End of Summer
 
Devin Grayson:
The Interview
by Michael Hutchison

Fanzing:

First of all, how did you break into comics? What did you do to get noticed and get in the door? What did you do before you wrote comics?

Devin:

Hey, that's three questions!

Okay, first of all, before comics were a part of my life, I was working as a project manager in the research division of a large Northern California HMO by day, and taking post-graduate creative writing courses at U.C. Berkeley by night, while working on a novel which I have yet to complete (I got sidetracked by the comics!).

As for breaking in, I get asked that a lot, and it's a difficult question. To be honest, even I'm not exactly sure how it happened. Usually when people ask, they really want to know how they can break in, and I know I can't really help -- every single breaking in story is different, and you have to find your own way; what I did will never work again. Think of DC as a sort of top secret compound, and the minute someone finds their way through a hole in the fence, the company runs to patch up that hole.

Basically, I noticed the first season of the Batman Animated Series in my early twenties and, as silly as it sounds, fell head over heels in love with the Bat characters. As a former Lit major, I had a long history with fictional characters; I knew how to let them into my life. But the Bat characters, being from a different medium (comics as opposed to literature) initially threw me, and it was really my quest to get closer to them and their world that lead me to DC.

After reading every comic I could find, and every book about the medium that I could get my hands on, I went directly to the source -- I was too naive to know any better than to just start writing the Bat-office editors; as far as I was concerned, DC Comics was just sort of…where the characters lived. I think the editors must have found me very amusing at first, and patiently answered my questions about the best comic stories out there and the best classes to take to learn more, etc. As obsessed as I was, I was already writing fan-fiction, and eventually they came across some in an A.P.A (amateur press association) I was involved with at the time. Apparently they liked what they saw. I kept up a sort of correspondence with them for nearly three years, sending along more short stories from time to time and offering to do anything I could to help them, even considering a job at DC as a copy editor at one point (which would have entailed a very expensive move to New York; I lived in San Francisco at the time). And then I just got very, very lucky -- Darren Vincenzo called me at work one day and offered me a ten page script in The Batman Chronicles, and it all just kept building from there. I'd already written three or four scripts for them by the time I finally saved up enough money to visit New York and meet them all. And now I live much closer and they're all like big brothers to me.

I think my "hook" was simply that all major comic companies get a lot of people contacting them saying that they know everything there is to know about comics, but need a little help figuring out the nuts and bolts of writing (or drawing). In my case, I came to them explaining that I knew how to write, I just didn't know anything about comic books. These are people who are passionate about comic books, you know? I can only guess that it was more exciting and enjoyable for them to take me through that part, than to take a fan through writing 101.

Fanzing:

Has writing the Titans been how you envisioned it would be?

Devin:

No, not at all.

Fanzing:

Now that we're finally reading the Tartarus saga, is there any further Titan news you can spill?

Devin:

Well, I can tell you that Tartarus are not after what you think they're after, that the mysterious H.I.V.E. mistress is the key, and that the location of the H.I.V.E. H.Q. is important. I can tell you that after the events in issues ten through twelve – which explore, among other things, the difference between old and new-school villainy – the Titans need to reassess who they are and what they stand for. In issue thirteen, co-written with my buddy Jay Faerber, somebody quits, somebody tries to quit, and someone is fired. By issue fifteen, it's up to the "old guard" – Donna, Dick, Roy, Wally, and Garth – to try to remember why the team is important to them in the first place.

Fanzing:

I'm wondering about Grant Emerson, a/k/a Damage. While I think he's a great character who deserves to be in a showcase like "The Titans", we haven't really seen much of him in the first year. Will he get to share the spotlight in any of the future stories you have planned?

Devin:

Yes, absolutely. It was really meant to happen in the first year – "it" being a revelation about his past that bonds him to the team a little bit more – but we kept running out of time and space due to various crossovers and enforced subplots and what not. It's something I feel bad about, actually – this poor character has been standing around with this story to tell and we haven't been able to get to him yet.

That all changes with issue seventeen, however, which is the beginning of a three part story line that will, among other things (including a new Tamaranian/Gordanian war), delve further into Grant's character and motivations.

