‘Black Panther: The Young Prince’ Sets the Young Leader on His Path – Ronald L. Smith Interview
By Jenn Fujikawa
Ronald L. Smith talks about writing new adventures for the young Prince of Wakanda!
Before we meet Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” on the big screen, young adults can get a look at the adventures of young Wakanda ruler-to-be in the new book, “Black Panther: The Young Prince.” Written by Coretta Scott King award-winning author Ronald L. Smith, we get a glimpse into young T’Challa’s life as he struggles with family, friends, and dark enemies.
We spoke with Ronald L. Smith about T’Challa’s journey that helps shape the young prince and readies him for his royal destiny.
Marvel.com: Did Ta-Nehisi Coates’ comics influence Black Panther: The Young Prince, or was it the upcoming film?
Ronald L. Smith: I’ve been a comics fan for a long time, and a big Marvel fan—and I thought it would be a great opportunity to work on an iconic character that I really liked—and I knew the film was coming, so it was a combination of all of those things that kind of came together and helped me develop the character and create the world that I wanted to portray in the book, but also try and stay in tune with the Marvel universe that I knew was already out there.
Marvel.com: Obeying your parents wishes is a universal lesson for all children, but it must be especially important for a young prince. Do you think the lessons T’Challa must learn before he can become Black Panther also apply to young adults?
Ronald L. Smith: He’s coming from a world that’s all about honor, and history, and doing the right thing—I think we all have something to learn from those traits—and any kid or young adult that reads the book, I think can take away those things about honor, and being truthful to yourself and the people you love. I think we can all take something from that no matter what age we are.
Marvel.com: You have an ease about your writing that makes the reader feel as if they’re a part of the story. You set the tone as far as location change from Wakanda to Chicago through the use of architecture and T’Challa discovering new foods, how did that enhance the story?
Ronald L. Smith: I used to live in Chicago for 14 years, it’s called the first city of architecture because of all the great architect there: Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies Van der Rohe, all these wonderful architects and buildings. I thought if I’m going to have young T’Challa come to America, he needs to be in an iconic American city like Chicago. Unlike Wakanda, it’s cold, it’s got a totally different vibe. It’s kind of a neat juxtaposition to play the two off of each other to create a cool dynamic.
Marvel.com: With the loss of his mother, T’Challa leans on his friends more than his father who is preoccupied with the kingdom. Can you tell me a little bit about how you set up his friendship with M’Baku and his rivalry with Hunter?
Ronald L. Smith: Hunter is obviously an antagonist of sorts for T’Challa. They’re not the same, they don’t look alike, they don’t come from the same world—so M’Baku is more of a brother of sorts to him. They’ve been friends since they were very little, they’re going to have a rapport that’s easy and natural.
Marvel.com: Gemini Jones seems to be going through that same feeling of distance from his father. Do you think he and T’Challa are going through similar things?
Ronald L. Smith: Yes. They both want respect from their fathers, they both want approval, they both want to be perceived as smart. They are very similar in that they’re both strong-willed, wanting to be leaders, and pleasing their fathers.
Marvel.com: I like that T’Chaka tells his son that he has a different destiny, one of a leader who needs to understand people from all walks of life to make him a better ruler. Do you think that the young adults who read this book will take this lesson to heart?
Ronald L. Smith: I think that those are lessons we can all take to heart. The more you know as a young person, the more you can navigate the world. The more people you meet, the more stuff you do, is all going to make you a better person, just the way it’s going to make T’Challa a better leader when his time eventually comes.
Marvel.com: Before you started writing, how did you decide how to broach the topics of safe space and racial injustice in a way young readers could understand?
Ronald L. Smith: I always try to write without teaching a moral lesson, because kids are smart—they can pick up on it right away. We know that there’s going to be some type of commentary on America, and race relations, and poverty—because T’Challa’s coming from this wealthy, rich nation to the heart of Chicago, South Side—so it kind of just writes itself. You just have to be true to the character and what is happening at the moment. When he goes from Michigan Avenue and all its wealthy shops and cool cars to the poorer side of Chicago, he notices that, and one would.
Marvel.com: What do you hope young readers learn from T’Challa’s story?
Ronald L. Smith: That you can try to shine in the dark moments and be true to yourself, to find strength within.
“Black Panther: The Young Prince” is available now wherever books are sold.