Marta Acosta is the author of The She-Hulk Diaries, published in 2013 by Hyperion for Marvel Comics. Her take on the jade giantess was fun, intelligent and insightful. Acosta took the character seriously, but made sure the character didn’t take herself too seriously. Writing a believable and relatable story about an 8-foot gamma-irradiated super-heroine is no easy task, but Acosta did it in such a way as to make the reader believe we might one day meet this fantastic character.
Peter David, a long time writer of The Incredible Hulk, She-Hulk and X-Factor and the author of Pulling Up Stakes, wrote “Those who are unfamiliar with Bruce Banner’s wayward cousin are in for a treat … Whether you like She-Hulk straight up, comedic, or a combination of both, The She-Hulk Diaries is the She-Hulk endeavor for you.”
I had a chance to ask Marta a few questions about her involvement, her time on the project and her current writing assignments and, as always, she is a joy to correspond with.
Brian Menard for www.marsdust.com (BDM): First of all, let me take a moment to thank you very much for taking some time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions and let us have a look into how you approached this novel.
Marta Acosta (MA): Thanks for inviting me here! She-Hulk is a fantastic character with a 30-year-history, and I wanted to introduce her to new readers, while entertaining those people who’ve always loved her for her courage, humor, beauty, and lust for life.
She’s known for breaking the fourth wall, but those are in-jokes for long-time readers: I wanted the novel to be inclusive, not exclusive, because I think she’s a superhero who deserves more attention.
On the technical side, alternating chapters between She-Hulk and Jen’s personas wasn’t working, so I decided to stick with Jen’s perspective.
BDM: When we first wrote to one another, you indicated that you thought She-Hulk is like Jennifer’s superego, being all those things a nice girl isn’t supposed to be; brazen, outspoken, funny, sexual and impetuous. What can you tell us about the process you went through when you were learning about She-Hulk and how you would like to approach the character?
MA : I said ‘superego’ but I meant ‘id.’ I didn’t pay enough attention in psych class because I used to sit next to my funny, stoned friend Ricky, who is actually a respected psychiatrist now. Go figure. Where was I? Oh, yes, that’s what I love about Shulky! She’s brazen, powerful, brilliant, outrageous, sexual, and funny. She’s not the nice, well-behaved, soft-spoken, delicate young women held up as the ideal. She’s not a “nice girl” and doesn’t carefully modify and monitor everything she says. She fills a room.
Jennifer Walters is always described as incredibly shy. She’d wanted to be a professional ballet dancer, but was steered toward a more reliable profession. It’s nothing new for a shy, nerdy mortal to become a superhuman, but I wanted to explore what it means for a young woman to make that transformation into someone who’s the antithesis of the female behavioral model.
Some of my favorite scenes in the book are Jen’s mandated meetings with a psychiatrist, Dr. Rene Alvarado, about her rage issues and her bifurcated personality. She progresses from rejection of any suggestions to appreciation. Readers didn’t pay attention to those scenes. That could be because they were too distracted an annoyed by Jen’s use of “OMG! Amazing!” (which I intended to be Jen and her best friend’s in-joke and ironic reference to She-Hulk’s enthusiastic assistant at the Avengers Mansion). File this under: When Jokes Go Hideously Wrong.
BDM: How did Marvel approach you and get you involved in writing The She-Hulk Diaries?
MA: My agent asked me if I wanted to write a chick-lit book in diary form about She-Hulk for Marvel. I said, “Absolutely!”
The term “chick lit” was originally a marketing term used to promote funny books by women. It’s been dissed, and I’m not saying it’s because the books are funny and about and by women, but men write heinous books of every genre and no one ever says, “Those action-thrillers by men with men characters? Heinous! Ipso facto, action thrillers are heinous and men writers are heinous.” I’m sorry, I just really really like the word heinous.
Where was I? Okay, so it’s my policy to always accept every writing gig with a check attached. The publisher could have said, “Can you write a tragedy about She-Hulk in iambic pentameter?” and I would have said, “Absolutely!” Of course, the truth is that I haven’t written stories in iambic pentameter since I was in high school because I was that kind of teen.
However, there was a big backlash by baby feminists who assumed that I would be degrading the character in a sexist way, because they didn’t bother to find out who I am. I’ve been a feminist since they were making messing in their pink diapers and playing with their sparkly My Little Ponys. There is nothing inherently anti-feminist about writing romantic comedy.
BDM: Once you were on the project, what did you find you liked most about the character?
MA: : I love the fact that She-Hulk is unapologetic about who she is. And she’s funny and she has a great heart and she owns her fabulous sexuality. I love all that stuff, and it’s not hard to love Shulky.
I did feel that her Jen identity has gotten short-shrift, and Jen is sweet, brilliant, brave, and loyal. She reminded me of a friend who’s a quiet and sweet girl and also a brilliant assistant district attorney with unyielding ethics. I tried to give Jen that quality: personally, she’s unassuming, but she’s never meek. She always steps forward to defend and protect others.
BDM: Was there an area of her psyche you were interested in delving into, but were steered away from?
