Smash Pages Q&A: Melody Cooper

The filmmaker and playwright discusses her plans for Humanoids’ ‘Omni.’

Melody Cooper is a filmmaker, TV writer and playwright who was a resident at Yaddo and is currently in the HBO Access writing program. Her new project is the Humanoids series Omni.

Taking over writing the book from Devin Grayson, Cooper is continuing the politically charged stories of Dr. Cecelia Cobbina, who continues to try to uncover what’s behind the ignition of superpowers in the world. Cooper answered a few questions about how she works, politics and writing the smartest woman in the world.

To start, how did you come to comics?

As a fan, I grew up reading X-Men, Watchmen, Sandman. I came to Humanoids through a friend, Fabrice Sapolsky, who had told me in the past that as a genre writer, I should consider writing comics.

How did you end up writing Omni and what was the appeal for you?

Mark Waid read my sci fi TV pilot Impact 3, liked it and asked me to pitch a few stories for Omni. I loved the character of Cecelia, that she’s black, and has intelligence as a super ability (my dad was a science teacher and would LOVE that). I’m an avid activist, so the social political aspect of the stories, and the core issue of climate change definitely appealed to me. Also, what’s not to love about the fact that Mark Waid likes your work and asks you to pitch to him!

You come from a playwriting/screenwriting background. Has there been an adjustment as far as writing for comics, figuring out the nuances of the medium?

Yes. No doubt about it! I had the incredibly helpful guidance of Devin Grayson, but the first script was a big learning curve for me in terms of format. It helps that I’m a very visual playwright and screenwriter, and often think in terms of story boards. I also “get in late and get out early” in my scenes, and that all leans towards the way you have to think for comic books. Coincidentally, I have to keep my scripts really tight for the CW genre show I’m writing on, and that has paralleled well with my Omni writing.

I ask because there are elements of the book like, Cecelia’s powers, and the way they are depicted, which are very comics. And trying to play with those elements.

I see her abilities like an inner monologue would play on stage or voice over in a film.

You took over with issue #5 which came out the other month. Devin and Alitha launched the series and established the tone and approach. What were you given and what kind of freedom did you have to move forward?

I was given a great gift in the wonderful stories and art that Devin and Alitha created. Devin handed off strong characters, and I was given lots of room to grow and build Cecelia and her world. One of the things Mark seemed to like about my story ideas was that they were very boldly focused on social justice. With Devin’s blessing, Mark told me to run with it, and that’s like candy to a writer.

The book has been very explicitly political from the start, which I’m sure was part of the appeal but what’s been the challenge of integrating these stories, of making the book set “now” in a way that honors and respects people and these struggles.

The challenge is to be authentic and respectful, and to make sure the political aspects are organic to the story in ways that illuminate something about the social issue and the characters, especially Cecelia. It also needs to be something more than a political soap box. It needs to be human, relatable and moving. 

Cecelia’s relationship with Mae is the central one in the book, and you’re showing that it’s undergoing some shifts as Cecelia is changing and taking on this new role. How do you see the two and how is their relationship going to be tested?

I see others entering the picture to make their connection more complex, and the women not always seeing eye to eye. I also see Mae getting a chance to kick ass and fend for herself, as well as needing to be rescued by Cecelia, all of which deepens their relationship.

I have to ask, how does one write the smartest woman in the world?

Great question, since I’m not always sure I’m qualified! It helps that I’m extremely curious about just about everything. I think writing a character like Cecelia has to be done through keen observation, solid research and realizing that even the most brilliant are, first and foremost, human. Cecelia isn’t without faults, and she is not infallible. I certainly don’t always think I’m right, so I learn from others, and that helps me when I’m shaping the incredible Cecelia.

Just to wrap up, how long are you going to stay on Omni? What are your plans for the book and for Cecelia?

I have another four issues, and you can look for some explosive story lines with some extremely hot button topics. Things are going to move pretty quickly to a new level for Cecelia as she grapples with new challenges, self doubts and enemies she didn’t know she had.

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