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Speaking With Nightwing Writer Devin Grayson

Grayson on Grayson: Speaking With Nightwing Writer Devin Grayson
BY COREY HENSON – posted 11-25-2002 04:58 PMĀ  – courtesy of

Devin Grayson emerged on the comics scene five years ago, almost immediately gaining attention from audiences with her inherently witty sense of humor and knack for scripting character-driven stories. She had almost no previous exposure to the medium, deciding to enter the field after becoming enthralled with the character of Dick Grayson, a.k.a. Robin, from the Batman The Animated Series cartoon.

After successful stints as the writer of DC’s Catwoman and Batman: Gotham Knights, Grayson has come full circle, following Chuck Dixon on Nightwing. Now she has the chance to guide the comic book life of Dick Grayson, Boy Wonder Emeritus.

I interviewed Grayson during a convention appearance last month in Houston. She was friendly and enthusiastic, greeting fans with a beaming smile, joking around with table-mate Kurt Busiek, and talking the proverbial blue streak (the entire two-thousand-plus word interview took place in about nine minutes or so).

THE PULSE: Bruce Wayne recently adopted Dick Grayson, but they don’t really have a traditional father/son relationship. How do you see their relationship?

DEVIN K. GRAYSON: Well, first I would question what you mean by traditional father/son relationship, because I’ve never seen any such thing. I’m from Northern California, and part of what really gripped me about the Batman mythos right away was that he seemed a very familiar, paternal figure to me, being very exacting and very fierce and very dark and very emotionally shut down and also wildly charismatic and inspiring. And to be in the position to be the kid, Dick, who’s naturally effusive and very generous and affectionate and warm, and to literally be raised in a cave with this demonic figure, is an amazing tension that I actually do think speaks to a lot of father/son relationships. Each generation tends to be a little more verbal and able to express their feelings than the one before.

You have a lot of situations where the son is really just wanting to say “I love you dad, what can I do to make life easier for you?” And the Dad’s position is like “things like that aren’t discussed.” So I think their relationship, because they work together, if you were looking for examples in real father/son relationships, would have to be one, where there was a family business at stake and then you’d need to look for what I do think was the unusual thing, which is that the son really wanted to be in that business.

And part of the key to their relationship is Dick loves what he does. And he is so thrilled to have sort of stumbled into this life. And for Bruce, this life came about absolutely of tragedy, and he’d give anything to have his parents back. And I think at this point in time, Dick sort of feels like “I’m not glad my parents were killed or anything, but damn, this rocks!” So, Bruce works out of this sense of tragedy, and Dick is doing it out of this sense of gratitude. But I think they bring a lot to each other.

There’s a lot of unhealthy aspects to the relationship, and a lot of very healthy, grounding aspects to the relationship. And it’s still evolving, which makes it really fun to work with. With the adoption, one of my friends said “Well, there’s so much great tension in that relationship, why would you end it with the adoption?” And I said, “Are you kidding? We’re just getting started!” [Laughs]

THE PULSE: Great points. And that’s why you’ve written Batman, and I haven’t.

GRAYSON: [Laughs] Thank you.

THE PULSE: A few years ago, Dick took over as Batman on a temporary basis. Would Dick, if given the opportunity, ever permanently replace Bruce?

GRAYSON: I think about that a lot, actually, because it’s sort of irresistible the way everything is set up. And there’re two different scenarios. One is that Bruce steps down, and asks him to do it, in which case I can’t imagine he would refuse Bruce. I think it would make him wildly uncomfortable on some levels, but he would be honored he asked. In a funny way, he was raised by Batman more than he was raised by Bruce Wayne, and his relationship is really with Batman, so I think he has enough respect for the mythos not to let it die. But what I was saying earlier about him being so naturally effusive and sociable, you know, Batman is so not who he is. The other scenario of course is that Batman dies. And I think, first of all, that’s unthinkable, right, for all of us? But for Dick, especially, I mean, that’s got to be his greatest fear.

