By Harper W. Harris
Among the DC books that sparked a sort of revolution for the publisher in terms of new kinds of stories is Grayson, the espionage comic by Tom King, Tim Seeley, and Mikel Janin. In a nice and surprisingly quiet corner of the convention, I was able to sit down and have a chat with King and Seeley about the former Robin that they have brought to such exciting new heights.
Harper W. Harris: Grayson kind of paved the way for a lot of the genre books…
[Tim and Tom do a fist bump]
HH: Yeah! And it kind helped start a cool revolution for DC in terms of what kind of books they were putting out. What do you feel are the challenges or advantages of telling a more genre story within a superhero universe?
Tim Seeley: Inherently superheroes are always really flexible and always have been. You’re sort of making a hero that’s bigger than an idea, bigger than one person, and you can put it into so many different things. Obviously Batman is sort of more of a detective story, Superman is more of a science fiction story, but they all are superhero stories. So I think our approach to this was, let’s do an espionage style genre story, but let’s firmly embrace its superhero roots. You kind of get that wonderful fusion that makes superheroes the most popular genre on earth at this point, they’re so flexible and available to embrace new things while still being stories that are aspirational and colorful and fun and crazy.
Tom King: The approach was never for us to just write in the spy genre, it was let’s write the best Dick Grayson story we can. Like, growing up I didn’t realize I was reading different genres. I didn’t realize when I was reading [Walt] Simonson’s Thor that I was reading a huge fantasy epic. It still felt like a superhero story to me.
TS: Yeah, sure.
TK: Or like I didn’t read the noir detective stuff of [Batman] Year One, like I didn’t get that he was using all those tricks. I think we’re taking the spy genre and using that to tell the best superhero stories. We’re stealing some tropes to inject some energy. We’re superhero writers, we want to write frickin’ awesome superhero stories. Am I allowed to say that? I’m saying it.
HH: I think you’re entitled to that! One of the other cool things about the book getting started is that we know Grant Morrison always gives us tons of great characters and ideas with his books, and most of those never get used again. How did you decide to follow up on some of those threads from Batman, Inc.?
TK: My main approach to that was to throw away my part of the pitch and take Tim’s.
TS: [Laughs] That’s exactly how I’ve always thought of Grant’s stuff, he blows in with a bunch of crazy ideas and then just drops the mic and walks out, and a lot of people don’t pick up on that stuff because it’s too weird or so Grant Morrison. I feel like I’ve been reading his stuff for so long and recognize how great these ideas are, and it’s frustrating that nobody picks them up, so I was going to rectify that wrong. I’m going to use this amazing thing he left behind called Spyral, it has to be used because it’s so weird and so fun. When DC said make Dick a spy, I couldn’t think of anything for my first pitch, and Chris Burnham sat in my studio and he was drawing the Batman, Inc. stuff and he had left a Spyral symbol on the table and I was like, “That’s it! I’ll use Spyral.”
TK: I’ve never heard that story! That’s an exclusive story, I’ve been on every interview with him and I’ve never heard that before.
TS: Chris designed that symbol. It helps to be around comics dudes all the time so you can steal their ideas. It seemed so appropriate for the character, because Dick is such a black and white guy, there’s good and bad and he’s always going to do the right thing, but he’s going to work for somebody that’s completely gray. Therein lay the conflict of our issues.
HH: Seems like Kathy Kane showed up at the end of issue eight…do you have plans to further her story?
TK: In this series, nothing is what it seems. We keep saying this and we’re going to keep saying it: our goal is 100% to surprise you. We never want you to be relaxed and to be like, okay I know where this is going, I’m going to sit down and read another villain of the month–I don’t like those kinds of comics. I want the stakes to be high, I want you to be blown away by what you’re reading. So I can’t spoil what’s going to happen, but it’s not what you think is going to happen.
TS: Keep in mind that Spyral’s whole thing is spreading disinformation and mind control, and sometimes we may be playing the Spyral game on the readers. That’s how we keep ourselves entertained: by being the villains that we portray in the comic book.
TK: You need to put lipstick on then.
TS: It looks very nice. [Laughs]
HH: When you first started out, did you always plan to move Helena to where she is now? Was that a longform plan?
TS: I think one of our ideas was to always change it up, that their relationship is always changing: she’s his partner, she’s his boss, he’s her boss, they’re romantically involved, they’re not. What makes it fun is as a reader you’re constantly second guessing what the plan is, you know? That was definitely part of the deal.
