The dynamic duo of B. Earl and Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas talk about writing comics, the matriarchy, and native representation in Marvel’s ‘Ghost Rider: Kushala.’
Both a Sorcerer Supreme and a Ghost Rider, the Spirit Rider Kushala storyline is easily one of Marvel’s wildest stories. A redemption story about a Native woman who becomes the Spirit Rider after learning to tame her desire for vengeance, there’s a lot to enjoy about this line, which is why it’s exciting to see the legacy continue with protagonist, Olivia Obtera.
Though let’s be clear about something: Marvel’s ‘Ghost Rider: Kushala’ is not your traditional heroes’ journey. Instead, it’s a tale about tradition, native representation, and most importantly: family legacy. We interview writers Taboo and Benny Earl to get a better understanding of this journey. Below, is an abridged version, though the podcast features the full interview and more!
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So first, what went into the creation of Olivia Obtera, and is she based on anyone in real life?
Benny: “Well, we can dive into how we always pull from our real lives, and you can probably say Olivia is Taboo’s daughter in like 15 or 20 years?! But really, it’s that idea of connecting her back to her lineage. As children, oftentimes you’re told where you come from but you don’t always get that full grasp. Glimpses, photographs, maybe? Especially if you grew up in the 1980 or 90s and didn’t have the internet. So I think Olivia is someone doing deep dives to figure out Kushala and where she comes from.”
Taboo: “As far as the connection between personal life and inspiration. We always love celebrating the matriarchy and empowering our leads, especially women. I am a proud girl dad. I’m proud of being a father of a daughter, but I also was raised by my grandmother, and she was the Matriarch of my tribe. The person who inspired me to go after my dream and aspirations. Kushala was a direct reflection of the love and support that we have for highlighting women leads and heroes to be the matriarch of our story.
Even Olivia, being grounded as a mother too, is really relatable to us because we also deal with parenting issues. In fact, that’s how we built our duo. Benny and I met at Comic-Con and bonded over our mutual love of toys and comics, but also, about being fathers. We’re called the dynamic duo because we are fathers and we make content for our kids.”
Kushala is not only the Spirit of Vengeance but also a Sorcerer Supreme! What was the biggest challenge about the lore regarding such an epic character?
Benny: “Well, we had done Werewolf By Night and created Jake Gomez, but Kushala already had a backstory that we had to respect from ‘Doctor Strange and Sorcerers Supreme‘ by Robbie Thompson. We thought, how do we make that our idea as well? A Ghost Rider and Sorcerer Supreme?! Because people can call her a mary sue but I don’t think that’s true. I think in many ways, having power that comes from vengeance is uncontrollable. The fact that she had to be a sorcerer supreme to learn just how to control it became this balance of understanding who she was through her own journey of identity. So what we leaned into was the setup of having Olivia Obtera as our hero. It’s Kushala’s story but it’s Olivia’s having to take her in.
It’s this idea that Kushala is bigger than one being. She’s all these beings, a multifaceted character. The fact she has the vengeance of a god planet inside of her? It’s like if mother earth got pissed and destroyed the multiverse, and then that vengeance fell through a black hole, created a whole new multiverse, oh and by the way? Kushala picked it up and now this planet is getting all screwed up! That’s what we’ve been dealing with in handling the story.”
Is there anything about different elements of Apache tribes, customs, and cultures that are in the worldbuilding of this comic?
Taboo: “One of the beautiful things of being as involved with indigenous communities is being able to make relationships and build trust with different heroes. With this story, we brought in an Apache relative in Tony Duncan to give us their blessing and use authentic representation. It’s part of our company’s motto to make sure we always highlight heroes in the indigenous community. Because even though I’m native, I don’t always speak for all of us, so I need to be sure I’m bringing the right relatives to speak with regarding certain nations and tribes.
It’s something we made a point to highlight and champion because we’re creating heroes from the indigenous communities to be part of this journey. Even Kenneth Shirley, another relative who’s part Navajo, just getting that blessing and sign-off so that we’re not speaking where we don’t necessarily know the right things to say in far as the representations. I never wanna speak out of line, which is why it’s important to always bring in those relatives.”
Benny: “For me, I’m not Native, so this has been an amazing journey of learning, and being blessed to have these resources and folks that have been generous in their time and sharing. In fact, in Spirits of Vengeance, there’s a scene where Kushala is attacking the Leviathan and we didn’t have her say anything, and our editor Sarah Brunstad, asked us if she could have a line. So we called up Tony and we asked him what she could say and he recommended having her scream “HEEEEECHAAAAAAA!” It’s the things you wouldn’t think about but we’re lucky to have the ability to make that call asking what she’d really say?”
Taboo: “Ya know the conversation we talked with Tony regarding Sedona and this San Marcos band? You know, I didn’t know there were different bands for different clans, and it says something to me as a student, learning about the different nations, tribes, bands, and clans, that was very informative too. So it’s been a learning experience for me too, and I never claim to know everything about being Native, I’m still a student, man.”
