Last month BGN reviewed the first issue of Naomi, released by DC Comics’ imprint Wonder Comics. Both the character and title Naomi are the brainchild of writers Brian Michael Bendis (Jessica Jones, Superman, Young Justice) and David Walker (Cyborg, Shaft) and drawn by Jamal Campbell (Star Wars). BGN sat down and talked with David Walker and Jamal Campbell.
How was the creative team [for Naomi] assembled?
Jamal Campbell: For me, my introduction was through Andy Corey who’s an editor at DC. I worked for them on Vixen and Green Arrow and stuff like that. He was sort of instrumental in helping to orchestrate the whole Wonder Comics line and getting that started and off the ground. I guess when Brian and David were talking about Naomi and looking for artists my name must have come up through Andy and he sort of put me through and introduced me to the prospect and to those two. So it got started from there.
David Walker: Brian and I have known each other for, it’s pushing up on twenty years. And, we teach together. We talked a little bit about working together. It never quite happened. And then it happened very, very quickly. He said, “You know, I wanna write a series with you.” I said, “Okay.” And then we set about looking for an artist. And I remember this very clearly because it was right around this time last year that we started really seriously looking for an artist for Naomi. I don’t think she even had a name yet. The series didn’t even have a name yet. It was still in the planning stages.
But, I remember specifically going to the Emerald City Comic Con, and spending the entire day in artist alley, just looking at that particular convention, because they have a great artist alley there. And, I got some names, I got some portfolios, email addresses, and all that stuff. And Brian and I were kicking around a bunch of people.
And then DC threw out Jamal. And Brian emailed me and said: “Hey there’s this guy who’s outta Canada. His work’s pretty good.” And I looked at it, and I said, “yeah, this is really solid.” And then he did some character design stuff that was really next-level. And Brian and we just sort of looked at each other and we were like, this is it. This is the third member of our team.
It’s said that there’s always a little piece of yourself in any creative endeavor. What part of you is in how you depict or Naomi?
Jamal Campbell: I mean, talking physically, I had braids growing up. So being able to draw Naomi with box braids like I had when I was younger it sort of made up something and how I actually went in to think about designing her. From there it’s just how she moves in the world. I’m in Toronto so it’s super multicultural, but there have definitely been times in my life where I’ve been the only Black kid in a group or in a class or in a group of friends. Just sort of navigating those social structures wherein Naomi, she’s the only Black person in her town. And that’s very much sort of a bigger scale, more extreme version of what I experienced. I can still post them of my experiences, my thoughts, my insecurities, all of that, into her and exactly through what I went through to what she is going through.
The first issue of Naomi was released in January and seems to be doing well. Was the reception to the title what you expected?
David Walker: Oh it was much better than I expected to be 100% honest with you. Because, I’m a pretty cynical person, so I was bracing, for lack of a better term, I was bracing for impact. And I knew we had done a really good book, but that didn’t mean that people would respond well to it.
The thing that’s really surprising to me, and it’s been less than a month since the first issue came out and the response I’m getting from people who aren’t, I guess for lack of a better term, traditional comic book fans. Either a friend turned them on to the book, or they heard about it somewhere else. And, this is something that we talked about a lot as a team, was that we really hoped that not only would it find a fan base within the traditional comic book fans, but that we might bring in some new readers.
Jamal Campbell: Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. This is the first time I’m sort of doing something that has this much of a spotlight on it. Because it’s Bendis running it, and pretty much everything he does is like, all eyes on. So I wasn’t sure if people would like it, people would not like it. I wasn’t sure where exactly he would land especially with Naomi being a completely new character with seemingly no real connection to anywhere in the DC universe. So when it did land and people actually liked it and were intrigued and really wanting more, I was super happy and super excited about, okay it actually landed well, people want this, okay let’s continue doing what we’re doing.
Naomi is the first title in a while for DC to feature a Black woman. Why do you think it has taken so long?
David Walker: You know that’s a good question. And, I can only answer it from my perspective. My perspective is this, I wanted to see a really good, strong, Black female character. Because I was just kinda bored with the same ol’, same ol, in terms of the straight white male superheroes. We were also talking about the sort of characters that we felt that we weren’t seeing enough of. And the characters that we thought would challenge us as writers, and as human beings. And, Naomi was it.
And I remember we would have these long conversations, him and I, about all sorts of different things. And I would tell him about some of my experiences growing up, and some of the people that I knew growing up. And he would always say, that would make a great character. Or that would make a great story. And that was it. We were talking about some of the people that I knew growing up, and some of my personal experiences. And I think we started realizing that, it’s not to say other people hadn’t done it before, but we weren’t seeing it that often, or often enough. And again, we wanted to challenge ourselves as writers. And so, that’s what we did.
Jamal Campbell: I’m really not sure. There really aren’t a lot of Black characters that sort of, have held their own at DC for whatever reason. I’m not sure. Like Vixen, I’m pretty sure Vixen was supposed to have an ongoing like way back and that never happened. Then she had a mini-series in the early 2000’s I think and then that was just it. That’s part of the reason why I wanted to get on this book and sort of help push that directive. Same reason why I wanted to get on the Vixen one shot a couple years back as well.
In the first issue, we find out that there are some unknowns regarding Naomi’s origin. What can you tell us about what we’re about to see in Issue 2?
