YA author, freelance writer, and Spider-Man “super fan,” Preeti Chhibber has plenty of experience writing some of the most popular characters in comic book history. In addition to his work on comics like Marvel WomenShe recently launched Spider-Man’s Social Dilemma, the first book in an original upper mid-level Spider-Man trilogy. This all-new story finds the friendly neighborhood webhead battling not only fantasy villains, but even tougher challenges like dating and building a Twitter account.
How would you describe the target audience for this book? Who needs to read this IMMEDIATELY?
I think it is ideally written for children. It’s Spider-Man written for kids ages 10-14, it’s for fans old and new. I think everyone! Anyone who loves Spider-Man will enjoy this book. I was really thorough about this while writing it, so if you’re new to Spider-Man, you’ll appreciate it. And if you like Spider-Man, you’ll enjoy it.
We’re at that place where I think it’s important to have accessibility points for these superheroes that have been around for 60 years. It was intimidating when I was a kid, how do I start reading about this character I love because of the cartoons or trading cards my brother had? So it’s definitely for kids who maybe have seen the Spider-Man movies and want more story, or people who are like, “I really like Peter Parker and I want to experience a new way to read about him.”
Were there any existing Spider-Man sources that particularly inspired you?
I think double. There’s the Robbie Thompson Spidey series from 2014/2015, which was a limited series that was also targeted as an accessibility point for kids. This brought Peter’s origin story up to modern times; the number was like a vignette, as if you didn’t have to read the one before it, you didn’t have to read the one after it. It was just this really fun, sweet Pete story that takes place in modern times.
And then the Spider-Man PS4 game…
I knew you were going to talk about it!
It is so good! This is my favorite Spider-Man movie! This perfectly sums up what I love not only about Peter, but also about MJ and their relationship. And that’s a big part of the book. So those were two things that definitely inspired me and thought about dealing with Pete and Spidey in a new and interesting way, which is hard to do.
I loved the part where we end up inside MJ’s head. We very rarely have that.
Yes thank you ! I think the multi-POV was important to me because from the beginning it wasn’t just a Peter story, it was a Peter and MJ story. When I first cast it, I was like, “She must be as important as Peter. The book can’t work if you take it out and that’s what I need.
So it was a wonderful opportunity because I love this GM. And Mary Jane as a character, like all comic book characters, is amorphous to some degree, so you can have a lot of fun with her.
It’s an original Spider-Man story, so there are a lot of familiar characters, but also a lot of new. How did you come up with a totally new story for such an established character?
So how did this come about, I wrote a link – it wasn’t even a novelization, it was like a fun, illustrated, fun little book – for Spider-Man: Far From Home called Peter and Ned’s Ultimate Travel Journal. And once that was about to be published, my editor reached out and said, “Do you want to write an original Spider-Man book? And what would that look like?
And literally, the first thing I thought of was… for this age bracket, which is like the upper middle bracket of 10 to 14, what is the really interesting point for Peter? And that’s kind of when he didn’t get good at being Spider-Man, but he’s not brand new. He’s in that little middle stage where he’s still figuring it out and still very alone and balancing all of those pieces.
So it all started there, like, “What kind of story benefits this character the most?” What kind of situation do I put him in where he’s back to being teenager Pete, dealing with being a teenager, being a superhero, dealing with what those two separate things entail in one person?
And that’s what I found, how technology is part of our lives, activism is part of our lives, how we engage with the world around us and what that means as a person ordinary and what it means as a superhero. So yeah, that’s kind of how the original story bits came about after many, many iterations of a pitch to get it to a point that made sense with some sort of plot, though (laughs ).
Your book definitely reminded me The spectacular Spider-Man animated series, which also introduced modern technology in a story where Pete is a bit averse to technology. How would you say this relates to his and MJ’s arc in this story?
I think something that has to work for Peter… I didn’t want him to be super tech driven because I think it takes a long time for people to be the people they are on social media and one thing Peter never has is enough time. Since he just doesn’t, he has too much to do. And it was a very good point that he and MJ had a reason to meet to enjoy spending time together one-on-one.
