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A TitanTalk Interview with Devin Grayson

A TitanTalk Interview with Devin Grayson
[interview originally appeared in TTALK, a Titans-related APA]


Taking her place among fellow Titan Talk Alums in the professional world: Andy Mangels, Rob Lifield, Coleen Doran, Mercy Van Vlack, Leah Adezio and Hank Kanalz… Devin Grayson has quickly become a household name in the comic book industry.

Titan Talk: Can you tell us what is on the horizon for our favorite Titans?

Devin: Well, let’s see. The first part of this first year is essentially being used to establish and clarify the characters and relationships we’re going to be playing with in the course of this run, including the bad guys. Different issues focus on different Titans and different baddies, all leading up to our year-end finale in issues 10-12, where the warm glow of coming to get her is hopelessly chilled when things suddenly start moving very quickly on that super-heroic, adventure scale. I’m absolutely dedicated to providing a lot of action in the book, but I think, too, that readers really love seeing how these characters interact, so there’s a lot of personal drama arising from and even motivating many of the adventures.

To sum it up in terms of a general overview: basically, at this point, this incarnation of the team has come together for several different personal reasons, but primarily to share and foster a sense of family. In the plus column, that dynamic can leave the individual characters feeling less isolated, and so we’ve been exploring some of the funnier, sweeter, more satisfying moments reverberating through the T-Tower these days. But, of course, there’s a down side to coming together like that, too. All the complicated inter-dynamics of any unit formed of separate parts – so we’ll be exploring that range in our first year: the best and worst parts of having a team like this, of being part of a family.

Specifically: Dick’s dealing with an ever-increasing roster of responsibilities. Where as there was a time in his life where a lot of his motivation stemmed from trying to prove that he was as good as Bruce, now a lot of it really has more to do with exploring the ways in which he’s completely different from Bruce. So he’s starting to examine all of these different elements law, relationships, and especially the concept of teamwork and family, which is where the Titans come in for him.

Donna (like us) is dealing with sorting through the meaning of her new origin. John Byrne’s amended origin for her has confused a lot of fans, so it seemed only natural to me that she would be confused, too. Her role in the Titans gives her a chance to sort through all the new information she has about herself among good friends. Although things may get worse before they get better, I do promise that my final intention is to eventually restore Donna to the happiness and glory we all know she so richly deserves.

Wally joined the Titans for the most personal reason of all – to help a friend. He’s incredibly busy now, but very up for the challenge — as I’ve frequently said in his defense, if there’s anyone who can be in two places at once, it’s him! However, he can’t be in THREE places at once, and so complications ensue in the Titans when he embarks on an adventure in his main book – an adventure he may not come back from!

Garth, as the new financier of the team, has more of a voice in this incarnation than he’s used to having.. .and I think he kind of likes the feeling. Especially when things start getting complicated in his personal life back in Atlantis. I could have told you more last week, before Erik Larsen quit Aquaman – now, to some extent, I’m just as clueless as you are about what his future holds in store for him. But hopefully we’ll find out soon!

And as for Roy.. .well, he’s been pretty happy raising Lian lately. What you don’t know is that there’s something he’s never really told anyone about Cheshire – and it takes Lian’s babysitter, Chandra, to make him fess up!

Kory’s the most invested in things being the way they were in “the good old days” – and when she finally realizes that you can’t turn back the clock, well- don’t piss a Tamaranian off, is all I’m sayin’…

Vic has been trying so hard to be a good sport, but the truth is, he’s less human than ever, and none too pleased about it. But whom can he go to confess his unhappiness…?

Jesse is really starting to enjoy being a Titan, and they’re enjoying having her on the team. Of course, we all know something Jesse doesn’t know yet.. .there is no Titans “status quo.” As soon as you get comfortable….

Argent is thrilled to be a part of this team. What could be better? As long as they don’t find out about her dad, nothing can go wrong! Her biggest fear about heroing was that someone might get killed, but she learned with Joto that heroes always come back! uh…don’t they…?

