The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is one of the greatest, unlikeliest success stories in superhero comics, turning a joke character into the star of a clever, heartfelt, incredibly fun YA series that has become a gateway for readers of all ages. But nothing lasts forever, and after two volumes, 58 issues, one original graphic novel (OGN), and a 2017 Best Publication For Teens Eisner Award, the ongoing adventures of Doreen Green and her squad of computer science undergrads are coming to an end.
This isn’t a cancellation. The creative team of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl has decided to wrap up the series after telling the stories it wanted to tell, and The A.V. Club spoke to writer Ryan North, artist Derek Charm, colorist Rico Renzi, and editor Wil Moss about the series’ highlights and its impact on the greater Marvel universe. We also have an exclusive preview of next month’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #45, the latest chapter in a delightful War Of The Realms tie-in arc.
Much of the series’ impact is off the page, and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl brought in a lot of readers with its presence in bookstores, schools, and libraries. “[The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl] has genuinely connected with a new generation of comic book readers,” says Moss. “All the kids who have mailed in fan art and pictures of their costumes and their pets, all the kids who have found the series through book fairs and libraries. To know that the first comic book for so many people is such a positive, creative comic as Squirrel Girl makes me very proud.”
“I’m proud that we got a Squirrel Girl book that ran for 58 issues and an OGN,” says North. “I’m proud that the character became popular enough to be the core of a cartoon series (Marvel Rising); a novel spin-off series (Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World and Squirrel Girl: 2 Fuzzy 2 Furious); a TV show pilot (New Warriors); and a director’s cut of Avengers: Endgame wherein it is revealed that the master of illusion Mysterio simply made it APPEAR like it was a rat who stepped on that control panel that accidentally freed Ant-Man from the Quantum Realm at the start of Endgame—thereby becoming directly responsible for saving half of all life on Earth—when it was actually a very special squirrel in a pink bow that did it with full intentionality. I can only assume this special Correct Edition Blu-Ray is being released soon.”
“But the truth of the matter is that when you’re working on a character in a shared universe, you only have a little time with her, and then someone else will take over,” says North. “It’s a little like being a parent and watching your kid go off to school for the first time—you’ve done all you can, and you’ll always be in their corner, but now it’s up to them. All you can hope to do—and it’s something I hope we’ve achieved—is to leave your mark on the character in some way. I think Doreen Allene Green is a different person now, 5 years later, than she was when we started with her way back when, and I’m so proud of who she is now.”
“[The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl] is such a unique voice in superhero comics and each of the characters and this world feel like a part of me now,” says Derek Charm, who took over for original series artist, Erica Henderson, with issue #32. “I love every issue I’ve worked on, but if I had to pick just one to be proud of, it’s probably our silent issue (#36). It came right after my first arc and I was still unsure if anyone liked what I was doing and I was floored to see that I was being trusted with carrying the entire issue. It was also the issue where The Avengers fought a giant old lady, so I knew right away that Ryan and I were on the same page about a lot of things.”
Renzi has been an essential part of this book’s aesthetic, and his vibrant coloring helped smooth the transition between Henderson and Charm. The series has also given him a lot of opportunities to experiment with his coloring techniques, and this lengthy run has spotlighted the breadth of Renzi’s skill. “This is the longest run I’ve had coloring a book, that’s pretty gratifying,” says Renzi. “The zine issue is one of my favorite comics ever. More than those two personal milestones though, meeting readers of all ages and hearing about their favorite aspects of the comic and their favorite character moments, that’s the the good stuff. The real impact Doreen’s method of carrying herself and handling problems has on readers is inspiring. And of course, every kid I’ve seen dressed as a version of Doreen has melted my heart.”
“I really appreciate how committed each member of the creative team has been to keeping the quality of this book so high for 58 issues (and an OGN!),” says Moss. “Each issue of this series is a lot of work, more than a typical comic, and the whole team always gives it their all. (Special shout-out to Squirrel Girl’s true unsung hero: Letterer Travis Lanham!) Of all the series I’ve worked on in my time in comics, this is my favorite, and that is 100% due to the people I get to work with on it.”
That enthuasiam about the collaborative dynamic is shared across the entire creative team. “I think we got really lucky in that every person who worked on the book is great,” says North. “Sincerely great. Everyone brought their A game. I write dense, panel-heavy scripts, and Erica Henderson, Rico Renzi, and now Derek Charm (and Naomi Franq!) have made them look incredible, natural, readable. Travis Lanham has been more than willing to come up with imaginative solutions to lettering challenges I threw down. Rico’s made the book have its own look that can’t be duplicated. And the weird thing, which I gather doesn’t always happen, is that we’re all pals now? So it feels less like ‘this job is ending’ and more like ‘this team is breaking up and now we won’t all get to hang out as often.’ At least for a little while. And that’s sad! Life might be easier if we could all be emotionless robots, but we’d get less good comics out of it.”
