Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of speaking with the dynamic duo behind Teen Titans: Raven and a series of upcoming Teen Titans graphic novels from DC’s Ink label. Comprised of Maryland-based author Kami Garcia (Beautiful Creatures) and Brazilian illustrator Gabriel Picolo, I honestly consider these two the perfect mash-up of minds to handle such a beloved set of heroes. And what better way to begin this pseudo-revival than with where our favorites came from? Starting with the darkest DC sweetheart…
To me, Teen Titans never really struck a chord like the Cartoon Network animated series had from 2003-2006 and continued to ripple massively over the years in the hearts of fans. Now, however, we have a pair of fans joining up with the perfect balance of skill and perspective: Garcia is an excitable, confident, funny former teacher and veteran of Young Adult fiction and the supernatural. Picolo is young, rising star artist with both his own original, compelling narratives (see his Icarus & the Sun story) and beautiful, unique character design. Appropriately, Garcia appeared to have taken Picolo under her wing, allowing the indie illustrator to push limits and spread his wings…Accompanying me for the NYC signing was The Beat‘s Meg Chevatewa, acting as photographer and general assistant. YA panel and and RAVEN signing hosted by Barnes & Noble Union Square.
Meg Fabbri: Alright. So my first question for you guys was what drew you to Teen Titans in the first place.
Kami Garcia: So I’ve known Teen Titans forever like the earlier iterations and then opposite literally like to the animated series. Then my daughter discovered [Teen Titans GO!] which is like, “What is this?” It’s so funny when you start watching it, it’s so ridiculous, but you can’t look away so I was like ” That’s not her character” and she’s just like “Yes it is, Mom!”
Fabbri: It’s that thing where if you only look at it in short periods you’re gonna hate it—
Garcia: Yeah and then it just grows on you, it’s cute.
Gabriel Picolo: Very self-aware.
Garcia: And then she cosplayed Raven, you know THAT Raven, for Comic-Con, cause you know, we’ve been going for years with the Beautiful Creatures series, always have. But yes, my daughter cosplayed her, which is really funny because I showed it to Marv Wolfman and he was just so excited like, “That’s my Raven!” (Pictured below is a special Raven cosplay redux at San Diego Comic-Con 2019.)
When they started doing this, my friend Danielle was doing Mera and there was a couple other people that were like playing with characters, JUST playing, but there was still a giant list [of DC characters]. And so first they said. “Do you want to do Supergirl” And I said “I don’t think capable of doing that.” They didn’t know me yet and I just thought “Yeah that’s not a good character for me.” And then I said “Well who do you need? Like beside Supergirl Superman or Superboy.” And they were like “We really want someone do the Titans!” And I was like “I’ll do the Titans! And so I think I was pretty deep on that one, but I pitched it as a series because I wanted to do origin stories for them.
Fabbri: That’s what we WANT.
Garcia: Yeah, I really wanted to develop the characters more. So then they gave me a lot of input on the artist and so you know they showed me all these artist they’re all amazing like some of the really well known.
But that’s the thing, so I taught for 17 years so I before I ever wrote for teens. I spent all my time with kids. So you know it when you see it.
[Referring to Picolo] And I was like, here’s this guy followed Instagram has these really cool pictures, this is exactly what I want!
And I’ll be honest I didn’t really realize because like I thought he had two hundred thousand followers and my old assisntant goes “What are you talking about? You don’t even know how many followers you have! You understand social media all, the M is for MILLION!” I actually wasn’t looking on Instagram asking him on Pinterest because that’s my my favorite. And if you put “Teen Titans” it’s like “Picolo” and there’s all these pictures! When I saw those I said “That’s what I want her to look like!”
Picolo: Yeeeah, I did so many, I did SO many Teen Titans drawings. Once you follow that rabbit hole, you just can’t stop digging!
Garcia: Oh Pinterest, it’s like Alice In Wonderland, once you fall in, you’re GONE. I just like so many of them and I like I put them on my phone and I was like “I want this.” And DC’s respoonse was, “Well that guy is the only one who does that.” And I wasn’t like asking to have him, but then they were like “Maybe we can contact him!” and I was like “That would be excellent.” And then it became real. [Here, Garcia turned to Picolo and they both smiled.] And what happened?
Picolo: And then they contact me like a couple of times—
Garcia: Like 7 or 8.
Picolo: I really thought it was a scam!
Fabbri: Of course! [Laughs]
Picolo: I was thinking it was like too good to be too real.
Garcia: So they’re like “He’s not replying.” And I’m just like “WHAT.”
