The Heroine of Superheroes

By Jailene Adorno

It’s not every day that you find a novelist and comic book writer who is also an attorney. Then there’s Marjorie Liu, who went to school to become a lawyer but soon realized that it wasn’t her true calling. Today, Liu is a New York Times Bestselling Author who, in addition to her own novels, has written for Marvel Comics and has created her own comic series titled Monstress.

Liu was always a big reader, and when she was in high school and college, she started developing her writing skills. After taking the bar examination, she thought she might be a lawyer for an arts foundation because art has always been something that she has been very passionate about. However, the more she thought about it, the more she realized that she didn’t want to be a lawyer. That was when she started writing her first book.

“It’s a scary thing to give up something so practical,” says Liu about switching career paths. “I know, for a fact, that I’m much happier now. I’m so glad I wasn’t practical.”

She told herself that if she wrote 3000 words a day, she could have a novel in a month. Once she accomplished this goal, she sent the novel in and before she knew it, she had a four-book contract and an agent. From there, Liu started writing full-time—three to four books a year, across the span of eight years.

In 2013, Liu was a nominee for the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book (Astonishing X-Men) for its storyline that connected with the LGBT community. This issue of Astonishing X-Men featured the first gay wedding to ever be included in a comic book.

“It really meant a lot to me, it was a tremendous honor,” says Liu. “For me, gay marriage is a civil right.”

Liu went on to explain how her parents are a mixed-race couple that married in the 70s and that a decade prior, they wouldn’t have been able to do so, as mixed race marriages were not allowed. Therefore, writing that X-Men story struck home for her as she thought of marriage equality as an issue that people have been fighting over for decades.

After seeing very male-dominated television shows and movies, she decided to create a comic book of her own with a more matriarchal focus that also included people of color—Monstress. A lot of the inspiration for Monstress came from the World War II stories that Liu’s grandmother used to tell her as a kid. Despite all that her grandmother had seen and gone through, she always told the stories with a smile on her face. Liu was amazed by how her grandmother could go through so much trauma and still manage to bounce back, to put herself back together. Monstress takes that female representation and tells a strong story about perseverance.

Collaborating with other artists is one of Liu’s favorite parts about writing comic books. A lot of the artists’ illustrations have influenced her writing—she often takes the artist’s strengths and likes into consideration.

While Liu loves writing comic books, she recognizes that it’s much harder to do than writing novels. With novels, you can always go back and edit, but with comic books, it’s a much smaller frame—one issue of a comic is only about twenty pages.

“[It] requires a lot of thought and you can’t hide your mistakes. If you’re boring in a comic, it really stands out—I have to be on my toes,” says Liu. “Writing comics has made me a better writer.”

In addition to being a writer, Liu also teaches comic book writing at MIT. She teaches her students about the structure of scriptwriting, storytelling, and character/world building.

“Read, read, read,” Liu advises writers with a laugh. “Give yourself permission to write a terrible first draft.”