Damage is similarly thrilled to be a Titan. He’s not even afraid of death. If you were carrying around a secret like his, you wouldn’t be, either…

Upcoming guest appearances include Green Lantern (issue 6), Raven (issue9), and Deathstroke the Terminator (issue 9)!

Titan Talk: How did you choose the five “second tier” members for the team?

Devin: Well, there were a few editorial mandates, a few characters I liked and was interested in developing (as well as a few that were off-limits), and a few characters fortuitously freed up that hadn’t been available for awhile when we started up. But really, what I wanted to do was sort of let the characters themselves nominate the so-called second tier – it seemed like that was the most authentic way to proceed (in what is actually a very artificial environment), and the method most likely to set up engaging inter-personal dynamics. There was a need, too, to have a few newer members around. The Titans have such a rich history, which is so well known by so many readers (like you guys!), and yet, we hoped, too, to pick up some new Titan readers on this run, so there needed to be a couple of characters on the team that wouldn’t get the ”in-jokes” and could mirror the newer readers~ confusion. This of course means that we can’t put some very beloved former members on the roster – Changeling and Raven are the two I still kind of pine for -but we can (and will) have them visit, in addition to spinning them out into their own miniseries, at very least.

Titan Talk: Is there anything that you wanted to do with the Titans that the “Powers – that – be” said you couldn’t or can’t do?

Devin: Oh, god yes. The most difficult thing about receiving criticism about a book like this is that the readers tend to have absolutely no sense of just how corporate and restrictive so much of this business is. I love the Titans with all my heart, and am so excited and grateful about having the chance to work with these characters, but on another level, there’s sort of nothing worse than getting what you want, because you learn the cold, hard truth about how the industry really runs.

There are so many levels, so many flaming hoops to jump through — it can be mind-boggling. A project like JLA/Titans, for example, is in many ways a complete nightmare. As much as I loved working with Phil, every editor of every character who appeared in that mini got a say in how the story took shape. Let me say that again: EVERY EDITOR OF EVERYCHARACTER WHO APPEARED GOT SAY. I don’t need to tell you that there were easily dozens of drafts and versions that got mutated or axed, and the end product is actually a huge compromise that I can’t look at to this day with a sense of uneasiness. To quickly break it down: the first wave of interference comes from the executives – these are the people who, even after you have a twelve-month arc approved by your editor, can call downstairs on a whim and demand that you use such and such a character in your second issue, or participate in any given crossover, or give up one of your core characters for three months while they do something else in another book. Then there’s the editor him or herself, and different editors have different levels of investment, but almost all want to feel like they’re contributing to or in some way guiding your work.

Then there are the other creators, who are simultaneously working with some of the same characters, presenting all sorts of interesting knots and challenges. And beyond that, you have things like The Comics Code to worry about -they’re probably my biggest headache these days. I heard tale of a fan complaining about Nightwing/Huntress because we didn’t show condoms on the bed stand, and I laughed so hard I almost cried. If you notice, we weren’t even allowed to have the characters in bed together, and although I’m all for promoting safe sex and would have LOVED to show that, there’s not a snowball’s chance in HELL that the code would let us get away with actually showing a package of condoms. Just yesterday I had to rewrite a scene because I’d been naive enough to let one of the female Titans express some pleasure – the line “…that feels good…” was unacceptable. Can you believe that? It’s okay to show the female characters running around with butt floss and giant breasts popping out of their costumes, but god forbid she feel any sexual pleasure…! So, yes, there are lots of things I wanted to do that I haven’t been able to, and, conversely, several things I’ve been told to do that I wish I could avoid- but that’s how the industry works, and if you want to do this kind of work, you have to make those kind of sacrifices.

Titan Talk. You state on your website that all ten Titans members are tied up in future projects by you or your ‘posse “L What can you tell us about these future projects?

Devin: What I really meant by that was that from this point on, the line now also includes my cabal and me (making it that much more unlikely that a new creator is going to break in on the Titans franchise). The projects currently in development actually come from creators who were already in line before I even got to the Titans office. Ben Raab and Geoff Johns are working on a Changeling miniseries and Marv Wolfman himself is working on a four-part Raven miniseries as I write this. Additionally, Dan Jurgens is doing a Titans/Legion project, I have additional Arsenal and Nightwing proposals in, Phil Jimenez is hoping to do a Wonder Woman/Batman project that would feature Troia and Nightwing, and other friends of mine have yet more proposals cluttering the Titans editor’s desk, some of which I haven’t even heard about yet!