Picolo: Yeah, it took me a little while to actually reply. Actually, when I decided to reply to that e-mail, I asked friends- because I was freaking out! So I asked my friends like “what’s the most professional way possible to answer these e-mails?!”
Garcia: I would have told you “RIGHT AWAY.” Because literally [DC was] saying, “if he doesn’t reply soon, you have to move on and find someone else.” I literally was saying to myself and they were like “And don’t go on Twitter, Kami, and message him.” They didn’t want him to know I was involved the project. My books are really big in Brazil and I don’t know, I told them “That doesn’t HE likes them.” But they were still saying, “We just don’t want to know what it’s for, we want to talk to him first.”
Fabbri: “We want to just feel it out.” Right?
Garcia: I think they wanted to make sure he wasn’t one of those people who doesn’t how to use the schedule or doesn’t that turn things in.
Picolo: And also it’s also my first comic job. So they needed to make sure that I was OK with the deadlines- because it’s a commitment, it’s a long time commitment. [DC wanted to know that] I understand a deal. They also want to make sure…
Garcia: Right, I was going to create new characters. [So they wanted to be sure] that if they gave him like “we wanted you to draw THIS.” Like could he kind of draw on demand or we can only like the things that he thought. Yeah. And so they had him draw. He did an awesome poster of casual Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.
Picolo: That was sort of a test commission? And it was super intimidating because that’s the biggest three characters of DC! They asked me for a version just like in the casual Teen Titans, for a casual trinity.
Fabbri: Oh yeah, it was a test so you were obviously freaked out!
Garcia: So we needed a poster for Raven and — wasn’t that the one they said to do whatever you wanted?
Picolo: That one was crazy that the book was like this was like my first illustration for DC that actually came out, like with us together. The trinity one never can never be anywhere. It wasn’t ever posted, but the Raven and Beast Boy on the subway that was posted and printed everywhere.
Garcia: What did they just say? Cause didn’t they say draw them however you want at some point?
Picolo: The briefing for that for that one illustration was like [so casual] “We just want you to draw Raven and Beast Boy. Like what you usually do! But for us!” And then the images they sent me as reference were images out of my own work sooo I was like “Okay?? Okay!”
Garcia: Probably the ones I sent because I was like, “I like these!!”
Picolo: Just got going back to your first question, my first contact with the Titans was also the animated cartoon which I’m obsessed about and everyone knows it? But it’s because in Brazil comic book shops are not as common as in the US. I was just telling Kami that we don’t have comic book shops at all there.
Garcia: Cause it takes a lot of time for the periodicals to come out.
Picolo: Yeah, we only get on the trade books so the Teen Titans show was what got me hooked into the heroes and then after that the comics. So for me was how it all started. But I’m still very obsessed about that cartoon.
Fabbri: That’s probably a good thing.
Picolo: Yeah I use references without references of it all the time in my work. All the Raven looks are my material drawing, but I’m drawing a lot of inspiration from that specifically.
Fabbri: Well it’s the original and it’s the one that everybody loves.
Picolo: Yeah I got to see some of GO!, which… it’s cool, but it’s not the same.
Garcia: Right, it’s for a totally different audience. Like my daughter was like six watching that.
Picolo: Oh yeah it gives me something to talk about with my niece!
Garcia: And also you know interesting, on free comic book day, this little boy the Third Eye Comics had these face paintings set up and he came up with his face painted like cyborg. And so he was with his dad who was looking through it, so he was like “Where’s Cyborg?” and I said “oh he’s not in it. He was like “What do you mean?” I said this was about Raven and he said, “I don’t want that.” And then he came back later he said, “I think you should write a book and put Cyborg in it.” [Everyone in the room kept laughing during this anecdote. Don’t worry, Cyborg dad, he’s coming!]
Fabbri: Well you guys started with Raven you’re going to Beast Boy and then… I’m sure you can’t even tell us who the next one is.
Garcia: Yeah we know what it is, but we didn’t like all along. It’s like. It was kind of like I knew they would take those two right off. And so that then I was like I wasn’t sure what they would want to do agyer that.
Fabbri: Yeah I was gonna say, was it your choice or DC’s choice to start with Raven?
Garcia: We had a huge meeting, it was before we even had Gabriel. It was me, the head of sales, Jim Lee, Dan Didio, and Bob Harris, you know was the editor-in-chief, and they asked what I wanted to start with. I said I could start with whatever. So did I want to start a team book, start with the origin series and I said, “Well personally, I think if you start at the origins it’s better because then people are really invested in the characters by the time they get together.” And I was like, “But I can DO anything.” I can, you know, I’m pretty like self-assured on my competency especially when I’m playing in someone else’s playground because I was thinking it’s not like I have to invent the characters, they already exist. I just have to write something COOL about them, which I know I can do.
