Being a hero is tough. Being a villain is tougher. In Anti/Hero, DC’s newest dynamic duo are masters of trading places, if only accidentally.
Thirteen-year olds Piper Pajaro and Sloane MacBrute have something to prove: that superheroes aren’t all cut from the same cloth. When Sloane and Piper trade physical bodies, they must learn to deal with the other’s weaknesses, all while facing the usual teenage concerns — family dysfunction, classroom politics, and impressing the socks off Bruce Wayne.
Anti/Hero is part of DC’s middle grade readers line, and first time graphic novel writers Kate Karyus Quinn & Demitria Lunetta, artist Maca Gil, and colorist Sarah Stern bring their storytelling talents to good use in this riff on Freaky Friday. The team sat down to talk to The Beat about the process of creating new characters for the DC universe.
Nancy Powell: I love the Freaky Friday concept between the two heroines in ANTI/HERO. Who came up with the idea?
Kate Karyus Quinn & Demitria Lunetta: Kate came up with the original concept about four years ago, but back then it was a young adult novel idea. Kate was very excited to write the part of the villain. We played with it a little, then it got shelved. When DC was looking for pitches for their characters, Demitria suggested we throw it into the mix.
Powell: How did DC feel about the new characters?
Quinn & Lunetta: DC loved the idea! But they thought it would work better for the middle grade crowd. We reworked our pitch and wrote up a proposal based on younger characters. The rest is history!
Powell: Can you talk about what goes into creating a superhero?
Quinn & Lunetta: There are a lot of things to think about when creating a superhero. Piper is strong…but how strong? Can she lift a car? What about a small car? Sloane is smart, but in which way? How does she remember and disseminate information? These were all things we had to think about.
We also wanted to make Sloane and Piper real. We wanted them to have messy home lives and complicated school lives. It’s not just their super abilities that make them heroes.
Maca Gil: I love how little by little there’s more and more interest in female-driven superhero stories. Having been able to participate in creating new girl characters for DC has been completely unreal and a dream come true. Art-wise, creating a superhero involves a lot of costume and shape design, and on pushing the emotional storytelling as far as you can with the character’s body language and expressions.
Powell: What to you makes a superhero compelling?
Quinn & Lunetta: People are attracted to the superhero story because it’s about something bigger than yourself. Stronger, faster, smarter…super! But in recent years we’ve seen a trend to also make superheroes messy. They are people with lives and feelings. Both aspects make a superhero story compelling.
Powell: Sloane and Piper each have a side that could make them villainous despite their intent to protect the common good. What makes a villain human?
Quinn & Lunetta: The best villain stories are those to which you can relate. You see why they are the way they are. With Piper, she makes huge messes wherever she goes. People assume she’s a villain. I think a lot of people would just give up on the hero angle and embrace the villain lifestyle. Sloane thinks she’s a villain from the beginning. She thinks it’s in her DNA. She also sees it as the only way to survive in a life where her mom is always working and yet there’s never enough money. I think both these girls have relatable villainous and heroic tendencies.
Gil: There are great villains that work just because they’re the antagonistic force of the story, but when you can empathize with them and their motives it can be so much more emotionally pulling! Piper and Sloane are ultimately good; they have their heads and hearts in the right place, but they’re also not perfect. Because of these flaws they feel so much more real and human to me.
Powell: So obviously, there is more than a little Batman fandom going on in Anti/Hero. Batman as muse…was that by general consensus?
Quinn & Lunetta: Once we got the go ahead to set Anti/Hero in the DC universe we were both very excited to insert Batman into the story. We both LOVE batman, but we wanted the story to be about the girls. Though Batman has a cameo, he doesn’t swoop in and save the day. We leave that up to our characters.
Gil: Yep! And the fact that Piper and Sloane agree is so sweet to me.
Powell: Kate, what do your own children think about mom creating a new DC superhero?
Quinn: The reason I was so excited to do this project was in large part because of my two older kids. They are currently 12 and 10. My daughter, Zoe, loves, loves, LOVES graphic novels. Demitria and I used her quite a bit as a sounding board when we were stuck and she always gave us great ideas! My other books are all older YA so it is really cool to have a book now that I can put in their hands. And when my 3-year-old gets a little older I’ll be able to read him the book too and let him know how super cool his mom is.