Titan Talk. Speaking of future projects, what is the latest information that you can give us on the Weinbergs?

Devin: Oh, I’m glad you asked! I’m so excited about this! The Weinbergs, which quite likely will not be called that when it comes out (the DC Powers That Be fear that the title won’t sell in the Midwest ::shakeshead::), has been pushed back to a December debut date. As disappointing as that is for me personally (I’m insanely excited about this project and feel like I’ve been waiting for it to come out forever) the reasons are really good) the execs at DC saw an early black and white copy of issue one and got excited enough about it to want time to do some extra marketing,and 2) our series artist, Yvel Guichet, got the opportunity to do a great, high-profile assignment pencilling Paul Dini’s No Man’s Land Harley Quinn story, so we definitely didn’t want to stop him from doing that. NML is on a more critical deadline schedule than the Weinys is, so we pushed the Weinys back in order to give Yvel the chance to finish the Harley work. It’ll only help the Weinys, too, to have more people see Yvel’s incredible work before we debut. You can see a sneak preview of the art on the website I share with Jay and Brian Vaughan, though: http://www.2kcomics.com/ . December is also when my Vertigo miniseries is scheduled to come out, so it’s going to be a very merry Christmas for me!

Titan Talk: Comic fans seem to be very vocal on the message boards lately, do you lurk on the “boards” and have any opinions on them?

Devin: Actually, I don’t lurk, I don’t read newsgroup boards, and I have a personal policy against posting. I also don’t coddle professional friends who go onto the boards and then get upset about something they read there, I just tell them to get off the boards. I do have a website (linked above) where you can get information about what I’m working on, and an active email address that seems to allow people to contact me with relative ease, and, of course, readers of The Titans can always send compliments and complaints to the DC Titans office, where the letters will actually get read by the people who are in the position to address the concerns. So I feel pretty confident that I can stay in touch with my readers without subjecting myself to the boards. I’ve always felt very grateful for the level of enthusiasm present is so much of comic fandom, but I think, too, that there needs to be some space for fans to discuss whatever they want to discuss WITHOUT fear of hurting anyone’s feelings, and message boards seem like a good place for that. So I give myself the space I need to work and the fans the space they need to comment by staying away from all of it.

Titan Talk: What do you think of your critics?

Devin: Well, since I don’t read the boards, I don’t know anything about them. When stuff does somehow get back to me, I guess I’m fine with constructive criticism (I know I’m new to this, and believe me, no one’s more aware of my faults than I am!) but it is frustrating to listen to people complain who clearly have no idea how the industry really works – what is and isn’t in the writer’s control, what kind of deadlines and cross-over restrictions and editorial mandates we’re working under – that kind of stuff.

I just wish they’d make the effort to learn, rather than assume. And it does hurt when someone who pretends to be your friend then turns around and voices a nasty complaint about or opinion of you. But the bottom line is that as a writer, you don’t want your work to be flat or homogenous, so you know going into it that not everybody’s going to like what you’re trying to do. One of the cool things about comics, too, is that there are always different versions of the characters to turn to, so even if someone doesn’t like the way I deal with Dick, for example, they can go read Chuck’s version, or old issues of Marv’s Titans, or silver age comics, even, if that’s what they prefer. So hopefully, at best, you’re adding to the history of a fantastic character, and at worst, you’re a blip in a character’s history that a reader eventually ends up ignoring. : -) If someone doesn’t want to read what I’m writing, I’m totally fine with that – I’d just want to remind and reassure him or her that everything in this industry is cyclical. I won’t be on The Titans forever, so all they have to be is patient… That’s not such a bad deal, right?

Titan Talk: Fondest memory of Titan Talk?

