By Kelly Kanayama
Critic, editor, author, and all-around good tweeter Cheryl Lynn Eaton has many accolades to her name. Now there’s one more: Batman writer. Specifically, the first black woman to write a Batman comic, ever.
On October 31, her entry into the Bat-verse, will hit shelves via her story in the anthology comic Batman: Secret Files #1, with art by Elena Casagrande and colors by Jordie Bellaire. I caught up with Cheryl Lynn and Elena at New York Comic Con to talk about making history, what Gotham’s street-level criminals get up to when Batman isn’t looking, and more.
Kelly Kanayama: First things first: Cheryl Lynn, how does it feel to be the first black woman to ever write a Batman comic?
Cheryl Lynn Eaton: I’m racking my brains, because I know there have been other black women definitely working at DC, like Angela Robinson and Felicia Henderson…
But they haven’t written Batman comics, as far as I know.
Eaton: Wow. It’s kind of crazy to be not only the first one, but to work on a character that’s so different from me in so many ways – race, gender, class. It’s so great to be able to just go outside yourself and think about how he would approach things and how he would think about things.
So what’s your Batman comic about?
Eaton: I don’t want to give away too much, because it’s not out for another three weeks, but this is a crime story. Instead of focusing on metahumans and people with powers, what I want to know is, what happened to the basic criminals while Gordon and his police were out there trying to follow what Batman was doing with the criminals from Arkham? What were the low-level street kids doing on the hill?
So this story is very much about those street kids who live on the hill and how they are able to, I guess, deal with crime, and unfortunately commit crimes, while Batman is looking elsewhere and while Gordon is looking elsewhere. But they do grab the attention of Batman and Gordon, and that’s how we get the story.
You’ve written comics before, but this is your first Batman comic, and your first Big Two comic in general…
Eaton: Yeah, the work that I did before was in Bitch Planet: Triple Feature #1, and for that I was with Maria Frohlich, who is amazing. I’ve been so lucky with artists; I always get these amazing artists. It’s really neat that I keep getting hooked up with European artists, because I feel like they have this sophisticated way of approaching the art. They really put their culture into it, and it’s so great to see how the different artists approach the language of comics.
Elena Casagrande: Can I add something? When people ask me, “Which is the characters you most want to draw?”, I always answer, “Batman”… or John Constantine. So when I had the chance to work on Batman for real, it was like a dream come true for me. I was really excited and honored, and I hope I did my best!
What is it about Batman that makes him one of your dream characters to draw?
Casagrande: I like noir stories and detective stories. That plus the fact he operates by night means I can play with black and white. He’s the Dark Knight. So I feel a kind of connection with his stories
This story kind of literally deconstructs the nine-panel grid – the first page is nine panels, then the next page is eight panels, and then the next is seven panels, and so on. What was it like to work with that sort of layout?
Casagrande: I thought it was great. I really enjoyed the fact that I could play with the grid of every page and [make it] very dynamic. It was also probably the first time that a writer had given me notes like that. And I found I worked well with that, because it’s like the whole collaboration was on a deeper level. It was like I was in synchrony with Cheryl Lynn. She’s not just a writer; she plays with the graphic and visual elements.
Eaton: You learn how to trust the artist and trust the colorist, because I had things mapped out, but what Elena did was so much better than what was in my head. It would come back and I’d be like, “Oh my God, I never thought to do it that way!” Same with Jordie [Bellaire], when her colors came in. It’s been such a special surprise to be able to open it up and see someone take that, run with it, and do it so much better and so much brighter than I could ever have imagined. They’ve been such a gift to me, and I’m honored to work with them.
Batman: Secret Files #1 will be published by DC Comics on October 31st