Fans of the DC Universe may know her best as a troubled superhero, but in her new novel Teen Titans: Raven, the brooding teenager shows you don't need to be half-demon to struggle in high school--and you don't need a super-team to find a new family, either.
The novel's writer Kami Garcia is no stranger to blending the mystical and mysterious with the struggles of adolescence, as the best-selling co-author of Beautiful Creatures. Teaming with artist Gabriel Picolo, Teen Titans: Raven brings DC Ink the first in a new line of graphic novels centering on the teenage team. It's an understatement to say that Raven--available now--is a strong start to the entire endeavor, bringing new life (and new characters) into her classic origin. In the process, reminding Titans fans that it isn't Raven's dark, demonic powers that make her a heroine deserving of her very own story.
Screen Rant had the chance to speak with Garcia and Picolo about their approach to this new graphic novel, the decision to shift Raven's story to the backdrop of New Orleans, where it fits into the larger DC Universe, and what fans can expect from the upcoming Beast Boy novel, too. Read on for our full interview, as well as a glimpse of Picolo's artwork and the official trailer for Raven, the debut installment of the Teen Titans series from DC Ink.
Well, I am happy to say that not only did I enjoy the book, but I actually had to read it from front to back in one sitting.
KG: Every time I hear that I'm so happy. That's what I just want to hear, is that people can't put it down. Even if it's just because of the gorgeous art, I'll take it.
Maybe you can take me back to the beginning since this is a first in a lot of ways, with DC Ink, and a new audience, and a new take on Raven. How were you both approached for this project? I won't ask what 'convinced' you to take on this book, but what was the appeal that hooked you into saying you had to sign on for this?
KG: Andrew, did you miss the page with me wearing my Wonder Woman Halloween costume? C'mon!
KG: I have four brothers, I'm a longtime comic book fan. Particularly DC, which I was hooked on with Wonder Woman. Michelle Wells, who is our editor and also the head of DC Ink and Zoom, was working with Danielle Paige on Mera, and Danielle is a close friend of mine. So she was trying to get a hold of me, and Danielle made the intro.
Gabriel's story, I'll tell you quickly from my end then he can tell you from his, because my end is funnier. We were looking for artists and I looked at tons of people. I fell in love with his stuff that I had already seen online and I just said, 'I want something like this!' And they were like, 'Well nobody does that, just that guy does it... But maybe we could get him. Even though he hasn't done a traditional comic book, we could figure it out.' Great! So I wait, and I wait, and I ask, 'Has anyone contacted him?' And they're like, 'Yeah, everyone at DC is emailing him and he's not responding.' And I thought, 'Well he probably thinks it's a prank.'
KG: This went on for like a month, and finally they said, 'If he doesn't respond this time, you're going to have to try. Someone else has to try.' And finally he responded! And I just wanted to say, 'Gabriel, answer your email!' So Gabriel, what did you think when that email came?
GP: Yeah the first one, at first I really thought it was a prank. It took me a while to realize that the DC logo at the end of the email was actually real. Then it took me some time to figure out how to answer it, because I was freaking out, shaking. I had some help to actually answer the email.
Often in comics and graphic novels, writers are often tasked with keeping a status quo, or fitting their story into a much larger picture. Right now Titans fans have animated series, and the new TV show, but I have to imagine that one of the first decisions you had to make was how YOU would tell this story. And maybe highlight aspects that haven't been explored as much before?
KG: Yeah, we actually lucked out. The girl who plays Raven in the show blurbed the book, and so did Marv Wolfman. Because he loved it so much, the creator of Raven. The co-creator. I'm still hoping to meet George Perez. For me the mandate was really... I am a fan, so what I didn't want to do was throw away everything we know about Raven. Because Marv Wolfman created a great character. What I wanted to do, and what they wanted me to do, was focus more on Raven as a teen. What is it like to be Raven as a teen girl? Not just a girl who has powers. So I focused more on that. I wanted to do an origin story, and I wanted to do a story that, instead of doing a superhero who's a superhero as a teen, I wanted to do a story about a teen who happens to have powers. And how do those powers and that responsibility compound what you're already trying to deal with as a teen.
Because at the heart of this story, to me, it's about finding yourself. Figuring out who you want to be, defining yourself, and being brave enough to be that person. That's kind of a theme in all my work, but it just aligns so perfectly with the type of art that Gabriel does, because his art is about teens using their appearance and their expressions and everything to show who they are. So it worked perfectly. Gabriel, what were you thinking you really wanted people to get out of this when they read it?
GP: Yeah it's really interesting, I've been doing Teen titans fan art for a while on the Internet. That's one of the things that made me really well known online, on social media. Because I love those characters, and I grew up with the show, and the show kind of hooked me into the comics. Something that I missed from the show and all the Teen Titans comics was seeing more of them acting as teenagers. As actual teenagers, hanging out together, and stuff like that. That's something that I try to portray in my drawings, and people responded really well to that. Then when DC contacted me, they wanted me to draw exactly like that. They wanted that version of the Teen Titans, so it really all fell into place, came together really nice.
Yeah, I mean it in the biggest compliment possible, that it has a Riverdale or Archie Comics feel to it. Like, these are still just kids.