This guy has been his savior, on many levels, and I think, initially, he would really resist putting on the costume or letting anybody else because it’s sort of an admission that Bruce is not coming back. And then you really get to look at his history with his friends and stuff. Like Wally, who had to do this very painful thing of taking over for his mentor. And I think, psychologically, eventually Dick would put the suit on and would sort of become Batman, because it would be almost easier to become him than to lose him. And that would be so psychologically damaging for who he is and it would really screw him up. So for their sakes, I’m glad that they’re perpetually stuck in their respective twenties and thirties.

THE PULSE: Do you think Dick could make a good Batman?

GRAYSON: I think he’d make a better Batman than anyone else available to do it. But I think he makes a much better Nightwing. And it’s much healthier for him, and he can do things as Nightwing … I don’t think there’s anybody else who could be Nightwing, let’s put it that way.

THE PULSE: Are Dick and Barbara Gordon soulmates?

GRAYSON: No, but they’re really good friends who love each other and have a lot of interesting history. I think about this a lot too now, because I have to. I think Dick would be a terrifically difficult boyfriend to have. He’s really passionate, and really 100% there. I always think of the way Tom Cruise does his acting. He’s really right in your face. That’s very Dick-like, but then when that person isn’t there, they’re 100% wherever else they are, and as their girlfriend or boyfriend you know that.

And it’s not just the fear of cheating, but this sort of very unnatural ebb and flow of energy that he’s sometimes he’s around and there’s just tremendous romance and intensity coming off of him. And then he’s just frickin’ gone, and he’s gone for four days and nights in a row, and you know his life’s in danger every moment. I like that Babs is older than him, I think it puts an interesting twist on it, that’s she’s actually a little more grounded and world-wise in her own ways. It’s a really interesting relationship that I’m going to be playing with in the series.

And my main point is that Barbara at this point is really looking to build a future, and Dick, in many ways, is looking to protect the past, and that’s going to end up being a problem for them.

THE PULSE: That’s interesting. I would have figured you’d say they were soulmates.

GRAYSON: Well, I’m not sure I believe in the concept of soulmate anyways. But if I were going to say there were soulmates, I’d say it was Bruce and Dick. Soulmates are people who need each other to be complete in who they are. Are Dick and Babs a good romantic match? Yeah, in a lot of ways. They’ve got a lot of stuff to work out. But there’s something fundamentally immature about Dick, in a nice way. Childlike, rather than childish. And Barbara’s very self-defended. And I think, if they can work this out, it’d be great. But the primary problem with the relationship is that she does not want anyone taking care of her, and he lives to take care of people. He can’t help it. He’ll be jumping up on the cupboards, getting her stuff down. And she’s like “Dick, the whole apartment is set up so I can deal with it.” “No, it’s okay… ” He’ll never stop white-knighting, and she’ll never stop resenting white knights.

THE PULSE: What are some of the most important elements of a good comic book story?

GRAYSON: Comics is just a medium, and you can absolutely do anything with it, and I think it’s actually really fun to look outside what we consider mainstream and traditional comics. It’s an extremely powerful medium, with the juxtaposition of words and images, that sort of has endless applications. I think we’ve really only touched the surface of what it can do. In terms of the mainstream stories that we’re telling… what I was a going to say is basic story structure, that there’s a beginning, middle and end in some true line. But actually, it’s serialized fiction, so sometimes the beginning, middle and end is done more in the manner of soap operas or something, rather than a novel. I think there is no one answer to that.

One of the things that works best is when a team, for whatever reason, has a good synergy, and when the artist and writer are on the same wavelength I think you can really tell. And when they’re having fun with what they’re doing, I think that comes across generally.

THE PULSE: When you first started writing comics, you weren’t very familiar with them. Now that you’ve been doing it for a few years, who among your peers has been an influence on you?

