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Interview: Author L.L. McKinney And Artist Robyn Smith Talk All Things ‘Nubia: Real One’ + An Exclusive Excerpt From The YA Graphic Novel

Nubia: Real One is nearly upon us!

In the latest YA graphic novel from DC and focuses on a superhero that has been in and out of comics for a decades, however, has never truly been the main focus within the comics. Well, that’s all changing as Nubia is getting her own graphic novel and it is a new take on her origin story.

I had the chance to interview L.L. McKinney (who also wrote a separate Nubia story for Future State: Wonder Woman) and Robyn Smith about Nubia: Real One. They both had some great answers about what it was like working with one another to put the book together, the importance of Nubia, and their future plans. Check out their interview below and an exclusive excerpt from the pages of Nubia: Real One below that truly set the tone for the epic graphic novel that’s just a few weeks from release!

Cover for Nubia: Real One
Cover for Nubia: Real One (Courtesy of DC)

Check out L.L. McKinney’s responses to seeing Nubia for the first time, coming up with the story for Nubia: Real One, the artwork by Robyn Smith and what she hopes readers take away from the story below:

When was the first time that you saw Nubia in the comics and what made you know then that you wanted to write a book about her?

L.L.: The first time I saw Nubia was in an old comics wrack at a local library. This Black woman, gorgeous, was fighting Wonder Woman and I had to know more. I had to know who this chick was and how she was able to go at it with Diana. Like, she bad, I wanna get to know her, we can be friends. I was little, but you know. But while I saw her earlier on, I didn’t know I wanted to write about her until much much later, when I realized that was maybe something I could do.

Like regular books, I started out not recalling knowing HOW comics came to be. I knew people made them, meaning someone somewhere was responsible for the words that went into them. but it didn’t occur to me then that I could be that someone. When I was asked to pitch a Young Justice graphic novel initially, I thought this would be my chance to sneak Nubia in. I’ll add her as a side-character that shows up a lot and maybe might be a main character, we’ll see. Didn’t think I’d get an email back saying ‘yeah, that pitch was great, but NUBIA!’ And…yeah.

For Nubia: Real One, what was the process like for you in terms of creating the story and also choosing the artist you wanted to work with?

L.L.: Like I said before, it started with pitching Young Justice. Then they fell in love with Nubia’s voice and what I was trying to do with her and asked me to focus on that. Creating the story was a journey. I’d never written for comics or graphic novels before, so this was learning a while new way to write that relied entirely on the dialogue. The art does the heavy lifting, but I still need to manage to tell a story with details and give characters individual voices and things like that.

Speaking of the art! Man, the art for this one is GORGEOUS. Robyn. All Robyn. I’m such a fan. I told my editor I wanted a Black woman to draw this. So they brought samples, and there was something about Robyn’s that just nailed the tone of both the story and the characters within. You know the mood you’re trying to convey as the writer, and when you find art that captures it, you just feel it. That’s what happened. The concept art Robyn gave us was, is, amazing. 

For you, what was your favourite moment in Nubia: Real One to write?

L.L.: I love fight scenes. They’re some of my favorite to write in my other books. There are a few here, and they were fun to write and choreograph. Along with that, I think I really enjoyed the sweet moments Nubia had with her friends or her family, where we get to see her living life, being loved, laughing and dancing or eating and joking around, just existing. Carefree Black kids, man.

In addition to Nubia: Real One, you’re also writing a separate story about Nubia in Future State: Immortal Wonder Woman. What was it like putting that story and having both of your Nubia stories coming out almost simultaneously? Do you have any plans about future Nubia stories (if you can share)/would you like to write more Nubia-focused stories in the future?

L.L. Ooooooooooooooooh man. I’ve been hollering about Nubia needing to be brought back as Diana’s twin for years. Years! So when I got to do it with Real One, I was of course excited. I hoped it would bring attention to the original Nubia and we get more stories featuring her in the main continuity. The graphic novels are their own little side thing. So when they came to me and asked me to do Future State, I was more than ready. Original Nubia back in the main comics? Say less. As of right now, the two issues for Future State are the only ones I have my hand in. Would I be interested in doing more? Absolutely. I have ideas for what could come after that story, and definitely what comes before it. I’d love to do more with her, but that part isn’t up to me. Fingers crossed, positive thoughts and prayers it happens!

