Women in Comics looks to a great comic writer today, Devin Grayson! From her work on Nightwing to the very anticipated and upcoming Womanthology and Uglies-related manga, Devin is a writer who we love. She gets characters and the importance of characterisation and took the time to answer a few of our questions
I grew up in literary, hippy households that did not make comics books readily available. I’m sure that if I had asked to read one I would have been allowed to, but they just weren’t around and I wasn’t really aware of them. I didn’t discover them until I was in my early twenties and fresh out of college. I saw an episode of Batman: The Animated Series and became very interested in Batman and Robin; so interested that I followed them to their medium of origin and decided that more than anything, I wanted to write them there. A dear friend of mine was working in a comic book store at the time, so he was able to answer a lot of my questions and start me out with books like Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, and everything Alan Moore had ever written. It was a great introduction to the medium. Not long after that, I cold-called DC Comics and ended up speaking with Denny O’Neil. I told him that I was studying creative writing at UC Berkeley (through their Extension courses) and felt pretty confident about my abilities, but that I didn’t really know anything about comic books, and was there something I should be doing or studying to bone up on them? He was quiet for a moment and then he started to laugh. He told me that he received hundreds of calls a week from people who had read every comic book ever printed but had no idea how to write, and there really wasn’t much he could do for them. But teaching somebody who already had a basic skill set in writing about comic books? That he could do. He turned me over to his staff and I began a kind of long-distance tutelage with Scott Peterson, Darren Vincenzo and Jordan Gorfinkel, and before too long Darren gave me the chance to write a short Dick and Donna story for The Batman Chronicles (with the astonishingly gifted artist Rodolfo Damaggio). Next was the Arsenal plus Batman script (also with Rodolfo) and eventually Denny offered me the Catwoman monthly. I quit my day job, moved to New York, and have been writing professionally one way or another ever since.
* Tell us a bit about the projects you’ve worked on
My interest has always been in Gotham with the Batfamily, and most of my better-known work is there. In addition to Catwoman with artist Jim Balent, I had runs on The Titans with Mark Buckingham, Nightwing with Patrick Zircher and Phil Hester, and was eventually encouraged by Denny-san to develop and debut my very own Bat-title, which became Batman: Gotham Knights (with the awesome Roger Robinson). I also did dozens of annuals and miniseries and the like, including Nightwing/ Huntress with Greg Land, an Arsenal four-parter with Rick Mays, and JLA/Titans with the amazing Phil Jimenez, in addition to participating in several of the major Batman crossover events such as No Man’s Land, Bruce Wayne: Murderer, and War Games.
In the middle of all of that, I was lucky enough to do two creator-owned projects: Relative Heroes with Yvel Guichet and User for Vertigo with John Bolton & Sean Phillips, and also some work for Marvel including two Black Widow miniseries (with J.G. Jones and Greg Rucka and Scott Hampton, respectively) and a Ghost Rider miniseries(with Trent Kaniuga) for Marvel Knights and X-Men: Evolution based off of the animated series.
I then spent some time working on licensed publication novels, including DC Universe: Inheritance and Smallville: City and more recently have been participating in the epic
Womanthology event and working with Random House/ Del Rey on a graphic novel adaptation of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series with artist Steven Cummings.
* What is your favourite work that you’ve done so far
It’s incredibly difficult to say—there are elements from all of them that are personally meaningful. I loved working on the novels and of course both Nightwing and Batman: Gotham
Knights were dreams come true, but I guess the most personal of all those works is USER.
* Did you ever get advice about the field that you’d like to pass on
I’ve gotten so much great advice from so many terrific people. Mark Waid taught me tons about story structure and clarity: basic rules that people so often forget, like properly introducing every character and bringing attention to important actions, as well as more esoteric tricks of the trade, like how to play to an individual artist’s strengths and how to respectfully draw on work that other writers have done without sacrificing your own voice as a writer. Chuck Dixon taught me a lot about discipline and what it means to do this kind of writing for a living—he was the first person who talked to me about keeping a work schedule and working cooperatively on larger cross over projects. Scott Peterson taught me about working with artists and how important it is to keep good, respectful communication going with your whole team. And Phil Jimenez— who was also the first person to take me to lunch in New York—taught me so much about fan advocacy and how to bring what we heard from the readers at conventions back to the editors for implementation. Denny O’Neil is the master of story knots…I was agonizing once over a script,
I’d totally written myself into a corner, and he listened to my whole tale of woe and then asked simply, “well, who is the story really about?” It was like a Zen koan—the whole thing unspun before me and I knew exactly what to do.
In terms of industry advice, though, I’ll pass on a tidbit of my own that I use when people ask me how I broke in: think of the industry like a top-secret compound. When someone finds a way in, that hole is immediately plugged up. Therefore, there really isn’t much you can hope to gain
from someone else’s breaking-in tale; you have to come up with your own.
* What is your favourite thing to write or draw. From situations to characters to themes, anything goes.
Well, I don’t draw. Even my stick figures are lacking. But my favorite thing to write about, hands down, is relationships. That should be pretty evident from my work.
* In an ideal world, in what direction would you like to see your project evolve
I’d love to do more work in prose. And finding a way to extend the life of Relative Heroes and/or USER would be really cool.
* Links to your work:
* Any last words?
Just the obvious: girls do read comics, and girls create, write, draw, ink, color, letter and edit them, too. We should be beyond the time when people are told they can’t do things because they’re female but, sadly, we’re not. So just know that the people who still say things like that are—why mince words?—ignorant. You really can do anything you set your heart and mind to, just don’t expect anyone to give it to you. Work hard, learn everything you can, continuously develop and improve your skills and go after what you want with confidence and resolve. Reality is way more malleable than you may have been led to believe. So go out there and create a life that you love!