Writer Evan Narcisse uncovers T’Challa’s first days as king!

We’ve all come to know and love T’Challa as the King of Wakanda, but few Black Panther stories have shown us how he came to the throne—and how he evolved into a leader—in the first place.

On January 8, RISE OF THE BLACK PANTHER #1 kicks off a limited series that dives into the early days of T’Challa’s life and reign. Writers Evan Narcisse and Ta-Nehisi Coates join artist Paul Renaud to explore how the death of King T’Chaka changed both his son and the nation of Wakanda forever.

We spoke with Narcisse about his process, his collaborators, and writing an icon like Black Panther.

Marvel.com: You’re jumping from comic book journalism to writing comics themselves. How does it feel to make that transition?

Evan Narcisse: This is my first creative writing—my first published creative writing, I should say—and my first time writing comic scripts. Doing this job, I had researched what comic scripts looked like before. One of the things that was so daunting and encouraging ended up being that there’s no set format—everybody does it a little differently. Some people have really rich, florid descriptions in terms of art direction and what the characters think and feel. Some people have very lean pages. Mine probably tended more towards the former than the latter. It’s a lot harder than it looks from the outside looking in. It’s a hybrid beast that looks like a movie script but also has to do some actual storytelling in the document. You have to guide the artist but not restrict them. It’s a lot more surprising and eye opening than I thought.

Marvel.com: BLACK PANTHER writer Ta-Nehisi Coates has been working with you on this book. What’s that relationship like?

Evan Narcisse: He’s mostly consulting; the vast majority of the plot and the script come from me. I’ll run stuff by him and we’ll make sure we’re in sync in terms of whether T’Challa would do something this way or that. But, yeah, most of it comes from me. I’m a huge T’Challa fan and I have been for years, so I feel like I have a good internal sense of where I want him to be and how I want him to come across in this work.

Marvel.com: How does it feel to work with artist Paul Renaud on your first Marvel book?

Evan Narcisse: We met for the first time in New York City. I’ve seen his work around on CAPTAIN AMERICA: SAM WILSON stuff and loved it. I saw what he did on GENERATIONS: THE AMERICAS and thought it looked really great and felt super excited to find out he was going to be the guy on this book.

Marvel.com: Describe your process of creating RISE OF THE BLACK PANTHER alongside Ta-Nehisi and Paul.

Evan Narcisse: The process of honing your skills happens in installments. What I’m thinking of now is, like, wanting to do things a little bit differently in an issue means you have to work ahead to iterate to see if you actually accomplished the ambitions you set for yourself or if it’ll going to put you behind schedule. It can be a really intense learning process.

I have the advantage of talking to Ta-Nehisi every day. We’re friends so we talk about comic book stuff anyway. He told me, “In a year’s time, when you’re still doing this, you’ll look back on these scripts and see how much better they could have been.” It’s been really fun just figuring out the tools and what tools work best for me and what tools I feel like I want to try out.

Also, it can be weird. I’ve realized that your fandom comes out not just textually but mechanically. So, the kind of comic book writing I’ve enjoyed since childhood has been coming out of me organically. Which isn’t to say my stuff will read like Denny O’Neil or my favorite writers, but there are certain rhythms I feel like I’m doing my own spin on.

Marvel.com: Which writers have influenced your work? Do you count any prior BLACK PANTHER scribes among them?

Evan Narcisse:  You can’t talk about BLACK PANTHER in 2017 without talking about Christopher Priest. He gave T’Challa a really intense refocusing and reimagining that is impossible to ignore. It’s masterful. As a comic book critic, I’ve written about Priest’s work many times over the years and, even though he’s been resurgent in 2017, he’s still underappreciated. I tweeted out earlier that I reread the “Storm und Drang” storyline from BLACK PANTHER #26#29, where T’Challa brings the world to the brink of war. Magneto, Dr. Doom, Deviant Lemuria, and Namor, all heads of state, powerful heads of state, jostle around each other with all these different agendas. I think it’s one of the best examples of geopolitical storytelling and the idea of statecraft in super hero comics. So, Priest for sure.

