Kami Garcia on ‘Teen Titans: Robin’ | Interview
Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo’s Teen Titans: Robin, the fourth book in their series of Teen Titans original graphic novels, is out today, and as those who snapped up a copy today already know (because the cover is in the back), the next book in the series will feature Starfire.
Garcia and Picolo’s Teen Titans: Raven was one of the first titles in DC’s original graphic novel program and it kicked off an entire series of Teen Titans books. While Teen Titans: Raven and Teen Titans: Beast Boy stand alone, the third book, Teen Titans: Beast Boy Loves Raven, starts a continuing plot that picks up in Teen Titans: Robin and will wind through the rest of the books. Thus Teen Titans: Robin is not set in Gotham City but in the world that Garcia and Picolo have created, and the book is a direct sequel to Beast Boy Loves Raven, starting with the characters on the run from the sinister organization H.I.V.E.
We talked to Garcia about how she and Picolo developed the series.
How did you get this gig?
I had been writing YA prose fiction, but I had never done anything with comics or superheroes, even though I was a huge fan. I was best known for co-writing the Beautiful Creatures series, which is what DC knew, and that is also kind of Gothic and magical and spooky.
My friend Danielle Paige, who wrote Mera: Tidebreaker, told me “I’m doing this great thing with DC, and they want to talk to you.” I was emotionally exhausted from writing prose, and I wanted to do something different, but I didn’t know what that was. So it seemed kind of serendipitous.
I met Michelle Wells, who was the head of the line at the time, and I got to meet Marie Javens, who is now editor in chief. It was all these women, and they were so intelligent and insightful, and I just loved what they were talking about—doing a new take on traditional DC heroes. I was a huge DC fan—I grew up wanting to be Wonder Woman as my job as a child—so it seemed like a fun, amazing way to do something different with writing.
Why did you choose to do Teen Titans?
I wanted to do Wonder Woman, but my friend Laurie Halse Anderson was doing Wonder Woman, so I said, “Who do you really need?” And they said “We would love for someone to do Teen Titans.” I didn’t realize at the time that they just meant “Pick a Teen Titan,” so I wrote a pitch for a series. Teen Titans is plural! The pitch had a description for a Beast Boy origin novel, a Raven origin novel, different origin novels, and then some group novels. And they called me and said, “We weren’t really considering series, but now we are.” Jim [Lee] and Dan [DiDio], who were the publishers at the time, loved the idea [and said] “Come in and talk to us about it.” And the rest was history.
How did you find your artist, Gabriel Picolo?
The pitch was the Teen Titans would still have their powers, but they would look human. Starfire wouldn’t be bright orange, Beast Boy would only be green in animal form, because I wanted it to feel like these kids could be at your high school, like they could be friends that you don’t know have powers. I was hunting around on Pinterest, and I saw all this work by this person named Picolo who was drawing Teen Titans wearing regular clothes and I’m like, this is exactly what I want.
It was a perfect fit, because he already had this vision of making the Teen Titans relatable and getting to know the characters more, which is what I wanted to do. We both have this shared vision for what we want these books to be, which is also very inclusive. I was a teacher for 17 years before I was a writer, and I wanted them to be the kind of books that I would hand to my students as a teacher, that any kid in any public school in the country could see someone like them in the books. That’s been our North Star the whole time.
Did you work out all the plots in advance?
Not all of them. I basically had four plots, probably a page each. I had a page for Raven, a page for Beast Boy, a page for Robin, a page for Starfire, because I just picked my favorite ones. And then I had a kind of joke. That was “Beast Boy loves Raven,” with one tiny paragraph. I was like, “They’ll never let me do this.” And then I had a pitch for a group book.
I turned that whole thing in and said, “I can write them in any order, I could start with the group book, but what I’d really like to do is start with origin stories, because that’s what I believe will hook the readers.” I had to have a big meeting with Dan and Jim and Bob Harras, who was the editor in chief at the time, and the head of sales and all these people to make that decision. I said, “If you really want to get kids and people who do not normally read comics to give them a try, we need to delve deeply into the characters, so that people are invested in the characters and they are willing to follow them into other books, possibly other types of comics, and possibly just branching out into comics in general.” My job was to make the graphic novels kind of the safe gateway drug into comics.
One of the things that’s notable about DC’s graphic novels is that they are self-contained and don’t necessarily follow the standard continuity. How did you decide what to keep from the long history of these characters, and what to leave out?
I really wanted to preserve the essence of what I loved about these characters while putting a fresh spin on them. My approach was, what makes Raven, Raven? She is haunted by the fact that she’s a half demon, and her father is this terrible figure. She’s kind of broody and dark. She’s a little bit like I was as a teen: She wears a lot of black, she’s kind of on her own. Her soul-self is really important. I was not going to take any of those things away. Instead of Raven having a jewel on her head, she wears the jewel on a necklace. The same thing with Beast Boy: He’s not going to be green all the time. It was Gabriel’s idea to put a little green stripe in his hair, and he turns green when he’s in animal form. My instinct was that I need to make sure that I’m respecting the core of these characters so that the existing fans do not hate these books, because I’m an existing fan, and I don’t want to hate the book. So that’s what I did. I changed enough to make them fresh and help Gabriel put his own spin on the characters.
I assume that writing these is very different from writing prose because you have to be specific with the artists, but on the other hand, you don’t have to do a lot of description.
That’s the best part, because I hate writing first drafts in prose. So this is like my dream, because all I do is write the big emotional beats, the big action beats, and the dialogue, and the artist handles the rest. He gets people from place to place. It’s fantastic.
The downfall of a lot of YA graphic novels in particular is that they feel like they were written by grownups. How do you get that authentic voice?
I feel like that’s just kind of my voice, because I taught for so long. And the teen years were very kind of tumultuous and emotional for me, so I remember them really well. It’s the time in my life that really stuck with me. I’m writing an original middle-grade graphic novel that hasn’t been announced yet, and that is ten times harder. I have to really focus hard to stay in that voice, whereas I can go from Titans to writing something else to Titans so easily. Every writer has different settings that are natural for them, and for me, YA is definitely one of them.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
About Brigid Alverson
Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.
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