Raven: How Kami Garcia Re-Imagined the Teen Titan for a New Audience

Among the Teen Titans, few characters are as universally beloved as Raven. The master of dark magic has, with her suppressed emotions and cold glare, won the hearts of countless fans, young and old. Many grew up with Raven, either through the Teen Titans comics or the Teen Titans series -- or possibly even Teen Titans Go -- so fans have a particular perspective on who Raven is.

This gave writer Kami Garcia the Herculean task to figure out how to reinvent Raven for DC Ink's relaunch of the character. Teen Titans: Raven, written by Garcia and illustrated by Gabriel Picolo, released this year, is the first of several titles rebooting the Teen Titans for a new continuity aimed at teenage readers. CBR sat down to speak with Garcia at New York Comic Con to ask her how she went about re-imagining Raven for a new generation and audience.

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How Garcia Approaches Re-Imagining

One distinctive thing Garcia assured us was that re-imagining is not the same as reinventing. She assured us that her mentality was "don't fix what's not broken." She went on to recount meeting Raven's creator, Marv Wolfman, as a way to indicate how much freedom she was given when writing Teen Titans: Raven.

"I actually got to meet Marv Wolfman before I started writing... and I said, 'Do you have any advice? Is there anything I should do?'" Garcia recalled. "And he said, 'Do whatever you want. Don't worry about what I did. I love Raven. I want new readers to find her and love her.' But to me, as a fan, I'm not gonna throw away an amazing character. So I was like 'How do I get to the core of that character and how do I add to the amazing stuff he already has?"

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Despite having the freedom to go as far as she could possibly want, Garcia imposed on herself core limitations. She didn't want to write a character who wasn't Raven. This was a particular challenge for Garcia, seeing as how her background is in writing novel-length, YA fiction.

"You don't have the space to develop a character in the same way [you would in a novel] when you have 170 pages," she said. "So I was thinking, 'If this had continued on, where would I have seen this character go?' And so I tried to approach it from a little more rounded position that today's teens -- and maybe teens that don't read graphic novels -- could relate to so maybe this is their gateway in."

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Aiming to bring Raven to new audiences was one thing, but in doing so, Garcia had a new consideration: what to change? How much to change?

What Could Not Be Taken Away

Aiming to make the character more like teens of today is one thing. Wolfman, when writing Raven initially, wrote for an audience in the 80s. When Raven was reinvented for the Teen Titans cartoon, she was being written for kids in the early 2000s. But in 2019, the culture has shifted yet again to a new audience. If Garcia's aim was to make Raven fit in the modern teenage landscape, things would have to change. But not too much.

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"With the kind of mandate for Raven, we wanted her to be more grounded," she said. "We don't want costumes and stuff like that, so that was really a choice by the line. We wanted to go deeper into the character and be more grounded. So what I tried to do was -- instead of having the jewel on her head, she wears it as a necklace. Like, I didn't want to lose every aspect. But the things that were most important to me about Raven are her personality, her character, the kind of things she wrestles with."

She assured us that, as a fan of the character, she'd be unable to write the character unless, as a fan, she recognized Raven as Raven. And that's so very important because Garcia approached re-inventing Raven as someone who already loved the character.

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Elements like the costume, though iconic, could be altered, so long as the core of Raven remained the same, brooding individual fans have come to know and love. Additionally, Raven's conflicts with her emotions, with Trigon, and her dark magical abilities, are all instrumental in making Raven the girl we know.

"I never understand how people think re-inventing something means throwing it all away," Garcia said. "To me, that's just making something new. That's not reinventing or reworking something. To me, the core of the thing you love should remain the same... I don't care if she's in a costume or not...what I care about is the essence of that character, who she is, and what she represents. And I want that to stay intact."

Teenage Anxiety

One element Garcia keeps the same about Raven is her struggles with her emotions. However, what Garcia did was make Raven's struggle appear more like social anxiety rather than edgy, dark brooding. Rather than an epic struggle, Raven's withdrawn nature is a fight with her own fears and uncertainty.

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This change is arguably the biggest element Garcia adds to Raven, to make her more sympathetic to a teenage audience. This, it turns out, is the biggest change to Raven's character to make her feel like a teenager in today's chaotic world. To accomplish this, Garcia drew from her own real-life experience.

"I suffer from anxiety, so -- she's not me, but I also taught for 17 years and worked with a lot of teenagers, and it's very stressful to be a teenager in today's world," Garcia said. "The teens I know had a lot of anxiety...Even if you're secure and have confidence, that's a time where you're trying to figure out who you are. And I think if you move to a new place and you can't remember who you are, that would be really, really stressful...So I tried to treat it like 'How would you react if these weird things started happening?' You don't feel comfortable and you don't know if you want to tell your new foster sister, so you're trying to figure this out on your own...I think I was trying to encapsulate the anxiety a lot of teens face trying to be accepted, trying to do all this work...the stakes are high in the teenage world."

This immense amount of thought and care reflects on the pages of Teen Titans: Raven, a book that is in stores right now.

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