Gabby Rivera wasn’t always impressed by gorgeous, muscular comic book characters as a queer Latina growing up in the Bronx.
“I was petty,” she said. “I was chubby and angry and sweaty, and I was just like, ‘Screw this genre, it’s not for me. These are the same people that are kicking my ass in middle school.’”
However, once she was offered a job at Marvel Comics to write a series about the lesbian Latina superhero America Chavez, she knew she couldn’t say no. Since then, Rivera has influenced people all around the country with her messages of diversity and representation — even an audience at the University of Nevada, Reno, on Friday, Sept. 14.
The lecture began with Rivera walking on stage with a burst of energy. She was all smiles and giggles as she asked everyone how their “energy” was, and proceeded to guide the room through a moment of therapeutic deep breathing. Then, she read a section from her young adult novel titled “Juliet Takes a Breath,” and talked with Director of Core Humanities Daniel Perez about how she’s used her platform to represent diverse characters.
“The only reason I had an opportunity to write a comic for Marvel Comics is because somebody there read ‘Juliet Takes a Breath’,” she said.
The novel centers around a young, lesbian Puerto Ricana, who gets a summer internship with her favorite author and goes on a journey of self-discovery and feminist wisdom. Rivera explained that her role as a comic writer was thanks to Wil Moss — a Marvel editor who read her novel while researching potential authors for the America series. When Moss called to offer her a job, she knew she couldn’t waste the opportunity.
“I did not want my angst and my rage and my feelings of being left out from this genre to seep into the work that I was doing, that’s not fair,” she said. “I wanted to give this opportunity a fresh start. Her character deserved more from me anyway.”
In addition to writing a queer Latina hero, Rivera expressed wishes to write a variety of diverse black and brown LGBTQ+ characters in comics. She debated the concept of connecting characters in space to their historically painful pasts, saying she wanted to write about “free” people of diversity without making it all about their colonized and imperialized backgrounds.
“Let’s just have black and brown spirits that fall in love at the edge of the cosmos, and create and manifest planets with people that look like them,” she suggested. “Everybody gets mad about it but you know what? I’m very happy. Because some little kid gets to pick up that comic book and see that, in and of themselves, they are enough to manifest a galaxy.”
Rivera also mentioned how she first told her parents — who have been avid comic fans since Rivera was a child — about her new job at Marvel. She recalled how as soon as the words, “Marvel wants me to work for them,” left her mouth, her mother immediately dropped the phone and began screaming, “Ay dios mio!” while shuffling about and calling for Rivera’s father.
Despite the various wonders of working for Marvel, Rivera also expressed some disappointment in the way the company refuses to denounce their racist and sexist fans. She explained that while the production team has been supportive of diversity in their comics, people at the corporate level rarely fought back against toxic fans who’ve harassed minority writers.
“No one has ever come out in support of the hundreds of women that have been attacked,” she said, “predominantly by angry comic fans who don’t want to read comics from women, from fat people, from people of color, from people that are queer. Especially when we put those very juicy elements of our life into our comics.”
Although Rivera has already received lots of attention for her two published works, she’s far from done. The author is currently adapting “Juliet Takes a Breath” into a screenplay, and hopes to someday turn it into a fully-developed movie. She’s also working on a sci-fi book about three Latinx siblings, and is working with BOOM! Studios to create more comics.