The Teen Titans have existed in many different forms since their inception in 1964’s The Brave and the Bold #54. But whether it’s dozens of comics, two animated TV shows, or one live-action series, the core of the team has remained its rag-tag group of teenage heroes. Chief among the Titans’ many iterations is Raven, a hero with strange magical powers even she can’t comprehend. Always running from her father (an evil demon, so that tracks), Raven just wants to live a normal life and serve as a champion for good.
Now, Raven enters the spotlight on her own as part of a new DC Ink series. Penned by best-selling writer Kami Garcia (co-author of Beautiful Creatures) and artist Gabriel Picolo, Teen Titans: Raven follows everyone’s Goth heroine as she decides “to face what’s buried in the past…and the darkness building inside her,” according to a press release. Before it hits bookstores this week, we sat down with Garcia and Picolo to talk about this new version of the character, their creative goals, the graphic novel format, and much more.
AiPT!: Both of you are very well known and established, but it’s safe to say that this is your first foray into the world of big two comics. So, how did this project come about?
Kami Garcia: Early on when DC was looking, Michelle Wells, who’s our editor for the series and also the head of Ink and Zoom; she and some other people were looking for writers, and Danielle Paige, who wrote Mera: Tidebreaker,is a really close friend of mine. Michelle had mentioned that she was trying to get in touch with me, and Danielle said, “We’re friends,” and introduced us. Pretty much the minute she pitched the idea of doing a line of graphic novels about the DC characters, and you get to add a continuity and bring in your own pitch, I was totally sold because I’m a big DC fan. There were only about seven or eight people already and there are a lot of characters, so we could choose which characters we wanted to pitch from a giant list, and it was pretty cool.
Gabriel came on board because once I did my pitch and got greenlit, we were looking for artists, and they really wanted a story that was about teens who happened to have powers and not superheros that are teenagers. They wanted to focus on some of the more everyday things that they are going through. I had seen Gabriel’s work on Instagram and Pinterest. He did a lot of Teen Titans fan art, and it was called “Casual Teen Titans” because they were wearing normal clothes. That was exactly what I wanted, so I basically showed them and said, “I want something like this,” and they said, “Well he’s the only person who does that.” I never thought they would consider letting me use someone who hadn’t already done traditional comics, but they were totally into it. They said they were doing to contact him, and I’ll let Gabriel tell this part, but it was very hard to contact Gabriel because they kept emailing him, and he did not respond. Gabriel tell him about that.
Gabriel Picolo: Yeah, when they sent the first emails, I really really thought it was some sort of prank. It took me a while to realize it was not, and then it took me a longer time to actually answer the email, because that was like too much for me. I was shaking at the thought of actually working on these characters, because they’re my favorites. I grew up with the Teen Titans TV show which hooked me into comics, and, like Kami said, I was already drawing a lot of fan art online. I always post my work on social media, and it was kind of exactly what DC Ink was aiming for, so it fit really well.
Garcia: It was a perfect fit!
AiPT!: Wow! That’s a great story. I know that Raven and the Teen Titans are favorites for both of you, but was has your experience been like with the character before getting involved with this book?
Garcia: So, I am a lot older than Gabriel, and I know the older Teen Titans animated series, but my daughter grew up on Teen Titans Go! I already love the Titans and thought they were great, but she loved Teen Titans Go!, and she loved Raven. It’s funny because I showed Marv Wolfman, the co-creator of the character, she actually cosplayed Raven at Comic Con and then was Raven for Halloween like five years ago when she was little. For me, I loved the characters, but the idea of also being able to write something that my kids and that generation was so obsessed with was such a fun idea. They’ve spanned such a long period of time.
Picolo: For me, my first contact was the TV show because here in Brazil, comic book stores are not as popular as in the U.S., and not everyone, at least back then, could afford comics. The TV show was just airing on TV and was super easy to get hooked into characters because the show was awesome. That was my first contact with Teen Titans and Raven, and a couple years after that in high school, I started branching out into comics. I think I started with New 52 and then I started reading Rebirth. When I started creating art and putting my work on social media, I started making my own twist on the characters.
AiPT!: Yeah! I know you definitely have some experience drawing some awesome fan art of Raven and Beast Boy before even working on this book. It’s easy to see how much passion you have for these characters that you’ve been drawing for such a long time. What is it like to finally draw them for an actual title?
Picolo: The first pages were super super scary! I was super afraid of picking a crazy creative decision right at the beginning, but as the book goes on, I started to feel much more comfortable. Also working with Kami on that was really really nice because we talked about the script a lot. If I wanted to add a panel or make a change, we’d always discuss that, and it was really nice to have good contact with the writer of the book.
Garcia: Yeah, and he’s a natural! (laughs)
But really, he understands. I think for a lot of people getting into comics, it takes time to understand the sequential storytelling part where you’re interpreting the script, but he took to that so naturally, because I think he really relates to these characters and the situations. Sometimes he’ll write me or call me and say, “Hey, I really want to have her acting like this or doing this when she says that, because I want to show how Raven is changing.” Even with her clothing, she’s started out wearing the same thing most of the time, but as the story continues and she becomes more confident, she has a lot of different outfits, and she starts expressing herself more. Gabriel did an evolution of her outwardly as I was trying to do it inward, which is really cool.