Powell: Were Sloane and Piper modeled after any of your personalities?
Quinn & Lunetta: Both of us were the smart, snarky types…we both relate to Sloane a lot. But there’s something about Piper’s unending positivity that we are also drawn to. We very much wanted to make her popular, but not play into a mean girl stereotype. Piper is open and earnest, and I think we both respect that about her.
Powell: Maca — how did you come up with the character designs for Anti/Hero?
Gil: I knew I wanted Piper’s design to feel dynamic, energetic and strong, so I used saturated colors and edges in her shapes. Sloane needed to feel a lot more serious and balanced, her visual language is muted and vertical. Visually, their forces needed to be opposite but balanced, and all of this while keeping them looking like 13-year-old girls. Piper and Sloane were challenging but so much fun to design.
Powell: Sarah — did you have freedom to choose the visual palette of the panels or did you get direction from Maca and the writing team?
Sarah Stern: Maca had a strong vision for how she wanted our protagonists to look and worked with me to really show them to advantage. I did have a lot of freedom in the environments and minor characters, and it was a lot of fun to try to match the palettes to the emotion of each scene. One of the things I’m most proud of in this book is getting to design the signature tartan for a Gotham crime family! And those pancakes. You’ll know them when you see them.
Powell: What were some of the biggest challenges you found in choosing the color palette for Anti/Hero?
Stern: I don’t think that there was anything particularly challenging about the color palettes on this book, but towards the end I did have to try a few different things to get the crowd in the stands to read as a crowd without drowning out the character acting.
Powell: Who came up with the idea of the steering wheel design for the TMI?
Quinn & Lunetta: The TMI design was the result of a brainstorming session. At first, it was going to be an ancient artifact, then we wanted it to be circular, and at the end landed on something that looked like a steering wheel!
Powell: Can you talk about the collaborative process used to build Anti/Hero? Has social distancing affected how you work together?
Quinn & Lunetta: Kate lives in upstate New York and Demitria lives in the Midwest. We’ve always worked long distance, so social distancing hasn’t affected us working together. Mostly, we start with brainstorming ideas. Then one of us will get them on the page and send the doc to the other person. There’s a lot of back and forth, comments, suggestions. Then more brainstorming! Maybe a bit of good-natured arguing as we hammer out the details. We repeat the process with the summary, the proposal, and the script. We do the same when we get our editorial feedback: discuss, comment, edit. It’s a system that works really well for us!
We also have to give a shout-out to our amazing editors at DC. This was our first time writing a graphic novel and they were so wonderful and patient and full of wonderful feedback to guide us along our way.
Gil: You would think getting your questions or notes through wouldn’t be too accessible when working so far away from the team, but thankfully, there was plenty of communication throughout the production! Kate and Demitria were great at giving me visual aid in the things they pictured, and their feedback was always so useful. I haven’t been able to meet them and the team in person yet, but I can’t wait to do so!
Powell: Obviously this won’t be the last time we hear about Piper and Sloane. What capers do you have planned for this dynamic duo? And will the Bear come back to haunt them?
Quinn & Lunetta: We’re in the very early days of pitching a book 2…so we can’t really discuss plot or plans. Check us out online though, we’ll keep you posted!
Powell: And I can’t help but think Uncle John will have a much larger role to play in Sloane’s origin story. Any teasers you care to share?
Quinn/Lunetta: If there is a book two, Uncle John will have a bigger role. I wish we could say more but…Spoilers!
Powell: What do you hope kids learn or take away from reading Anti/Hero?
Quinn & Lunetta: We hope kids enjoy the story, of course. But we also hope they take away that they don’t have to be defined by one thing, whether it’s their home life or what they’re good at. This is also a great story to teach empathy. Sometimes on the surface someone might look like the perfect popular girl or the brainy girl who always gets effortless A’s. But once you get to know them, you might find out they have problems similar to your own.
Gil: There’s really big themes of family, friendship and trust in this story. The strong empathy Piper and Sloane end up having for each other after they’re forced to collaborate together to achieve their goals and everything they learn on the way is so sweet. I’m excited for everyone to read!
Anti/Hero is available in stores and digitally now.