And so first it was like, “Okay we think it’s going to be a group book.” And then it kept going back and forth and back and forth and finally they asked my opinion — “The thing I can tell you is that as someone who has had series for teens and having worked with teens in general, they really want to get to know the characters.” And that’s what’s appealing about Gabriel’s work, that was like what’s appealing about making her visually look more like a regular teen.
Fabbri: Case in point! [Gesturing to my partner in crime, featured in the photo to the left…]
Garcia: Exactly, like if you’re a girl, you can be her, you can imagine being her best friend. I really wanted every girl to be able to draw strength from that and feel like “I can be like that too.” And I feel like sometimes you know a costume is a barrier. Like well that’s not real life. And I wanted to kind of take that away so that we could show that she still has powers, she still has this rich history, but she looks like everyone else.
Fabbri: I think the impressive part of this is you’re answering all the questions I have just by talking about.
Garcia: Yeah, I know I’m chatty. [Another round of laughter]
Fabbri: Oh no that’s a good thing.
Garcia: I actually love talking about it just because it was such a cool project and then I got Gabriel!
Picolo: What was funny when Kami found my work and DC contacted me, I was already drawing what I would like to see and apparently what they were looking for. That was something that I as a fan wanted to see. That’s why I started drawing the cast of Teen Titans because I wanted to see them hanging out and doing stuff like regular teenagers. So when I went there and did it, people responded so well to it, they really connected with the characters in those outfits and that sort of aesthetic.
Garcia: It’s a big part of it because even like when we created Max, it’s like when you create a character, it doesn’t matter how quirky or fun or whatever.
Fabbri: Okay so without doing the research, I was trying to figure out if Max had been in something before.
Garcia: I invented Max. I invented Max and he VISUALLY invented Max.
Fabbri: I want you to know I couldn’t tell. And I love her. So much. Like I need to draw her.
Picolo: Ahhhh we love her!!
Garcia: I love her so much. You just wait for Beast Boy, there are some really good [characters] in there.
Fabbri: Do you think we’re not waiting for me Beast Boy? [Once again gesturing to my colleague.]
Picolo: I was telling Kami that when I read the script I said “OK I just want people to like Max is the only thing I want.”
Garcia: He was like “Oh I love her, I want everyone else to love her!!”
Fabbri: Oh you both made it very easy.
Garcia: And it was interesting because, you know, he was obviously more tentative in the beginning because, you know, like he didn’t know me and it was the his first thing, but I was like “it’s my first time doing this too!” And also the teacher in me, I was like, “I am not the artist. It’s like you’ve the perfect- you’re chocolate and I’m peanut butter, so you have to bring your thing and say what you think.” And it’s funny because he wouldn’t talk a lot about certain things, but he like can’t help himself. It’s about the look- “Well, like, I just I don’t think she would wear it! Max wouldn’t wear that coat.” But THEN, as we went on and he became more comfortable and like got in his groove and also like knew characters, he would just be like “Yeah, I just changed some of the panels aaand moved some things around!”
Picolo: Yeah! I would just come up with the clothes spot and Kami would totally agree.
Fabbri: This whole thing, I want you to know, does not seem like a debut.
Meg Chevatewa: Yeah no, not at all!
Fabbri: We know each other because we spent four years studying comics in NYC.
Garcia: Oh I love that!
Fabbri: And this is incredible.
Picolo: Thank you…!
Garcia: I mean like I said, I was really impressed with DC, because there aren’t a lot of big companies. Like I’m 40 like I could be his mom. Literally. And there are a lot of big companies that were like, “So now we have a novelist who has never written a graphic novel and we’re going to hire an artist who’s never done a graphic novel. And they were like “Is that gonna be a problem for you? It’s a lot more work.” No, it’s not a problem for me, but like you know is someone going to like steer the ship?
And they said “we’re going to get a layout artist!” Like they did all these extra steps that they wouldn’t have had to do if I had just- You know they could have said “you know what? he doesn’t have experience yet. You have to pick someone from this list. We’re not doing it.” But like Jim Lee had seen his stuff and loved it.
Picolo: But I got to meet him here in New York last year. I was- I was shook to my CORE, I shook his hand and he mentioned that- he called me by my name. Like he actually knew who I was!!
Garcia: Well he sent you personal notes on some of the pages!
Picolo: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!