MA: No, but afterward Marvel nixed a few interviews I did with Entertainment Weekly and The Huffington Post because they said they were “too vulgar.” There were no curse words in those interviews so I’m guessing “too vulgar” is synonymous with mocking the boys’ club Marvel movies. As She-Hulk says, “Male is not the default gender for superhero.”
Marvel stipulated that I couldn’t work other major Marvel characters into the story, so there were references to others, like her ex, Tony Stark, and her cousin, Bruce, but they didn’t make appearances. I think this was to prevent conflicts with other storylines.
BDM: If such a thing was remotely possible, and you had the chance to be She-Hulk, would you do it?
MA: No, because I dislike danger and getting hurt
BDM: What did you find to be the most challenging about writing a novel about a character who’s been established for more than 30 years and created by the great Stan Lee?
MA: She-Hulk has had a multitude of storylines and lived in different verses, so I closed my eyes and stabbed my finger at a starting point, which was Dan Slott’s Single Green Female, and went from there. I gave nods to the Marvelverse and She-Hulk and Jen’s history.
I wasn’t intimidated by writing about a Stan Lee character because I figure that he won’t even know this book exists and also because I’m reasonably certain that I know more about what it is to be a woman than most of the dudes who’ve penned her.
Yeah, that sounds arrogant, but women actually do know stuff about women that men don’t. Do you know each of us has a replicant that fills in for us on boring stuff? The thing is that the replicants are extremely bitchy. So when a guy wonders why his girlfriend or wife is such a bitch, it’s very likely he’s had a recent encounter with her android replicant. The replicants are programmed that way…and will be until guys learn to put down the toilet seat.
BDM: You also indicated that you would be interested in writing more about She-Hulk. Have you heard any more about doing so?
MA: No, but if Marvel says, “We’d like you to write a sequel to your story. Could you do it in series of 100 haiku?” I’d say, “Absolutely!” I’m an accomplished haiku writer, although most of them are about my dog, Betty von Snoggles.
BDM: If you had a chance to write a novel about another Marvel character, who would you be interested in putting into prose?
MA: It’s a toss-up. I’m interested in Dr. Cecelia Reyes, a Latina superhero who’s also a physician. I’d model her on my doctor, who’s kind of cranky … or maybe that’s her replicant. My physician/replicant doesn’t think the phrase “the heartbreak of psoriasis” is amusing no matter how many times I say it. I think I could bring some authenticity to a Latina doctor because of my vast experience of being a Latina who has occasionally gone to the doctor.
Viper/Madame Hydra is another fascinating character. She’s survived in the bad, mad world by becoming a bad, shut-yo-mouth, dame. She gets knocked down, picks herself up, dusts off her leather boots, and sets about starting a new world domination and/or destruction plot. She has what the Aussies would call “intestinal fortitude.”
BDM: Is there a character owned by another comic book company you’d like to write a novel about?
MA: No, not really. I’d rather come up with my own characters.
BDM: Tell our readers about the Casa Dracula series you wrote.
MA: Well, I think it’s a satirical comedy-of-manners about a bright and somewhat deluded Latina writer/gardener/party girl who gets mixed up with a pack of snobby vampires; and has political and social commentary, particularly about being “other” in society, but everyone else things they’re vampire romances.
BDM: Do you still have rescued dogs? How did you start helping them find a home?
MA: Saying that I have rescued dogs sounds more noble than saying I have “used” or “pre-owned” dogs. I have issues about people breeding animals for a specific look. Ugh. There are very nice pre-owned dogs in the shelters. I was looking for one of these very nice dogs and the first dog I found, Dr. Buddy K. Valentine, R.I.P., was with a rescue group. To be honest, there’s a reason (or many reasons) some dogs get tossed out. My dogs were repeat offenders, given up by more than one family, and they’re amiable, but challenging.
I’m still connected to the rescue group, but I don’t foster any more dogs since the two I adopted are lots of work.
BDM: Can you tell us what writing project you are working on right now?
MA: : I’m writing a romantic comedy set in San Francisco featuring a quirky young woman who gets mixed up with a complicated Mexican family. She thought they’d be like the Mexican “Leave It To Beaver” but they’re a pit of vipers. Not really. I just like that term and wish more people would use it on
a daily basis. “They’re a pit of vipers!” But the family is not made up of gangbangers, or superstitious peons, or noble savages, or pregnant maids, or Magical Mexicans. There are no Magical Mexicans. I know, because I’ve been waiting all my life to meet one so he can explain the meaning of my dreams about frying. I dream that the world is a giant cast iron skillet and that it hasn’t been properly cured so everyone is sticking to it. Because, really, sticking to the surface of this little planet as we hurtle through space makes no sense at all.
Marta Acosta has a degree in creative writing and English and American Literature from Stanford University and was a frequent contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle and the Contra Costa Times. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her family and her rescued dogs. See more from Marta at www.martaacosta.com
The author of this interview, Brian Menard, is a senior corporate auditor, a fraud examiner, a father, a fiancé and a singer. He is the Assistant Editor-In-Chief and also writes Shadow Faction for Affinity Press comics. He just recently started writing for www.marsdust.net.