Besides introducing middle-grade readers to DC’s most magical superhero, Zatanna and The House of Secrets also thematically depicts the topsy-turvy self-discovery of tween-aged life.
Written by novelist Matthew Cody with art by Yoshi Yoshitani, Zatanna and The House of Secrets is part of DC’s line of middle-grade and young adult graphic novels.
The story depicts Zatanna as a seventh grader, living with her stage-magician father, Zatara, and his retired rabbit Pocus. But just as Zatanna is struggling to discover her own identity, she also starts to discover the mysterious identity of the house where they live - sending her on an adventure to uncover her family’s history and save her father’s life.
With the OGN hitting comic stores this week and bookstores next Tuesday, Newsarama talked to Cody and Yoshitani to find out more about the story they’re telling in the new graphic novel, Zatanna and The House of Secrets.
Newsarama: Matthew, let’s talk about the genesis of this idea.
Matthew Cody: I had been pitching back and forth with DC for a few years. I did a short story for them years ago in one of their titles. And so when they launched the kid line, it was a natural thing, because of the novels I’d been writing.
So I actually started working with Bobbie Chase and we talked a little bit about projects that they already had in the pipeline.
At the time, a lot of the sort of marquee characters were being heavily pitched. Like, everybody wanted to do a Superman story or a Bat-kid story or whatever. And I really wanted to do something a little less well known.
Zatanna is a character that I’ve always been fond of. For this line, they really wanted to tell middle-grade stories - not necessarily even superhero stories, but stories for kids that captured the essence of middle-grade books.
Zatanna, being this magician who casts spells backwards, it’s like she was just tailor made for a middle-grade story. So she was one of the several pitches that I sent in, and the one that people wanted the most.
Nrama: Matthew, so how would you describe your version of Zatanna and her life as we meet her in the House of Secrets graphic novel?
Cody: When we pick up with Zatanna, she’s actually a tween. This is young Zatanna, and I think we’ve got her in seventh grade, because she makes a reference to something in the book and somebody accuses her and says, “that’s so sixth grade.”
This is really about Zatanna discovering who she is - what her magical heritage is, because her father, “Zatara the Great,” is this magician. But more than that, discovering really who she is in terms of her family.
Zatanna lives with her dad. Her mother died when she was very, very young. She has very few memories of her mother. And her dad is this kind of struggling stage musician, playing, like, retirement homes and things like that.
They live in this kooky, creepy old house. The first lines of the graphic novel talk about how there’s a house at the end of the street that everybody talks about. This is like the house in everybody’s neighborhood that kids talk about - it’s kind of an odd house with odd people living there.
So this is Zatanna, her stage-musician father, and her dad’s pet rabbit, Pocus, who’s this kind of retired magician’s rabbit.
What happens quickly in the book is that Zatanna starts to discover some secrets about her family. And they have to do with her mother, her father, and then more than that, the house that she’s actually living in and whether the house is actually the same house that she thought she’d grown up in.
Nrama: So the house is a central part of the mystery?
Cody: Yeah, she discovers that the house itself is this magical nexus - kind of TARDIS-like. It’s bigger on the inside. And it turns into an adventure to discover her true heritage and also rescue her father from the house itself.
Nrama: Yoshi, when you heard about this story and that you’d be working with Matthew, what were your thoughts and how did you want to approach the story?
Yoshi Yoshitani: At first, I just knew it was Zatanna, and Zatanna is one of my favorite DC characters. So I was pretty stoked to just work on something with Zatanna, because she’s amazing.
But then I got Matthew’s script, and it was about this younger Zatanna where she’s not super confident and she hasn’t figured out her life. And she’s trying to figure out her place and where she belongs and who her friends are.
I felt like that was really awesome and interesting, especially to explore through the space of this house. The house is kind of topsy-turvy, and I think it kind of reflects her journey through puberty and self-discovery.
Nrama: Yeah, it looks like this house gave you some really fun stuff to draw and be visually creative in this story.
Yoshitani: Yeah! I mean, the way that I was thinking of the house was - well, first off, Matthew made it so the house can be anything. And he had this idea that the house has been passed down through many generations and many different owners. And maybe they each had their own backgrounds that they came from.
So maybe everybody that owned this house previously contributed to the house differently, and that’s why all the rooms look really bizarre and none of them thematically match. And I was like, I really love that idea!
I think that also reflects that idea of when you’re in that middle-school age, and you’re trying to figure out what the things you like and resonate with the most. That’s when you try all your different clothing styles and you try to figure out what kind of movies you like, and, like, what is my thing?
Nrama: Matthew, it’s also interesting and somewhat unique to have this type of story focus so much on a relationship between a young superhero and her father. Was that part of the appeal of working with this character for a middle-grades book, to utilize that relationship?
Cody: Absolutely. The reason that so many stories for kids are written at this age - the cusp is, like, 11 or 12 - that’s a big deal. I’ve got a 12-year-old son. And it’s a big deal when you’re that age.
Everything is going on at that time of life. You’re being asked to grow up, to leave your childhood behind, and we’re not all ready to leave our childhood behind at that age. I haven’t left my childhood behind, you know?
So this was the perfect moment, this moment of discovery for her, and to really talk about her relationship with her dad, which is really strong. It’s a very strong, close relationship.
But it’s tested when she discovers that he hasn’t been telling her the truth all these years. And I think that’s something that we all deal with, you know? Kids, when we grow up, at some point, we challenge our parents. And I think this is a big challenge for her.
Nrama: Matthew, why do you think Yoshi’s art works for the story you’re telling in this book?
Cody: Well, let’s start with it’s awesome. Yoshi’s art is so great. The thing about it that I like about it the most is Yoshi’s so great at character design and world-building and it’s just gorgeous to look at. But the thing that really struck me all the way through was the acting of it — the storytelling of it. The characters are just so expressive.
It’s like watching a movie because the characters are so expressive. And I think that’s the perfect journey for such an emotional story for Zatanna.
Nrama: Did you leave the book open for more stories? Do you think you’ll return to Zatanna?
Cody: I don’t know! We’ll have to see. I mean, there’s a House of Mystery out there somewhere…
Nrama: Is there anything else you want to let people know about the book?
Cody: It’s just a story about this super cool girl in a really awkward situation that gets weirder because she lives in a crazy house, and it’s a real coming-of-age thing for her as she discovers who she is.
And it’s awesome because she speaks magic spells backwards. And there’s a great rabbit.
And it’s a great introduction to the character without having to know anything about the DC Universe. And for people who do, there are Easter eggs in there that we threw in. So that’s fun for the parents too, who might be old-time Zatanna fans.