Someone who seems unsung, not in general, but in terms of shepherding a certain vision of T’Challa, is Jonathan Hickman. He wrote T’Challa in his FANTASTIC FOUR run, setting up the King of the Dead aspect of the character. That fed into NEW AVENGERS—one of the best Avengers comics ever, but a low-key T’Challa book. That version of the Illuminati met in Wakanda. Again, his wants and needs clashed with the duty he had to do as a super hero in his rivalry with Namor.

One other thing that’s important to me about Black Panther and his creative legacy is his importance as a character that black creators could touch and leave an imprint on. I feel like every time a black writer or artist or editor has worked on a Black Panther book, the sensibilities of the characters got strengthened. You can go back to Billy Graham as the artist on that amazing Don McGregor run in JUNGLE ACTION. He was a superlative artist for his time; his draftsmanship and the tools in his storytelling are all super ambitious and genius level compared to some of the other work from the 1970s. From him, to Priest, to Reginald Hudlin and now to Ta-Nehisi…it’s important. Black Panther has always been symbolically important and I think black creators feel opportunity, responsibility, and a sense of kindred energy when working on the character. I certainly do.

Marvel.com: Do writers from outside the world of comics influence you? What other writers—or even just books or films—inform your comic writing?

Evan Narcisse: Probably my favorite movie of all time is Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” this really dark, satirical fable about living in a dystopian society. Unfortunately, it feels pretty relevant, in terms of the control of information and the constant battle for political narrative supremacy, to where we find ourselves nowadays.

There’s a novel from 1981 called “The Chaneysville Incident” by an author named David Bradley. A good friend in college gave it to me to read and it blew my mind. It’s this story about a black historian who goes back to his hometown in the rural South to dig into his old family history. He finds out about the way that his forbearers grew up under Jim Crow and the kind of stuff they had to endure and rebel against and the personal cost of all of that on his family. It’s a very dark book, beautifully written. It has stayed in my mind while writing RISE OF THE BLACK PANTHER because the story I’m writing is, in part, a generational one. It’s about T’Challa grappling with his own history.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote a book called “Half of a Yellow Sun.” She’s an amazing Nigerian writer. One of the things I have to think about when writing BLACK PANTHER is the idea of diaspora. It may seem a little counterintuitive, because Wakanda has kept to itself and not a lot of Wakandans live outside of Wakanda, but I want to explore what it’s like when that does happen. What does it mean to come from an isolationist country? It can be exceptional and aspirational, but it’s xenophobic to a certain extent, by virtue of necessity. They’re on a continent where every other country got colonized and invaded. So there ends up being a certain warrior sociopolitical mindset that they’ve had to adopt and iterate on in order to maintain their status. But also, how long can you maintain yourself as an “island”?

That’s one of the things T’Challa has to grapple with. It’s not a spoiler to say that T’Challa’s big decision in the series will be to open up the country and declare their existence to the Western world and simultaneously deal with all the repercussions that happen internally and externally as a result.

Marvel.com: How did you land on telling the story of this liminal time in T’Challa’s life? It seems to have certain parallels with the upcoming “Black Panther” film.

Evan Narcisse: My conversations with Wil Moss, my editor, early on, were about an “early years” T’Challa story and the place I landed ended up being his first year as king. The first conversations we had were about T’Chaka and I came on the idea that T’Chaka’s assassination, his death, had to be a major political event in Wakanda’s history. It’d be like JFK’s assassination—the kind of thing that changes an entire country’s mindset. It’s the kind of event where you mark off time between everything that came before it and what comes after it. In the first issue, we explore some of what came before it, with T’Chaka in his prime—something we haven’t seen much. We’ve seen flashbacks and we’ve seen him a little older and we’ve seen him as a ghost. The “after” stuff will obviously be T’Challa’s reign. It’s an established part of the character that his father being this amazing king wears heavy on him. At the same time, he deals with threats his father never dealt with. So, that informs his decision to open up Wakanda.

And I’m super excited for the “Black Panther” movie. I can’t wait—I know this sounds corny—but I can’t wait for fans everywhere to explore this character and learn about him, because I think T’Challa is one of the best super heroes ever created. I think he’s thematically rich and an exciting character to watch evolve throughout his history. And I’m so honored to be a part of that evolution.

