Home >> Latest News >> Black History Month Spotlight: An Interview with Vita Ayala

Black History Month Spotlight: An Interview with Vita Ayala

When approached about writing an article for Black History
Month, I didn’t want to look backwards, because History is being made every
day. Enter writer Vita Ayala, a striking talent honing her skills in comic book
writing through the DC Talent Development workshop and debuting amazing works for
the comic book world to save the day!

I was fortunate to meet Vita a few months ago, and was instantly taken aback from her charm and charisma. There are writers, and then there are talents. There are those who tell a great story, and then there are those who make you feel a good story. The difference is passion.

Vita’s passion was as obvious to me from our first encounter, and I know that passion will carry her far in her career. This passion has opened doors for her to from writing Livewire, Supergirl, Wonder Woman to Submerged (and more!), she’s worked for the powerhouse publishers sharing her talent across the pages of comics.

So when this opportunity arose to tell a story for Black
History Month, I wanted her voice to be included.

Lucky for me I had the privilege to speak to her about her
feelings about Black History Month, her life and experiences, and her
impressions of how race and gender influence her field.

I can’t imagine how it feels to be on the cusp of history, adding
a valuable voice to the fabric of comics being made today. So naturally, I
asked her (along with a handful of foodie questions!):

1. What do you think American Society as a whole
thinks about when they hear “Black History Month?”

I
think it depends on what sub-group of society we are talking about.

Generally,
I think, it is treated as the time of year we are allowed to celebrate and
acknowledge the accomplishments and struggles of people from the African
Diaspora. Like at Christmas, when you are allowed to listen to the music and
wear the ugly sweaters and people nod and accept it because it is that time
of year
.

2. Black History Month was created to give not
only respect, but a voice to the community, but considering what is going on in
this country, what does Black History Month presently mean to you?

I
think this is a month in which we ask for the very basic human empathy that –
especially in the last few years – is often not extended to us as Black people.

Now
more than ever, it is important to uplift and celebrate not just WHAT Black
people have done for America (we are more than the things we
make/produce/invent/etc), but WHO we are. We have a history that is rife with
adversity, but also JOY, and we need that joy (our joy) and ourselves as people
to be valued.

3. As far as minority representation in comics
(and the larger media) is concerned, what was your relationship/experience with
it like growing up? Were you ever cognitively aware of misrepresentation and
erasure? How is it different from your experiences now?

I
think I had a sort of double advantage coming up, because I grew up in New York
(Alphabet City), and most of the people I knew and saw everyday were some sort
of Brown. Even in school, most of my classmates were of color, many Black and
Lantinx, so I viewed the world through a lens that centered people of color.

I
read comics as a kid, and also grew up watching Science Fiction and Horror,
where even though very much sidelined, people of color EXISTED. I often misidentified
white people in media as Brown (Wonder Woman as Puerto Rican and Dr. Strange as
half-Chinese most famously, haha).

I
think it hit me first in prose. We were CONSTANTLY reading about white people –
especially white boys and men – doing things, and at best Black people were
servants and villains. And then from there, I started to reexamine the
characters I thought of as of color, and realized that I had been doing a lot
of erroneous filing in, and it really hurt. I suddenly felt like I was dying of
thirst while adrift in this ocean of water that could not sate me.

Things
have VERY much improved. It is truly amazing the changes even the last decade
has made. In really fleshing out older characters of color, really making them
three dimensional, and in the creation of new characters and stories that
depict versions of people who weren’t seen before.

4. In regard to accurately depicting diversity,
what do you see for the future of comic books?

I
couldn’t know for sure, but the fact that comics are now more accessible than
ever (in terms of creating them), I think that we will see more and more
inclusion and authentic Own Stories. It would be VERY hard to put that genie
back in the bottle, considering how hungry readers are IN GENERAL to see new
and inclusive stories. I am very hopeful.

5. Your characters always feel fully realized
and emotionally 3-Dimensional. It’s clear that you put a lot of heart and
thought into them. How have your life experiences impacted your work and the
way you build your characters?

Absolutely!
I try to connect with each character I write – whether creator owned or on a
work for hire project – try to find something in me that can empathize with
them. When I create the characters whole cloth, I get to really think about
what I want each character to represent, but even WFH leaves a lot of room to
play.

I
am a huge fan of world building, and characters are a very important part of
that process.

6. Everyone has a fictional hero; typically, the
ones we are drawn to the most are the ones that reflect ourselves, either in
representing a part of who you are, or a dream of what you want to be. What
character (comic book or otherwise) do you relate to the most? Why?

My
top three characters of all time are Xena, Wonder Woman, and Renee Montoya.
These are characters who make a very conscious choice to use their power
(whether it be their skills, strength, or authority) to do good.

Renee
Montoya was the first time I can remember seeing a queer Latina character in
anything that wasn’t played for a joke. Her struggles with anger and depression
speak really deeply to me. Her choice not to give in to the urge to seek
vengeance (which she totally would have gotten away with) moved me, as did her
drive to helping people, even after she gave in the badge and gun.

7. Comic books have been around for so long, and
some people out there wish nothing would ever change about them. Yet, no
industry or genre is perfect. That’s why they must grow, evolve and adapt to
the culture around it in order to survive. What is one thing you hope comic books
or the industry will evolve, moving forward?

I
think comics is one of the most accessible and welcoming mediums for people
able to experience them. They are ways in which people have been able to see
themselves as fully realized characters long before most of mediums, and a
wonderful vehicle for empathy. I hope that as an industry, we don’t lose sight
of that.

8. What inspired you to get involved in an industry that historically has been produced by and represented predominately white male culture?

I
grew up in a city of millions, where you could find all sorts of things that
maybe you couldn’t other places. My comics had Brown people in them from the
beginning. And as I continued to read, I was exposed to independent comics and
then manga. Maybe the mainstream was for and by cis-het (mostly white) men, but
comics for me was much richer and broader than that.

What
made me want to get into comics is the desire to tell the stories that I needed
to see as I was coming up, but didn’t. I write for younger versions of myself,
and for people different than me because representation is key to empathy.

9. Every creator brings something special and
unique to their work, whether they intend to or not. A good character is like a
good meal, with layers of flavors to be enjoyed. What flavors of your writing
style do you hope your audience tastes?

I
can only bring my own perspective to my work. Whether I am writing characters
that are very much like me, or not at all, everything will be through the lens
of my experience. I hope that people that read my work find themselves
connecting with my perspective, whether or not we are alike.

10. And just for fun, because the weather has
been so crazy this month: What’s your comfort food on a cold day?

Knishes! I don’t get to have them much anymore, but that is the perfect cold day snack! Also pasteles…

Author Kristen J Linder

This article expresses the opinions of the author, and not the opinions of Midtown Comics