North continues, “This is a book in which he had a non-linear choose-your-own path issue; a silent issue; a zine issue that included a comic strip that you can read forwards and backwards (and which co-starred Jim Davis in his Marvel debut drawing Garfield-style Galactus gags); issues in space; issues underground; issues from the point of view of a cat; issues in the Savage Land where Ultron is a dinosaur now; and issues where the tiny squirrel, Tippy-Toe, the human-sized Squirrel Girl, and the colossal Galactus all hung out and chatted in the same panel.
“It’s not the easiest thing in the world to create, and I’m always asking so much from everyone else in the team (I gather most writers don’t say “Hey Wil and Sarah [Brunstad, associate editor], how about you wrangle 8 different artists this month, surprise!”), and they’ve always come through. It’s so great. It truly has been a privilege to get to work with such talented people, and the final result has always been way better than the script I wrote at the start.”
“Although I’ve been with the book the least amount of time out of everyone, at 18 issues it will be my longest run on a series yet,” says Charm. “The whole team was so welcoming and inspiring when I came on. Everyone cares so much about this book and making each issue as great as it can be. Ryan constantly challenges me to level up—every issue there’s something I have no idea how to accomplish at first (my favorite was “He’s Ultron, but an oak tree!”). Sarah and Wil are always giving guidance and ideas on every page, but also the freedom to try new things. Rico and Travis bring each issue to life in ways I never could have imagined when they were just black and white drawings. Basically I like them a lot and will miss this.”
“Collaborating on comics with these very smart, very funny people who are also genuinely kind and good-hearted has been wonderful and after working on all kinds of comics projects for the past 20 years, an experience I don’t take for granted,” says Renzi. “Really going to miss making this book every month.”
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is ultimately a celebration of the comic-book form, embracing the storytelling conventions of superheroes but also comic strips and alternative comics at different points. It highlights what comics are capable of, and enchants readers in the process. “Squirrel Girl’s greatest impact on Marvel Comics is that it’s proven there’s room for books that are different,” says Moss. “Editors and creative teams will always be able to point to the success that this book has had as reasoning for why a new book that doesn’t quite fit the mold is worth publishing. Those new audiences are out there.”
“I hope that [Squirrel Girl] points the way to the realization that comics—even if not especially superhero comics—are for everyone,” says North. “We can have grim comics and we can have fun comics and we can have comic about a man who puts on an iron suit to fight crime and we can have comics starring a talking squirrel and a woman with a tail who can’t be beaten. It’s the greatest feeling in the world to meet kids (and adults!) for whom this is their first comic, and through it they begin exploring not just other Marvel comics, but the medium in general.
“Imagine getting to be someone’s first comic. That’s amazing! The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl also started the “un” series of comics that reached out to less traditional superhero comics readers: The Unbelievable Gwenpool, The Unstoppable Wasp. I would be very surprised if we don’t see more comics aimed at this demographic—the people who maybe thought comics weren’t for them—in the future. That’s the impact I hope she has. The more I see people making comics that can be enjoyed by all sorts of people: by adults, by children, by parents with their children reading together, the happier I’ll be.”
For Charm, Doreen’s personality is integral to the mark she’s left on not just Marvel, but all superhero comics. “She shows that these characters can be looked at in different ways,” says Charm. “That there are non-violent solutions that can be tried out from time to time without sacrificing drama. The fans of this book are so kind and cool and smart, I’ve met everyone from scientists to little kids who love this book and hopefully the impact is that they will be able to find more books to enjoy and relate to. And hopefully we haven’t seen the last of Brain Drain.”
Squirrel Girl’s greatest contribution to the Marvel Universe according to Renzi? “Rehabilitation of supervillains can and does work.” Marvel is currently pushing Amazing Spider-Man’s “Hunted” story as a new Kraven epic, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Kraven’s last arc in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, which did brilliant work turning the hunter into a hero. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl explores the scope of the Marvel Universe while keeping it accessible to newcomers, bringing in all sorts of characters and concept and pushing them in unexpected directions that are begging for more attention from future creators. Thankfully, there are still six more issues of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl left, and the book’s final arc begins with August’s #47, leading to the big conclusion in #50.