Maggs: There’s never been a better time to start making your own comics! For years, the industry was heavily gate-kept; you really had to know someone at the Big Two if you wanted to break in. But social media has destroyed that barrier, thankfully; it’s never been easier to start creating something and put it on Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr. If you’re a writer, find a friend who wants to draw and work on it together. There’s a huge audience out there hungry for content that speaks to them, and they’re not finding it through traditional publishing. No one else has your voice or your life experience and we need to see it in comics! Go for it!
TYF: What comics are you reading these days? Do you have any recommendations for readers hoping to get into comics?
Sam Maggs: Absolutely! Naturally I’m a huge Marvel fan, so I always recommend Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal, Silk Vol. 1: Sinister, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 1: Squirrel Power, Captain Marvel Vol. 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More, Shuri Vol. 1: The Search for Black Panther – and, of course, The Unstoppable Wasp Vol. 1: Unstoppable!. But there’s so much more out there than just cape comics: Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker is an all-time fave, as is Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau’s Bloom.
TYF: In tandem with The Unstoppable Wasp, you just released Con Quest, a really fun book for young readers about fandom and the conventions—what’s next after that?
Sam Maggs: I have four more books coming out soon! First on October 13th, I adapted Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl into a manga, with art by the amazing Gabi Nam. Then on October 28th you can pick up The Fangirl’s Guide to the Universe and The Fangirl’s Journal for Leveling Up, a set of interactive fandom books. Finally, my debut OGN (co-created by Kendra Wells) is out in February: Tell No Tales: Pirates of the Southern Seas, based on the real-life adventures of lady pirates in the eighteenth century. And it’s gay!
The Unstoppable Wasp is available now. Support your local indie bookstore or order a copy at your library.