For 13 weeks, Hena Khan and Michael McMillian had the opportunity to learn from one of DC's top writers, Scott Snyder, as part of the publisher's new "Talent Development" program. Now the two are part of a group of nine new writers who are getting a spotlight in November's New Talent Showcase.
The writers, who come from a wide variety of backgrounds, were paired with both well-known and up-and-coming artists to create individual stories for the oversized issue.
According to DC, its Talent Development department, formed in 2015, is tasked with finding, instructing, and nurturing new and current DC talent. The program has already resulted in two different workshops - one for writers and one for artists - taught by Snyder (for the writers) and Klaus Janson and Jim Lee (teaching the artists).
The stories in New Talent Showcase are just a few of the stories the writers created during their class.
McMillian, whose background includes work at Archaia and IDW, used his love of Superman to craft the story readers will see in New Talent Showcase. Titled "Superman: The Man in Black," the story "juxtaposes Clark’s hometown roots with his sci-fi origins and adds to his ever-expanding backstory," according to the writer.
Khan is new to comic book writing, but brings a unique perspective as someone from the world of children's books. Her story in New Talent Showcase, titled "Wonder Girl: Digging Up Demons," explores the young character's connection to archaeology.
Also included in the issue are a Hellblazer story by Adam Smith, Wonder Woman stories by Vita Ayala and Emma Beeby, a Green Lantern story by Michael Moreci, a Hawkgirl story by Erica Schultz, a Deadman story from Christopher Sebela and a Harley Quinn story by Joelle Jones.
DC is continuing the Talent Development program into 2017, having just announced its latest class of artists - chosen from more than 1,100 entries - who will participate in the newest workshops.
Newarama talked to McMillian and Khan about the experience of learning from Snyder, why they chose the subjects of their New Talent Showcase stories, and what readers can expect from the issue.
Newsarama: Michael and Hena, what has your experience been like in the talent development program at DC?
Michael McMillian: I’m blown away by how passionate DC has been in developing new talent for the company. Not only did the workshop feel like a college course on writing comics, but DC has been very welcoming in opening up its editorial department for an influx of new voices. It’s exciting.
Hena Khan: It's been an incredible experience for me to learn the art of comic writing from a true master, to swap ideas with a talented group, and to grapple with a format that was new to me. I was the least experienced comic writer in the program - as in I had no experience whatsoever! - and faced a steep learning curve, but everyone was enormously supportive.
Nrama: Yeah, Hena, you had background in children's books, right? Why did you want to learn about writing comic books?
Khan: My background in creative writing is children's books, and the closest I got to comic writing was choose-your-own adventure novels with graphic art sequences in them. That said, I loved the idea of coming to the industry with a fresh perspective, and pulling from my background writing for kids, working in international development, and being a Pakistani-American Muslim mother. And it was thrilling to be connected to the amazing DC universe.
Nrama: What about you, Mike? What interested you about writing comics when you first started in the business, and can you describe some of the stuff you worked on before this class?
McMillian: I’ve always wanted to write comics - ever since I was a kid in my bedroom writing and drawing my own. I had an opportunity to do my first work a few years back with Lucid for Archaia and then went on to write or co-write many of the True Blood comics for IDW.
Coming to DC was the next step in the evolution of what once felt like could have been a side gig to acting, but could now become a career in comics. I hope to work with DC for a long tome to come.
Nrama: What are the main things you each learned in this program?
Khan: I absorbed as much as I could, learning everything from serialization and story arcs to opening sequences to different types of conflict. I think the biggest lesson for me was to pull out all the stops when writing superhero comics and not be afraid of being over the top, while balancing emotions with high-stakes action.
McMillian: Scott Snyder was really good at showing us how you can tell personal stories in Superhero comics, and how plot serves as a means to unlock or challenge a given character’s personality. I think that helped me find an easier way into writing Superheroes and discovering what kind of stories I want to tell and why some stories have everlasting power more than others.
Nrama: Mike, the description of your Superman story really caught my eye. How did you add to Clark's backstory? Where does this story take place and how does it expand his history?
McMillian: The story is set in the present, but the first couple of pages flash back to the night Clark’s rocket crash lands in Kansas. I’m from Kansas myself, so I’ve always felt a personal connection to Superman and I think there are rich possibilities to tell stories about people in Smallville. I created a character named Deputy “Bud” Hunt who grew up with Jonathan Kent and who I saw as a “law and order” role model for young Clark. And there’s a new villain we glimpse named Mister Coal.
Nrama: Wow, Mike. It sounds like something that needs more room! Was it difficult to fit it into this small space?
McMillian: Yes! I believe all of the stories in New Talent Showcase #1 are adapted from larger scripts we wrote for class. My Superman story, “The Man in Black” was actually originally 20 pages long, so this version is a teaser for that larger arc. This chapter introduces all of the key players and leaves off with a cool cliffhanger. I have a big, fun, sci-fi story that brings out the humanity in Clark that I want to tell.
Nrama: Hena, why did Wonder Girl emerge as a character you wanted to explore?
Khan: Wonder Girl appeals to me because she is still figuring herself out both as a young woman dealing with a broken heart and a strained relationship with her mother, and as a reluctant superhero. She isn't perfect or even nice at times, and her story allows for plenty of space for her to make mistakes, grow as a person, and shine as a true hero.
Nrama: What can you tell fans about the way you approached Wonder Girl? What's the set-up for the story you told?
Khan: Wonder Girl is in Jordan to help her famous archeologist mother deal with attacks on her dig sites. She encounters her old boyfriend, Diesel, someone she used to steal artifacts with, which led to her strained relationship with her mom and ultimately to her getting her powers through the silent armor she took from him. The story takes place after she has become Wonder Girl, and thinks Diesel is dead.
The story has a modern Indiana Jones feel as Wonder Girl chases hidden relics around the globe, a mission that is deeply personal for her since she got her powers through an ancient mask found at a site in Cambodia. It's filled with emotional drama, unexpected plot twists, and plenty of adventure and big action. And the art by Emanuela Lupacchino, Ray McCarthy, and Tomeu Morey is phenomenal!
Nrama: Then to finish up, anything else you want to tell fans about the New Talent Showcase?
McMillian: There is so much talent in this book, it’s crazy. I’m as excited for readers to check out Juan Ferreyra’s and my take on Superman as much as I am seeing the reactions to the rest of the new artists and writers. There's a story in this issue for every fan.