By Tim Beedle
The creators of Diana: Princess of the Amazons want kids to know that even Wonder Woman had trouble making friends.
As one of the most popular superheroes in the world, that may seem hard to imagine, but let’s not forget that Diana grew up on an island where she was the only child. Loneliness is never easy, so it’s not surprising that Diana would resort to the sort of drastic measures she does in her new middle grade graphic novel by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale and Victoria Ying. After all, if her mother was able to make a girl out of clay, maybe Diana can too…
Diana: Princess of the Amazons looks at the rather messy side of making friends, as the young Amazon creates a new companion named Mona who turns out to be a lot more trouble than the future superhero anticipated. It’s an imaginative, fun and vibrant new comic for kids written by the Eisner-nominated team behind Rapunzel’s Revenge and illustrated by the gifted and surprisingly new-to-comics Ying. Diana: Princess of the Amazons offers a heartfelt story that’s instantly relatable to any child who’s ever felt lonely while still boasting plenty of intrigue and excitement brought to life through Ying’s joyful pages. Recently during a visit to the DC office, we spoke with Ying about what went into creating such a charming and clever tale from Diana’s early life.
How did you get involved with Diana: Princess of the Amazons?
It was a total twist of fate. I went to an industry gathering. I’d been invited by a friend who’s a science fiction author, and he had all these contacts in LA who wanted to get together. At the time, I was in animation, but I was leaving and trying to make my way in graphic novels. While there I met my editor, Lauren Bisom. It was like, “Oh, you’re in comics? What have you done that I’ve seen?” And I’m like, “Well, I’m actually not published yet…”
I told her about my film work and about how I was trying to get into graphic novels and working on my own original stuff, and that I was very interested in working with other writers. So, she asked to see my stuff, and I sent her my portfolio, and she just really responded to it. She said they had this project with Shannon and Dean Hale and asked if I’d be interested.
Shannon and Dean are some of my favorite middle grade and YA authors. They’ve done so many other things in graphic novels that I’m such a big fan of. Shannon Hale’s Real Friends is such an amazing graphic novel. I was so excited. I immediately leapt out of my skin.
Lauren asked if she could see some sketches to see what my take would be on it. So, it wasn’t an immediate offer, but she was interested in seeing how I would take on the character, and I was just obsessed with making the pieces absolutely perfect.
So, you were a fan of Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, but were you a Wonder Woman fan?
Yeah, absolutely! When Lauren approached me with this project, it was just when DC was starting to focus more on kids and middle grade comics. It’s just such an exciting time. I was just thinking, “Wow! Finally these big comic book publishers realize that there are kids hungry for that content.” Taking their original characters and creating stories for them that are more relatable for young kids—it’s exactly the kind of thing I wanted to be doing.
Wonder Woman—I just couldn’t believe that she was the character and this was the story they were telling. A lot of people were like, “What DC character do you wish you could have done?” And Wonder Woman is the only answer I had. She’s so iconic, and the way that they wrote the story is so complex. I think the Hales just have this way of tapping into true childhood feelings that’s just so unique. It was just really cool to work with them.
One thing that’s really cool about Diana: Princess of the Amazons is that it’s a story about Wonder Woman as a child. There really isn’t a lot of precedent for that, so how did you come up with young Diana’s look?
I think when we started there were a lot of things we considering. My original sketches actually had her in more of a traditional Wonder Woman costume. We took a lot of cues from the movie. The Hales really liked that scene where she’s alone and running around on Themyscira, and she’s in a more traditional-looking Greek toga. So, that’s kind of what we were referencing when we were doing it. We wanted her to feel like she was free and could run around and be comfortable.
Was that true for the look of Themyscira as well? Was much of that based on the movie?
A little bit. I definitely pulled from the movie, but I also looked up a bunch of reference—just all these different artists’ interpretations of Themyscira. I wanted to have it be someplace that felt big and alive, but also iconic and easy to read, especially for kids. I really worked on simplifying the look of this big, vast island to make it feel fun, but at the same time accessible and not so grand that it doesn’t feel like you could run around it and be a kid.
In an earlier interview with Shannon and Dean, one of the things they called out was how good you are at drawing kangas. Did you realize that was a skill of yours before working on this book? Is it tricky to draw kangas?
So, in the early days we were debating whether they should be on horseback or on kangas because in the film, they’re on horseback. Dean was Team Kanga all the way. I guess looking back on all the history of it, kangas have not been part of the Wonder Woman canon since like the ’70s. Partly because I guess people thought they were silly. But this is a world where we got to play with that because it’s not part of the official canon, so I thought that would be really fun to play with a different kind of mount. Horses are cool and I was total horse girl.
Artists always say horses are so hard to draw.
Oh, they’re impossible. (laughs)
But kangas, they’re not straight kangaroos. I wanted them to feel a little like a different creature, so I took some cues from Pokemon and other media where we take a familiar animal but make it a little different. In this case, the kangas have these big ruffled necks, which reminds me a little of an Eevee from Pokemon. I think kangaroos are actually much simpler to draw than a horse, but they’re also very simplified in this book too. I got to fudge a lot of anatomy partly because people are a little less familiar with what a kangaroo look like. (laughs) I’m like, “It just looks like that.” And people are like, “Okay.”
Lark Pien colored your art for Diana: Princess of the Amazons and she did such an amazing job—this is such a bright, colorful book. What was it like working with her?
I was done with the inks by the time the colors started coming in, and we would give notes. Only with Lark, we ended up giving very few notes. The only times I ever had notes were if my own drawing was unclear and was interpreted in a way that it wasn’t meant to be, but that was almost always my fault. Whatever Lark did, it was always so surprising. She was able to plus the work every time. It always made it better every time we saw it in color.
The heart of this book is about Diana’s relationship with this friend she creates named Mona and the trouble they get into. How did Mona’s look come together? Did you always know that she would look like clay?
We knew we wanted her to be visually distinct from Diana. She has some dialog where she talks about feeling different, even more so than Diana. We wanted to make that very clear to the reader and to her. The whole clay-like thing—originally, I actually had her a little bit more clay-like. She had a little bit more texture to her. But I think that in the end we found a nice compromise where she definitely feels otherworldly, but at the same time the emotions and everything still read very much like a little girl.
Now that the book is done and in stores, what’s something you hope that a young middle grader who picks up this book might get from it?
Friends are such an important part of your existence when you’re that age—they’re your entire world. What I hope is that kids can see that sometimes friends make you do things that you don’t want to do. Maybe they take you in a direction that you don’t feel comfortable with. I hope that this book lets kids know that it’s okay to say no and to stand up for what you think is right even if it might make your friend mad.