Minneapolis based comics writer and artist Drew Brockington has made a name for himself within the world of children’s graphic novels with his delightful and charming CatStronauts series. After exploring space with his adorable anthropomorphic feline creations for the last few years, Brockington is venturing into the world of DC superheroes with his first all-ages DC Comics graphic novel, Metropolis Grove, released this week.
First announced back in October, the graphic novel follows #1 Superman fan Sonia Patel as she adjusts to moving from the big city of Metropolis into a neighboring small suburban town. Along with her new friends Duncan and Alex, Sonia begins investigating some mysterious Superman sightings and in the process uncovers something more bizarre or perhaps…Bizarro!
The Beat had the chance to chat with Brockington about the genesis of the Metropolis Grove graphic novel, how he reinterpreted a classic Superman antagonist for an all-ages audience, and much more.
Taimur Dar: You’ve been doing your own graphic novels like CatStronauts for awhile. So I was wondering how this Metropolis Grove project came about?
Drew Brockington: This came about through my literacy agency that represents me. They also represent Michael Northrop, who wrote Dear Justice League for DC Kids and Dear Super-Villains. They [DC] inquired if they had other comics people. My CatStronauts series is written for that same age group that the DC Kids is looking to expand their look list. [That] led to a pitch where they told me, “You can use any character. It doesn’t have to be canon. We just want to exist in that world [so] readers are just exposed to the DC Universe and go from there.”
I took that and ran with it. They said one of their characters doesn’t necessarily have to be the main character in the story. I started focusing on, “If I was a kid and I saw a superhero for the first time, how would I react?” That led me to, “What happens to kids who aren’t in the city or the places where these epic battles and showdowns are occurring? If you’re in the suburbs, what’s your opinion on superheroes? How would you react to seeing one for the first time?”
The version of Bizarro that I liked is the unfinished clone of Superman. I liked this idea that Bizarro is this fish out of water. He’s trying to be Superman. That’s all that’s in his brain, and [he] has now worked his way out of the city. A kid who hasn’t, other than TV, seen a hero before might mistake Bizarro as the real deal Superman. When you see something for the first time, how hard you believe that it is true regardless of what it really is or not.
Dar: When they first announced the premise of Metropolis Grove, and now after having read the graphic novel, it definitely gave me classic ’80s nostalgia vibe with kids discovering a strange creature like Monster Squad or The Goonies or Netflix’s Stranger Things. It also reminded me of some shades of The Iron Giant. Were any of those movies intentional influences?
Brockington: I think The Iron Giant definitely came through. That was one of my favorite animated films. It definitely came through in Sonia teaching Bizarro the ways of how to be a hero. She sees the potential in Bizarro and wants to make sure he can find that potential and be able to figure that out on his own. So she takes him under her wing. That was very much based on that Iron Giant idea.
Dar: Bizarro is a classic Superman character from the Silver Age who’s still popular today. I think most people are familiar with the chalky white skin version with a childlike mind who says the opposite of what he means. You definitely still retain the childlike persona in Metropolis Grove but you do away with the backwards talk and chalky white skin. How did you develop this version of Bizarro for the story, both in terms of personality and visually?
Brockington: That was leaning into it that Lex Luthor created a Superman clone that never finished. I had a really interesting talk with my editor Kristy Quinn how much opposite language did Bizarro need to have. We wanted to make sure Bizarro is still communicating enough that a younger reader is not lost. I leaned more on, “He is bizarre in his appearance and his action because he is operating on 67% or whatever of completion.”
Even language, with this you still have the classic, “Me am,” but it’s from a point of that he is new to the world and he is learning new skills and language. Even his costume, his red boots are a pair of UGGs. And he’s got soccer shorts on and [a] towel for a cape. In my head, the story for that was, he escaped in his skivvies from the clone lab and has been collecting pieces of clothing that he’s made to resemble Superman’s costume along the way.
Brockington: My kids are five, I have twins. I use them a lot in the editing process. Once I have pencils and the balloons, I’ll start reading the story with them. I really use them as, I’m reading the dialogue out loud [so] that it sounds like something is actually being spoken. I had that in mind a lot because I wanted to make sure it was kids speaking, and my kids were able to understand it and it felt very natural. They really loved Bizarro’s speech.
Dar: Aside from Bizarro, the three main kids in Metropolis are Sonia, Alex, and Duncan. They definitely felt like genuinely written kids to me. What went into their character development?
Brockington: Duncan is the main foil to Sonia. Sonia believes in Superman so much. She is from Metropolis and a #1 fan. Alex ends up being that third friend who isn’t a third wheel but will smooth over all the friction and make everyone calm and will call you when you are being a jerk. I think without Alex, Duncan and Sonia would have argued with each other a lot more. But as a trio, the three of them are easy-going friends. I remember when I was growing up you always had that core group of your buds and you fill those roles without intending to.
Brockington: That was a very interesting experience. I wanted it to feel as real as possible. I wanted to feel like it could exist in the already established DC Universe. I definitely took some safety precautions like making sure it was a suburb of Metropolis that wasn’t explored at all. It gave me the ability to grow it. But making sure there was more than one connection, that Bizarro is not the only connection to the DC Universe. There’s all this stuff going on in the background like when Sonia is using thedailyplanet.com for research. It’s an accredited paper, of course she would go there. Or the Justice League magazines that they find in Bizarro’s cave.
Dar: These DC middle grade graphic novels are great in that they are self-contained but allow for sequels. Have there been discussions about a potential sequel to Metropolis Grove?
Brockington: It’s something I would be open to. I think we have reached [out] to DC to see what they’re open to doing. Sonia, Alex, and Duncan, I feel like there are more of their characters that I can continue to explore. I would love to do something that features them on a field trip into the city since Sonia has been the fish out of water in the suburbs. What happens when we bring them into the urban environment, she gets a chance to thrive and her friends are left figuring out how to navigate that. I think that would be fun to explore. On the other side of it, is Bizarro now the neighborhood superhero for this suburb and what does that entail? The story leaves off in a good spot that if I’m able to explore this little chunk outside of Metropolis I’d love to do that. In the end, it is a satisfying stand-alone story.
Brockington: After Metropolis Grove I am continuing to work on my CatStronauts series with a book intended for a slightly younger audience about the CatStronauts characters when they were kittens. It’s called Waffles and Pancake: Planetary-YUM that explores as a kid all the inspiration that leads you to decide that you want to become an astronaut—science, space, and watching rocket launches. Taking in that frame of awe and wonderment you had as a kid and how quickly a kid can become such a big fan of something just by seeing or experiencing it once.
I’m also working on a picture book Puppy Bus, about a kid who moves to a new town and getting on the wrong bus. The bus is full of puppies and [he] ends up spending the day at obedience school. It’s another fish out of water story and being in culture shock in a place completely unfamiliar to you and how do you cope with that.
Metropolis Grove is available in stores and digitally on Tuesday, May 4th. To see more of Drew Brockington’s work, visit his official website.