AiPT!: For sure! Kami, I know you’ve had a lot of experience with a character that’s fighting this part of them that they don’t understand from your Beautiful Creatures series. How did that help when writing Raven?
Garcia: I think in all of my novels and series there’s always an aspect, whether or not it’s the light and darkness in us or more realistic as something we don’t like about ourselves, I seem to come back to the theme often of having to deal with different sides of yourself or having to face your past, your fears, or the things you may not like about yourself. I think a lot of that’s personal. I remember going through those things very vividly as a teen, and my son’s a teenager, I’ve taught for 17 years, I’ve worked with kids basically my whole career. I feel like whether or not it’s a dark and a light side, or it’s just a part of yourself that you’re not happy with, we all have to struggle with how to make peace with things that we can’t necessarily change.
We have to figure out how to own those things and shape them into what we want. I like writing about that for teens because I feel like a lot of teenagers struggle with that, and I love seeing it when they finally own who they are and stop trying to fit a specific mold or be perfect. We all have light and dark sides, and none of us are perfect all the time. I love watching people figure that out and realize how great they are. I hope when they’re reading the book, that subconsciously hits home.
AiPT!: Absolutely. I think that the Teen Titans and Raven have existed for a long time, but there are some themes like being a teenager that are universal and will never change. So, where do you think the Teen Titans stand and belong in 2019?
Garcia: When I met Marv Wolfman, it was interesting because I asked him if he had advice about writing Raven, and he said something like, “I feel like Raven is so important, and these characters are important. I want you to introduce them to new readers so new readers find them and fall in love with them the way we fell in love with them.” I feel like they’re just as relevant today as they’ve always been, because one of the things about the Titans is they represent and embody what it’s like to be different and struggle with those differences. The way that they’re helping people to me is like making the best of that. Turning something different about yourself into an asset and having to figure out how to do that and accept yourself is important. I think with everything going on in the world today, especially in the U.S., they’re as relevant as they were before if not more.
AiPT!: Absolutely. Especially with your depiction of Raven here. We’ve seen Raven be depicted from ages 13 to around 20, and the Teen Titans have taken on all ages within that. There’s a lot of change that takes place across those ages, and here she’s 17. What did that age allow you to bring to the story?
Garcia: I’ll let Gabriel talk about the way she looks more since Gabriel’s a lot closer to 17 than me. For me, what it was really about was that at 17, at least in the U.S., (I’ll add that part because I think a lot of Gabriel’s fans will read this too), you’re about to graduate high school, go off to work or college, and become an adult. It’s a scary time, and it’s also a time where your parental figures are trying to hold on. They don’t want to let you go, and you are a little scared, but you don’t want to admit it. It’s a tumultuous time, and there is a lot of inner struggle going on. Gabriel, how did you choose to depict her at this age? Were there choices that you made because she was 17 that you felt would show what she was going through?
Picolo: I feel like teenagers, especially at this age, they try to say a lot about who they are. They use what they wear to show who they are.
Garcia: Yea, totally!
Picolo: Both Raven and Max have a really strong fashion sense. Their fashion choices are really consistent through the book, and that’s something I worked really hard to portray. I think Kami was right when she talked about Raven’s style coming together as the book goes on. That was really important to hit.
Garcia: Yeah, in order to show how she was evolving. I think it totally worked because I am trying to show through her actions and through the script how she’s changing, but Gabriel was also showing outwardly through her expressions and clothing choices how she was becoming sometimes more confident but also more determined. She becomes more determined to define what kind of person she wanted to be.
Picolo: Yeah. Also, we were worried about not making Raven look too overproduced. Because she’s a teenager, she has her sense of style and she wants to dress well. She has all these accessories and particular clothing, but it couldn’t be too much. Does that make sense?
Garcia: We didn’t want her to look like she was 25 and too put together. Gabriel still wanted Raven to look like a teen and not like a fashion model.
Picolo: Exactly. That’s perfect.
AiPT!: Yeah, that definitely makes a lot of sense, and I think both of you really help give Raven this sense of identity. Talking about identity, which is a big theme in this book, Raven starts off with amnesia and is sort of presented with a blank slate. This helps her find out who she is beyond just her powers and where she comes from. These are important, but sometimes it’s all that we get to see. Beyond those aspects, what was something important that you both wanted to show?
Garcia: For me, the main thing I wanted to show was the idea that a lot of us get this feeling, even in the DC universe, which I love reading about, which is that if you have an evil parent or you have a parent that has done things that are wrong or bad, does that make you a bad person as their kid? You feel like you’re half of that person, so with Raven, that’s even more literal. So one of the things I wanted to show was someone struggling with the thought that, if my parents are a certain type of person, does that make me that also? It’s about trying to figure out how to be your own person despite who your parents may be. Not everyone has the luxury of having perfect parents. Some people’s parents have done things that are wrong.
Picolo: My favorite part was drawing the relationships of characters, such as Raven and her foster mom, or her foster sister, or she develops a crush on a guy at school. It was really nice to portray these relationships and show how she builds trust with these new people. That was really really nice.