What is the American Dream for the 21st century? Wonder Woman finds that in the upcpoming new take on her origin for the young adult series Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed. In this June 2 OGN, the Amazon princess is a teenager coming of age as a refugee in the modern United States.
Writer Laurie Halse Anderson and artist Leila Del Duca forge this dynamic new take on the character, and spoke with Newsarama about just how different this is from Diana’s other origin stories, the pitching process for the project, and the special connection both creators have to the character.
Newsarama: Laurie and Leila, why do you think Tempest Tossed is unique compared to other Wonder Woman origin stories?
Laurie Halse Anderson: It’s set in the experience of people trying to come to America in the world of right now. This is the American Dream that we keep on promising ourselves, but we’re struggling to fulfill equally for people from other places, from all corners of the world.
There’s been a lot written about her that shows her being an “other” – we’re familiar with seeing that. But I wanted to really explore this because this is one of my favorite things about teenagers as they come of age, and they really start to understand the world around them. They are so motivated by the need for justice and equity. And I wanted to see Wonder Woman, young Diana, do the same thing.
Leila Del Duca: Visually, I try to take a realistic approach to her experience as a refugee leaving Themyscira, going to Greece, and then going to New York. Experiencing that – it’s a more fantastical version of Wonder Woman with her classic uniform fighting bad guys with punching and kicking. The approach is more realistic like what she would wear and how she would react as a teenager. So, I really enjoyed drawing it for those reasons.
Nrama: So visually, how did you want your Wonder Woman to stand out compared to the many looks we’ve seen from her?
Del Duca: I gave her bangs – that’s the first thing that I thought of. I don’t really remember seeing a version of Wonder Woman with bangs, but I also don’t think that I’m super well read on the character over the years. But I did that because it made her look a little bit younger. I still gave her the thick, wavy, curly hair. I tried to give her a muscular proportioned body. Other than that, I think I made her nose a little bit different, instead of it being straight I gave it a little bit of a bump on it.
Nrama: Laurie, you have a prose background, what attracted you to comic books/graphic novels?
Halse Anderson: I grew up with comic books. Although my mother didn’t want me to. They were always things that I had to read on the fly, my mom was from a different world. I’m pretty deeply involved in the education community, children’s literature, and young adult literature – watching graphic novels really begin to make a huge difference in keeping kids interested in books.
Then when I did the graphic novel adaptation for Speak, I was overwhelmed by their response to it. So, I wanted to explore other ways of storytelling. You don’t want to do the same thing over and over again, and to be able to do it with a character like Wonder Woman was just such a guiding light for me when I was a young woman – and still is, to be honest with you. I need to do an older version of Wonder Woman, now that I’ve done a younger version. It was an absolute delight to be able to play in her world.
Nrama: So would you like to do a sequel for Tempest Tossed, maybe with an older Wonder Woman?
Halse Anderson: I’m in!
Del Duca: I could totally see that working out. She definitely has more adventures ahead of her.
Nrama: Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s go back to the beginning: what was the pitching process like for Tempest Tossed?
Halse Anderson: It was DC, as I understand it and you’ll want to verify this with them, was actively pursuing people who write and illustrate books for kids, wanting to bring us into their fold. I was given an invitation to pitch and I asked if it was possible if I could pitch a Wonder Woman story and they said “Sure.”
So, I gave them the short pitch and they said, “That’s kind of interesting, can you expand on it?” So, I gave them a longer pitch and they said, “Okay, let’s see if this is going to work” and they let me run with that.
It was really so interesting and very different collaborative process than what I’m used to in traditional children’s publishing. Like when we did the graphic novel version of Speak, I wasn’t allowed to have as much communication with the artists as we did in this process.
Nrama: So what was your collaboration process like with each other?
Halse Anderson: It was just me weeping whenever I would open up the files and see all the artwork. I was just like constantly walking around in excitement because I’ve got goosebumps so often. She just does a great job.
Del Duca: Thank you so much, that’s so cool to hear. I do a lot of cheering when I first read the script. It’s rare for me to read a comic book that deals with issues with teenagers so head on without pandering to them or babying them. And the issues that Laurie wrote about were stuff I cared about – being true to yourself, trying hard to better yourself with the shortcomings you don’t like about yourself, and those kinds of things.
The collaborative concept for me was a little bit different because I’m used to working in creator owned, where whenever I talked to my team I would talk to the artist, letterer, colorist directly. So, this was my first project where we had editors as a middle man. I would gush to the editors a lot and I hope that they passed on the compliments to Laurie every time.