Fanzing:

Some have heard you say that Dick Grayson is a "puer" or a man-child figure. Could you explain that? What will being the "puer" imply for Dick Grayson?

Devin:

Well, "puer" (from Jung's puer aeternus) is just an archetype, like a shadow or a shape-shifter or a trickster. In this case, the puer is the "eternal boy." I guess when I apply it to Dick I'm striving to honor his connection to Bruce, which is a hugely important part of his personal mythos. It's actually probably true that Dick will never age, but more than that, he is always, in relation to Batman, at least, the "son," the "boy."

In terms of psychological individuation, this would be frustrating and limiting, which is why I use the language of archetypes, which is psychic rather than literal – as an archetype, the puer is tremendously powerful. Like all heroes, Dick is best discussed as a synthesis of all the archetypes, but in relation to the Bat family, even more so than Timmy, Dick is the eternal boy – a force of energy, dynamism, warmth, innocence ever on the verge of blossoming into stormy male power, loyalty ever on the verge of bgtrayal (growing up and leaving, again in the psychic – not literal – sense), need ever on the cusp of self-sufficiency.

It is not an accurate description of him if taken literally (obviously, he is a grownup and tremendously self-sufficient), but if you try to think in terms of representational roles, or even "masks" that the characters use when interacting with one another, Bruce usually "represents" as a shadow and Dick usually counters, or attempts to neutralize that, as a puer.

Fanzing:

If you could write the "ultimate Nightwing Storyline" that would span the next ten years of his life and would be "The Law" at DC regarding Nightwing, how would it go? Who would he marry? Would he marry at all? What would his place in the Bat-mythos be?

Devin:

I wouldn't. I don't believe in "Law" for these characters. These characters are legends – they need to be available for and accessible to multiple generations. As my friends and editors will confirm, I have extremely strong feelings about who Dick is and what he's about and where he should end up, but I'm very aware that those are MY feelings about him, and that it's much more important to me that my little brother, now eight, grows up thinking that Nightwing's cool, too, than that I "get my way" with how the character is represented across the board. Different writers – let alone different eras – have slightly different takes on these characters, and that's as it should be. I write Nightwing one way and someone else – say, my much respected fellow freelancer Chuck Dixon, writes him in a slightly different manner, and the end result is what? Nightwing's ruined? No! It's that twice as many people have a version of him they can relate to and so twice as many people think he's cool! When approaching legends, readers should always have options.

I think what happens in comics sometimes is a sort of impoverished desperation. The fans of The Titans, for example, are a lot hungrier, for lack of a better word, than fans of Batman – and with good reason. If you like Batman, you can hope you'll like what I do with Gotham Knights, but if you don't, it's no real skin off your back. You can find a Batman you like in one of several other Batman titles, in the animated series, in the movies, in the old television or radio programs…if, on the other hand, you're a big fan of the Titans, then you're all too aware that the series – this one single series with maybe occasional side projects – could suck, could be canceled, could be something you just don't like, and then you're pretty stuck – where do you go for Titans you can relate to?

The answer is, you go back to the comics you love and wait for something more to your taste to come along, or you go to fan fic. It saddens me when fans aren't willing to invest their imaginations in these characters, when they write me to ask continuity questions for their fan fiction – which should be free of such constraints -- or feel their love of a character is soiled, that a character is "ruined," when any one of several writers puts down something they disagree with. Take these characters and run with them, they're yours! Dick Grayson is whoever you need him to be. Me, I may think you're totally, incomprehensibly, moronically wrong – the only bar fight I was ever in was over matters of Dick Grayson's honor, actually -- but who cares what I think, really? Would Bob Kane and Bill Finger even recognize Dick Grayson now? Were we wrong to ever veer from their vision? Isn't it better that that version lives and breathes, still, but that others have sprung up to enhance it?

The point being, being narrow and reductionist about these characters is a luxury no pro can afford. I can answer every single question you just asked about Dick in a heartbeat – but I answer as a fan, not as a pro. As a professional, what's important is that I can cooperate with my fellow freelancers, that I can contribute to the popularity and accessibility of the character, and that I continue to passionately write the character as I know and love and believe him to be, while always encouraging others to do the same.