RISE OF THE BLACK PANTHER #1, by Evan Narcisse, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and artist Paul Renaud, kicks off on January 3!

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Paul Renaud sharpens his pencils for the brand new series!

For a nation that prides itself on isolation, Wakanda sure seems to be drawing a lot of attention lately. Between the Ta-Nehisi Coates-penned BLACK PANTHER series and spinoffs like BLACK PANTHER AND THE CREW and BLACK PANTHER: WORLD OF WAKANDA, this advanced African nation continues to shine.

And on January 3, the spotlight gets brighter as writers Evan Narcisse and Coates join artist Paul Renaud to kick off a six issue limited series with RISE OF THE BLACK PANTHER #1! Witness T’Challa’s early days, before he assumed the throne, as the man that will be king earns his stripes.

We spoke with Renaud about balancing the old and the new, journeying into Wakandan history, and working with Narcisse and Coates.

Marvel.com: To prep for drawing T’Challa’s earlier days, did you look to any previous runs on the character? Or did you prefer to completely develop your own take?

Paul Renaud: Well I worked hard to create a sense of continuity between what we’ve seen before in the previous runs of Black Panther, but also his appearances in FANTASTIC FOUR and AVENGERS, leading to Ta-Nehisi’s more recent run.

Marvel.com: How has it been developing these unseen elements of the character’s past?

Paul Renaud: It’s very exciting for me to be the bridge between the traditional aspect of how this character had been portrayed in the ’70s and re-injecting this into the character’s past, as his grandfather’s and father’s lives. That’s what I love the most about the Marvel Universe. There’s an obvious search for modernity—staying current—while at the same time trying to honor the past and building new opportunities and visions from it.

Marvel.com: Along similar lines, the early portion of the story will feature T’Chaka alongside T’Challa’s mother. How did you figure out their family dynamic?

Paul Renaud: It’s all about starting from the man we know, T’Challa, and going backward into the past to find out who his parents were and what they looked like. We wanted to show that T’Challa was born from the love of a king for the most unusual queen—a strong, independent, modern woman; a scientist that makes a strong impact over Wakanda and her husband. T’Challa has always been a bit torn between tradition and modernity. This book presents the chance to give a face to that inner conflict of his.

Marvel.com: Wakanda has a similar blend of tradition and cutting-edge modernity—what’s it like balancing those two elements on a nation-wide scale?

Paul Renaud: The first issue deals especially with change and how King T’Chaka will be a modern king thanks to his wife’s influence. We tried to base our approach on the traditional way of showing Wakanda in the earliest Black Panther stories, working our way up to buildings and a more modern architecture. I think it’s important to keep a strong identity to Wakanda. This imaginary country acts almost as a character on its own. Wakanda is a more sophisticated, wiser nation than the rest of the world. They’ve managed to reconcile modernity and nature like nothing we’ve seen anywhere else.

Marvel.com: How has it been working with Evan, Ta-Nehisi, and the rest of the RISE OF THE BLACK PANTHER crew so far?

Paul Renaud: Evan, Ta-Nehisi, and I met in New York during Comic Con to talk about the book, and we all really clicked. We discussed the project and the Marvel Universe in depth. We had a wonderful time. Stephane Paitreau, our colorist, came aboard later in the process. I also met him at NYCC where he showed me his work. I thought his warm, generous colors would just be perfect for a book like BLACK PANTHER. And they are indeed. It’s all about good timing!

RISE OF THE BLACK PLANTER #1, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Evan Narcisse, and Paul Renaud, illuminates history on January 3!

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Discover the first year of T’Challa’s reign in the brand new series!

Black Panther came onto the scene in 1966 when he invited the Fantastic Four to his home—the hidden nation of Wakanda—to evaluate the threat that the super humans might’ve posed. Since then, T’Challa has had a long and storied history in the Marvel Universe, but his earliest days as both The Black Panther and King of Wakanda have never been closely explored.

But this January, that untold story will finally be revealed when writers Evan Narcisse and Ta-Nehisi Coates join artist Paul Renaud for RISE OF THE BLACK PANTHER. This limited series will uncover how T’Challa came to grips with ruling Wakanda—and how he brought the nation onto the global stage.