And MJ… I think I see how kids are using the internet and using their access to technology to organize themselves in a really interesting fun way when you do it well. So I wanted to weave that through the character of Mary Jane and make that part of her story, because Peter has all his other business going. It was a good way to get them both to be active, either using the tools or needing to learn how to use the tools to protect themselves, which is Peter’s take on that.
There’s a lot of great LGBTQIA+ representation in this story. Queer characters, non-binary characters… what was your process for bringing them into this story?
To me… that’s what the world looks like. This is what my world is like, this is what life in New York is like. I was very conscientious about not wanting to default, which is a problem many of us have as readers, especially those who grew up reading in earlier eras (laughs). Where if a character is not specified as “other”, we default to a certain look, love a certain way, exist a certain way.
So I was very careful about how I portrayed the characters, which is why it might seem like more than not. But to me, in terms of “diversity,” that’s the only part of the book that isn’t fiction, it’s just the real world. And these people exist in the real world, so they should exist in the book.
Because while the main characters are all inherited and exist as they are and have always existed in the comics, anyone that I was able to fit in as a new character… there was a very thoughtful effort behind that.
You have integrated it well! For me, I never felt like they stood out the wrong way. Let’s talk about Spider-Man’s Rogues Gallery…
Oh oh (laughs).
For existing villains, you have so many options. Why Sandman? Why Flint Marko? (Laughs)
(Laughs) How about Flint Marko?!
Spider-Man has a very large rogues gallery. For the second volume, the Spot is a big villain and I chose him independently of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 2. This second book has been written since November of last year, so when they thought “Aha, this is the Spot!” I was like, “Oh no!!” (Laughs)
But Sandman felt like the right level of villain for this book. It’s not a goblin who will take over the story. He’s not someone who already has this huge presence in Spider-Man’s life.
He’s a moron.
He’s a moron. He’s a great opportunity for the story because he’s not somehow weighed down by his legacy. In a way that other villains might. And I felt the same way about Spot when I cast him for the second book.
So I guess we’re not in Sam Raimi continuity, so Flint Marko didn’t kill Ben Parker. (Laughs)
No he hasn’t. He wouldn’t magically return to that stage (laughs).
I’m sure for you, writing Spider-Man banter during fight scenes was second nature, but in terms of set pieces, how did you pull that off? People are so used to seeing and visualizing Spidey in action, so how did you bring that to life on the page?
It was really hard, actually, at times. And I had to ask Marvel a lot of questions because they’re characters that haven’t been prose much. Like Sandman. I remember emailing my edit and saying, “I need to know if Sandman has any bones? And if he has organs. Because it’s sand!
He has sandy bones.
Right! Chip Zdarsky in his marvelous Spidey run… was very clearly like, “Sandman is a grain of sand. That’s who Sandman is, that grain of sand. So when he walks around as Flint Marko, is it like a skin shell? What is happening? And they sent me a screenshot of a character encyclopedia or something and I was like, “That doesn’t answer my question.” So I just had to decide (laughs).
I mean that’s fair because it’s your story.
And it was fun because there were opportunities for that. But yeah, the action was really interesting because while you can do all sorts of dynamic things with Spidey on the page where you’re watching a visualization of his twists and webs, there’s a limited number of ways you can tell “shoots the web” or even the word “web”. There’s just a limited amount of literal wording that exists for some of these actions, so it was a fun challenge.
So what are the benefits of making a Spider-Man story into a book? What can this medium do that others can’t necessarily do?
Going back to your previous point, you can be in the heads of these characters. The act of reading prose is different from the act of reading a comic, but both are important. It allows, I think, a level of imagination for young readers that is really fun. I want to see how kids interact differently with this. And what’s so great about a character like Spider-Man…there are so many opportunities where he exists, and it’s just another for you to hang out with him.
Spider-Man’s Social Dilemma is now available to order in hardcover.