What do you hope that readers learn, enjoy and take away from Nubia: Real One

L.L.: I hope they take away that Black girls deserved to be loved and cared for. Protected and looked after. Adored and cherished. That Black girls are magical, but that magic doesn’t make them invulnerable. That even the strong can draw strength from others, and there’s nothing wrong with leaning on loved ones when you need to. That the things these kids in this story deal with are things every-day kids have to face without the benefit of super powers. I hope they enjoy the story, enjoy the good times the characters have, enjoy the art of course, I certainly do. And I hope it all turns into something they want to share with their friends and family. 

Artist Robyn Smith talked about her involvement with the project, what it was like working alongside L.L. McKinney, and if she intends to work on more comic-related projects in the future. Check out her answers below:

How did you come attached to the project for Nubia: Real One?

Robyn Smith: I remember getting an email from editor, Sara Miller, saying that DC was interested in having me try out for an upcoming graphic novel. Well first off, I screamed when I saw the ‘DC’ attached to Sara’s email address, I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was an elaborate prank for a while actually.

I still sent in samples anyways because I knew that just had to be my anxiety talking and from there I just waited. To this day the sample pages I sent in are some of my favourite pages I’ve ever drawn, I did my best because I wanted the job so badly. My undergrad thesis had actually been all about Black superheroes and getting the opportunity to actually work on one had been a dream of mine since I was 16.

I was in an elevator with my mom when I got the email about being officially hired to draw Nubia:Real One. I remember that specifically because we both screamed and did a baby jump because we were scared of getting stuck. 

What was it like collaborating with Elle on Nubia: Real One?

R.S.: I’ve said this before but, it was a dream! It was very obvious from the start that Elle and I have a very similar vision for our art, all Black everything. Elle’s script was so emotionally complex and yet relatable in a way that made it easy to draw. The character’s relationships she created were so strong and establishing that throughout the panels is my favourite part of being a cartoonist.

Also, Elle has been so encouraging and supportive, both during the process of creating the comic and now through the promotion and lead up to the release. Sometimes when I began to doubt myself and my abilities to do the comic she’d make sure I knew that I deserved the job and that she loved what I was doing. 

What was your favourite panel(s)/section(s) to draw from the book?

R.S.: Although I loved drawing all the action, I think my favourite panels to draw were whenever Nubia was just living her teen life. Any panel where her biggest worry was sneaking out the house or trying to get a few words out while talking to her crush. It’s those mundane moments that really show you who she is, and I love it. 

Particularly whenever she was with her besties Jason and Quisha, their friendship was so intimate and reminded me so much of my own friends.

Do you see yourself doing more artwork for other YA graphic novel projects like this one or just other comics/graphic novels in general?

R.S.: Definitely. My hope is to write and draw my own soon. The YA genre has always been my favourite to read so finally getting a chance to make one was an absolute pleasure. Hopefully this is just the beginning.

Check out the exclusive excerpt from Nubia: Real One below:

Official Synopsis of Nubia: Real One

Can you be a hero…if society doesn’t see you as a person?

Nubia has always been a little bit…different. As a baby she showcased Amazonian strength by pushing over a tree to rescue her neighbor’s cat. But despite Nubia’s similar abilities, the world has no problem telling her that she’s no Wonder Woman. And even if she were, they wouldn’t want her. Every time she comes to the rescue, she’s reminded of how people see her: as a threat. Her moms do their best to keep her safe, but Nubia can’t deny the fire within her, even if she’s a little awkward about it sometimes. Even if it means people assume the worst. When Nubia’s best friend, Quisha, is threatened by a boy who thinks he owns the town, Nubia will risk it all——her safety, her home, and her crush on that cute kid in English class——to become the hero society tells her she isn’t.

Nubia: Real One is available for purchase on February 23, 2021 and you can pre-order the graphic novel here.

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