We grabbed a few minutes with Narcisse and Renaud to learn as much as we could about the early years of Black Panther.

Marvel.com: How did this whole project come about?

Paul Renaud: [Editor] Wil Moss offered me this project when I came fresh off of GENERATIONS: CAPTAIN AMERICA. I think the structures of these two stories feel similar in that they explore different periods of time while giving a new perspective on it. That seemed like the main motivation for asking me to do the job. And I couldn’t have been happier to say yes.

Evan Narcisse: This came about when I got a text from Ta-Nehisi. I was at a film screening, and I checked my phone—a big no-no—and he asked me if I wanted to write comics; if I really wanted to do this. Over the years, as a comics journalist and critic, people have often expressed admiration for my writing and asked if I wanted to get into the industry proper. I always said no. I like being a critic, I like being a journalist, I like being somebody who offers commentary. But [Ta-Nehisi] said he wasn’t the one asking—Wil Moss, his editor, wanted to know if I had any interest. So I told him I’d think about it.

An idea came to me pretty much immediately, but they said they wanted to explore the early years—a T’Challa-becoming-king story. It felt like an opportunity I couldn’t walk away from. I saw a chance for me to write a pivotal story for my favorite super hero—and I couldn’t turn that down.

Marvel.com: Describe the early conversations you had with the editor on this book, Wil Moss.

Evan Narcisse: Wil just said “early days of Black Panther” and after that, all the pieces sort of fell in place for me. They wanted something specifically about the lineage of kings that T’Challa would be inheriting; something based on T’Chaka. I started thinking about it, and I landed on T’Chaka’s death being a pivotal moment in Wakandan history. This country has never been conquered, never been colonized, and they suddenly lose a king who dies at the hands of outsiders. You can’t be the same, your national identity would be affected.

So, then I started to think about how it would affect T’Challa’s psychology. His father died because they didn’t know the outside world enough, so he feels they have to go and meet the outside world. That’s kind of the psychological underpinning of the run—deciding that Wakanda needs to be a part of the world, that they can no longer be apart from the world. The corollary to that is Wakandans are full of themselves, right? T’Challa believes that if they’re really the best, they need to show the world that they’re the best. They need to be part of the world, part of the ecosystem of global powers, and let them all know Wakanda has a spirit and technology that can rival any nation on Earth.

Marvel.com:  So this will be an element of T’Challa’s history that we’ve never really seen. There have been flashbacks over the years, but we’ve gotten these details.

Evan Narcisse: Yeah, it’s a story we’ve never seen before. We first see Wakanda in the comics as a secret nation that sends this special vehicle for the Fantastic Four to get there. Later, on an adventure with Cap, [the Wakandans] do the same thing. And then, a few years later, Wakanda becomes a part of the global community. The Wakandan Design Group stock gets traded on the stock exchange. So how do you go from secret and hidden to participating in the global economy and diplomatic community? That felt like a story that needed to be told.

But going global is not a popular move at all. He mentions it to some of the royal council and they’re like, “What the hell are you doing?” I do want to stress the fact that it won’t be an origin story—by the time we see T’Challa, he’s already king. We’ll flash back to Challenge Day trials and I have plans to show some of the Heart-Shaped Herb ceremony, but this won’t be him learning to be the Black Panther. This will be a story about a king who has to reckon with his history and decide how to move the country forward.

Marvel.com: What headspace do we find T’Challa in at the start of this story?

Evan Narcisse: He knows what path he has to take; he knows from the outset. The first few issues will be T’Challa deciding that Wakanda must move forward out into the world. He’s not ambivalent about that. The learning curve for him will be reckoning with the powers he encounters—both the global powers and the individual characters. He’s not the master strategist of [writer] Christopher Priest’s run yet. He’s making his first steps out into the world, so he’s a little more improvisatory.

Marvel.com: Evan, you’ve been a comic book journalist for years nowhow does your time in that field inform your work on this side of things?

