An DCU:NG Email Interview with Devin Grayson
Approaching an anticipated run on Catwoman, Devin Grayson is a hot new talent to keep and eye on. And what does the future hold when she takes over the creative reins of Teen Titans from Dan Jurgens? Luckily, the wonderful Ms. Grayson spared a few minutes of her time to tease us senseless in this exclusive email interview.
DCUNG: What first got you interested in comics, both as a hobby and as a career?
DG: I actually got into comics rather late in the game. They weren't something I was aware of growing up, though of course most of the major characters, like Superman and Batman and Spidey, were already so deeply entrenched in the pop culture consciousness by the time I was a kid that I at least knew ABOUT them. But it was the first season of the Batman Animated Series that really got me into all of this. Basically, I fell in love with Dick Grayson. I knew he was animated and all that, but as a writer and a longtime fan of fiction, I'd spent lots of my life already in love with fictional characters. So I didn't hesitate to run down to the local comic store, where a friend of mine was working, to ask him what was up with Robin. He raised an eyebrow and said, "Dick, Jason, TimÖor Carrie?" - and I realized I was in over my head. There was more than one ROBIN? What was going ON here?
My friend, Arnold, went over to the poster rack and flipped to that Art Thibert Nightwing poster: "I think you mean THIS guy." I did indeed. I left that day with a literal BOX full of comics - all the classic stuff you can't HELP but fall in love with; Watchman and Dark Knight Returns and Sandman and tons of Detective and, yes, Teen Titans, and also some books ABOUT the medium, like Scott McCloud's wonderful Understanding Comics and Will Eisner's books - and I literally spent the next year or so just catching up and soaking it all in. And of course, by that time, I was helplessly hooked.
As for the career aspect - initially all I wanted to do was find a way to somehow aid these characters, to get to know them even better. And as a writer, the way you get to know fictional characters is, you start writing about them. And with DC characters - well, what could I do with these stories I was coming up with, you know? The characters were under copyright. You can't be legally involved with Batman without being legally involved with DC. And at that time too, there was no Nightwing series, and that was definitely part of my mission. I was campaigning for that nonstop, and when it all of a sudden happened, I just sort of kept campaigning, but for myself. I asked if I could write novelizations for the animated series, I offered to help answer fan mail -- I think a lot of fans know what it feels like, that fever to get in there and get your hands on these fantastic characters. That I spend all DAY with them now is a dream come true. I feel enormously honored and lucky to be able to work with characters of this caliber.
DCUNG: What was your first professional work in comics?
DG: The first comic script I ever wrote was the ten page "Like Riding a Bike" for The Batman Chronicles #7, but I think it was actually beat to the stands by my second script, "Batman Plus" (with Arsenal).
DCUNG: How did you get the Teen Titans gig? The Catwoman gig?
DG: I have no idea. Honestly, it's still a mystery to me how some of these decisions get made. With Catwoman, I was asked to write up a sort of informal proposal on what I might do with the character if I had her for a stretch. I'd already done the '97 Catwoman Annual, so the Bat-office had seen my take on Selina (albeit in a strange setting). And the thing to remember, too, is that comic scripts get turned in AT LEAST a good six months before the comics are out on the stand, so even though readers were unfamiliar with my work at the time, DC had seen lots of it by then - proposals, and miniseries that have yet to come out, and various other projects. One day when I was at DC, Denny O'Neil called me in to his office and asked if I'd like to try my hand at a few issues. Actually, to this day, I have never been officially told that I'm permanently on the book, but a dozen scripts and a Cat-summit later, I feel pretty confident about it. ::laughs:: We have issues planned well into '99, so I guess it's all working out.
The Titans was even more of a surprise. I hadn't even heard that Dan Jurgens was thinking of leaving, and editor Eddie Berganza, who I was already working on an Arsenal miniseries with, literally just called up one day, and fully knowing how absurd the question was, asked me if he could possibly interest me in writing the Titans. All of the editors at DC know how crazy I am about those characters. I was stunned. I think I got up a did a little dance after I hung up the phone. When I was first assigned to the Nightwing Annual, I totally honestly asked the editor, Scott Peterson, if he was joking. He said something like, "yeah, Devin, it's all an elaborate hoax meant to fool YOU," but you know, it always feels like that, it's always hard to believe at first.
DCUNG: I'm just dying to know what Catwoman thinks of Robin. After reading the issues where they are both involved, I get the feeling that she respects him, though to a limited degree. Does she respect him or just endure him as a necessary hassle in her life? And the reverse too -- what's your take on what he thinks of her?
