Vita Ayala is part of a new generation of comic book writers who are shunning stereotypes and smashing boundaries. The biggest heroes in comics might be fighting for justice for all, but the reality is that behind the scenes, those heroes—including female characters and characters of color—are almost always created and owned by straight white men. Ayala, who is African American and Hispanic and identifies as nonbinary and queer—exemplifies the progress being made. They are now writing comic books for several famous characters, including Xena, James Bond, X-Men, and Morbius.
Ayala, who is also an illustrator, released their work on Dynamite Entertainment’s reboot of the Xena: Warrior Princess comic series in April, and having already written for Marvel Comics’ X-Men series, they are one of the writers who will be part of the second wave of X-Men comics launching after House of X and Powers of X. (The titles and release dates for their new X-Men issues will be announced soon.)
They are also writing for Marvel Comics’ newly relaunched Morbius, the Living Vampire series (out in November) with illustrator Marcelo Ferreira (that character is expected to get more attention given that Sony Pictures' Morbius movie, starring Jared Leto in the title role, is out in 2020). Also on the horizon: their Dynamite Comics’ reboot of the James Bond series (launching in December) with writer Danny Lore, another queer nonbinary person of color whom Ayala considers a “best friend.”
“It’s been a dream to work on it,” Ayala said of their Xena comic series at this year's Flame Con event, held on August 17 and 18 in New York, where she was on three different panels. “It’s been kind of surprising how much I’ve been able to get away with in the comic that I know they couldn’t put into the [Xena TV] show. I’ve had nothing but support not only from the people reading but also from editorial [supervisors].”
So just how queer is the reboot? “It’s definitely gayer, which you wouldn’t think would be possible, but it’s explicit—not explicit, as in mature-plus content, but it’s on the page," Ayala told NewNowNext. "It’s focusing more on character work, but I think the Xena [comic series] always did that really well. I just brought [the Xena characters] on a road trip to Mexico. I wanted to get in as many cultures as I could. I was told to write these characters as if it’s my only chance. I’m like, ‘All right, we’re bringing brown people in there, and we’re making it gayer.’ I think it’s about being able to build on what was already there, but they couldn’t quite get away with it back then.”
Ayala couldn’t say much about their plans for the James Bond series, but they did reveal their affection for Morbius: “I’m a huge vampire person,” Ayala said. “I love Spider-Man and that universe, so to be able to write for Morbius is going to be super fun."
As one of the writers of Lion Forge’s Puerto Rico Strong comics anthology that raises money for disaster relief in Puerto Rico, Ayala is also a creator with a social conscience. “I really love that anthology, not just because it benefited Puerto Rico directly, but it got to showcase a culture and people who are often forgotten," Ayala said. "My role is to show people what’s available and try to spotlight people who might not have as much visibility.”
Breaking into the comic book industry is difficult for anyone, especially for those who aren’t straight, cisgender white males—the guys who wield the most power in the industry. But Ayala, who has also written for DC Comics’ Supergirl, has some recommendations for aspiring writers and illustrators. “Kickstarter is a big one," they said. "I am friends with Camilla Zhang, who is Kickstarter’s outreach person for comics. She’s always very available… trying to show people how to use their platforms and get their voices heard. I’m also a really big fan of smaller publishers like Iron Circus."
Ayala added, "We live in a time when access is bigger than ever. You can put yourself out there and have people signal boost you."