Tuesday Q&A: Squirrel Girl

Unebatable Squirrel Girl art by Erica Henderson

Accessible, agreeable, awesome: that pretty much describes UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL, a new ongoing series that, well, may make you nuts. But in a good way!

Don’t take our word for it, though; listen into a few words from writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson talk all about one of the most likable heroines ever—and her squirrel sidekick, Tippy-Toe.

Yeah, you heard us.

Marvel.com: Ryan, what aspect of the book and the character attracts you the most?

Ryan North: Her attitude! She’s effectively a Silver Age character in the modern age, so she stands out a little. She’s not sad she has squirrel powers: having squirrel powers is awesome!  And unlike a lot of mutants I could direct you to at a certain school for gifted youngsters, she’s never wished she never got mutant powers. She gets to go out and fight crime with nuts! How awesome is that? So to answer your question, I am excited to write scenes of her fighting crime with nuts.

Marvel.com: Fair enough! In what ways will the book be accessible? And is a book like that harder to write or easier than a continuity-laden book?

Ryan North: I was really inspired by the “LEGO Marvel” games: they present a Marvel Universe that’s instantly recognizable, but that you don’t need 40 years of continuity to feel at home in. My angle is to write a book that’s instantly accessible to anyone, but if you know the backstories, there’s stuff there for you too. So in that way it’s almost as hard to write as a book with years of continuity; I still need to be aware of it, but the fun is not making that fandom the price of admission. 

The cover says “Squirrel Girl” and really, that’s all you should need to know. She’s a girl in [New York City] who has all the powers of a squirrel. Let’s see what happens next!

Marvel.com: What’s the most human thing about Squirrel Girl? What will readers see in the book that should endear her to them?

Ryan North: So much of her is human, I think. She’s got enthusiasm, sure, but she’s also been kinda alone from other people a lot of her life, so she’s not the smoothest lady in the world. Like all of us, there’s stuff she’s good at, and stuff she’s not good at, and sometimes she tries to avoid the stuff she’s bad at so people will just see her best side. I’ve been thinking about her a lot the past several months and I haven’t gotten tired of her yet!

Marvel.com: What will UNBEATBALE SQUIRREL GIRL’s first story arc be like? What kicks it off?

Ryan North: The first arc kicks off with Doreen moving into campus, and then confronting Kraven the Hunter who is cheesed off at squirrels for reasons that will be revealed. It’s like a stand-alone adventure where we get to see the kind of life she’s trying to have, and then all that gets thrown for a loop when someone even more powerful than Kraven shows up. I will give you a hint: his name starts with a “G” and he has a cool hat.

Marvel.com: So, what’s a “normal” day like for her, and how will that translate into compelling adventures?

Ryan North: I don’t think Doreen gets normal days. She’s concerned with helping people, and that means helping them whenever you can, which can cut down on any normalcy in your life—which is probably in short supply when you’ve got squirrel powers and a tail. That said, I think what makes her adventures so compelling is that she’s relatable. She’s happy to help, but she’s also not certain she can. That’s most of us, right?

Marvel.com: Which of her powers and abilities would you like to play up the most? And will we see any new powers or new ways for her to uses her existing powers?

Ryan North: New ways for her to use her existing powers: absolutely! That’s part of the fun of a book and a character like this. Sure, Squirrel Girl has defeated people like Thanos in the past, but we don’t actually know how! It all happened off-panel. And that’s the sort of gag I can’t really get away with doing more than once, so the challenge is to figure out how Doreen Green, the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, actually can take down god-tier villains like this. It’s great. Her powers are so versatile, and squirrels are everywhere.

Marvel.com: How would you describe Tippy-Toe’s role? What’s his relationship with Squirrel Girl like?

Ryan North: Her, actually! It’s an easy mistake to make though, since male and female squirrels can look pretty similar to the untrained eye.Tippy is Squirrel Girl’s best friend right now. She doesn’t have a lot of super close human relationships—being a super hero can put a kink in that—but she and Tippy are really close. The new thing with Tippy-Toe is that now w’’ll actually get to see her and Squirrel Girl talk. In the past their conversations would be rendered as squirrel talk—“chuk! chiikk!”—but in this series, if Tippy and Squirrel Girl are alone, we’ll translate their dialogue. Being able to see both sides of the conversation is great: it lets Tippy take a more active role in the story, and lets Squirrel Girl confide in someone when she’s alone.