DG: Oh, I think she respects him. And I think she thinks he's kind of cute - as long as he's not following HER around. Selina is someone who knows full-well what it means to get dressed up in a tricked-out costume and put your life on the line every night, and although she's not a warm person by nature, I think she feels SOME spark of kinship with anyone else who does it, no matter which side of the law they're on. Vigilantes are more "real" to her than civilians. And she has a great deal of respect for Batman - and maybe more than respect? - so that in my mind, anyone associated with him has a sort of instant "cred" in her book. You don't underestimate the children of the Bat, and you don't let them get hurt on your shift. Them's the rules.
As for Tim, again, I think he knows better than to underestimate Catwoman, and somewhere in that is a glimmer of respect. I suppose she baffles him; he doesn't understand why she does what she does - he's too young and too privileged and too male to really "get" it. And he doesn't quite know what to make of Batman's opinion of her either, especially because Dick shows up every now and then and winks at him and playfully warns him to watch his step where those two are concerned. What's he SUPPOSED to think? Probably best to just stay out of her wayÖ.
This is all my opinion, by the way, and not DC policy.
DCUNG: What has been your favorite storyline you've written?
DG: This changes every week, but right now I'm really jazzed about the Nightwing/Huntress miniseries due out in March. I've worked with Greg Land before on the Nightwing Annual, which was also a tremendous amount of fun, but this miniseries more than anything else I've done so far came back with every single panel exactly as or even better than I'd imagined. And it's a moody, atmospheric piece, so it was so exciting to see Greg really hone in on that. I felt like he "got" what I was going for, which is a very exciting feeling. I'm also excited about an upcoming Scarecrow arc in Catwoman - I asked myself what Selina's "worst fear" might be, and I think it came out pretty cool.
There are pieces of every story I feel attached to, and parts of every script I wince at later and wish I'd done differently. And there's a whole range of artistic and editorial responses that can color the way you feel about any given project too. But overall, I'm still usually most excited about the whatever it is I'm doing NEXT, which is a good way to feel about work.
DCUNG: Since this site focuses on the teen heroes of the DCU, let's find out your feelings on some of DC's teen heroes. Superboy? Damage? Impulse? Robin? Wondergirl? Anarky? The classic Titans lineup? Jurgen's Titans?
DG: They're ALL great characters, which is definitely a big part of the thrill of working for DC. Sometimes it even gets silly -- you're working on something and you want to start cramming various cameos in, just because watching the characters interact is so much fun. And of course, the closer that you work with characters, the more you grow to love them. I've already had the chance to write scripts that included Dick and Donna and Roy and, briefly, Wally and Garth - and without question they are the characters that I feel closest to. Impulse was one of the first series I started reading religiously - I ADORE Bart, I think he's such a phenomenal character, and one that a lot of people don't quite understand - which makes me feel almost protective over him. And of course, Robin, being part of the Bat-mythos, is a character I connected with very early on. I'm really looking forward to Todd Dezago's JLA Jr. (or Young Justice) - watching Superboy and Impulse and Robin interact should be fantastic.
DCUNG: Now for the big one. The rumors are running wild about the upcoming changes in Teen Titans. What CAN you tell us about the upcoming change in Teen Titans? Will the title change to just Titans? Will the team still be teens? What does it all mean for Jurgen's characters?
DCUNG: Perhaps the biggest rumor claims that the original Titans are coming back. Can you comment at all on that?
DG: I'm going to answer these two together.
In my opinion, the "classic era" Titans had two things going for them: first of all, they weren't just anybody - they were the kids of the JLA, the second generation, famous sidekicks striking out on their own. Secondly, they came to love each other -- they formed a family. And the best kind of family imaginable, the kind forged by bonds of trust and commitment rather than genetics.
Starting out as young teens, they went through an entire adolescence together, over the years coming to know each other's secret dreads and dreams so well that at times a panel depicting silent eye contact across a crowded room could be just as dramatic as an explosion or an alien attack. And of course, with all of the growing together, there was also some growing apart...frictions and misunderstandings and relationship evolutions.
Today the original "fab five" (Dick, Donna, Wally, Garth, and Roy) are all in their early to mid-twenties, and two of them successfully headline their own books. We also have Todd Dezago about to start up the new "JLA Jr." group which will fill much of the criteria traditionally associated with the Teen Titans: they're immediate JLA successors, and they're young. Whether or not they forage the bonds of family has yet to be seen - but it raises some obvious questions about the Titans. The JLA stands as solidly and valiantly as it ever did. There's a new group at the kid's table. Where do the Titans fit in?
In my mind, that was exactly the question that propelled the fab five to form the original Teen Titans in the first place. This group is still unique, and now, just like many of our readers (myself included), they're sandwiched in-between their elders and a young, hyperactive second crop of "generation next."
In other words, we'll be dropping the "Teen" and exploring what I've jokingly nicknamed: TITANS; the twenty-something years. Though yes, there will still be a few teens around. There are too many great teenage characters in the DCU to resist adding in a few eventually.
