Although she began her career as a novelist, Marjorie Liu, who teaches comic book writing at MIT, says Monstress (Image Comics), cocreated with artist Sana Takeda, could only be a comic. “This is a world that needs to be seen, and not through words alone,” she says. The series follows a young woman’s struggles with her literal inner demon in a world of magic and violence.

Last year alone Monstress won five Eisner Awards. Book one of Monstress is coming out in hardcover in July; the fourth volume will be released in paperback in the fall.

What inspired Monstress?

The central emotional inspiration was my grandmother, who survived WWII in China. She was 14 years old when she had to run from her home to escape Japanese troops, and I grew up on her stories of survival and friendship. But what struck me, always, was that even when she told those stories, she smiled—and in every photo I’ve seen of her postwar (and there are a lot), she was always beaming. Monstress is a very somber story about war, colonialism, genocide, racism, but its heart is inspired from a place of great hope. That’s the true arc of the book—reclaiming hope, love, and friendship, even after enduring the worst that life can throw at you.

Why did you choose a mostly female cast of characters?

I grew up on movies, television, and books where the cast of characters were mostly male—with one or two plucky female protagonists. It’s funny how, when you’re a kid, you start to take that formula for granted—it begins to feel completely natural, in the same way it starts to feel natural to read novels where there are only white people, and watch movies where there are only white people, until one day you wake up and you’re like, “This isn’t real life. I don’t want this anymore.” So when it came time to write Monstress, it wasn’t a stretch to decide that almost all the characters would be women, with one or two plucky men to round out the cast, and that all the characters would be people of color. That felt natural, that felt right.

How does Monstress flow from your novels?

Writing about girls and monsters is rich territory for me, in terms of wrestling with ideas of race, gender, power—and love. How do you find love and friendship when you’re an outsider, when you feel you don’t belong—when you are, literally, monstrous? I’ve always been haunted by that question, even from when I was little.

Today, 8–9:30 a.m. Marjorie Liu will speak at the Adult Book & Author Breakfast, on the Main Stage.