'Marvel's Voices': Justin A. Reynolds Loves the Vantage Point of Standing in Two Different Dimensions
Best-selling author Justin A. Reynolds gets meta and writes about what it's like to write Marvel stories for the next generation.
The whole transparent truth about my (author) origin story?
I did not grow up believing I’d one day pen a Marvel comic. My inner narrative voice wasn’t whispering, hey, man, soon the world will recognize your immense talent and have no choice but to heap bountiful rewards upon your ridiculous work ethic. Um, that would’ve been dope though. Can you imagine that degree of super-villainous self-actualization? That level of personal conviction? You’d make a hell of a Spades partner.
It’s not that I lacked confidence. When I was trying to figure out publishing—namely, how to get my stories in front of someone who’d champion my work—I asked myself why I had so much confidence. And what I occasionally lost in faith, I made up for with exuberance and earnestness! I was gonna make it happen! It was when, not if!
In kindergarten, gripping a jumbo pencil, I wrote: I want to be a writer when I grow up. My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Bennett, told me my reading comprehension and essay writing were the best she’d ever seen. In fourth grade, I constructed actual physical books for my work. For my covers, I glued wallpaper to cardboard or used fabric from Mom’s sewing kit. My books always had spines to write my surname on, because how else would you find it on the shelf? I even learned to stitch, to bind the book together. It almost feels strange now, to reflect on how “real” it felt—the notion that one day I’d be a writer whose books you could borrow from your local library. How, even as a kid, I knew my stories deserved the protection and beauty that was afforded to “actual” books.
I was blessed to grow up in a house that, like the Xavier Institute, championed creativity and self-expression (thanks, Mom!) while also emphasizing pragmatism and self-actualization (good looks, Pop!). My parents honed both sides of my brain—Mom, the librarian, was the dreamer, and Pop, the math whiz, was a bottom-line realist. Together, they fostered curiosity—I could read what I wanted. We debated music, movies, TV and books. They encouraged diversity—Mom loved rom-coms and old black-and-white films, while Dad loved science fiction. Every first Saturday, Mom took my sister and I to the flea market to buy mystery bags filled with random comics. We watched X-Men after school and Star Trek with Dad at night. I grew up loving both Storm and Geordi La Forge. As far as I knew, I could be a super hero or explore deep space— my parents never disillusioned me of either, and for that, I’m forever appreciative. They made the impossible not only plausible but probable. In no small way, I am my parents’ legacy.
That said, like many artists, it was always hard to know if I possessed the requisite talent to “make it” or if I was super delusional.
Like many artists, for years, I survived on a few thoughtful bread crumbs sprinkled along my path by awesome teachers and close friends who purportedly saw something in my work.
Like many artists, I recycled the tiniest word of encouragement as if my life depended on it— because, in many ways, my creative life did!
That’s why it’s so awesome to see this next generation doing their thing far earlier in the game—to see them grip the baton and never break stride. I imagine it must feel good, to know you belong, to understand you matter, to see the ugliest parts of this world be slowly chipped away and, what’s even more incredible, to play such a pivotal part in its dismantling. Imagine growing up having Black Panther, Shuri, the Human Torch and Miles Morales as super hero goals! Surely, you’d feel invincible! Surely, you’d realize every ounce of potential coursing its way through your body!
There’s this feeling I live with—of standing with a foot in two different dimensions. Of walking along the precipice of what was— the stories of my parents’ generation and my childhood—buttressed against what’s still to come. From the outside looking in, it might appear a perilous way to live—as a human without a country. But I love this vantage point. I’m excited to see where we’ve been and thrilled to know the best is on its way. That is what books like the collection, MARVEL'S VOICES: LEGACY, represent.
So did I think I’d ever be in this position—writing Marvel stories and then, on some super-meta stuff, pen a Marvel essay about writing Marvel stories? Nope. Did I see myself collaborating on a Spider-Man anything? Nah. But here’s the thing to remember—not knowing it could happen for me isn’t the same thing as not wanting it to happen. Not knowing how it became a reality isn’t the same as lacking the talent or self-belief. My desire to create has never wavered. In fact, as my love for comics grew, so did my dream of working full-time as a creative. Yep, from day one, I’ve wanted this to be part of my legacy. I wanted it with every ounce of my non-super-power-having, occasionally pretty-corny being. This is why I solemnly swear to keep pushing myself to write bigger and better, to dream wider and brighter, to help and to hearten—because as much as we’re all suckers for a good origin story, we go even wilder when they nail the perfect ending.
'Opposite of Always', Justin A. Reynolds’ debut YA novel, was an Indies Introduce Top Ten Debut and a School Library Journal Best Book of 2019; was translated in 19 languages; and is being developed for fi lm by Paramount Players. His second YA novel, 'Early Departures', published to critical acclaim and was a Kirkus Reviews Best of 2020. The graphic novel 'Miles Morales: Shock Waves' marks his MG debut. Justin is also the co-founder of the CLE Reads Book Festival.
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