A teenage Nigerian girl superheroine will soon join the ranks of Marvel superheroes like Spider-Man and Captain America.
Ngozi, who will become the comic giant’s first African superhero, is the main character in Blessing In Disguise — part of Marvel’s Venomverse anthology. It traditionally tells the stories of popular characters bonded to an alien symbiotic organism called venom that makes them more powerful.
But, creator Nnedi Okorafor approached her story with a different and fresh perspective. To create her superhero, the award-winning science fiction writer was inspired by the Chibok schoolgirls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in 2014.
“When Marvel came to me to write the story, I had other ideas in mind,” Okorafor said. “I didn’t want to write about an established superhero — I wanted to create one. All the stories take place in a different universe, so when you write them, you can do whatever you want.”
Okorafor talked with Worldview host Jerome McDonnell about creating Ngozi, using real-life inspiration, and the response to Marvel’s first African superhero.
On creating Ngozi’s appearance
Okorafor: When I do comics, I like to work really closely with the illustrator. I just find illustrators to be geniuses and I just love what they do. For Ngozi, I knew exactly what she’d look like so I explained all of that. And then, those things where I wasn't exactly sure, I let the illustrator fill them in. So, it’s kind of like a blend of our two strange minds, which is really fun.
On real-life inspiration
Okorafor: I knew that i wanted her to look like one of the Chibok girls — one of the girls kidnapped in Nigeria. I just knew that. You’ve got this character who is a girl in Lagos, Nigeria and is just going about her business being who she is. And then, she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time,and her life just changes.
And when I thought about that plot, I started to think about the Chibok girls. A similar situation happened to them and I’ve been bothered by that story. I felt powerless when i thought about what happened to them, and thought, “Why not give her the face of one those girls, giving her the power to become a superhero?” It’s very abstract, but that’s where my mind was with that.
On the response to an African superhero
Okorafor: Ngozi isn't the first, of course. There are others. But, one thing I noticed was that the response to this little short — eight pages — was so huge. There was this excitement and interest. Africa has its own comics industry and creators. And that’s growing exponentially so there’s already this great hunger and interest in seeing these African characters.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. It was adapted for the web by Arionne Nettles. Click the ‘play’ button above to hear the entire segment.