GRAYSON: People have been so friendly and generous, and I’ve really learned not just from reading other people, but from talking to them. And In that sense, Phil Jimenez, Kurt Busiek, Chuck Dixon, Mark Waid… I had a nice talk with Neil Gaiman once that was really helpful. I think Alan Moore structurally is the guy that I actually study. I take those down and I look at every single page because there’s brilliance there. Terry Moore is one of my favorite people to talk to, and he’s really interesting because he can come at it from the artist’s angle, too, and talk about that process.

The editors that sort of trained me in the Bat-verse were also writers – Scott Peterson, Denny O’Neil, Jordan Gorfinkel, Darren Vincenzo. I’ve learned a lot from them and they really shaped me as a comic book writer. So I feel like if there’s a school of comic book writing that I’m from, it’s them. But there’re tons of people who influence my work, and I meet more every time I go to a con.

THE PULSE: What are your biggest influences outside of comics?

GRAYSON: The thing I love about being a writer is that absolutely everything is relevant. You can be sitting in a diner, listening to somebody talk three tables away and go “Wow!”

I love movies. There’re a couple of directors I tend to follow. I love reading. Actually, these are all listed in here (points to the convention program, which features an interview with her) so I’m not going to take up tape space. But you can go and actually get detailed names. [Editor’s Note: For the record, the program’s interview lists a wide range of influences, including Carl Jung, Dostoevsky, James Baldwin and a bunch of others.] But I love this job, and part of it is because absolutely everything counts.

THE PULSE: A lot of writers these days, like Grant Morrison and Garth Ennis, use a “less is more” approach to writing, meaning they rarely, if ever, use narration of thought balloons. What are your thoughts on this?

GRAYSON: When it’s done well, it’s masterful. I think that’s one of the things that the medium is in a position to do really powerfully. When you have an artist who’s very good with storytelling, and pacing, and you have a writer who can trust them to do that, I think a lot of the most powerful stories can come from that. I’m definitely against copious text -but there are a couple of issues that I will pick up and laugh at. There’s one scene – I don’t want to name names – but the character’s literally talking himself out of the panel, and all you can see is the mouth and this huge balloon where his head should be.

Sometimes, people can use the text, like Neil Gaiman, rather poetically, and it’s really adding to what’s going on. But for the most part, at least with what we’re doing right now in this stage of developing comics that we’re in, I think less does tend to be more.

THE PULSE: Do comics appeal to female readers?

GRAYSON: I have no idea [laughs]. I am bisexual and I am a tomboy and I am just the worst representative of womankind that you can find, so I don’t really know what girls are into. But I can’t see why they wouldn’t. One of the things I’ve heard is that girls aren’t used to reading monthlies, or the idea of starting a story and going back to the store. But they love magazines, and some of them love soap operas, so it doesn’t seem that the concept would be so far-reaching.

THE PULSE: That sounds like a completely stupid concept to me.

GRAYSON: Yeah, I’m not sure I buy that either. You know, I have a lot of people asking me my opinion on the sort of improbable way that women are drawn, and does that turn girls off. And I’m like “Well, yes, I can’t find a female who looks like Catwoman, but nor can you find me a male who looks like Nightwing.” And I would think that would be a draw [laughs]. So that’s fanciful, it’s fantasy stuff. It can be done offensively, but I think for the most part, it’s not. It’s just part of what we’re doing. I think the big problem is the marketing. It’s just not reaching them. And the specialty stores, for the most part, are not very female-friendly and are not places most girls would wander into and just go “Gee, what’s here?” They’d just sort of look at it and go “Ugh” and keep walking, or go back to the ear-piercing place in the mall or something. But again, comics is just a medium, and there’s absolutely nothing about it that suggests it would be gender-specific.

THE PULSE: What’s coming up in Nightwing?

GRAYSON: Right now we’re dealing with the corrupted police force in the ‘haven — things are really heating up for Nightwing both during his day job and on his night shift. And just when he thinks he’s got things settled down a little bit, in comes one of my favorite Titans villains, gunning for somebody close to Dick. And don’t miss our specially sized issue number 75, which, among other things, introduces our all-new Tarantula!


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