The EDGE interview • September 1997 • conducted by Teri Pritchett-Steib
Devin Grayson's name began to appear as writer of various Batman-related titles during the past year. Upon seeing the name, some may have thought Devin was a man. They're wrong. She's also very good at her job, as readers of the Nightwing annual can attest. EDGE columnist Teri Pritchett-Steib was able to meet Devin at this year's Chicago Comicon. and she was kind enough to spend a few minutes with Teri for an impromptu interview.
EDGE: Where did you get your start?
DEVIN GRAYSON: I was training to be a novelist. I went to school at Bard College
And you studied...?
Fiction writing with Mona Simpson. She's a well known novelist. I came back to the Bay Area, which is where I was originally from, and had a nine to five job at a major HMD and I was writing at night. I tried to finish my novel, which is hard to do when you have to manage a job.... Then, one day, I was channel-surfing and I saw the Batman animated series. I saw one scene where Robin had his feet up on the dashboard of the Batmobite. Batman was standing there — he wasn't happy, but he was tolerating it. I just said, "Who are these people? They seem like such interesting dynamic characters." I had a friend working in a comic store, so I ran down that very afternoon and I said, "What's up with Robin? I remember Burt Ward. He doesn't look anything like that anymore." He said, "Oh, which Robin?" I said, "WHICH Robin??" He started taking me through the whole history. I left with literally 200 comic books. And spent the next three years catching up on 50 years of really dynamic history.
Have you published any novels?
No. I'm still finishing the first novel and I do hope to still do that. I don't want to give that up for comics. But it has nothing to do with comics.
Do you think DC will ever let you do a novel for them?
They have a novelization department. It's a different department than the people I'm working with. But I think I want the book I was working on before this started to be separate. And to have an escape plan that isn't about comics. To keep it pure. It's really a different medium. It's about different things.
How different is novel-writing from comic-writing?
I'd say the chief difference is the pacing, which is something that I am still getting used to. Switching over between the two mediums. You have all the time in the world in a novel, and 22 pages in a comic. The story structure is very similar. The idea of telling a good story is always the same. The constraints of working in a serial continuity are very different from a novel. There are fans that have. been reading this for years, and there's someone who is picking up the book for the first time. How do you make them both comfortable? That's really a skill, and you really need to spend some time learning how to do that and getting used to bringing characters on stage in visual ways that will tell a new reader who they are while revealing inner, very deep things about them that will attract the people that have been with this character since the genesis. That's really different from novel writing where you have control of the whole universe.
Does continuity scare you? It would scare me because I don't remember everything.
DC has made it so confusing. There's more than one continuity and there are people that are very wedded to these different versions. They [DC] absolutely believe in being respectful to the fans and paying attention to that. I have read all of it, but I read it in three years instead of as it was coming out. The people who really clamor about continuity don't understand that these characters are larger than life and we're telling tales about them as heroes. So, it's okay if small details vary, as long as they don't do any harm. But the readers should be able to have whatever Batman they want, and there should be enough legends of Batman out there thatyou hold them into your heart in whatever way you need him. As dark as you need him, or as shining and happy as you need him. It's not ever going to be static. And yet, the part of it I love is the challenge: okay, here you have Dick Grayson, he's been handled by all these different writers. You have to take all these very different artistic ideas about him and pull them in and make them make sense. And that's the challenge. "Who is this guy?" You start with the action. Action is identity. If he did all these things, why? He grew up in a circus and then in Wayne Manor and then worked with a super-hero group. He almost married an alien princess. Was a follower. Was a leader. There's a lot going on there to explore, (sighs) I love him. (laughs) He ROCKS my world.
Cool. Who do you like better, Catwoman or Wonder Woman?
Oh. Catwoman definitely. But I'm very street-level based. I love the street-level characters. And I love the Bat mythos and I'm more familiar with her. Catwoman has that dark. she-can-do-anything edge because she is accountable to no one. And, in terms of archetypes, what a wonderful feminine archetype to work with. The dark, mysterious. The guys don't know where she's going next. She's so fluid as a character. and that's really exciting to work with. Whereas Wonder Woman would be a real challenge, because she HAS to do the right thing. Catwoman doesn't (laughs), which make it that much more creative. You have many options open.
Do you think [Jim] Balent will keep drawing Catwoman?
Yeah, absolutely. He's been on the book for over fifty issues now. He loves his work. He's never missed a single issue. That's amazing.
So, does the "large breast" thing bother you?
I don't like the implication that having large breasts would mean you're not intelligent. However, I just have a gag that I love that they're not going to use. I thought they should be "utility breasts." That she should take the costume off ... (laughs)
I had that in one of my columns! Big surprise!
Did you? (laughter) Oh! That's great.
I wanted to see a silhouette at night, and her costume drops ...
And she's a B-cup. Because what better secret identity could there be. If that's what guys actually pay attention to. Selina Kyle. Catwoman. Look at her chest! I thought it would be a fun idea to play with. I think, writing is so much about shutting up and listening and letting the character tell you where they're at. What you know about them is, of course, so deeply informed by what the other writers and artists have done before you. So, it's sort of exciting: the synthesis. Sometimes you can pull something out of somebody else's work that they didn't even know was there.
Do you see "glass ceilings" as obstacles to women in your profession?
I haven't had trouble with that. In fact, probably, to be totally honest, my being a female was helpful in terms of coming in as a new talent. They knew they needed women, so I probably got that much edge, more attention. Great. I'll take it. If that's what it takes to get my foot through the door. In terms of the offices, no. they're fraternal. I have a bunch of big brothers now in the editorial department. And I like that. that's nice. But, as I said. I worked in the HMO and it was worse there. Your pay was different [for women]. I don't get any of that. At DC, you're working as a creative talent and you are respected as such. I think even if it were true, you just ignore it. It's what you have to do, you have to bust through it.
I think attitude has a lot to do with it. And if people have a chip on their shoulders going in, it's just not going to help.
It shows. And it doesn't help the work. The real issue is what's good for the character. If you work together as a team, then you are part of a team and they're not going to pay any attention to your gender once the energy, the creative energy, gets rolling.
Exactly. Are there any females in the industry that you admire, look up to?
That's actually part of the fun of doing the con circuit. I've been meeting people. I've made friends with Heidi MacDonald and Amanda Conner. I mean, almost everyone I meet is a thrill just because there are so few of us that you have the urge to go, "Oh, female comics people." It's very exciting, and they seem very supportive and lovely people, so that's fun ! think you'll see more and more. But it is also an issue of whether or not women grow up being attracted to comics as an industry. Which is an issue of whether or not they're reading comics. Which is an issue of whether or not comics are accessible to them. It's very complicated. It's not because the comics companies are saying, "We're not going to hire women."
I don't think so, either. Are you joining Friends of Lulu?
I don't think I am. I respect what they
are doing. I'm not a joiner for my own reasons. I love the first part of
the idea of, "Let's bring more women into comics." The second part
keeps sounding to me like the other extreme. It should be all women written
by women. That's not the point. And I don't know if that's a logical jump.
There isn't Male and Female Fiction. You can't say "Anna Karenina" is a
girls' book and "The Brothers Karamazov" is a boys' book.