GP: Yeah! That's really interesting.
KG: That's what I wanted! Because I want real teens, regular teenagers. To be able to look at these characters and find someone in the book that they can see themselves in.
GP: Yeah, exactly.
One of the biggest thing that struck me from this book, this version of Raven, is how it instantly sends a different message from the 'horror story' people would think of when it comes to Raven's origin. Here, the tone, and culture, and the look and feel makes it seem like what's happening to Raven is unique... but the response is almost, 'it's fine, we have a spell for that.'
KG: That's one reason why New Orleans was the perfect setting, because superstition and ancestral magic, and things like that are part of the culture of the city. You have some weird stuff happen to you, with Max it's not like, 'Oh my gosh, that's impossible!' Because people are used to weird things happening, or unusual things, inexplicable things. That's one reason why I wanted to put her there. I wanted to put her somewhere that when she finally was able to share some of what was going on, there would be people willing to believe her story.
GP: One thing I really appreciate about the story being set in New Orleans is that I learned a lot about the city. I had heard some rumors, but I never fell deep into the city's story and history. And... I'm not really good at drawing backgrounds. So it was really good for this story to happen in New Orleans, because it has these incredible places, this awesome beauty, and it got me inspired to actually do some work and try new stuff with backgrounds.
KG: The buildings and everything are so gorgeous. He was all of a sudden like, obsessed with architecture.
GP: It's not like a normal city! It's so cool, there are unique points, unique landmarks, all that stuff really inspired me to do some real work on the backgrounds.
It feels like the two things that almost encompass everything this book has to offer is New Orleans, that new location. And then the character you introduce in this story, Max, who is Raven's foster sister. She seems to embody the spirit and attitude of the book. how immediately did she jump into life when you were plotting this story?
KG: She was part of my pitch, I plotted her really quickly and easily in my mind, but she didn't come to life until Gabriel started drawing her. I had in my mind I want this spirited, strong girl who grew up in this really amazing city, with all this mystical and historical elements. But then at the same time, I wanted her also to have a vulnerability. And when Gabriel started drawing her.. that's when she took on a different level for me. That's when I could really seethe things haunting her, the things she was scared of. She just evolved so beautifully once Gabriel started working on her, because she became like a little person.
GP: When I was reading the script I thought Max was just such a likable character, you know? I wanted people to like her as much as I did when I was reading it. Me and Kami got together and talked about her style, and the things that she would wear. Creating her character was really, really, really nice.
This graphic novel is surely going to bring new readers into Raven's world, and the Teen Titans to come. But for existing fans, which I know you both are, can you speak to how much of that DC lore is alive in this story? It feels very authentic, but this is still intended to be set within the larger DC Universe that we know, right?
KG: Yeah it's not part of DCU obviously, because it's not in continuity. I can't spoil anything, but as the books go on you're going to find more and more things coming in. With the origin stories, you're going to start seeing some other DC elements that fans are more familiar with. I like to think of them as Easter Eggs, but I have known what they are, and Gabriel because he's read my pitches. I've known what they were from the beginning, because I wanted them to be very seamlessly woven into the fabric of the books. So that by the time you get some really awesome Easter Eggs that are bigger, it feels like all of the groundwork was planted. So it's kind of an Easter Egg for the fans, and it sets the groundwork that a new reader would need to understand.
You will definitely be seeing it. You'll be seeing other characters. I mean I personally want it to feel like it fits in the DC Universe really well. But it isn't obviously canon. It doesn't follow the continuity perfectly, but I still want it to feel like it could be part of it.
Well, Raven's story doesn't end here, because she if just the first of the Teen Titans that you both are adapting into a graphic novel. The book actually comes with a sneak peek at Beast Boy, the favorite Teen Titan of some many fans. Can you speak to how these stories, and the energy you bring to their perspectives differs? What is the feeling you hope readers will leave with after that preview?
KG: He loves Beast Boy.
GP: Yeah, Beast Boy is my favorite. That is not a surprise. Anyone who follows me on social media knows that he is my favorite.
KG: I think for me and Gabriel, one of the things we talked about early is that Beast boy is always painted--less so in the new Titans show, but in younger versions--Beast Boy is painted as a goofball, and a clown. What I really wanted to get at, and I know Marv's groundwork is there, I want to dig deeper into... What is he scared of? What are his wounds? I want it to be more than just a funny kid. Because as a real teen and a real character, he obviously is. I wanted to be able to show his insecurities and other things about him, so that if you're a fan it's almost like you maybe get to have a deeper, different perspective on him. Without changing the core of his character. Because again, I am not going to mess with perfection. I'm not going to destroy the things that are already great about him.
GP: One thing that I really appreciated when I read Kami's pitch for Beast Boy, as a fan of the character, is finally getting to read a story about him where he's not so much the comic relief, you know? You actually get to see his character building up. That's really, really awesome about that story. And also he's my favorite character to draw. The wide range of expressions. Drawing him every time, it's the best thing that could've happened for me.
KG: Gabriel loves him. You can see it in the art. It comes back so fast, it's like the minute he gets script pages he starts drawing.
Teen Titans: Raven is available now at most major book retailers. Head to DC's official page to order your own copy today.