Black Canary is young teenager discovering her voice in the latest graphic novel in DC’s line of books for young adults — this one written by Meg Cabot of Princess Diaries fame.
Featuring art by Over the Garden Wall artist Cara McGee, Black Canary: Ignite depicts young Dinah as a girl whose voice is her strongest feature - especially when she discovers that it’s the source of some newly discovered superpowers.
It’s Cabot’s first foray into graphic novels, but the opportunity to pitch DC a new graphic novel excited her, particularly after she discovered the story of Black Canary. Newsarama talked with both creators about the new story, how they decided to put Black Canary in a band, and how they approached the visuals in Black Canary: Ignite, which hit comic store stands this week.
Newsarama: Meg, with all the work you do in prose novels, how did you get involved with this graphic novel project?
Meg Cabot: I heard that DC wanted to launch this line for younger readers, and do graphic novels, and I thought it sounded amazing. They were specifically looking to do books with female superheroes, and I was so excited about that. So I started looking through their back catalog to find female superheroes that I thought I could write about, and I discovered Black Canary, who I was not familiar with. Even though she’s been around since the 1940’s, I just had not really encountered her before.
So I started researching her, and she appealed to me so much because her superpower is her voice. And I have always been told that I’m super loud, and I need to be more quiet. So I thought, "This is my superhero!!"
I was really scared that someone else would have already chosen her and I wouldn’t get my pitch in on time, and I would lose her. Of course, I did get to do her. And it was amazing.
So I was just re-imagining Black Canary as 12-year-old kind-of-me, but obviously not, because I didn’t grow up in a household with a mom who had also been a superhero or a dad who was a police officer in Gotham City.
But it was super fun!
Nrama: You not only used her voice as a person, but also as a singer. It’s been done in comic books before - did you know that? Why did you think it made sense for this story?
Cabot: Cara and I were both on the same page with this - I did know about the series where she was a singer. It’s Annie Wu, right? Is that who did it, Cara?
Cara McGee: Annie Wu drew it, yeah. My one previous exposure to Black Canary was the Annie Wu series, so already, in my head, she was a punk rocker.
Cabot: And Brenden Fletcher wrote it, yeah. So in that story, Black Canary was in a punk rock band. And when I read that, I thought, "That’s perfect!"
It makes sense, for a girl who’s in her tweens to be in a garage band, because every kid I know who’s that age is in one right now. So I wanted to have her doing that.
That was one of many, many Black Canary stories that I read. And that was an element I definitely wanted to bring into our story.
Nrama: Cara, how did you want to come at Black Canary as a character, and what was your approach to this story, since it was geared toward young readers?
McGee: Yeah, like I said, I agreed with Meg that she had to be in a band as a kid. And having grown up reading comics - like Sailor Moon, another magical girl - I already had that aesthetic and that desire to tell that kind of story.
I just wanted to make sure it was something that I would have liked to pick up as a middle-schooler or high-schooler - just really fun art, really bright. Caitlin Quirk did the colors and that really helped pull the book together.
A lot of what my work ends up being is just stuff I would have really wanted to read as a kid.
Cabot: We had a discussion about what color her walls should be in her bedroom as a little punk rock girl, and we thought she was the kind of girl who would be, like, "I’m going to paint my walls florescent pink." And her parents would be, like, "You really don’t want to do that." And she’d be, like, "Yes I do!!"
We came up with this color that’s like, so, so crazy pink, and she’s probably afterwards, like, I wish I hadn’t done that. But she’s the kind of girl who would never admit it. She’d be, like, no, I love it!
McGee: I was a kid who painted my walls red and black in high school. And I so feel embarrassed by it to this day.
Cabot: That’s totally Dinah. That’s how she is. We thought that pink was perfect. She would be, like, oh, my eyes hurt, but I will never change it!
Nrama: How would you describe the story you’re telling in Black Canary: Ignite?
