Out writer Mariko Tamaki is having a mainstream moment. This year alone, Tamaki, who is gay — “I like to call myself a lez because it just phonetically feels cooler” — launched the DC Comics four-issue miniseries Supergirl: Being Super and rebranded Marvel Comics' She-Hulk into an ongoing solo series retitled simply Hulk. Both comics offer a fresh take on these long-standing heroes.
Reflecting Tamaki's extensive, character-rich background writing both prose novels and award-winning graphic novels, like Skim and That One Summer, her Supergirl and Hulk zero in on the humanity behind these larger-than-life heroines.
Supergirl: Being Super features a thoroughly modern take on a teenage girl struggling with coming to terms with her "otherness," while Hulk is a gripping look at the formerly sensational She-Hulk struggling to hide a vital part of herself for fear of what will happen once she lets go. Each comic book’s narrative fits very well into the queer experience of coming out.
While neither the Girl of Steel nor the once-green Hulk identifies as queer (yet!), Tamaki has made a point to include LGBT supporting characters that enrich the story and add much-needed flavor to both series.
The Advocate sat down with the witty Tamaki to discuss all things super, Hulky, and why using the word "dyke" within a comic book is so important.
The Advocate: As an out LGBT writer, do you feel a responsibility to bring a queer character to all your mainstream work?
Tamaki: As an out LGBT person, I know that there is always LGBTQ in the picture, although in the past they were largely relegated to certain roles — the best friend, the hairdresser, and so on. So I try to populate my stories with a diversity of characters.
Because there aren’t a lot of narratives out there with queer people at the center, when I’m working on series that aren’t focused on queer characters, I move queers as close to the middle as I can. That’s not to say I’m going out of my way to tell stories about queer characters, except it kind of is. So. Yeah. That’s not to say I don’t like writing about straight characters. I do. I like the mix. All the characters. Together.
The Supergirl: Being Super four-issue series features a very typical, modern American teen. Was it important for you to ground the character in teenager-isms rather than typical dark and moody superhero tropes?
I like a dark character. I like Batman most when he’s not talking to anyone because he’s in a funk. But Supergirl never gave me that vibe. I kind of instantly saw her as this kid who perfectly fits in despite the fact that she’s an alien. She’s a superhero presenting to the world in track pants or sweatpants or whatever you call them. Mostly what I try to do is think of all the details that make sense to me — zits, friendships, parents, music tastes — and then I knit the bigger picture from there.
While Supergirl herself isn't queer, the fact that she hides her powers and abilities speaks to many LGBT people's experiences. Was this your intention to explore a queer experience by swapping powers for sexual identity?
I mean it kind of is just there — that whole “I’m keeping a secret” thing connects to the queer experience. The idea that who you are isn’t going to translate to the people in your life, the fear you’re going to lose your “normal” life if you are your true self, all connects to the standard queer narrative, if there is one.
At the same time I wanted to thread this idea that being different is amazing. Which is kind of what Kara’s, Supergirl’s real name, best friend is there for. Dolly is an out, proud dyke and she, in my mind, has always seen what Kara is, and is basically just waiting for Kara to get to the place where she can embrace that part of herself.
Dolly, a.k.a. "Badass Dyke," as she calls herself, is a clear standout character in the series. Using the word "dyke" to describe a character is a powerful and unexpected way to address her sexuality.
I love the word "dyke." It’s one of my favorite words. And I really wanted Dolly to be an out and proud queer teen. To me, "dyke" is defiant and proud. And Dolly is someone who speaks her mind — she puts what she’s thinking on a T-shirt and wears it to school. She’s there to decorate Kara’s locker and be her friend and call her out.
Your Marvel Comics ongoing series, Hulk, takes readers through a very gripping and drama about PTSD. Did you feel a responsibility to represent this as honestly as possible, knowing that people might find it and gain comfort from the storyline?
I always feel a responsibility to write a “good” story. Also, I think it’s always my job to tell a story that’s “true to life” or true to the experience I’m depicting. Which is not to say that there’s one story about trauma or one experience of trauma. I wanted to write a story that felt real to me, about what it’s like to feel powerless, which I think was an interesting place to put Jen Walters — a.k.a. She-Hulk a.k.a. Hulk — after the Civil War II.
Five issues in and readers have yet to see Jen Hulk out. Can we assume the slow burn it about to be rewarded in issue 6 (out now)?
I like that phrase. Slow burn. Yes, you can assume.
You also included a gay assistant to Jen Walters. Do you feel it's important for the character to discuss his sexuality, to reveal it to the readers, rather than it just be assumed?
I think because of the grand old tradition of queer readers having to read into queer character’s sexualities, because of the context where straightness is assumed and the majority in most stories, yeah, you need queers to point themselves out. That doesn’t mean you need to have a teary “coming out” moment, although those are fine. It just means you need to have a moment. I mean, you don’t, but I do.
What comic book character would you love to get your hands on?
Um. There are a lot actually. I’d love to do another Wonder Woman story; I did a little mini story about her and Constantine for a DC Comics holiday issue last year. Because 9-year-old me would love for me to do Wonder Woman. I’d love for someone to reboot The Facts of Life as a comic book series.
And finally, tease the reader on what to expect in the final issue of Supergirl: Being Super and upcoming issues of Hulk.
Ha, ha! Tease the reader! I would never! I’ll say that there are parts of superhero stories that possibly readers have thought, I’m not into that, but I’m actually totally into that, are in these next issues. Hey, man, I’m more than just a fan of alien zits. I like it all!
Supergirl: Being Super issues 1 through 3 are available now, with issue 4 on sale in June. Hulk issues 1 through 6 are out now. A collection of all six issues of Hulk is due in July.