The other thing I love about Tippy-Toe is that she’s just a regular squirrel. No super powers!  And, when you think about it, going on a mission with a super hero when you don’t have any powers is dangerous enough. Doing it when you’re a tiny rodent who is literally naked has to take guts!

Marvel.com: What will the rest of her supporting cast and the college setting be like?

Ryan North: There [are] other students at her college that also have powers: I don’t want to reveal just who or what yet, but this school does seem to have a higher-than-average number of super-powered first-year students in it. Who’s gathered them here, and why? 

It’s a lot of fun to have this grounded college setting to contrast with the super hero action. I wanted to show a more realistic college experience, including taking courses that make sense.  Doreen Green is Squirrel Girl, so why would she go to college to study squirrels?  She obviously already knows all about them. So instead she’s going to study computer science. You never know when that’ll come in hand while fighting crime! Seriously.

Marvel.com: What do you love about working with Erica Henderson on the book? Why is she perfect for it?

Ryan North: She’s got this really great style that I think works well for this bright and fun window on the Marvel Universe we want to create. Her Squirrel Girl is the greatest, and I actually keep one of her sketches up on the screen as I write. I think, “would this Squirrel Girl say that?” and if no, change things. One of the first things Erica did was redesign Squirrel Girl’s costume: she came up with maybe 10 different options, and they all had these really great elements in them. And I wanted to use them all, so we decided that Squirrel Girl would be tweaking her own costume all the time, trying out different outfits to see how well they work.   I’m excited for that: in real life people change their clothes every day—hopefully—and their looks pretty regularly: why should super heroes be any different? Especially super heroes in college, which is where you go to reinvent yourself?

I guess there’s one last thing I should confess: as a writer you always want to play to an artist’s strengths, and Erica draws some really attractive people. So I maaaay have added more hunky dudes and megababes into this comic than would be there otherwise. I MAKE NO APOLOGIES.

Marvel.com: Okay, Erica: your turn! How did this project happen for you? What made you say “yes!”?

Erica Henderson: How this project happened for me is pretty simple. I got an e-mail from [editor] Wil Moss asking if I would be interested in working on a Squirrel Girl book that may or may not happen, and there’s only one answer when someone asks you that question. He just needed a sketch of her from me to show some people so I sent four pages of drawings.

Marvel.com: Wow…so, visually, what’s the most engaging aspect of Squirrel Girl for you? And Ryan said you tweaked her look?

Erica Henderson: I think my favorite visual aspect of her is her buck teeth. They’re fun, but also you don’t get a lot of female super heroes with awkward facial features like that so it just sets her apart visually. I did tweak her look. In those four pages of drawings I just mentioned, I think I did about 10 redesigns of her costume. Ryan and I have talked about switching around her costume fairly often so maybe we’ll see all of them!

Marvel.com: Now, how do you see Doreen’s overall world? What of your style do you want to bring to it and why?

Erica Henderson: Squirrel Girl’s world is the regular Marvel Universe, but seen through her eyes. It’s a little brighter and a little more optimistic and a little nuttier! [Laughs] I’m excited by the idea of working on a fun, comedic super hero book. My work often leans towards bouncy shapes and bright colors—although I’m not coloring it—and sight gags and that’s what I’m bringing to this book.

Marvel.com: What about Tippy Toe? Are you studying squirrels or is there some other way you’re looking at him in terms of the art?

Erica Henderson: I’m drawing Tippy Toe as a regular squirrel because that’s what she is. She’s Squirrel Girl’s best friend and a crime fighter, but for all intents and purposes she’s just a squirrel. I’ve been looking at squirrels and doodling them when I have time. There’s a squirrel that stares and chatters at me from the kitchen window every day, so that helps. Also, and I don’t recommend all you people at home trying this, but as a child—tween?—I was a bitten by a squirrel, so you know, I think gives me some sort of squirrel abilities.

Marvel.com: What about working with Ryan? What’s he doing as a writer that makes your job as artist even more enjoyable?

Erica Henderson: Ryan’s great. I’ve been a fan of his work for a long time and was thrilled to find out that he would be writing. His scripts are great, and we seem to have similar ideas so there haven’t been any arguments. Even if we do come to that point, we’ve talked about being flexible and having some give and take since comic books are a partnership.

Join Ryan North and Erica Henderson for UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL beginning in January 2015!