Rozhovor s Devin K. Grayson
 
 

Stává se vám, že při čtení komiksu byste se rádi autora na něco zeptali? Šance jsou, že si sednete a najdete společnou řeč. Jak jinak, když jsme nakonec všichni fanoušci. Dostaly jsme možnost vyzpovídat Devin K. Grayson, autorku mnohá komiksů, které určitě znáte a máte rádi. V krátkém rozhovoru, který nám ochotně poskytla se dozvíte více o tom, jak si zachovává přehled v časových linkách během psaní nebo, co si myslí o zobrazování skupinových menšin v pop kultuře. Rozhovor jsme nechaly v původním anglickém jazyce.

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CZ: Devin se ke komiksům dostala po zhlédnutí animovaného Batmana, který na začátku 90. let běžel v televizi. Následně se v komiksovém obchodě začala více zajímat o svého jmenovce Dicka Graysona, známého též jako Nightwinga. Práci pro DC dostala po ustavičném volání a zasílání svých děl. Potom už následoval zájem o psaní o členech Batman rodiny, o Nightwingovi a je autorkou dalších již světově známých titulů. Devin je otevřeně bisexuálkou.

Mezi její nejznámější tituly patří Nightwing, Gotham Knights, Vampirella, Nightwing - Huntress, JLA/Titans, User, The Titans a další

EN: Devin got to comics after watching Batman: The Animated Series in early 90s. Following that event she went to explore to her local comics store to find more about Dick Grayson who she shares the last name with. After bombarding DC company and calling them to see her works, she finally got the position of a writer for this huge publisher. She enjoys writing about the Batman family, Nightwing and many other notable characters in comics. Devin is also openly bisexual.

Her notable works include: Nightwing, Gotham Knights, Vampirella, Nightwing - Huntress, JLA/Titans, User, The Titans and more

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Timelines. What was your way of dealing with confusing comics continuity? And especially within the Bat-verse? 

I hope this isn’t disappointing, but to honest I no longer follow DC continuity at all.  In the past I’ve compared leaving a comic series to breaking up with a lover; you hope they’re doing well, but you don’t really feel the need to check up on the details of their continued existence without you. ;-p

When I was actively working in Gotham, though, I relied on a combination of extensive background reading, informal updates from friends (about what they were reading) and colleagues (about what they were writing), and sheer force of will. By sheer force of will I mean that to write in the Batman universe -or in any established fictional realm, really -you need to have a clear vision of the world and the characters moving through it. And that means that if you have to, you ignore anything that doesn’t fit into your vision.

My preferred method of working on franchise characters is to do what I like to call a deep dive. Before I start writing, I read everything about them I can get my hands on, including academic analysis and summaries. Inevitably, I’ll find something that grabs me - with Batman it was his relationship with the first Robin, the idea that he was as driven and dark and scary as he was, but was also raising a kid. For the Doctor Strange novel I wrote, I started completely cold (I’d never read a Doctor Strange comic when I first got the assignment) but the first thing that grabbed me was the death of his sister. The few times I’ve worked with Superman I spent a lot of time thinking about how he was raised as a farmer. Whatever it is, I let it carry me further into the character’s world and/or psyche and I try to explore facets of it as I write about them. At that point, I’m pulling on previous continuity, but I’m also creating my own, new continuity.

Comic readers tend to favor really tight continuity, but you have to remember that you get that at a cost. Every creator comes to the table with their own ideas about the characters and their own references and their own stories, and the more you make them toe the line, the less you’re making use of their uniqueness.  When I started working for the Bat-office, there were several different Bat-books, each with a slightly different take. Batman was for superhero stories, Detective was more mystery/noir , Legends featured contained stories that could fall anywhere in the history of Gotham, Chronicles was more of an anthology and testing ground for newer talent, and when I started Gotham Knights, my explicit intent was to have it highlight the relationships in the primary Bat-family.  To some extent, those books all existed in unique fictional universes, until we deliberately brought them together for crossover events. I mention this because I worry that superhero comics have a tendency to become overly homogenized when everyone has to adhere to a strict continuity.  No matter how great any given writer is, do we really want ALL the comics coming out of any given publisher to feature his language, ideas and storylines?