DCUNG: Will there be any crossovers with the other teen book, Young Justice?
DG: We don't have one officially planned yet, but Todd and I have spoken about it and both think it'd be a natural somewhere down the line.
DCUNG: Why do you think teen heroes (especially sidekicks) are becoming popular again?
DG: This is a really good question, and I think it taps into a much larger sociological issue that should have a lot of influence over comics during the next few years. The easy answer is, "because that's where people's heads are again," - but of course, any analysis of pop culture gets very complicated very quickly.
If you look over the history of comics though (and actually I should qualify that I'm just talking about mainstream, in general, and DC, specifically), you can definitely spot what might be called trends - the big, revitalizing projects that change the tone of much of the work that comes after them for a decade or so. I'm not going to go through the whole thing (a lot of it was technical transformation of the medium), but what we've seen somewhat more recently is the dark and gritty Dark Knight Returns era (which was very much in synch with the twenty-something generation's mood and reality at the time) give way to the still dark but much more fanciful kind of story-telling of Sandman. Sociologically, that swing makes perfect sense; readers were excited to see a reality reflect the harsh and cold one they lived in, and when it was time for something new, what they wanted was something that was completely TRUE without being the least bit REAL - the archetypes in realms that were bigger and more meaningful than the limited landscapes of day to day life. And more recently still, there's been a sort of renaissance of the classic, silver-age heroic tales, signaled most clearly by Kingdom Come. That, I would guess, is about the societal need for heroes again, and in many ways can be seen as a very positive psychological trend. We shifted our attention from bright, shiny superheroes to cold, urban reality, and then to the realm of Dream and Faerie, and then suddenly back to a hero-populated reality (though don't forget the MESSAGE there: heroes can inspire and guide, but destiny should always be in the hands of the mortals).
I honestly think that the next movement, gaining momentum even as we have this very exchange, is about heroic ACTIONS from "ordinary" PEOPLE. Or, another way to look at that would be, tales of heroic VALUES - like commitment and determination and FAMILY (not to be confused with the insidious "family values"). "Sidekicks" and teenage characters play a huge role in that, because by virtue of age alone, they tend to be somewhat more accessible and - in a positive, human way - more limited or flawed than their mentors. To see Batman do something heroic is inspiring on an almost archetypal level. To see ROBIN do something heroic is inspiring on a PERSONAL level - we can identify with him more readily. Although there is nothing average or lacking about the teen heroes of the DCU, they are definitely very approachable - you could imagine having many of them for friends. Something has shifted recently in American pop ideology - it's okay to be young again, it's "cool" to be a kid; there's an anticipation and excitement about "generation next," if you will. And I don't think we're thinking of teenagers anymore as being particularly naïve or innocent. Contemporary teenagers are sophisticated and knowing and proactive - and in many cases more stable than the world they live in. I predict that we'll be seeing a lot more of that very interaction soon; sane kids facing an increasingly insane world. It's what this era of history seems to be about, and I'll bet it'll be what a lot of comic book stories end up being about over the next few years.
DCUNG: Which comics or characters would you most like to have a chance to write?
DG: I feel so incredibly lucky - the characters that I love the most are the Gotham gang and the Titans, so all I can really hope for is more of the same. I love writing Dick and I'd like to do more with Batman, but basically, I'm doing exactly what I set out to do. If I weren't using him in the Titans, I'd be pushing for an Arsenal monthly - Roy is another one of my all-time favorite characters. And maybe in the distant future when Lian grows upÖ.I have some ideas for her. But the Titans and a Nightwing miniseries or two are unquestionably the number one things I wished for, so I'm deliriously happy. And there's one other project, but it segues so nicely into the next questionÖ.
DCUNG: Any future plans or projects we should be looking for?
DG: I have a project on the burner that might interest fans of this website - it's a story about five superpowered teenagers of my own invention who are taking a trip across the DCU in an Winnebago. They have some unique problems and a whole slew of difficulties to overcome, and I think it encompasses a lot of the contemporary moods and values I was just discussing. I feel very personally invested in it, and very curious about how it will be received. Editor Jordan Gorfinkel and I are teasingly calling it "Project W" for the time being, but I'll give out more information about it when it's closer to being ready to come out. I'll be curious to see how fans of this site react to five new teenagers in the DCU!
Other than that, I hope people continue to enjoy Catwoman and that you all get a chance to check out the Nightwing/Huntress miniseries. I recently did a fill-in issue for The Superman Adventures and have a quake-related story showing up in the Batman Chronicles soon. And in the not-so-distant future there's that four-part Arsenal miniseries (with wonderful art by Rick Mays!), the '98 Batman Annual, and, of course, the Titans and eventually Project W (and most likely some more stuff with Nightwing down the line too). That should keep ME busy, and I hope it gives you guys something to enjoy! Thanks!