David Walker: Without getting into any spoilers, or too specific, Naomi’s gonna start making a series of discoveries with each subsequent issue. First, she starts to discover that there are secrets about the town that she lives in, and people who live in the town. And, she’s not sure if those secrets relate to her, or not. Some of them do. Some of them don’t.
Now, a lot of these secrets are things that are building upon what already exists in the DC Universe. Which is to say, that, we’re going to find out things that we didn’t know about certain types of characters or specific characters that we already do know. But then, she’s also going to start discovering things about herself. So there are multiple layers to the mystery of what she’s investigating. And as she’s trying to figure out more about the specifics of what happened in the town, she starts to realize there’s even more to the secret. But then she starts to realize there are some deep secrets about her.
What freedom and constraints does the location have on your storytelling? Naomi’s not in Metropolis or New York. So how does the location affect how you write and what you write?
David Walker: Well, part of it comes down to the fact that Brian and I talked about, well, there are more cities in the DC Universe than just Gotham City or Metropolis, and what goes on in those. And then we started thinking about what happens if one of those cities or towns.
So that was the beginning. But we also talked about…and this is really crucial to Naomi and the story, I was telling him stories about when I grew up as a kid. I was one of the only Black kids in a predominantly white school in a predominantly white town. And I would tell Brian some of the stories and the experiences that I had, but I would also tell him about this girl that I grew up with who was literally the only Black girl in the school.
And so I would always talk about that sense of alienation that I had growing up, that feeling that I didn’t belong, and how that shaped who I was. And, at times it felt like it was a great detriment, but at other times, it felt like I had to get a really thick skin. And so we talked about that and realized that that would be something that might be interesting to readers.
Brian and I both live in Portland now, and Portland is not the most diverse city in the United States. And, Oregon as a state has many issues in terms of the demographic makeup. And so we thought, well, let’s just set it here. Because you don’t see anything in the Pacific Northwest that often. Especially in towns smaller than Portland. Let’s lean into that dynamic of what it means to be a person of color in a town where there’s not that many of you. In fact, there’s so few of you that everybody kind of knows who you are even if they don’t know you.
And one of the stories that don’t get told very often, is, what is like to be one of the only people in the room? What’s it like to be the only black kid at your high school? Which I actually think is not that foreign of a story. I think it’s a lot more universal than a lot of us really talk about or realize. And you see it in the Black nerd community, there’s more of us now.
Speaking of friends and that kind of thing, Naomi has a good group of friends around her. Can you tell us a little bit about her crew? And what role they’re gonna play going forward.
David Walker: Yeah. It’s interesting because when we first started writing this project, Brian and I, we had these friends in there, and looking back, I don’t think they were as well developed as Brian and I would have our students do. And then it was Jamal.
Jamal threw out these character designs. And the one thing we told him was, she’s the only Black girl at her school. And, Jamal came up with these great character designs for Suze, and Annabelle, those are Naomi’s two best friends. Brian and I looked at these characters, and we were like, we need to lean more into them.
And, so, what we’re going to see as she goes through her mystery, is that she’s turning to them the more she uncovers about the truth. She’s running the potential risk of losing these friends because they can’t understand what she’s going through. And part of what she’s going through is this discovery of self.
Naomi has a good group of friends around her. David told us you were instrumental in their identities and played a role in them becoming more of an impact than originally intended. Can you tell us a little bit about her crew and what role they’re going to play going forward?
Jamal Campbell: Sure. When I started sort of like the designs with the crew, David and Brian left everything pretty much open-ended so I sort of had names, I had the first draft of the script. From there I really sort of aimed to make them their own people through the clothes that they wear, the look that they give themselves. Annabelle and Suze are Naomi’s main friends. Annabelle is the plus-sized girl with pink hair. Suze is sort of like the Goth hipster chick. I really wanted to nail down, if I could nail down their identities and their look and also their mannerisms, how they speak, how they act, how they move through the world. I felt that that would pretty much help to sort of ground the book and make it sort of really real to the readers and people who are reading it. Annabelle is Naomi’s best friend. She features somewhat prominently in Issue 2. She’s sort of there alongside Naomi in her journey to where she’s going.
In the first issue, we find out there are some unknowns regarding Naomi’s origin. What can you tell us about Issue 2?
Jamal Campbell: Where Issue 1’s sort of like it’s bringing up the premise. You get to know Naomi, you get to know her friends. The sort of spark that starts her on her journey of discovery. Issue 2 sort of continues where we introduce her parents. Which is a big part of Naomi’s life and how she got to where she was. How she’s going to get where she’s going to be. That sort of the main front of how her adoptive parents fit into everything as well as how she really starts to act to find out what’s going on and how it connects to her.
Right now there are no real titles that reflect the uniqueness of the Black experience. Naomi’s journey to find out who she is, reflects a common journey for us all with the benefit of being well written and drawn. This is a great title for all ages so run out and get a copy of both issues. The second issue of Naomi is available at your local comic book store or online.
E.Angel is an engineer and holds a BS in electrical engineering from North Carolina A&T State University. In her spare time, she works at her comic book store – Brainstorm Comics and Gaming – when she is not reading comic books. She’s a real nerd who loves all things Star Wars and Star Trek and is an avid gamer. E.Angel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on either game platform as Bunnehs Sister.