The stories you hear about Batman - all of them - are legends.  Some may be spot on, some may be less than true, but the great thing about fiction is that, unlike reality, it isn’t actually necessary or useful for all of us to agree on what happened. Alternate takes are welcome, which is one of the reasons I’ve always championed fanfic.

tl;dr: I learn it. And then I ignore it. ;-p

Can you remember writing some scene or part of a story and being beyond excited of how it is turning out to be? Do you usually anticipate reader’s reactions for something particular that you wrote?

Okay, two separate questions here. First: yes, absolutely. A secret about writers is that behind closed doors, most of us suspect we’re talentless frauds and that at any minute someone is going to notice that we’re literally just making stuff up. But at the same time, most of us have a few moments every week, or a few lines in every project, where we stop, grin, and think, “damn, I’m good.” I am probably not supposed to share that secret, and I apologize to my colleagues for doing so, but the thing is…writing is magic. You can study all the craft of it, learn all the structure and all the tools (as you should) and still, there’s a point where you feel like you’re just listening and writing down a story that is coming to you from somewhere else. And when it’s good, it’s such an amazing feeling. It leaves you a little bit in awe.

Specifically, the two things I remember are 1) having to stop and catch my breath the first time I wrote the word “Batmobile” in a script I was getting paid for and 2) the first time I saw the art come in for USER, and characters that had previously existed only in my head had suddenly been brought to life by John Bolton and Sean Phillips. Those were both very exciting moments.

As for anticipating the reaction of readers; no, I don’t do that. I don’t even really think about the readers when I’m writing beyond, perhaps, the artist (who I want to keep engaged) or editor (who I want to keep happy). I think it would be a little paralyzing - not to mention futile - to try to guess how people will react. You don’t even really know who’s reading it, honestly, which is one of the reasons why it’s really nice to meet readers at conventions. But I’ve always suspected that the best writing comes from writing to and for one specific person - usually a colleague or loved one.

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What would you tell to those saying comics are not a real or serious literature and shame it readers for needing to “have pictures to understand the plot”? Unfortunately it is still a case of misunderstanding.

Well, first of all, I try to make a distinction between superhero comics, the publishing subgenre, and comics, the medium. Superhero comics are not, if we’re being honest, always serious literature. But comics as a medium is an amazingly complex and diverse form of story-telling that supports everything from newspaper comic strips to literary fiction graphic novels. It’s particularly remarkable for being the most collaborative form of story creation and story consumption available, relying on multiple creators for its inception and relying on readers to actively simulate time, motion and sometimes even events out of the spaces between panels. The best book I’ve ever read on the topic - and one that could make even a hardcore cynic reevaluate their understanding of what “comics” is - is Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. There are also so many amazing graphic novels out there, from Spiegelman’s Maus to Chabouté’s Alone.

Unless it’s not comics they have an issue with so much as superheroes, in which case you can talk to them about contemporary mythology and the power of allegorical story-telling.

You’re right, though, that it’s a very misunderstood corner of publishing. I don’t often have people try to tell me it’s not literature, but I can’t count the number of people who have learned what I do for a living and assumed I have a lot of material I can share with their child. The idea that comics are for kids is a throwback to 1950s American marketing. As I’m sure you and your followers know, comics haven’t really been for kids in over five decades. I still haven’t shown my ten-year-old my Batman or Nightwing work and don’t plan to for some time.

The last thing I’ll say on the subject is that sometimes people have to be taught how to read the art in a comic. I think people unfamiliar with comics assume that the pictures in the panels are just literal representations of the words, which is rarely the case. Comic fans are actually quite accomplished readers who know how to invest in long stories, detect subtle tensions between artistic and linguistic storytelling, actively participate in moving narratives forward and, of course, engage with huge, complex fictional universes.

Do you feel like there is not enough representation of bisexual heroes/superheroes in comics and pop-culture? We know Diana Prince is bisexual and she never got a canonical girlfriend.

Yes, I agree. The LGBTQA population, as a whole, is grossly underrepresented, along with non-heteronormative relationships and non-gender binary individuals. Just this morning, actually, I was told I couldn’t go forward with a storyline exploring a canonically confirmed asexual character joining an asexual support group, because the publisher wanted to play “that angle” down. As someone who is openly bisexual, this distresses me, but not half so much as the appalling underrepresentation of people of color and women, especially considering that both groups each make up more than half the population. As the recent phenomenal success of both the Wonder Woman and Black Panther movies demonstrate, the world is more than ready to embrace corrections to these imbalances, but the people (oh, who am I kidding? Read: white men) who run the engines of pop culture - not to mention literary culture, history, and advertising - are incredibly averse to change. It’s so, so important to see yourself reflected in your own culture, but the presence and participation of women and people of color, not to mention bisexuals, is so deeply biased it’s difficult to fully comprehend the multiple levels of exclusion.

