Published in the Summer 2005 issue • Features
An interview with Devin Grayson
A Shameless web exclusive
Continued from page 1
What are the plusses and minuses of a creative enterprise riddled with people who have a personal fan-boy connection to the product?
The main plus is that almost everyone who works in this industry is crazy about the product. It’s certainly possible to burn out, but basically no one shows up in this industry by accident and everyone, at least initially, comes to honour something that’s brought them great joy. That’s a nice way to enter a field.
The problem is, they’re usually coming to honour something that’s brought them great joy IN THE PAST. Comics are a lot like pop music. We all think the stuff we read first — or listened to during high school — is the good stuff, and everything else is an aberration that needs to be “fixed.” So there’s this bizarre internal continuity battle running through the creation of comics. What we’re supposed to be doing is making the legends of the heroes we loved as kids available and relevant to the current readership, but what we end up doing, myself included, is fighting to return those characters to the way they were when we, personally, liked them best. That includes an almost endless cycle of killing characters off, bringing them back, changing their costumes and names, and contradicting pieces of their “histories” that have gone before in an effort to safeguard the versions we hold dear. This is all furthermore complicated by the fact that we run these stories as serialized monthlies, so a character like Batman, for example, has been in print for over 60 years and has been 35 for almost all of that time. Obviously, at some point, you have to let go of the idea of a complete and comprehensible history for him without losing track of his humanity and the basic fundamentals of his character, and for some reason that’s something hardcore fans seem particularly unwilling to do. It is, frankly, a mess, and a huge problem. And the people who could be in charge of reining this in — publishing administration — are often some of the worst offenders (“oh, yeah, I can fix this — let’s take everything back to the ’70s!”). The best attempt I’ve seen to deal with the problem so far are the Marvel “Ultimate” lines, which allow some creators to be working on classic (rea accessible) stories about the heroes while others are doing the post-modern thing (rea continuity-dense stories packed with returning characters and reveals only hardcore fan-boys will understand).
You mentioned that the ideal writing situation in comics is to take over a flagging title and kick it into shape. Obviously, this wasn’t your situation with Nightwing, but have you had that experience? And if not, which flagging title is in serious need of Devinizing?
Um, (laughs), I haven’t had that, have I? That is actually something Mark Waid says a lot, and it makes a lot of sense. I guess bringing Ghost Rider back is the closest I’ve come to attempting to restore something to its former glory, but that was actually not a running series when I started my mini for Marvel Knights, so it’s a slightly different situation. I don’t think there’s any book out there that needs — wait, I just thought of one I’d enjoy working on, but this question can’t be answered without indicting a fellow writer, so I’ll just say what I’ve always said and what has always been true since the very first script I wrote: I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing.
What was the process for creating Gotham Knights? It was obviously a huge move for you professionally, how did it come about? (And, is it true that you were the first woman to be the lead writer on a big Batman book?)
I’m frequently asked what project of my own I’m most pleased with, and I usually say USER because it was so personal and came out so much as I’d hoped it would. But Batman: Gotham Knights was the synthesis of what I had come into comics to do, so that series is really running a very close second on my personal sense of accomplishment scale.
Gotham Knights came about when Denny O’Neil asked me in his own inimitable way, “if you were at the helm of a Batbook, what would distinguish it from the others we already have?” At that time I think we had Batman, of course, which was sort of the pure superhero book, Detective, which was — obviously — more of a crime drama, and I think Legends of the Dark Knight, which was sort of DC’s pre-Marvel Ultimate line answer to the Marvel Ultimate line. I answered with a single word: “family.”
I think we all love the idea of Batman as a loner, but for reason that are honestly primarily based in commerce (the more characters in the Bat-universe, the more marketing opportunities), he has been increasingly surrounded with a seemingly ever-expanding cast of co-stars, and these have become well-developed, exciting characters in their own rights. There was no book at that time dedicated to exploring those relationships... I think in some ways we were sort of avoiding the issue, and I really wanted to walk right up to it: “look, they’re here to stay, we have to really integrate them into Batman’s existence and mission in a meaningful way.” Denny is actually very much of the Batman-as-loner school, so I was really surprised and honored when he let me talk him into the idea. We wanted to be really honest about the weirdness of it — you’ve got this shadowy, mysterious vigilante who is essentially the personification of self-determination and autonomy, and yet he’s basically running a training program for teenage vigilantes. I told Denny I thought Batman probably was uncomfortable with it, but that was precisely what made it such great material for serialized exploration: why does he let all those people be there? Could he get rid of them at this point if he wanted to? How do they feel about him? What do they need from him? Can he give it? What does it mean to love someone like a father who’s convinced that familial love is a death warrant? We know what happens when he puts on the Bat-armor and goes out to fight. He’s Batman, he’s gonna win. But what happens when the armor’s off and there are these kids looking to him for approval and guidance? How does that add to — or even detract from — his mission? There’s a lot of material there.
Leaving Gotham Knights to write Nightwing was the most difficult decision I’ve made in this career so far.
(What I’ve been told is that I was the first female to develop and launch a new Batman title for DC. Certainly, other women have written Batman in the past, but I don’t think they created their own titles and I don’t know how long they stayed at the helm of the books — you’d have to ask someone with DC or a comic historian, I’m really not sure. The gender issue was, of course, completely irrelevant to me at the time and kind of still is).