From "Patrick the Wolfboy" creators Art Baltazar and Franco getting tapped for "Tiny Titans" to "Herobear and the Kid" artist cartoonist Mike Kunkel following in Jeff Smith's footsteps on "Billy Batson & The Magic of Shazam!", the recent expansion of DC Comics' kid-friendly Johnny DC line has played out like a recruitment drive of some of the indie world's best known kids' comics creators. This week, the lineup can add Landry Walker and Eric Jones as the latest feathers in its cap, as the pair debut their series, "Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade."
Walker & Jones have delivered acclaimed comics for younger readers over the better part of the last decade, primarily through SLG Publishing, who've released their goth-centric series "Little Gloomy" since 1999 as well as the late grocery store digest "Disney Adventures," which was home to the pair's "Kid Gravity."
However, in this in-depth interview with Landry Walker, the writer tells CBR News that "Supergirl" provided a bit of a departure from the pair's previous style, as they tapped into the history of Superman's famed cousin to present an awkward teen heroine struggling to find her place in a boarding school full of friends and foes -- an approach that may just save the day for Supergirl fans.
CBR: There has been a clamor for quite a while on the comics blogosphere for a Supergirl series that's appropriate for younger girls. "Cosmic Adventures" could be the answer to that call. Were you conscious of that desire when developing this series, and has there been any added personal pressure in light of that talk?
Landry Walker: Well, it's funny because Eric and myself had no idea that there was a clamor for it. None of us had any idea that anyone was really demanding this, and we just happened to choose Supergirl because we thought she'd be fun to work with.
We were going to have a meeting with [DC editor] Jann Jones, and so Eric did some sketches of her as a character because we thought she was a character we could do a lot of fun things with. And as soon as she saw it, she just lit up -- that was at WonderCon in February of 2007 -- becauseÂ apparentlyÂ one of her main objectives was to find a creative team to work on an all-ages Supergirl book. So it was a coincidence that we happened to come to her with an idea for Supergirl. Really, we were very lucky. We were in the right place at the right time with the right ideaÂ apparently.
After we had our meeting with Jann about doing an all-ages Supergirl, that's when I started looking up "Supergirl all ages," and I started to see some demand and controversy over how people would like to see the character approached. It's very hotly debated with the people who want to see her older, and now it's like, "You know, both things exist. You can have either one." But some people are never going to be happy no matter what you give them. It's a real eye opener working with a character that people have such a passion for. Almost everything we've done before has been creator-owned, so no one's ever heard of the characters, but this is a character with decades and decades of history behind her. And it's always going to solicit a passionate response.
When Jann Jones first started her expansion of the Johnny DC line, something a lot of creators said was that they were asked to do exactly what they'd already been doing on their own, but with DC characters. Did you guys have a similar experience?
She hadn't actually seen our stuff before, and we went to [DC/Vertigo editor] Bob Schreck, who we've known for a number of years. With the collapse of "Disney Adventures" and the terrifying prospect of paying bills looming, we asked if he had any thoughts on what we could do, and he thought it would be a good idea to have a sit down with Jann Jones to see if we'd be a good fit to work with. He helped us set up that meeting, so we approached them, and it went well from there.
As far as the rest of how the work's been, it's gone pretty much exactly like that. There's been very little difference from working on our own creator-owned stuff over the years. We've been given a lot of leeway. Obviously, we were able to come in as a creative team, which was nice. You have to be realistic in this industry. For people to keep working with the people they've been working with for years -- that doesn't always happen. Editorially speaking, the amount of creative control and freedom and good editorial guidance has been really good.
"Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade" finds you two working with full 22-page issues, and Eric changing his penciling style quite a bit from "Little Gloomy" and "Kid Gravity." Does "Supergirl" feel like a natural progression from your past work?
It's a little bit of an evolution. With "Little Gloomy," there were certain aspects that I found stressful to write in that there was no unified reason for those characters to be at any given place or time, and I liked that when we moved on to "Kid Gravity" that the school setting provided that. There's a certain structure there, and when you're doing these four or five-page stories that becomes really important to fall back on. Having a structure just helps tell the story. So I wanted to keep that element, from a writer's perspective, with "Supergirl." And the school seemed like a pretty natural setting, making her a little younger than she had previously appeared which I thought fit the original spirit of Supergirl as well.
Visually speaking for Eric, it's a big leap. He literally reinvented how he's drawing and what his approach to the production of the art was.