It’s hard for me to even talk about this these days because I don’t know where to start. The relentless use of female characters to stimulate growth in male characters? The complete absence of female internal lives in so much of literature? How about just pure invisibility? I remember watching TV one evening and noticing - all at once and with a shock that I’d never seen it before - what I call the gender ratio. The world, according to movies and television shows, consists of one female for every three males. There are exceptions to this, but watch how often it’s true. And of course, it’s even worse for people of color, who tend to appear at about a one to nine white people ratio. Now walk outside. Is that what you see? Of course not, not even close! But we’re so used to the culture we’ve been fed that we hardly notice anything’s amiss when we look at entire fictional landscapes almost wholly devoid of women and POC. What do you think that does to our psyches? To our sense of fitting in in the world? To our sense of, and compassion for, one another?

The dearth of bisexual superheroes strikes me as a wasted opportunity to explore organic and complex ranges in human sexuality - great story-fodder, that! - and I hope it changes. But not all superhero stories have to deal with the sex lives of the characters. Every single one of them, though, has to confront both the gender and race of the characters portrayed, and holy f--- do we have a long way to go there.

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We were delighted to see the #VisibleWoman going around Twitter earlier this year. Did it prove itself to be useful? What you do you think about this way of using social media to make a statement and make it work?

This plays directly into what I was just talking about. It’s so weird to think about, but we are so often literally invisible - in fiction especially, but in the real world, too. As a writer, I spend a lot of time summoning and then editing the default story ideas that come from my subconscious, and once I began to be aware of the issues we’ve been discussing, I was dismayed by how deeply all of that background misogyny had lodged itself - it’s an issue I’m still exploring and excavating today. I grew up hearing people say that women were important and should be treated fairly, but I saw so few of them. They were absent or scarce in most movies and TV shows, whittled down to a small subgroup in literary fiction writing, hard to find in the music world, almost never part of political news or history lessons…I can’t even imagine how different my internal world would be if I’d been exposed to a more balanced cultural tally.

So, yes - I do think the hashtag was useful, both as a marketing tool (my single tagged tweet garnered me over three hundred new followers and is now pinned to the top of my account) and as a huge, warm searchlight picking accomplished females out of the crowd. Just being reminded that there are women working in comics and games and STEM and business and politics is enormously helpful. Having a platform available to connect with and support them is that much more powerful.

I do have concerns about social media, some quite grave. But #VisibleWoman stands as an example of best possible usage.

And finally, do you keep in touch with your high school or college teachers who taught you English or Writing? Do you think they know you have became a successful author and would they be proud of you?

Great question! My answer is multi-tiered because those people - mentors - change and evolve over time. So the short answer is no, I’m not still in touch with any of my high school or college teachers and I doubt they’ve kept track of me. I went to three different high schools and so didn’t form strong attachments to many teachers - the one exception was a Social Living teacher at Berkeley High, Nancy Rubin, who I did stay in touch with for many years after I graduated. She didn’t teach me to write - though she did encourage us all to keep daily journals, which can be a gateway drug to compulsive writing - but she was that special teacher who saw all her students as individuals and honestly cared about our opinions and our struggles and our lives. I was actually still in touch with her when she published her first book - Ask Me if I Care, Voices from an American High School - and I was very proud of her! I’m sure she’d enjoy hearing about my crazy career, but she was proud of all of us, even then, just for being.

I didn’t make a strong connection with my college writing teacher, the novelist Mona Simpson, but was crazy about my post-collegiate writing instructor, the novelist Brian Bouldrey, who was still part of my life when I first broke into comics and was enormously tickled by it. Now that you’ve got me thinking about him again, I think I’ll try to track him down again and send him a copy of my Doctor Strange novel. xD

In comics, I have three main mentors and I’m still in touch with all of them and know that they’re proud of and happy for me. Overall, the professional comics community is very supportive and full of hard-working people who care about the medium, the characters, the readers, and each other.

Thank  you for these great questions and for you interest in my work!

Thank you, Devin! It was a pleasure and we are grateful for your amazing and detailed answers, and of course for your time :)

A i my velice děkujeme a doufáme, že jste si interview užili stejně jako my!

- Kara


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