Not to mention that this is serialized drama, and as such, you shouldn't expect endings, let alone happy endings.

Fanzing:

Just what IS the relationship between Donna Troy and Dick Grayson supposed to be?

Devin:

As far as I'm concerned, they're very close friends, familial, really, almost like sister and brother. They love and respect each other, have seen each other through some very difficult times, and they're both very attractive people who have quite probably, over the years, noticed one another's attractiveness.

But loving someone, and even finding them attractive, does not mean that you have to end up in a romantic relationship with them. I find the range of male/female relationships in comics pretty exacerbating over all, and Dick and Donna are one happy exception to the usual pattern of comic men and women being either mortal enemies or unrealistically devoted soul mates. There are many rich, rewarding ways of interacting, and I think it's very cool that these two characters haven't chosen an easy, obvious way of being in a relationship with one another.

Fanzing:

What are your plans for Donna?

Devin:

I felt it necessary to address what had happened to her during her brief time in Byrne's hands, and as such, it seemed necessary to sort of let her really sink into the mire of that in order to come out of it again, phoenix-like, restored to her former glory.

In other words, my plan is to put her through a little more hell so that she can triumph over it and finally put it all behind her.

Fanzing:

Is Donna, at least the way you've written her, trying to be a "bad girl" now? Is this a way of rebelling against the way she thinks she was written as too much of a "nice" girl when her reality was drawn from Wally's perceptions? And if Wally ever comes back, will she ever confront him about this instead of bottling it up? And what, exactly, is wrong with being good?

Devin:

::Chuckling:: Is it just me, or is hostility wafting off of this question?

I suppose I should start with: I'm sorry you don't seem to like what I'm doing with Donna. The horrible and wonderful thing about comics, though, is that nothing's permanent. Just be patient, and everything always cycles back.

Donna isn't rebelling against the reality of Wally's perceptions so much as questioning and testing them. There is nothing at all wrong with being good, or nice – both intrinsic parts of Donna's authentic nature – but women in this country (and especially in comics!) tend to be drawn in pretty broad strokes of good and evil, the truth of human nature of course being much more complicated. What Donna knows is that there's pain and grief inside of her over the loss of her ex-husband and son, and all the others wrongs she's suffered, and that these feelings lead her sometimes into dark places in her psyche that aren't addressed by Wally's "perfect, sweet, docile, wholly contented and compassionate" version on her. So she knows he doesn't have the whole picture of her. The truth is that almost none of us know ourselves absolutely -- that's an ongoing quest of self-discovery – but at least most of us have the privilege of drawing our own conclusions and making our own decisions about who we are in the world. Imagine if you didn't remember much of anything, and a platonic friend of yours – someone who hadn't spent much time with you in your darker moments, which you'd faced alone, someone who you always tried to present a cheerful, upbeat face to, no matter how much energy it cost you, someone who didn't know anything about who you were as a sexual person, or how you were when you were alone with friends of your own gender, or even what you did before you went to bed at night – got to decide who you were. Wouldn't you have anxiety and doubts about that? Wouldn't you want to be sure? Wouldn't you want to explore the shadows that cast?

As we all know from watching her for years, Donna truly is a kind, compassionate, nearly perfect young woman. But she needs to discover that for herself.

And yes, should Wally reappear, Donna would eventually find the courage to confront him about it. But she does understand that he did what he did out of love and best intentions – it's not like he was deliberately trying to be manipulative, he reimagined her the way he knew her. Donna can understand the benevolence of that action and still be uncomfortable with its results.

Fanzing:

What is your take on Nightwing's love life? You're writing the one series where he is, on a constant basis, working alongside Starfire, the one woman with whom he had a long, committed relationship and was ready to marry. Nightwing's also romancing Oracle of late, and I'm sure you'll be writing both of them in your new Bat-book. And you've written several other short flings for him. Although it's not entirely in your hands, who would you have him choose if it were up to you?

Devin:

I'm sorry, I know this question is asked with good intentions, but I honestly don't feel I can answer it without compromising my ability to engage and surprise readers.

