By Sonya Rehman
Remember Kamala Khan, aka, Ms. Marvel, the Muslim teen superheroine launched last year by Marvel Comics? For comic book enthusiasts in the UAE, get this; the popular series is currently available in both Arabic and English across eleven countries in the MENA region thanks to Al Ahli Publishing and Distribution, which became the only company outside the US to acquire the comic’s publishing rights this year.
The Birth of Kamala Khan
Kamala’s inception was sparked from a conversation between Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker – the co-creators and editors of Ms. Marvel. At the time, Sana had narrated an incident from her childhood that Stephen had found quite funny. Interestingly, Sana, just like Kamala, was born and raised in New Jersey to Pakistani immigrants. The idea soon blossomed into the birth of a Muslim superhero. The end result? A New York Times’ best-selling graphic novel.
Revolving around a sixteen-year-old Pakistani American who nurses super human shape-shifting abilities, Kamala stands as Marvel’s first-ever Muslim superhero headlining her own comic book. While the series focuses on Kamala’s battle with the bad guys, it also brings to light a teenager struggling with finding her identity and understanding her roots. Kamala, just like a plethora of second generation youngsters brought up in the west, realizes she is ‘different.’
“On the one hand, she grew up in an American city as a fairly typical middle-class American kid, but she’s also got the tradition and history of her parents,” G. Willow Wilson, the comic book’s writer had stated in an interview with the Guardian. “She faces a lot of the same dilemmas many second-generation kids do.”
The Kamala-Malala Connection
In 2012, Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize laureate in the world, was targeted by Taliban insurgents for not only speaking out against the Taliban in Pakistan, but for also advocating female education in the country. The horrific incident acted as a catalyst for change and opened up the dialogue on female empowerment and education in Pakistan. The Kamala-Malala connection is real – the graphic novel, stands as a step in the right direction towards combatting Islamophobia, shattering stereotypes, and encouraging female emancipation through popular culture.
What led you to Marvel Comics?
I’ve always had a very strong passion for publishing and set my sights on being a journalist or magazine editor early on. After some time thought, I realized something was missing for me from a creative standpoint – sharing others’ stories was quite distinct than crafting one’s own. That realization led me to a small indie comics company where I trained as an Assistant Editor and fell in love with making comics. Thereafter, Marvel offered me a position, and I’ve been here ever since working on wonderful titles like Ultimate Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Captain Marvel, Elektra and of course, Ms. Marvel.
How did Ms. Marvel come into being?
Ms. Marvel’s inception came from a desire to share a story that was authentic and representative of the diverse world we live in. Stephen Wacker, a former senior editor of mine, and I were clear that this character would be Muslim, but it was working with Willow where Kamala Khan began to be fully realized. That was also where were we saw the bigger potential for the series. Ms. Marvel certainly breaks stereotypes about the Muslim world, but it’s also very much a universal story. It’s simply about individual emancipation—searching for and owning your true identity. And that’s something we’ve found so many people, regardless of their backgrounds or genders, have connected with.
She’s officially an Avenger, which for Kamala Khan, is very exciting, but also a huge responsibility. So while she might be finally validated as a super hero, that also means her challenges will be even bigger. At the same time, she’s still dealing with the everyday difficulties of being a teenager—school, family, friendships—that come with their own set of complications. This is the next phase of growing up for Kamala Khan and it’ll be one wild ride.
What are you currently working on?
I’m still editor on Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye, Captain Marvel and Daredevil. Simultaneously I’m working with our other divisions on developing certain franchises, while continuing to engage our emerging demographics like women! I’m also co-hosting our Women of Marvel podcast that spun out of the very popular panels we’ve had at Comicons over the last few years. My hope is that the comics audience will continue to grow and diversify in the next few years—and that any kind of fan will find a Marvel character that they will love.