Halse Anderson: They would also ask me to not use so many words. I had to get a little better at not filling the panels with words.
Del Duca: I was telling someone in another interview, reading your script was like that you wrote a whole novel first and then translated into comic book format. I feel like I got so much information than I could put in a page. Not in a bad way, you wrote in a way that I knew what to pick and choose.
But I feel really lucky that I got to read this version of this book because I got so many cool visuals, backstory, and world building that wasn’t completely translated into the comic. And I don’t want that to the sound like a bad thing. It’s more that it was so much fun for me to look on.
Nrama: Diving into the story, how does Diana adjust to life away from Themyscira. Does it feel like she’s leaving for college?
Halse Anderson: Well, when you’re going away for college, you generally want to go and, we tried to show her having sort of very typical adolescent frustrations with her mother. Mom, wants to hold the teenager down a little bit and teenager wants to do everything and thinks she’s capable of it.
She actually winds up leaving Themyscira not voluntarily, but by accident. She’s thrusted into this world that she’s only learned about academically through whatever filters the adults allowed on Themyscira. I wanted to make her awkward. She’s a strong, large, beautiful woman. But this is also what 16 is – you have this exterior that can be very adult where your heart is still a child’s heart.
She’s seeing the world through this child lens and she is shocked. She’s shocked by seeing that there’s homelessness, there’s injustice, and that some people have more money than others. People are hungry. It’s never occurred to her because she had never seen it. She’s a character that could be read through the lens of privilege. She’s come from a place without these horrible injustices and that’s a real privilege. And she starts to dig deep in herself to figure out how she could do her part to fix this.
Nrama: Can you tell us a bit about the supporting characters of the book?
Halse Anderson: Well, we have Steve and Trevor instead of Steve Trevor. She meets them at the refugee camp in Greece. Steve and Trevor both have jobs that are aligned with the United Nations. One is a diplomat and one is physician – they’re married and they wind up meeting Diana.
One of the things I had fun with because I have a linguistics background, and so I use the ability in the Amazons to speak and understand all languages. I really had a lot of fun with that.
And so she uses her language skill at the refugee camp to help other refugees, especially if there’s a child who needs medical attention. And then once she gets to the United States, Steve sets her up with his old assistant, a retired woman – who herself is an immigrant from Poland, who has a granddaughter who is Diana’s age. And that relationship starts out a little bit rocky, but then they find their rhythm.
Nrama: What made you want to work on Wonder Woman?
Del Duca: She’s probably my favorite DC superhero because of the way she sees the world optimistically and her moral and ethics align with mine. She has a very loving heart. All these qualities I really relate to a lot.
Oh, I should go into this a little bit too – I’m polyamorous and the history of Wonder Woman, her creator was polyamorous. It’s cool to see it represented with such a popular character with that kind of history, and so I feel a little bit of a connection there as well. Other than that her character is fantastic, classic, and visually intriguing.
Halse Anderson: That’s wonderful. I didn’t know that. That makes me even happier that you got to work on this.
For me, I’m kind of a big woman myself. I was one of the biggest girls in school growing up and very athletic. I always felt so awkward and Wonder Woman was my idol. I had a giant life size poster of the TV version of her when I was a kid because I could look at her and see a woman who got to be physically strong and morally and emotionally strong. She did what was right. I learned a lot from her.
Nrama: Laurie, for fans of your prose and your work on Speak, what do you think fans will enjoy with Tempest Tossed?
Halse Anderson: I’m really excited to see, because my readers are the ones who are going to tell me what they find. I hope that they find the same awkwardness and honesty that I try to bring to my YA novels. It’s a mess to try to go through puberty and figure out that people are lying to you all the time.
And you know, we’ve got to redesign adolescents or the way we support adolescents a little bit. I also think that sense of humor, teenagers are really funny. They’re very loving, and they care deeply about each other. And I hope that those threads run through this as well. They also get to see one of my stories illustrated with such profound, great art. I think they’ll like that.
Nrama: Is there another DC character you’d like to give this type of graphic novel treatment to?
Halse Anderson: I’ll have to get back to you on that. I’ve been so focused on Themyscira that the other characters don’t exist to me right now.
Del Duca: For me, I’ve been stuck on Swamp Thing for a while. I’m really excited for that graphic novel of Swamp Thing, which looks fantastic. So, they beat me on the character that I’d probably want to work on next.