What is the most challenging thing about working in a comics medium versus other forms of art?
Benny: “Honestly, writing comics is the most fulfilling because you have so much opportunity to get immediate gratification. I worked in film my whole career, and sometimes, it takes years pitching or attaching the right talent. What we love about comics is that we can go and jam, like music I think in a lot of ways, but more visual where we work with our artists. Except that you’re using the page and the ability to play with a reader’s time and engagement in the storytelling, along with how the art moves through space.”
Taboo: “For me, I come from the music industry, but I’m also a storyteller that started in my backyard playing with G.I. Joes, creating stories, creating my own worlds in my head. It kind of bleed into writing lyrics and being a socially conscious storyteller. About what was happening in the communities, or happening around the world, or things like 9/11, which is why the Black Eyed Peas wrote ‘Where’s The Love.’ That storytelling. That energy is something I came in, and with Benny’s lead, really fined tune what I bring in as a freestyling MC to sort of have a ping pong session with Benny, where he crystallized and fine-tuned it. Whether it’s paneling or vertical comics, it’s always a learning experience for me and I’m proud and humble to learn every day.”
What is the one thing you hope audiences take away from what you’ve created?
Benny: “I fell in love with philosophy over the pandemic. I’ve always been a student of it but never really embraced it as much as I did during this time. It was really that deep-diving into all those different philosophers and that trajectory philosophy from the beginning to where we are now, with different types and schools. In this comic, that was a lot of the threading I wanted to put in. Giving people some groundwork to play with without hitting people over the head about questioning and ourselves and trying to understand where we as humans, who have not existed that long on this planet, what our role is and where we are and where we’re going, and how we need to stop being focused on this: we screw it all up we just blast off to mars! This is a story of choices and how choices lead to cause-and-effect causality iterations and where we’re going and how being connected to the earth and to the universe is really what will save us in the end.”
Taboo: “I’ll also add. One of the important things to take away is, even though we are the face of this writing team, we can’t do it without our team. It’s a winning dream, it’s a dream team, from our editor, illustrators, and letterers, we can’t do it without our team. So I have ot acknowledge our team from Werewolf by Night to Kushala.”
Do you have any words of Inspiration for any persons of color looking to make a comic about their families or cultural experiences?
Taboo: “So, as a kid that was always feeling like I wasn’t enough. Never Mexican enough. Never native enough. Because I was born in Los Angeles, my Spanish was broken, I always felt like I didn’t have a place. I didn’t fit in. I always felt not enough. As I started to evolve and got older and understand the blessing of being proud of who I am, and really embracing all the cultures, I felt like keeping that messaging going and inspiring kids to hold onto that same energy of being enough and being proud of who you are. Faith, background, spirituality, gender, all of that. It’s important for kids to hold onto those aspirations of being proud of who they are. Let alone, people from marginalized communities and underserved communities of different ethnic backgrounds. The reality is we’re blessed to be Marvel writers to create storytelling for those who don’t have that same opportunity. We want to honor and celebrate those as well, heroes without capes, from different communities, as we like to call it, a mosaic of culture.”
Benny: “I think Tab said it best. I can speak on a personal level, when I was 11, I was in love with creativity, art, Marvel. I dreamed of making Marvel comics and cut to 30 years later, and we get to. At the end of the day, it’s that thing of sticking to your guns and following your dreams and heart. The hard work does pay off and it’s about surrounding yourself with amazing people. As Tab said about team, the team is everything. Tab and I talk every day. He’s my brother. He’s family. That’s what it comes down to. These people you want to spend hours and hours? Years of your life with? Yeah, man! That’s what it comes down to, that’s how we connect and how we create together so that the big thing is always finding the people you relate to that are going to grow with you. Surround yourself with a great community.
I think, for all of us, we should never limit ourselves to where we can put our creativity. It’s never too late to be creative. It’s never too late to play an instrument. I think, so often people say I can’t because I’m too old, there are always excuses, but at the end of the day, you don’t have to be a Marvel writer to enjoy writing comics. you don’t have to be a Black Eyed Pea to enjoy making music. I think we should always embrace our creativity and not put it behind us.”
And that’s it regarding Kushala but there’s a lot more conversational talk featured in the podcast where we chat about the Dynamic Duo’s favorite comics, their upcoming projects including a documentary on the Black Eyed Peas on the sunset strip, and their biggest reveal: is working with acclaimed toy designer, David Vonner. As Angry Foot — a persona created by Taboo from years ago — is being turned into a character set within his own universe. If you’d like to learn more, take a listen to the podcast.
New issues of Marvel’s ‘Ghostrider: Kushala’ debuts every Thursday on the Marvel Unlimited app from now until the end of November. A special thank you again to Marvel Entertainment, Taboo, and B.Earl for this awesome opportunity.