Some superheroes use their wealth to strengthen them, others receive their gifts in spider bites, and then there are those who had power inside of them all along. Marvel’s Stan Lee teamed up with writer Stuart Moore and illustrator Andie Tong to create The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence, the first in a series of books about a team of kids who are infused with the powers of the Chinese Zodiac. Here, we talk with Moore and Tong about the creation of the book and the importance of featuring diverse leads.
Want a taste of the power for yourself? Enter here to win a copy of the book and an original character sketch by Andie Tong:
Bookish: It’s clear that diversity was important when creating this book. Your characters represent all corners of the world, from America to Ireland, from Asia to South Africa. What made you choose those specific countries and cultures?
Stuart Moore: Steven was Chinese-American from the start; that was part of the core concept as created by Stan Lee. We talked a lot about the others, with Disney’s input. We all really wanted kids around the world to see themselves, or people they knew, in the characters.
Andie Tong: Nowadays, whenever I approach a new project, I try to have that diversity frame of mind in place. We all agreed that we wanted a diverse range of cultures, backgrounds, and gender balance.
Bookish: Who are some of your favorite heroes and how did they help to inspire the characters and art in The Zodiac Legacy?
SM: Anytime you write a team of teenage heroes, there’s a debt to the original X-Men. I thought of them when channeling our characters’ powers through their individual personalities. For instance, Kim (Rabbit) is a teleporter, which fits in with the fact that she’s been running from things all her life. No one can catch her if she doesn’t want to be caught.
AT: X-Men was definitely a big influence, but so was Spider-Man for me. I remember when I was young, I spent a huge chunk of my pocket money on Spider-Man titles. I liked the fact that this young kid had to juggle everyday teen problems along with the heavy responsibility of saving the world. I can draw parallels from Spider-Man to the protagonists of the Zodiac crew: They’re young, they have their own problems, but after inheriting the powers of their Zodiac, there’s added pressure and weight on their shoulders. It will be interesting to see how they will handle this kind of responsibility over time. So visually I tried to reflect that in their looks, clothing, mannerisms, and attitudes. Each character has their own unique taste in style and presentation.
Bookish: What drew you to the Chinese Zodiac as a theme for the series?
SM: It allowed us to play with a culture that hasn’t been used much in Western heroic fiction, and it gave Andie all kinds of opportunities for fantastic animal imagery.
AT: Being of Chinese decent, I grew up with the Chinese Zodiac and their stories. I sometimes still kick myself that I didn’t think of this idea first. But it’s definitely all Stan and I’m grateful Disney got me involved in this. However, since I have had a more westernized upbringing, this project let me get reacquainted with my ancestors’ beliefs.
Bookish: One of the quotes I loved in the book is, “Sometimes when a crime is so huge, so monstrous, nobody wants to admit it ever happened.” What can everyday heroes do to help bring awareness to the true villains of our world?
SM: That’s a good question, and I’m glad you picked up on this—that line is one of my favorites, too. Sometimes the problems of the world can seem overwhelming, insurmountable. Steven Lee’s big quest is to figure out what it means to be a hero, and as he learns, sometimes that means making mistakes. You have to be open to new ideas but stay true to your values.
I think, personally, that one of the biggest threats to the modern world is lies, and the way they can be repeated so often they seem true. A true hero, powered or not, tries to cut through the lies and reveal the truth. If the truth is ugly, he or she tries to change things as much as possible.
AT: That’s an awesome answer from Stuart. For me, I guess when a hero tries to make that change, he/she should do whatever they can no matter how small the gesture may seem at the time. You never know, the next person that may be impacted by this gesture might pay it forward. Hopefully by the end of it, it will be like a butterfly effect. It may have started small, but the final result may be a lot bigger then you originally imagined and as a result, creating a bunch of heroes in its wake. All it needs is a spark.
Bookish: If you could pick your Zodiac sign based on the powers in this book, what would you pick and why? What would be your least favorite to have?
SM: We don’t get to choose—we’re born with them! I am a Tiger, like Steven and Andie. Which suits me fine.
AT: I agree with Stuart. This one is out of our hands. Tigers united. But if we could borrow the flight power from Dragon, that would be the icing on the cake. Every Zodiac sign has its own abilities and I love that they are all individually unique. I guess if I really had to choose, my least favourite would be the Dog. Imagine how much of a nightmare it would be trying to get rid of all that dog hair from your clothes every time the werewolf form appears.
Bookish: Stuart, you wrote the book with Stan Lee. Can you tell us what the writing process was like?
SM: As Stan has said, it was a bit of alchemy. He created the whole thing, gave feedback, and left me alone to make a lot of mistakes on my own. It was a great experience (and still is—we’re working on volume two now).
Bookish: Andie, as the illustrator what was your creative process like? Did you have to wait until the story was finished to start creating, or were you working with them every step of the way?
AT: By the time I was contacted, Steven, Jasmine, and Maxwell’s ages, genders and ethnicities were established. If I recall correctly, the other Zodiac signs were a little less structured, with only the ages and powers decided. So with that in mind, I set out to conceptualize each character. Subsequently there was a bit of back and forth with Disney, Stan, and Stuart to tweak bits before all of the characters were finalized. After Stuart fleshed out the rest of the story, scenes were plucked out from the narrative for me to interpret and draw.
Stan Lee is known to millions as the man whose superheroes propelled Marvel to its preeminent position in the comic book industry. His co-creations include Spider-Man, The Avengers, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four, as well as hundreds of others. He introduced Spider-Man as a syndicated newspaper strip that became the most successful of all syndicated adventure strips and has appeared in more than 500 newspapers worldwide. Stan currently remains Chairman Emeritus of Marvel, as well as a member of the Editorial Board of Marvel Comics. He is also the Chairman & Chief Creative officer of POW! Entertainment, a multimedia entertainment company based in Beverly Hills, CA.
Stuart Moore has been a writer, a book editor, and an award-winning comics editor. His recent writing includes Civil War, the first in a new line of prose novels from Marvel Comics, The Art of Iron Man 3 (Marvel, with Marie Javins); and The 99, a multicultural superhero comic from Teshkeel.
Andie Tong has worked on titles for various franchises, including Tron: Betrayal, Spectacular Spider-Man UK, The Batman Strikes, Smallville, Wheel of Time, TMNT, Masters of the Universe, and Starship Troopers, working for companies such as Disney, Marvel, DC Comics, Panini, Dark Horse, and Dynamite Entertainment, as well as commercial illustrations for numerous advertising agencies including Nike, Universal, CBS, Mattel, and Habsro. When he gets the chance, Andie concept designs for various companies, and also juggles illustration duties on a range of children’s picture storybooks for Harper Collins. Malaysian born, Andie migrated to Australia at a young age, and then moved to London in 2005. In 2012, he journeyed back to Asia and currently resides in Singapore with this wife and daughter.
All art samples and giveaway prizing in this article are provided by Disney Enterprises, Inc.