Cabot: Our story tells pretty close to the original version. Dinah wants to be a police officer, and she’s kept from doing that. So she becomes a vigilante, which is actually the original, 1940s version. But we’ve updated it a little bit in that now, she’s 12. And she still wants to be a police officer, but she can’t because she’s 12.
Also, her father is a police officer in Gotham City. And he understands how dangerous it is.
So it’s a little bit based on, obviously, the original Black Canary, but also the fact that I have a brother who’s a police officer, and he has teenage daughters. And they want to be police officers. And he’s like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa - this is a really scary job." And he’s freaking out about it. I don’t think my teenage nieces are going to become vigilantes, but it turns out that this particular kid has a superpower.
So is she going to go out there and use that for good? First she has to learn how to control it, which is every superhero arc, but she’s a kid! And so she’s also dealing with the friendship problem and the school problem and, of course, the problem of her parents being worried about her.
Nrama: Cara, you mentioned manga, and I assume you were influenced by that. But your style feels so energetic and youthful. I know it’s difficult to describe your own artistic style, but what were your influences, and what was your process like as you came up with the look for the art on this book?
McGee: Yeah, I did read mostly manga growing up. But I ended up going to school at SCAD to study sequential art. And the professors that taught me, like Shawn Crystal and Nolan Woodard, they didn’t know anything about manga or anything. They just didn’t teach it - which is fine. I ended up reading and learning a lot more about Western comics - a lot about superhero comics, which I think really helped me work that into my more manga style.
So I think my art straddles the line of being, like, purely manga style and Western style, which I think a lot of artists are finding themselves doing right now, and it’s appealing to a lot of readers. It’s interesting to see this new style of comics come out recently.
It’s kind of hard to describe my own style. But I can say that on a young adult book like this, I really want it to be bright and energetic and fun - something where, even if you pick it up and flip through it to get an idea of what the book might be like, I want you to be able to see right away that it’s going to be this fun, maybe not run-of-the-mill kid’s comic.
Nrama: What’s your process like? This feels paper-drawn, but I know a lot of people can get that look through digital nowadays.
McGee: I feel like my process is really silly. I thumbnail everything out by hand so I can kind of get an idea of how the page layout should look, and I make sure that they read really smoothly.
Then I will scan those in. Then I enlarge them. And then I print them out again and go over them once more in pencil, to just kind of tighten them up and show the editor the idea of the page. And I make sure all the dialogue and everything fits.
Then once that’s done, I scan that. And then I start cleaning it up and going through and inking everything digitally.
So it’s kind of redundant, some of the steps, but it works for me. And sometimes I’ll go and do the pencils a couple times.
Nrama: Wow, that’s a lot of scanning.
McGee: It is a lot of scanning, but I have an easier time planning that way. If I do my sketches and stuff digitally, I will never get anything done, because I’ll just overthink it and never think anything’s good enough to turn in.
Nrama: Meg, what was your experience like with this, collaborating with an artist? Are graphic novels something you’d like to try again?
Cabot: It was amazing! I will admit that when I went into it, I had no idea what I was in for. I just thought all I had to do was write the outline and then put the dialogue in.
But no, it turns out that I had to write every panel, which I had no idea about.
However, it was so amazing to then work with Cara and get the drawings back. Like she said, energy is exactly the word to describe her, because she just puts so much life into those words that I send her! She brought the whole thing together in a way that I could never - I mean, I know that every writer says this, but it just looks so much better than I ever could have imagined it looking.
It was an amazing process.
I did start feeling bad about some of the things I asked her to do - like, there were these pages where she kept having to draw bleachers over and over. Or the scenes where you say, “oh, and in the background, there’s the Gotham City skyline!” So she had to draw that over and over.
But she’s just so amazing at conveying emotions. All the scenes where Dinah is fighting with her father, and they’re glaring at each other - you really feel that emotional energy.
Cara did such a great job. It was so much fun to see what I had put into written words come to life.
And now that I heard her process… I realized my job was so easy!! She’s like, scanning and drawing. But wow, it shows - her work is just amazing.