Devin: Maybe being on the plane on the way to my first collation party. I was full of anticipation and very excited about being on my way to meet everybody. It was a cool idea that a group of strangers were coming together over love of fictional characters, I respected the premise. And, although I no longer stop to think about this very often any more in these terms, I met two of my closest friends through TTalk – Jay and Bonny –in addition to several other people whose company I still very much enjoy, or of whom, at least, I still harbor fond memories.

Titan Talk.’ What comics do you read?

Devin: One of the downsides of being a relatively new comics fan is that I’m not in the habit of reading titles on a regular monthly basis. More often than not, I let some stuff accumulate, and then read it all in one sitting. So there are abunch of books I enjoy, but none that I’m reading in the traditional sense of remembering to run down to the comic store every Wednesday and scoop up the next installment. The exceptions are stuff I have to read for work, like the Bat-titles, and everything Titans-related, for example, which I often read in the script or Black and White phase because I have to be current, and stuff my friends do, which they make sure I have. Among those I occasionally binge on of my own accord: Strangers in Paradise, Hate, Pickle, Nightwing, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Hourman.. .and of course I’m really looking forward to Jay’s New Warriors and our pal Brian’s Swamp Thing!

Titan Talk: What was once your hobby has now become your career. How has your view of comics changed now that you are on the other side of the fence?

Devin: Well, comics never really was a hobby for me – not in the true sense of the word. The moment I discovered comics in my early twenties, I began pursuing a career in earnest, and was working in the field within two years of that-alot of comic professionals read and collected for years before they tried to break into the industry, and I don’t have that kind of background. But I certainly have learned a great deal about the industry and the medium since breaking in. I think I probably appreciate the medium (and the people who work in it) all the more, but respect the industry itself a lot less. It’s a little sad, actually. There’s nothing that will make you hate comics more than working in the industry – and I’ve heard this from other pros, too, in many different creative fields. Whereas the fan community treats the characters like idols or friends, the industry treats them like commodities, and in someways, the more you truly care about the fate of a character, the worse it will be for you to watch how decisions about the character actually get made.

Titan Talk: At what point were you able to quit your day job and devote fulltime to writing?

Devin: Well, I unwisely quit my day job as soon as I landed my first monthly, but that was partly because I was really miserable in that job. Fortunately, as much as I hated it, it was a well-paying job, and I was able to supplement my meager comics paychecks with a savings account for the year and half it took to be able to make a living off of comics writing.

It really wasn’t until my third year in the industry, though – by which time I had two monthlies, hordes of smaller projects, many of which are getting picked up into TPBs (which generates more income), a few projects that occasionally pick up royalties, and a higher page rate (you start at the lowest page rate and work your way up) – that I began making what I’d call a comfortable living. It was very much a struggle up until that point, and I wouldn’t advise anyone in an industry as uncertain as this one to abandon all other forms of income until they had at least two, solid monthlies, and one of the higher page rates.

Titan Talk: Do you think Titan Talk played any part in honing your skills as a writer? If you didn’t have Titan Talk as an outlet for your fiction, do you think you’d be writing professionally today?

Devin: Where Titan Talk was really helpful for me was in introducing me to people who had much longer comic-reading backgrounds than I did. There was so much I didn’t know about the characters and the continuity when I was getting started, and, of course, there are no better teachers than other people who genuinely care about the characters. I guess some other fond TTalk memories include sitting with various TTalkers and getting them to open up about their favorite characters. And you know, to this day, I can’t help thinking about those people when I think about the characters, and it’s nice – it gives me something to work towards: Would Leah like this Tempest moment? Would Lori approve of this Donna scene? What would Charles think about Flash acting this way? Will Tim laugh at this Roy joke? Can I get a Pantha cameo in for Bonny… .?

It makes it all more personal, in a nice way. I’m also glad I got to experience the freedom of fan fiction before being governed by the restraints of pro-writing. In many ways, fan fic allows you to create much better stories. But I’ll be straight with you -despite the success of so many TTalk alums, announcing that you’re part of an APA is no way to impress editors at DC or Marvel; in some ways they’re really pretty down on that kind of fandom. I had actually already long since quit TTalk by the time I got my first professional assignment, but knowing that had been in my past, my editors gave me a big lecture about not reading or participating in APA’s any more. In addition to their prejudices about APAs, there’s a logistical legal concern that reading fan-fic could lead to lawsuits if a freelancer accidentally (or otherwise) picked up a story element from an unpublished work and used it in a professional script.