Evan Narcisse: I’ve been a comics critic for 10 or 15 years at this point, so I’ve been doing it a long time. It’s weird, because thinking about writing comics from the outside always felt like a matter of guessing at intent and execution. Now I’m actually doing it, and I realize that the visual command and necessity for brevity and the creative flow can be a lot trickier than it seemed from the outside looking in.

But also, I feel like I’m trying to write the comics I’d like to read as a critic. I’m trying to have thematic underpinnings, have it be character driven, leave the characters in a different place than where I found them, and add to the layered history of Marvel continuity. Super hero comics nowadays acknowledge—in both textual and meta-textual ways—the history and the mythos of their characters, like Ta-Nehisi does in the main BLACK PANTHER book, or Ryan North does sort of elliptically in THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL. That’s what I want to do—be self-aware about the craft while working at the craft.

Marvel.com: Speaking of Ta-Nehisi’s BLACK PANTHER, will readers spot any direct or indirect references between the books?

Evan Narcisse: Indirect, yeah. I know where he’s heading, and I know certain characters that show up in RISE OF THE BLACK PANTHER have either already showed up or will show up in the main BLACK PANTHER title. We want to build some synchronicity there.

Marvel.com: Paul, you did some covers for a BLACK PANTHER series back in 2009 when Shuri took up the mantle. T’Challa has appeared briefly in some ensemble books you’ve worked on, but this presents the first time you’re focused on him. What’s it been like to work with the character in earnest now?

Paul Renaud: Yes, it’s the first serious work I’m doing with Black Panther. Doing those covers back then felt more like an appetizer, even though I had a ton of fun drawing Shuri. Not only does RISE OF THE BLACK PANTHER allow me to draw T’Challa, but also the previous Panthers—building the Black Panther’s fame into the Marvel universe through generations.

It’s a great chance to explore Wakanda, and all the cast of family and foes, in depth. Getting to draw the rise of T’Challa as Black Panther has been a dream come true for the Marvel fan that I am. I don’t want to say too much, but I’ll get to draw some historical moments too, with some very famous guest stars. Let’s not forget Wakanda acts as a central element in other heroes’ stories as well…

Marvel.com: Wakanda’s advanced technology has always been a fascinating aspect of the Marvel Universe. How does it feel to work with the earlier days of this technology?

Evan Narcisse: In the present day of Marvel continuity, everybody knows about Wakandan tech—there’s a little bit less of a “wow” when you see it, because you already know it’s supposed to be something amazing. But in the time I’m writing, the world has just started to learn that Wakanda exists, and that they don’t just exist, but that they have all this amazing stuff. So, it’s a bigger shock, I think, at everything they can do. I have certain technologically advanced Marvel characters encountering Wakandan tech for the first time and being gobsmacked, so that’s really fun.

Paul Renaud: My goal here has been to keep a level of continuity with how Wakanda gets shown over the years in the previous Panther sagas, and link that to the most recent visuals by Brian Stelfreeze. There’s still a lot of room to improvise and explore different aspects of the country.

That being said, I’m always trying to give it a Jack Kirby feel. Kirby’s DNA appears all over the Wakandan tech in a big, big way.

Marvel.com: What most excites you about the first few issues of RISE OF THE BLACK PANTHER?

Paul Renaud: All the parts that dive into Marvel history. It’s a lot of fun to explore the past while building more foundations for this beloved character.

Evan Narcisse: The first issue reintroduces a character that we’ve heard about only in name. The first issue also shows us two pivotal moments in Wakandan history that have never been shown. It also provides the answer to the question of why T’Challa became a scientist. And it gives more insight into his father.

What’s interesting about writing comics in the middle of a long-established mythos is that we’ve mostly seen T’Chaka’s death or final days. We’ve never really seen him in his prime. I’m very happy to be able to show T’Chaka in his prime and show his as a man and as a father. There have been hints of that throughout the ages—[writer] Don McGregor showed him a little bit, Priest showed him a little bit, and [writer] Reginald Hudlin showed him a little bit—but I feel like I’ve found a new angle.

What did T’Challa inherit from T’Chaka? That’s kind of a through line of the series—showing what T’Challa inherits from his forebears and how he brings that into the future.

RISE OF THE BLACK PANTHER, by Evan Narcisse, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Paul Renaud, emerges in January!

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