From a writing perspective, the character is totally different from Kid Gravity or Little Gloomy -- the character's motivations, how she perceives herself and her place in the universe. She's a lot of fun to write. So it's similar in some ways to working on the other stuff, but in other ways it's refreshingly different. I look at Little Gloomy as an example of the cynical, self-assured character and Kid Gravity as this bombastic force of nature in his own element completely disconnected from any consequence. Supergirl, I'd rather have her have some questions about who she is, what her role in the world she's in is. Just in general, she's got some uncertainty. She's new to this world and is very much an outsider, and it's difficult for her as a character. She didn't have the benefit that Clark Kent had coming to earth as a baby. She's got to start out as a 12 or 13-year old-girl.
Where do you pick up that classic story? What's your explanation for why Supergirl is in boarding school? What's her mission?
Her being in school and her dealing with the social structures of school is really what the story is all about. It's about Supergirl dealing with her displacement and coming to terms with it more than "I'm going to go fight crime" or "I'm going to go shift the moon to save whatever." I mean, those are a part of the character as well, but she's making friends and making enemies and learning about this world through the school experience.
I can't say it's too different [from the classic Supergirl] because the character's been through so many different versions and permutations that I think if you look at it long enough and hard enough, you can find that just about everything has been done with her, to a certain extent. And that's unusual to be working with a character with such a rich history, and it's a lot of fun. It gives you a lot of ammunition when you're writing.
Basically, we get to really focus on the Linda Lee part of the character a little more than Supergirl. It's not Supergirl pretending to be a normal girl. She is a normal girl. She just happens to have superpowers. That's the best way toÂ summarizeÂ it. Linda Lee is really who she is -- she's an awkward, gangly tomboy of a girl who is out of her element and whose body is suddenly superpowered, which only adds to the natural awkwardness. It's a lot like being 12 or 13-years-old where you don't know your own body and you're knocking things over; just suddenly you're doing that with super speed.
You've got a lot of supporting characters coming up in "Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade." While you're not applying a baddie-of-the-week style, the solicits talk a lot about Belinda Zee as a main villain. Did you guys cherry pick supporting characters from classic Supergirl comics and modernize them for the school setting, or create a new cast whole cloth?
I would say both. I'm a believer in a project like this that there's not too much of a point in creating new characters. Not that I'm against new characters, but when there's such a wide variety of interesting characters to use, why not use them? Why not bring it all together? That said, obviously there's never been a Belinda Zee character before, but she's existed, I think, in other forms, under different names and in different approaches before. That'll become clear when issue #2 comes out. So we're actually taking certain archetypes of the Superman/Supergirl/Krypton universe and boiling them down to fit the Supergirl setting.
And while we're not doing the "how do I save this from the rocket that's being launched this week?" -- that stuff happens, but in a lot of ways, it's taking a backstage to her dealing with her social group. That's really who these characters are. They're her peers. There's no villain of the week. The villain of the week is going to be there next week and the week after. I'm not really a fan of walk-on characters who come on and go away forever.
It appears we'll get a tease of Superman in issue #1, but will he be a big part of the series, or did you just want to do your version of the origin before shifting into Linda's life?
I'd say that even during issue #1 it shifts away from Superman. That's just to tie it together. We have to treat it like every issue is somebody's first, and with Supergirl, it's really easy to take her for granted and go, "Oh, Supergirl! She's Superman's cousin!" That needs to be clear for any reader, and I really want young readers to pick this up. And it was tricky writing that first issue because we had to say, "Well, don't we have to tell Superman's origin, too?" And it's in the preview pages that we end up summarizing it all in one paragraph, but the first draft of that issue had a six-page sequence explaining how Argo survived Krypton, how this whole society of Kryptonians existed completely independent of Superman, and in the long run, I think it was for the best that we lost it because it dragged the story out and focused a little too much on Superman.
So we shift away from Superman pretty quickly. He's not the star of the book, and I didn't want to have Linda/Kara/Supergirl constantly worrying about him, calling him up every time she has a problem -- that shouldn't happen. She doesn't really know him, either. She knows him of myth and legend, but he's a stranger, if that makes sense.
What are some of the fun things that you're most excited to see Eric draw for the kids?
One of the things I'm most excited about was actually in the preview, and that was seeing the Lex Luthor giant robot suit. I love that '80s Lex Luthor armor, so seeing that as a giant robot was really fun. I think it's pretty well known that at some point Streaky is going to show up, and seeing little bits of art trickle in for that is a lot of fun because our Streaky is a little different than the previous use of the character.
Just seeing the general direction that the art is going is has been a lot of fun. Like I said, Eric has really reinvented his art style for this. It's very fluid and energetic, so in general seeing every page is kind of sun.
Oh, and I know -- one character I'm really happy to see the first drawing come in for is Superiorgirl. That's the first mention I've made of that character to anyone.
Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade" #1 is on sale now from Johnny DC.