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SERIES – PART 2 OF 3: Monstress is an Epic Fantasy Combining Race Relations and the Power of Friendship Between Women

Photo credit Luciano on Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/30208099@N00/3297863866

Superman may be the best-selling United-States-Based comic book of all time, but he holds no candle over this epic fantasy series.

In this article series, we examine the cross-cultural and multiracial aspects of comic books, characters and the writers who made it possible. View part one of the series here. If the Los Angeles Review of Books has anything to say about this next author, it’s that she is as “ambitious as George R.R. Martin.”

A Monstrous Tale

Monstress is an epic fantasy comic book series written by Marjorie Liu set in a matriarchal world split into factions between the Arcanics and Cumaea. Inspired by early 20th century Asia, Monstress tells the tale of the haunted heroine, Maika Halfwolf, a teenage girl sharing a psychic link to a powerful monster, occasionally emerging from the stub of her severed left arm.

Art of Maika Halfwolf, the heroine of Monstress, with various other characters.
(Photo credit: Drawer Sana Takeda via Intergalacticrobot / Labeled for Reuse)

This demon, a great source of power, takes over Maika’s Arcanic mind and body, in exchange for a considerable boost in strength. Enraged by her missing memories and wickedness she suffered in the bloody war between Arcanics and Cumaea, it is Maika’s goal to understand and control this demon to avenge her dead mother.

Arcanics are magical creatures who can sometimes pass for human, and the Cumaea are an order of sorceresses seeking to consume Arcanics for energy and power.

The universe of Monstress is sprawled with a race war and inhabited by violent witches, power-hungry deities and innocent civilians caught in the cross-fire.

Publication History

The scale and complexity of the background information on characters, creatures and worldbuilding earned Monstress deep comparisons by critics to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series.

However, there’s one stark difference between the Game of Thrones-inspired epics and Monstress: there are almost no men in the universe. Moreover, there’s few white characters.

Photo of Marjorie Liu, a Chinese-American comic book writer behind a panel for comics.
(Photo credit: Pat Loika via Flickr)

Liu struggled with depression before writing Monstress, taking a brief hiatus from writing before returning to the comic book industry to craft this huge fantasy epic.

Together with artist Sana Takeda, this female-led duo published the first issue in Nov. 2015; the second volume in July 2018; the third in Sept. 2018; and the fourth volume in Sept. 2019.

About the Author

Marjorie Liu is a Chinese-American New York Times best-selling author and comic book writer.

Liu was born in 1979 Philadelphia to a Taiwanese father and mother of U.S., French, Scottish and Irish descent. Developing an early love for reading and writing, Liu majored in East Asian Languages and Cultures at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, and minored in Biomedical Ethics.

Writer Marjorie Liu signing copies of her comic series, Monstress, behind a panel at  Midtown Comics NYC.
(Photo credit: Luigi Novi via Wikimedia Commons)

During her undergraduate career, she designed a fan site titled “The Wolverine and Jubilee page,” based on the numerous X-Men fan sites she encountered at the time. In the process of being in the middle of the X-Men and comic book fandoms, she familiarized herself with the X-Men universe and practiced writing her own experimental fan fiction.

After graduating, Liu attended law school at the University of Wisconsin.

She is most notable for her critically acclaimed ongoing comic series Monstress, and has published paranormal romance and urban fantasy novels prior.

When I’m writing comics, I’m also visualizing how the story will look on page—not even always art-wise, but panel-wise, like how a moment will be enhanced dramatically by simply turning a page and getting a reveal. It requires thinking about a story in a way I never had to consider when I was writing prose.

Marjorie Liu for The Atlantic.

Liu has worked for Marvel Comics to tell various tales on heroes and villains, which include NYX, X-23, Dark Wolverine and Astonishing X-Men.

In 2015, she was nominated for an Eisner Award for Best New Series, and by 2018, Marjorie Liu has become the first woman in 30-years of the Eisner Awards to win the award for Best Writer for Monstress.

Monstress is an ongoing series published by Image Comics spanning 26 issues so far.  

This is part two of three in a series about multiculturalism in comic books. Stay tuned for more!

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