TK: We’d introduced this character, The Tiger, Agent One, as sort of the best spy in the DCU. He’s this Afghani, the Tiger king of Kandahar, he’s such a frickin’ great character. As soon as I put him on the page I wanted him to be Dick’s partner, I loved the chemistry between them and I loved where they could go together and I wanted to elevate him. The idea of having them as partners and Helena above him is just too appealing. As soon as I said it, I was like, “Alright.”
TS: It changes up Dick’s relationships with the other characters too, because Helena was a very understanding but firm partner, Tiger’s just always telling him he’s an idiot. Their relationship changes, and it keeps allowing us to keep making a book about all kinds of different things.
HH: So there have been some hints here and there that Dick Grayson might be bisexual, is that something that you guys plan on expanding?
TK: Who said that?
TS: No, I mean…
TK: He was talking about his bow tie.
TS: He was talking about his bow tie, for sure. I mean for us there’s some fun in the sexy aspect of the spy genre, but I think to us the character is a very flexible guy. I don’t know if its our job in this particular story to do anything that changes his sexuality, but I think it’s fun to play around with it because part of his job is to be the seducer. It also involves playing parts that are not necessarily who he is, and part of it is him sometimes discovering things about himself as he plays parts. It’s just another of our ways of keeping you guessing, that’s the fun, right? And he was talking about his tie! I don’t know what you guys are talking about.
HH: You guys have a unique collaboration in how you co-write, alternating scripts. What do you think makes your partnership and method a good one for this book?
TK: I come from this school of superhero comics where I sort of worship Frank Miller and Alan Moore, if you read my other stuff like Omega Men you’ll see that. I want to tell dark dirges and philosophical stories, and that is not who Dick Grayson is. There is a Dick Grayson story out there, that it’s always tempting to be like, he was raised by Batman and he hates it, and Batman sort of abused him and put him in this situation and he’s sad and thinks about it while he looks into his belly button. I would probably write that story–I wrote a whole novel for Simon & Schuster that was about that concept. Tim’s here to say, “Tom, no, this is fun and exciting and amazing, let’s do a supercool adventure comic!”
TS: I mean yeah, I’m the lighter of the two as far as our approach to superheroes goes. But what Tom brings is his interesting perspective in that he’s been in the field and he’s done that sort of thing and knows the emotional weight of it. And I think the way the book works is that you feel this sort of back and forth that is kind of like what Dick’s life is probably like, where it could be very complex and dark, and you get an issue like #3 that’s very much a Tom story with Agent Eight, but we can also do an issue like #4 that’s somewhat lighter and sort of about the youthful aspect of Dick Grayson. I think when Tom and I first started talking about this book, we would just have this long conversation about what it means to be Dick and what his place in the DCU is. In the end we batted around a lot of stuff and some of it was the same and some of it wasn’t, but when we got down to it we totally agreed on what he is. So what kind of book he’s in can change, but who he is I think we agree 100%. I think that’s why we get a book that people respond to; I wouldn’t have wrote the book the way it is without Tom, and Tom wouldn’t have wrote the book the way it is without me. And neither of us could’ve written it the way it is without Mikel Janin or Jeromy Cox. It’s all about that collaboration, and that’s why the book is what it is. It’s a lot of voices melding into one solid voice.
HH: What real or fictional spies are your inspirations for Dick Grayson?
TS: Go ahead, real life spy.
TK: My buddy Fred, my buddy Jane…
TS: All the sudden the sniper light is on your head…
TK: Can I give like the stupid avoiding answer? Dick Grayson of Spyral, that character, he doesn’t need another character to be laid over him. He’s got 75 years of history, he’s older than James Bond. James Bond was inspired by him!
TS: Suck it Ian Fleming!
TK: I’m not trying to write a book that’s James Bond in the DCU, I’m trying to write a book that is Dick Grayson in the DCU.
TS: I think that’s the answer, yeah. The job of the book is to play with the tropes that you’re familiar with in the spy genre, to play with the kind of story that you’re used to, but to do it differently and to add this character who is the heart of the story. Dick, being who he is, and his history–that’s really the core of the book. We know as people who have seen a lot of movies and read a lot of books and read a lot of comics what a spy story is and what those characters are, but to us it’s about playing against them or playing with the tropes. It’s about Dick Grayson, first. That was a good answer Tom, that wasn’t a cheesy answer that was a good answer!
TK: The trade just came out, it’s the hardcover, and we’re so proud of it. It’s the first volume and it has my Future’s End issue in it, which was the weird backwards one which I can’t believe how proud I am of that issue. Please check it out!
Grayson #9 is on shelves now, with #10 coming out on 7/22, and the hardcover first volume is also out as well!