Fanzing:

What made you decide to use Trickster in your last arc on Catwoman? Do you like the character? Would you like to use him again sometime?

Devin:

Of course I like him! I don't usually pick characters I don't like to write (though, actually, that's a great writing exercise). As I'll explain in a sec, he ended up filling a role I'd initially planned to use Nemesis for, but he filled it well, and I enjoyed writing him, and if I were still writing Catwoman, I would definitely continue to explore the possibilities of that relationship.

Fanzing:

What happened with Nemesis? Why did you kill him off in that one issue of Catwoman? Was it true that this was mandated from above?

Devin:

I was actually hoping to use Nemesis for the role in which I ended up using Trickster – cheerful foil and potential romance. But yes, I was told that he was scheduled to be eighty-sixed – an editor liked his name, but didn't like the character, and had plans, I guess, for a "new" Nemesis.

He wasn't slated to die in Catwoman, but I figured that if he was on his way out, his death might as well be handled by someone who liked and respected him – I tried really hard to show what a great character he was before I killed him in such a way as to ensure that should anyone change their mind, they could bring him back without too much trouble.

Fanzing:

At this year's WizardWorld convention in Chicago, you participated in a group discussion about "heroes vs. anti-heroes", which I happened to see. (I even got to ask a question or two.) I was surprised that you were mucho into the anti-heroes, despite being the writer of The Titans and Nightwing and now this new Batman title. With the exception of Catwoman (which you wrote until recently), you aren't really writing any anti-heroes. Does this mean you enjoy them but you don't enjoy writing them…or that you aren't writing what you'd like to write? Or does this explain why you like writing characters like Arsenal, who's more of a "naughty good guy" than an anti-hero?

Devin:

Well, I think what we all came away from that panel understanding is that we don't have a great working definition of "anti-hero." I can guess by your question that the term means something very specific to you, but I don't know if it's the same thing that it means to me. I certainly don't advocate heroes killing (though I think it can make for interesting stories, I am strongly morally opposed to it as a status quo), but I also have trouble believing and being interested in heroes who simply "do the right thing 'cause it's the right thing to do." I don't think we live in that kind of world, and I think the characters that I write – who are exactly the characters I want to be writing – hero for complicated and personal reasons.

Batman, for instance, is, in my mind, an anti-hero – not because he runs around shooting people, but because he's a heroic reconfiguration of the shadow self, or the dark side, if you will. Nightwing is clearly a hero, but he's not…you know, a dope. He heroes for very personal reasons – it's connected to his concept of family and right action and, frankly, I think he likes it. Arsenal is, indeed, more of a "naughty good guy" than an anti-hero, and yes, his is a way of being that I feel very comfortable with and close to.

I guess, in thinking about it, what you saw me reacting against so vehemently at that panel was the idea of a world threatened only by supervillains and defended exclusively by buoyant aliens in tights. In other words, I was railing not against the characters, but against the way certain creators use them. To me, something is "cool" when it's relevant, and anti-heroes are much more relevant – and prevalent – now than traditional sci-fi superheroes. I don't at all mean that I don't respect and appreciate the heroic spirit, I'm just more interested in it when it's complex and human and layered.

Fanzing:

By the way, is it just me or did that discussion just drag on an on long after it was essentially finished? J

Devin:

The problem with that panel is that the topic was inauthentic. It's not like anyone sitting up there had said, "hey, you know what we should really debate about? Heroes and antiheroes!" We were just told to show up, and we did, and they told us what we were discussing, and we started to try to discuss it as best we could.

In other words, yeah, it dragged on. ;-)

Fanzing:

Tell us about this new Bat-Book. I'm sorry I keep blanking on the name; I know it's "Knights of Gotham" or "Gotham Knights" or something like that, but I've just been referring to it as "Batman Family 2000".

Devin:

As have I.

Batman: Gotham Knights, with Dale Eaglesham and John Floyd, is an examination of the juxtaposition between Batman being a loner and having a large, familial supporting cast around him. The series initiates an examination of the inner workings of Batman's mind, especially as demonstrated through his relationships.

