Utah’s Shannon and Dean Hale explore Wonder Woman’s pre-teen years in ‘Diana: Princess of the Amazons’

(Image courtesy of DC Zoom) Panels from the graphic novel "Diana: Princess of the Amazons," written by Utah authors Shannon and Dean Hale and illustrated by Victoria Ying. The book is targeted at pre-teens, and tells a story of the girl who grows up to become Wonder Woman.

Like most kids growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s, Shannon Hale was a big fan of Wonder Woman — specifically, the TV version played by Lynda Carter.

“The best Christmas ever was the Christmas I got the Wonder Woman Underoos,” Hale said recently. “There were so few girls in shows, especially superhero shows. There weren’t very many awesome women for girls to look up to.”

Her love for the character did not dissipate in adulthood. When Hale, the best-selling author of the “Princess Academy” series and the comic novel “Austenland,” and her husband, Dean, bought their first minivan, Dean procured a large Wonder Woman emblem sticker for the hood.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah authors Shannon and Dean Hale, photographed Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, have written a graphic novel based on the superhero Wonder Woman, following her as a pre-teen girl growing up on Themyscira.

The sticker, Shannon Hale said, was “very symbolic of my personal role as driver of that car and wielder of four children.”

Now the Hales, the Utah-based co-writers of the “Princess in Black” children’s books and two young-adult novels featuring Marvel’s Squirrel Girl, have brought their own sensibilities to Wonder Woman — by writing a graphic novel for pre-teens about the young Diana.

“Diana: Princess of the Amazons,” written by the Hales and illustrated by Victoria Ying, will be released Jan. 7, through DC Zoom, a young-adult imprint of DC Comics. (The paperback is 144 pages and costs $9.99.)

The standalone book starts with Diana as an 11-year-old girl, the only child among the immortal Amazons on the island of Themyscira. It’s a great life, though Diana wishes she had a friend. So she makes one, the way her mother, Queen Hippolyta, made Diana — from a lump of clay. But the new friend, Mona, turns out to be not at all what Diana expected or wanted.

The Hales said the story was inspired, in part, by watching the 2017 “Wonder Woman” movie, starring Gal Gadot as the adult superhero and Emily Carey and Lilly Aspell as Diana at 12 and 8, respectively.

“I remember that look she gives when they say, ‘You can’t have that sword,’” Dean Hale said.

“She gets this look in her eye, like she’s fierce, she’s going to go for it,” Shannon Hale said. “She’s got a very strong sense of right and wrong, and of justice, of doing the right thing and protecting people who can’t protect themselves. She’s an incredibly noble character.”

Dean Hale added, “I love seeing how these heroes become who they are. We’ve seen that with Superman in ‘Smallville,’ and Batman in ‘Gotham.’ Of that trinity of heroes, we’ve never really seen that, at least not to my satisfaction, with Wonder Woman.”

Shannon Hale said she also “loved the idea of writing about a kid who’s the only kid in their entire world — what would that be like?” Though few kids are that alone in their worlds, most kids, she added, “can relate to feeling lonely, and being unsure of their place in their community, and not being sure if they have any friends.”

(Image courtesy of DC Zoom) A page from "Diana: Princess of the Amazons," a graphic novel for pre-teens about the young life of the character who becomes Wonder Woman. The book, written by Utah authors Shannon and Dean Hale and illustrated by Victoria Ying, will be released Jan. 7, 2020.

(Image courtesy of DC Zoom) A page from "Diana: Princess of the Amazons," a graphic novel for pre-teens about the young life of the character who becomes Wonder Woman. The book, written by Utah authors Shannon and Dean Hale and illustrated by Victoria Ying, will be released Jan. 7, 2020.

The book also explores, Shannon Hale said, “how hard it can be for adults sometimes to give kids the space to make mistakes. Kids are kids, and they’re going to make mistakes, because they need to learn and experience and grow.”

The story is aimed at pre-teens, who are at that odd age, Dean Hale said, “between little kid and adult, [when] it can feel to the kid like the parent has retracted their love somehow. In this story, [Diana’s] mom feels more distant and [Diana wonders] ‘why don’t you love me any more?’ Even though she does, but it doesn’t feel like that.”

Shannon Hale agreed. “I noticed with our own kids, that when they’re babies and they’re little, everybody says, ‘Oh, they’re so cute!’ When they start to grow up and they get older, we don’t coo over them as much any more. We start expecting them to grow up and act a certain way,” she said. “Our kids have felt that longing to be little, and be perfectly loved again. I think it’s on adults to remember that kids always need to be loved and adored for who they are at that moment.”

Writing for graphic novels is different than novel writing, the Hales said.

“It’s mostly like writing a screenplay, but you don’t have motion and you don’t have sound — and those are kind of important,” Shannon Hale said. “You have to do it panel by panel, and you have to figure out what freeze-frame moment can communicate what’s most important, and doing it in as few panels as possible, and as few words as possible, because it’s a visual medium.”

The Hales praised Ying, the artist on “Diana: Princess of the Amazons.”

“We’ve written for artists a number of times, and every time there’s an instance where they do something slightly different than what was in my head, but it’s better,” Dean Hale said. With Ying, that happened in one panel when Diana and Mona are sitting together as friends. “I had more of an emotional impact seeing it on the page than when I did when we were writing it,” he said.

The Hales’ book is part of what will be a busy 2020 for Wonder Woman. A sequel to the 2017 movie, “Wonder Woman 1984” — with Gadot’s Diana living in the ‘80s, reunited with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), and battling The Cheetah (Kristin Wiig) and billionaire Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) — lands in theaters on June 5. And a landmark issue of the comic book, Wonder Woman #750 — a 96-page special-edition anthology with stories from more than a dozen writers, including the Hales — will be released in comic book stores nationwide on Jan. 22.

The Hales hope “Diana: Princess of the Amazons” is a hit, and DC will call upon them to write more stories about Wonder Woman’s younger days. The couple is working on a story for another DC character: Amethyst, princess of Gemworld, a sword-and-sorcery heroine who has been around since 1983.

The couple will be keeping busy elsewhere, too. The seventh “Princess in Black” book was released in November, the eighth installment is completed and the ninth is in outline form. A third book of Shannon Hale’s graphic-novel childhood memoir, following up on her collaborations with artist LeUyen Pham — “Real Friends” (2017) and “Best Friends” (2019) — has not been announced, but in December, Hale complained on Twitter about the process: “Writing memoir is the WORST. [Whose] great idea was this anyway? Mine? It was mine? I’m the worst.”

“The third one’s about eighth grade,” Shannon Hale said. It won’t cover her high school years — which is when she met Dean, when they both attended Salt Lake City’s West High School. “And I don’t plan on doing more,” she said. “But I never know.”

“When you’re 60,” Dean Hale joked, ”do one about this experience, so it will be a meta-memoir.”