When Sana Amanat, the American-born daughter of Pakistani parents, was growing up, she scanned the pages of her beloved comic books for someone who looked like herself. She failed to find any such creation.
This was something that Amanat remembered well when she grew up and wound up working for Marvel Comics as an editor after graduating from Columbia University’s Barnard College.
“I loved Marvel growing up but I never thought I’d get a job there,” she told Super on the phone from Singapore. “I just had a natural connection to the job.”
Amanat had been working on the “Captain Marvel” title, which featured Carol Danvers, the mighty superhero formerly known as Ms. Marvel. In her head, Amanat had been constructing a new character of her own, one very different from what Marvel featured at the time, but one very familiar to her.
It was Marvel creative genius Stan Lee who first said “the Marvel Universe is the universe outside your window.” Amanat wanted a hero who belonged to her part of the universe, and she fleshed out the character with the help of editor Stephen Wacker and writer G. Willow Wilson.
Thus was born Kamala Khan, a Muslim Pakistani- American teenager from New Jersey, just an ordinary girl who gets exposed to the Terrigen Mists, turning her into an Inhuman with size-shifting powers.
Inspired by her idol, the original Ms. Marvel, she takes on the mantle as the new Ms. Marvel, with Kamala debuting in “Captain Marvel” # 14 in 2013 but soon headlining her own title, “Ms. Marvel” the next year.
The title proved both a commercial and critical hit, thanks to the creative team of Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona. It is notable that Kamala shares the same background as Amanat.
“It’s been incredible,” she said of the way Kamala has been embraced by readers. “She’s grown so much in the last four years and the diversity of our fanbase alone is so impressive. They all love Ms. Marvel. It goes to show we have a really great story with great creators.” Ms. Marvel has gone on to join Marvel’s premiere super team, the Avengers, and even made the jump to animation on “Avengers: Secret Wars.”
“Ms. Marvel” is well-written and winning, authentic and fantastic. Part of what has made Ms. Marvel so popular is her wry yet tentative, devoted yet careful personality on display as she navigated the halls of Coles Academic High School with her friends.
As she came into her powers, Kamala dealt with the life of a fledgling superhero, all of these inviting comparisons to Marvel’s premiere young hero, Peter Parker. She’s geeky but also aware of her responsibilities.
“What we try to do is create what is very much a coming-of-age story yet different from much of Marvel content,” she said of the comparison. “It’s really YA (young adult) action and I loved these kinds of stories.”
Amanat is part of a generation of creative talent at Marvel that has worked toward a greater diversity in terms of characters and stories. It is not a coincidence that during Amanat’s time at Marvel, there has been a female Thor (Jane Foster); an Asian-American Hulk (Amadeus Cho); a Hispanic Spider-Man (Miles Morales); a female Iron Man (Riri Williams); and a black Captain America (Sam Wilson).
“We’ve accomplished quite a bit, but we have a ways to go,” she said. “We have to promote the diverse characters across the platforms in different formats. We are bringing in creators of different backgrounds to tell stories from a different point of view, particularly the minority characters.”
Today, Amanat gets to continue this mission as Marvel’s director of content and character development. She’s raring to push the envelope.
“As we expand our audience, we want to bring in different creators,” she explained. “How about a disabled superhero, or one who is trans? What’s that like? But we need the right voices. Our gates are open but we need to do it right.”
She loves that there’s so much talent out there self-publishing their work as well as those being discovered by initiatives like her own at Marvel.
“It’s a great thing for us because it allows us to find the creators. I hope that the fact there is more content means more people will find comic books. Celebrate the characters you love, write big, bombastic stories. It’s a really interesting art form for any generation. We’re now introducing it to the kids, to get them into visual storytelling.”
This means getting them to read great titles like “Ms. Marvel” through singles, trade paperback collections or through animation. She even has her own 6-inch action figure as part of the Marvel 6-Inch Legends Series from Hasbro.
Amid all this, Sana Amanat has never lost her love for the medium or her amazement at being able to do all this at Marvel, the company that made the comics she read growing up. She understands that her participation is part of what makes Marvel amazing as well.
“I feel really lucky working with Marvel and the people I work with, especially considering the number of people you can reach through Marvel Comics.”