Whereas both Batman and Detective will focus mostly on a solo-Bats as superhero and super criminologist respectively, Gotham Knights will examine his relationship with his supporting cast and other (mostly street-level) inhabitants of Gotham City and the DCU.

The idea is to really look at the whole range of characters who affect or are affected by Batman. I suppose we'll see characters like Alfred, Oracle, Robin, Nightwing, and Batgirl a bit more frequently than some others (like Leslie Thompkins or Commissioner Gordon), simply because they're in Bruce's innermost circle, but the hope is to really move around and examine as many different relationships as possible -- including some strangers and some new and old bad guys. Also, just to clarify, so far Batman is in every single issue.

With every twenty-two page story, there will also be an eight page back up Black and White story, by various talent. I'm very excited about it!

Fanzing:

What other characters would you like to write in the future? Who are your all-time favorite characters?

Devin:

In comics, Batman, Nightwing, and Arsenal are my favorites. In all of fiction, the list gets much longer.

As far as comic characters I'd like to write though, as I've said many times before, I've been insanely lucky. I (unwisely) set out to work with a very small group of characters and have been fortunate enough to work with all of them. I'm also really enjoying my creator owned projects right now – Relative Heroes, with Yvel Guichet, which comes out in January, and the three-part prestige format Vertigo project, User, with artists John Bolton and Sean Phillips, which comes out in March, I think.

Fanzing:

At what age did you first get into comics?

Devin:

I believe I was twenty-two.

Fanzing:

How long have you been on the Internet? Are there a lot of people on the Net who knew you before you were big? Do you think that people view you differently because they see you as a newsgroup poster who made it to the big time?

Devin:

I've been online since 1994 or 5, but I have never participated in a comicbook newsgroup post. There's a small group of people who "know" me from when I used to hang around in the AOL Gotham Happy Hour chats well before I broke in – and they are a lovely, supportive group of people who I enjoy checking in with from time to time -- but the only posting community I was ever part of was an online RPG group. To this day, most of them don't know – or, god bless them, care – who I am in the "real world."

And by the way – please believe me, I say this in utter earnestness – writing comic books for a living is, in many ways, a wonderful job, but it is by no stretch of the imagination "big time." The idea of creators as celebrities – well, this country's whole obsession with celebrity, frankly – totally creeps me out. Batman is "big." I am just a writer who is currently fortunate enough to be able to work at home, and as a freelancer, and with these characters. That's very lucky indeed, yeah, but I'm not a celebrity and have no interest in being one. My life hasn't changed much except that I'm a hell of a lot busier and get asked a hell of a lot more favors, which does mean that I've become, by necessity, less communicative. But that's pretty much it.

Fanzing:

Is writing comics what you've always wanted to do? Do you plan to do other things in the future?

Devin:

Writing comics didn't even occur to me until my early twenties. I had no exposure to the medium whatsoever until right around that time. And even then, I didn't want to be a "comic book writer" (trust me, I STILL don't!) so much as I wanted – more than anything in the world -- to write a few specific comicbook characters.

I've actually been able to accomplish that goal, and will continue writing comics for as long as I remain passionate about these characters. But absolutely, I plan to do other things. In many ways, I don't really feel that I "fit in" in the comicbook writer community, and my life isn't as well-rounded right now as I'd like it to be.

One increasingly urgent priority is to finish the novel I was sidetracked from when I first fell in love with comics, and I'm also interested in doing some political work.

Fanzing:

And I've been asking this question all year, so I'll ask you, too. Where do you plan to be on New Year's Eve, 1999?

Devin:

Times Square. I know it's crazy, but when I was fourteen, I promised somebody I loved that I'd be there. And when I was fourteen, I never broke promises to people I loved.

 
Return to the Top of the Page

Now that you've read this piece,
discuss it in the Fanzing Forum!

     
 
All characters are ™ DC Comics
This column is © 1999 by Michael Hutchison.
Fanzing is not associated with DC Comics.
All DC Comics characters, trademarks and images (where used) are ™ DC Comics, Inc.
DC characters are used here in fan art and fiction in accordance with their generous "fair use" policies.

LinkExchange
 
Fanzing site version 7.2
Updated 3/7/2007