'Marvel's Voices': Karla Pacheco Takes Pride in Characters Who Have a Sense of Complexity
An exclusive essay on how the writer of 'Fantastic Four 2099' and 'Spider-Woman' brings her multidimensional characters to life!
“So...where are you from, exactly?”
“Kansas, mostly! Though I’ve also lived in Chicago, New York, Washington—”
“No. You, know. Originally.”
It’s a question you get a lot when your physical appearance and features confuse people. To be clear, the people asking are rarely looking for my thoughts on trends from my home state or town. They see my features, my complexion, my last name, and because they don’t immediately know what box of “other” to put me in, they probe to find answers. When I was younger, I would joke, “Part of my family came over on the Pinta, the Niña, and the Santa María; part came over on the Mayflower. The rest were already here!”
As I got older, I got tired of explaining a family history and heritage that, for much of my life, I’d been cut off from. At some point, I went back to just saying “Kansas,” followed by staring at people until they felt as uncomfortable as I did.
For most multi-racial or multi-ethnic folks identity can be complicated. Family life didn’t help clear anything up. When I was at maternal family reunions in Kansas, I could see bits of myself reflected in my cousins’ faces, but only bits. We had the same chin, the same cackling laugh, but I stuck out like a brown thumb. Many of us have been asked in various ways “What are you?” our entire lives. Personally, my answer has always been, “It’s complicated.” That sentiment of complicated identities and even more complicated family histories and heritages is also why I related to the stories and characters in Marvel Comics.
Mutants, scientific accidents, medical experiments gone wrong, aliens, and gods—regardless of race or species—are my favorite characters. I have always loved characters like Wolverine, Spider-Woman, Jessica Jones, and Deadpool, characters who don’t necessarily belong on either side of the human equation. Some assume secret identities, others conceal themselves, while others are pulled into organizations with a mission to protect people with less power than them. Like me, these characters are smart-mouthed bad-asses who don’t always know where they belong, but they know who they are. In the end, these are characters with a sense of complexity, of personal conflict and insecurity, and core rage regarding their circumstances.
That is one of the reasons it’s been amazing to bring my identity and lived experiences as a BIPOC creator into my writing. From taking a frustrated Misty Knight on the run and finding a community of fellow outsiders in SECRET EMPIRE: BRAVE NEW WORLD #4, to funneling my personal struggles with physical disabilities into FEARLESS #2. I have been able to be a part of the expansion of the Marvel Universe writing the stories of characters from different backgrounds and making their identities a natural part of the story, reflecting the world around us—even when it’s a dystopian future in FANTASTIC FOUR 2099.
Today, I’m so proud and delighted to see not just my work but the work of so many BIPOC creators reflecting their culture, their stories, and their backgrounds in the comics we all know and love. For example, having books like MARVEL'S VOICES: INDIGENOUS VOICES #1, and seeing BIPOC creators like Rebecca Roanhorse, Darcie Little Badger, and my Pacific Northwest “cousin” Jeffrey Veregge bring their incredible take on my favorite heroes not only entertains but, for me, provided a sense of pride and the feeling of community that I have always felt cut off from. That is truly the power of not just storytelling but representation.
So… to answer the question:
“Where are you from?” Kansas, yes. But also Wundagore, Asgard, Krakoa, Latveria, and Wakanda.
“What are you?” I’m the one making your world bigger, more colorful, more painful, and joyful, and real—and that includes the Marvel Universe and the characters I love so much.
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