We’re actually asked by the legal department to return all amateur stories and proposals unread, with a big cc note to the legal dept stating that we did so. (This is the same rule that makes it illegal — yes, ILLEGAL — for an editor to read an unsolicited script. Do not, I repeat, do NOT send scripts samples in with your proposals until an editor asks for one — if you do, they’ll have to throw the whole thing away). There are individual editors who are friendly to the concept of, and people involved with, APAs and fan fiction, but the official company policy at DC is to keep it utterly separate from the professional realm, so just keep that in mind if you’re trying to break in.

Titan Talk: Any advice for writers trying to break into the comic industry?

Devin: Speaking of which… ;-) Well, I talk about all of this on the website, but they really are the basics. I’ve been watching ever since I got in – what kind of proposals got attention, and what makes other ones get dismissed, and there seem to be three basic things you need to think about: First of all, know how to present yourself. I don’t think this would actually be a problem for TTalkers, but you wouldn’t believe the amount of people who send letters to pros or editors without bothering to spell check them, or even check grammar or punctuation or anything.

This of course also includes knowing the submission guidelines and following the recommended format. If you want a job, you have to present yourself as a professional that’s absolutely crucial. And I don’t just mean when you’re writing to the editor -every contact you make within the industry counts (it’s a SMALL industry!), you always need to look like you know what you’re doing. Being a professional comic writer is around thirty percent about having really great ideas, and around seventy percent about being able to get them into script format in a timely, orderly, professional manner. They’re not gonna care what kind of genius you are if you can’t deliver a functional script (once they ask for it!), and you need to prove that you’re all about that from the very first email inquiring about whether you can send in the cover letter for the proposal for the sample you’re working on.

Secondly, know what to present. You’re not going to break in with a Superman prestige project. They’re not going to turn a monthly over to an untested writer. If you’ve seen four projects involving a certain character, they’re not looking for more proposals about that same character. They don’t want you to come in and “fix” the “worst continuity mistake they’ve ever made!” What you want to pitch for, ideally, is a small project (my first story for DC was ten pages!) involving underutilized characters. Good “break in” projects include The Batman Chronicles, the eighty-page giants, annuals… .sometimes you can sell a “fill-in” issue (though, of course; not during stunts or relaunches), but it’s nothing to hang your hopes on. Good characters are hard to find – I know of many proposals that were deemed great by various editors but ultimately rejected because “that character is in development.”

It really takes patience to hit on a character that no other established writer is doing anything with just then. But patience is the name of the game, and if they notice you’re really trying, they might be more partial to letting you try something new. Last but not least, know who to present to. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know most of the people in this industry, and found the overwhelming majority of comic creators to be very supportive and encouraging. But even so, if I ask them about breaking in, I’m essentially asking them how they would advise me to go about taking their jobs away from them – there is no reason in the world why a freelance writer should help a hopeful freelancer break in, so don’t approach industry pros with any kind of sense of entitlement or ingratitude, and don’t expect them to “make something happen” for you.

They can’t. In addition to working against their own self-preservation in the industry, other pros literally aren’t in the position to give you an assignment. The only people who can do that are the editors, so the editors (and young, hungry, assistant editors!) are the people you should be spending your energy trying to connect with. You can try to meet them at conventions, try to chat with them during online events, or just write them good, old-fashioned query letters. But the point is these are the people you need to befriend.

I hope that helps, and even though this is goodbye to TTalk, I hope you’re all still enjoying The Titans — be it my version, or the ones you write about in your own work!

Titan Talk: Once again Devin, thanks for taking time for this interview. It’s good to see yet another alum from Titan Talk make their mark in the professional world!

 


End of titanstower.com transmission. About this author:  Bill Walko is an author and artist and the man behind titanstower.com. He's been reading and drawing comics since he was 5 years old and hasn't stopped since. Read more from this author