Garcia: From China!! He was like writing like “oh I really like this.” And [Gabriel] was like on WhatsApp with me saying “I cannot believe Jim he is sending me notes.” But that’s the thing I loved about it and that’s kind of the spirit of things I’ve heard about Jim. He wants to find young talent and DC does and Michelle Wells, who is vice president and also our editor, you know she was saying “Everyone starts somewhere!” And I said “He already knows how to do the characters. He knows how to draw.” And like I said, I know how to write. After that it’s all the format. And this, now that I’m doing a periodical, that it is nothing like a book, not at all. But this is like a book- because I was an art major couldn’t draw, I appreciate art. So to me it’s easy for me to visualize things that’s what I do in writing. So I would just write it like that, but also I would rewrite things cause sometimes he would send me pages and would realize I didn’t need to say any of those things because it’s all in the picture.
Picolo: Some other times I would add a panel, just for the sake of a moment of silence and that sort of stuff became much more natural as we moved on.
Fabbri: Yeah, definitely something I noticed about this is that like a lot of people trying to kind of get down on young adult fiction sometimes—
Garcia: Oh yeah because they don’t write they don’t try to write it.
Fabbri: That. And a lot of like ones that get attention are the ones that fall into tropes that people don’t like. This doesn’t do that.
Garcia: Well one thing that was important to me is you know I did an X-Files book with Fox and Chris Carter and McMillan and Jonathan Mayberry did the other one and, as a fan, I don’t want someone to take a character I like and totally revamp them and make them unrecognizable. That’s not really fun to read as a fan, so I said I want to make this more grounded, but also I already like this character. So I’m not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater! It was hard, like the jewel and like different things, I was thinking “I need to find a way to make these like more grounded, but I’m not going to get rid of them now.” And [DC] they were like “well you don’t have to have Trigon…” and I was like “I write demons in my other books, so there’s no way I’m going to write Raven and not have Trigon.”
Fabbri: Yeah that was the reason why I wondered if this was like something that you guys picked because it’s right in your wheelhouse.
Garcia: No they thought it was pretty weird but they did say to me you know, “We’re a little tired of New York and the same cities and stuff.” I said “Well, l can I write it anywhere?” And they said yes. And I decided well for a place for Raven is New Orleans. And they were like “We would love it if you write in the south.” And I was like OK!
Fabbri: And then Beast Boy’s in Georgia right?
Garcia: I made that town up though. Although now I found there’s really a town that’s named that.
Garcia: I know, but I tried to do that — like if I write about anything weird about the town, I don’t want people who live there to feel bad! But New Orleans is such a magical place. You know my friend Elise Arden is from there, she was one of people read for me, even though I’ve been there a bunch of times. I want to see how it would read to someone born and bred there. And you know, she said “it’s the kind of place you go when you’re lost.”
Fabbri: It’s a perfect place BE lost, I guess!
Garcia: Right so with Raven, like she wouldn’t stand out there. It’s — you know, they have Marie Antoinette parade, like you can- you know, it’s a place where you can be different and look different. My family most of them are from the south they, believe in- Some people believe in supernatural elements and ghosts and things.
Fabbri: Okay, so that’s why everything felt like it just fit.
Garcia: That’s why I wanted it to be that way so that when Raven finally opens up to Max. It’s not like “Oh well that’s too unbelievable.” Max is like “oh whatever heard that before.” So it was perfect!
Picolo: And to be honest, I’m not a very big fan of drawing backgrounds and environments. Getting to draw New Orleans was exciting because it’s such a unique city so it has aesthetic that I was looking over for ages.
Fabbri: If you’re going to get out of your comfort zone, it should really be with something that you can focus on that you’re interested in.
Garcia: And knowing that I tried to pick not just iconic, but like fun things for him to draw. Like the spirit shop, stuff that might be fun to draw for him, not just like “we’re walking down the street.” When did Jackson Square, when they’re like on the date and stuff—
Picolo: I got to see it before after the book was done after I drew it from reference, I got to visit New Orleans!
Fabbri:Did you get it close, do you think?
Picolo: I think so! It was very exciting to see the stuff I had to draw in person!
Garcia: The thing he got the best though was the cemeteries, which is important to me because my mom’s family’s from the south and you know cemeteries are an important thing. And I mean like he got the wall vaults you know, like all of it!
Picolo: Everything had a very specific look!
Garcia: YES and he got it. And then I just kept wanting to rewrite pages and have more scenes in the cemetery. I mean you can never spend too time in this area!
I’ll share my own thoughts on the book in the coming weeks (spoiler: loved it!). Teen Titans: RAVEN is available now at all major booksellers.