Yesterday, DC Comics released Batgirl #1, written by Compass South writer Hope Larson and American Vampire artist Rafael Albuquerque. Lead character Barbara Gordon last made her mark in the DC Universe under the energetic pencils of Babs Tarr and the frenetic scripts of co-writers Brendan Fletcher and Cameron Stewart, the latter of whom contributed layouts to the series as well. This new take on the character, launched under the Rebirth initiative’s banner, sees Batgirl about as far away from Burnside as one can get– in Asia.
During this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, The Beat sat down with Larson and Albuquerque to discuss the series. We talked about their favorite moments to write and draw and discussed some important issues surrounding representation in the story as well.
Alex Lu: Hope, why did you decided to bring Batgirl to Japan?
Hope Larson: She’s actually going to be traveling throughout Asia. The story starts in Japan because she’s on vacation and that’s a place a 20-something year old girl would go for vacation if she needed to see the world and take a break. She’s specifically going to Okinawa, which is the Hawaii of Japan.
Lu: When we last spoke, Hope, we talked little bit about your research process and it’s pretty in depth. You’re known for writing graphic novels, which afford you the time to do that kind of explorative learning. How did you feel when you were commissioned to write a monthly book?
Larson: It’s so hard! The nice thing about writing graphic novels is that you have a lot of time to do that. In a monthly book, You have to do the research and the writing really really fast so you can get the scripts out the door. I think it will be a lot easier when I’m writing Batgirl in Burnside because we know who the cast of characters is there and we know about the location.
Lu: So we are going back to Burnside, then?
Larson: Yeah. This arc is her outside of her element, learning about who she is as a person.
Lu: Rafael, people know you best for your work on American Vampire, which is a very gritty looking series whose aesthetic is heavily influenced by graphic horror. Given that, how did you feel about receiving the opportunity to follow up Babs Tarr’s bright and effervescent take on Batgirl?
Rafael Albuquerque: To be able to do something different was actually one of the main reasons why I was excited to work on Batgirl. The other was that I really wanted to work with Hope. I just wanted to be able to explore different ways of storytelling– different ways of playing with color, pop visuals, and layouts.
Lu: At the DC All-Access Panel about Young Gotham and Young Metropolis, writer Dan Jurgens mentioned that he wrote the scripts for Batman Beyond using the “Marvel method” where the art is drawn first and then the dialogue is written to match the page. What is the collaboration process between the two of you like?
Larson: I write a fairly detailed script. It’s broken down by page and panel and all the dialogue is in there. However, I also try to give Rafael free reign to do what he wants– like if he has a better idea, I hope he goes for it.
Albuquerque: I like collaboration. I try to go with the script as much as I feel it’s right. If there’s anything that I feel like could be different, I reach out to Hope to talk to her about what’s best for the story.
Lu: During the All-Access Panel, you said you loved getting the opportunity to draw new things. How do you feel about Japan now that you’ve drawn it?
Albuquerque: I feel like I want to go to Japan now. I really liked the references Hope sent me. I did some research myself and it’s a really interesting place to draw, actually. I tried to be very precise with the buildings, architecture, and costumes. I just hope I did it all right!
Larson: One of the things that’s amazing about getting to write this kind of thing now is that you can Google Street View most places, so we were able to get those ground level references for most of the places Barbara goes in this arc with the exception of China. China is not down with Google, so it was much harder to write the scenes set there.
Lu: Rafael, last year you were embroiled in a controversy surrounding a Batgirl variant cover that references The Killing Joke. Did that incident affect your feelings at all when you approached this new Batgirl project?
Albuquerque: It’s hard for me to say– I don’t know, but I hope not. When I did that cover I had no idea what was going on in the Batgirl series at the time. I just did the cover to pay homage to a story I liked. It was a Joker variant cover month so I saw the connection between Batgirl and Joker in The Killing Joke.
Then, when I finally read what Babs Tarr and Brendan Fletcher were doing in Batgirl, I saw how different the book was from the cover I had produced. It wasn’t a good fit for their story.
Then, when I started drawing Batgirl with Hope, I knew what the tone and the themes of the book were so I knew how to approach the story. So ultimately, no, I don’t think it changed how I approached my work here.
Lu: Do either one of you have a favorite moment, either to script or to draw, in this first issue?
Larson: Yeah! The fight in issue one was hard to write but fun as well. Then Rafael killed it. He made it look cooler than I ever thought it possibly could, elevating it to a new level.
Albuquerque: I really like the quieter scenes where Barbara gets to walk around Okinawa, eat sushi, and go to a pub. That was fun to draw and is not something I get to draw very often.
Lu: Hope, at the DC All-Access Panel you mentioned you were mostly dealing with new characters in this Batgirl storyline because you didn’t find many in the DC Comics canon. What does it mean to you to have the opportunity to introduce characters like Kai and Fruit Bat into the DC Universe?
Larson: I saw that that quote has started going around the blogosphere and was like, “oh no, I’ve just accidentally made a statement about something!” I mean, I’m not trying to make a big statement about diversity or anything like that. I feel like the diversity just has to be a part of every book right now because the world is not just black and white– or just white, which is what we’re used to seeing.
I mean, Batgirl is in Asia, so everyone there is Asian. She’s meeting Japanese people, Korean people, Singaporean people…just by nature of where she is, the characters she encounters are local to the respective areas Barbara encounters them and there weren’t any specifically pre-existing Singaporean characters I could go and include in the book.
Lu: To wrap things up– it seems like there’s more than meets the eye to Fruit Bat. Can you tell us anything more about her?
Larson: Uhm, oh man, I don’t think I can tell you a whole lot more about her because we don’t learn much more until near the end of the arc! It’s a mystery, a fun story, and I hope people come along for the ride and wait for the answers . They are coming!
Batgirl #1 is in stores now!