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'Batgirls' is a kinetic rollercoaster ride: A chat with creators Jorge Corona, Becky Cloonan, and Michael Conrad

Comic Books

‘Batgirls’ is a kinetic rollercoaster ride: A chat with creators Jorge Corona, Becky Cloonan, and Michael Conrad

Bringing bright characters in against the darkness of Gotham.

First announced in September, the much anticipated Batgirls series is out this week from creators Jorge Corona, Michael Conrad, and Becky Cloonan. It’s a thrilling, visually bold series that got its start in the Batman backups from the last several months, throwing Stephanie, Cassie, and Babs together as they’re in hiding from the semi-new villain Seer. Throwing these three characters together has made for an interesting dynamic, with the three very different personalities jelling quite well.

Locked and loaded with a bright and vibrant art style, it’s no wonder DC Comics’ solicit for the book calls the series a “pizza slumber party of the year.” At the same time, the series juggles three characters that readers care deeply about — even more so now that they’re going it alone in another part of Gotham City.

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly comics podcast!

I was lucky enough to score a few minutes with all three creators to discuss the series, their approach to writing and drawing the book, and their collaborative process with color artist Sarah Stern and letterer Becca Carey. Added bonus: we also find out which character Conrad and Cloonan enjoy writing the most. For even more of this conversation, make sure to check out the AIPT Comics podcast next Sunday (December 19).

'Batgirls' is a kinetic rollercoaster ride: A chat with creators Jorge Corona, Becky Cloonan, and Michael Conrad

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: Can you sum up the vibe that you’re going for with this series in one word?

Jorge Corona: That’s for you guys.

Becky Cloonan: I would say rollercoaster, which is a good word. I think the idea here, and you see it with the backups, where it’s nonstop, pretty much. And we’ve put these girls through the wringer a little bit. Action-packed but also funny and with a lot of ups and downs, but that always keeps moving.

Michael Conrad: See, I was gonna say rollercoaster so… Single word: kinetic. We want it to feel like when the action happens, we want you to feel that action, we want the page to kind of explode in your face.

BC: And that’s Jorge and Sarah Stern doing their work.

MC: Yeah, we’ve got the perfect pieces. Our job is to build that explosive device by telling a story that action only matters when people care about the players. And when people care about the good guys and the bad guys equally. I’m of the mind that characters are only as good as the beings and ideas that they’re struggling against. So while the books called Batgirls, a big part of all great Batman stories, you know, all great stories in Gotham.

AIPT: Becky and Michael you’ve been collaborating on a couple of different books with Wonder Woman as well as this. When I see a duo like this, I wonder how, how does the writing process work? Are they breaking all the story and the dialogue together? Are they splitting it up so that they can get more done quickly? 

MC: I mean, I was thinking about this the other day, it would be easier if we split it up but we don’t. We are collaborative at every step of the thing. So far we haven’t done the splitting up the responsibilities thing. It’s not as if we’re sitting on each other’s laps and typing away on a shared document, but it is very collaborative in that we have multiple discussions and files back and forth.

'Batgirls' is a kinetic rollercoaster ride: A chat with creators Jorge Corona, Becky Cloonan, and Michael Conrad

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: How do you write dialogue? Do you guys find yourself running any dialogue with each other in the scenes?

BC: We do, sometimes we say lines to each other or like read things out loud to each but not super often. A lot of times, if I’m going over something, I’ll read the dialogue out loud to myself kind of quietly because I don’t want Michael to hear because it’s a little embarrassing. Everybody does it. I think it helps when you hear it out loud. But it’s a hard thing to do. It’s embarrassing. So I haven’t gotten over it yet.

MC: I never really do the out loud thing. I heard that Grant Morrison does that and I always have been a big fan of them and I like to say whatever they say, I’ll just steal it and later use it and say it so that I sound like a brilliant Scottish person. I think if you spend enough time thinking about these characters, I can hear these conversations going on in my head. It’s provided to me by an intimacy that I’ve achieved with these characters by reading everything that I can get my hands on and developing each independent character with their independent voice in my mind. Sometimes it’s a little bit based on people that I know. But that’s more of an influential factor, rather than the defining characteristic of how these women speak to each other and to other people.

AIPT: I wanted to ask you about Seer, the character feels like I’ve seen a troll like that before. What were some of the inspirations in developing that character visually and, of course, character-wise?

BC: Seer came out of Fear State like she was kind of messing around with everyone during James’ [Tynion IV] Batman run. So we kind of inherited the bad guy, coming out of Fear State. And everything that we’ve done with Batgirls in the three backups was perpetuated by events that happened in Fear State. So a lot of it was taking Seer, as a character that was very mysterious, and then being able to give her life in our series was the big challenge.

MC: Kind of the original idea that was presented to us was this kind of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo kind of motif, like a cool, maybe even sexy punk, tattoos, piercings. We had the opportunity to kind of tinker with that initial design and we wanted someone who we could picture like finding a great value in this power that she has. This power to reach out through the internet and manipulate and generate an image of themselves. That became kind of what happened with the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo look is that might be how Seer views herself sometimes. But also using the ability to manipulate the world around her. It was a compelling idea.

And you’re right, we’ve met characters like this before in the real world, people who will damage you and ruin your entire day with just a few words on the internet. And you don’t know who they are. It might be some scrubby little weirdo who is just good at hurting feelings. In this case, Seer’s good at a lot of things hurting feelings is definitely one of them.

BC: Yeah, and I think it’s in her, capacity to just be an awful troll that makes her such a good bad guy. Like she’s so much fun. We have a lot of good creepy stuff with her coming up. She’s easy to dislike, which makes her even more fun to write.

DC Preview: Batgirls #1

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: She’s very short as if she is a troll. Is that on purpose Jorge?

JC: Well, yeah, the fun thing with designing Seer was that we had the two fronts of Seer, and it was one who she was in reality and who she portrayed to be virtually. I think when the character description got to me, I think it was already established that she was going to be like a child. And so imagining a hyperkinetic, but like shy or like an almost agoraphobic kid that just wanted to remain with their computers but also covered, that’s part of why the hair is in her face and she has glasses, which Becky actually helped nail down to final designs of those glasses would cover most of her face the big jacket that also covers like almost every feature.

I never heard about the part of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I’m glad for the avatar version of her she is kind of like the Girl With the Dragon with Dragon Tattoo but on steroids. Mostly what I was thinking was there was a kid who has taken basically everything on the internet culture into her personality. Her avatar design was almost like a video game character that you would design for your Final Fantasy avatar or whatever. A very anime evil galaxy queen approach. I wanted really to contrast that sharpness of her avatar with more of a round or almost like a box-like that is not as aggressive when you see it. Becky and Michael made her very easy to hate, just a crappy kid.

AIPT: You know, you’ve been living with these characters for so long their voices come through you so easily. But if you had to pick one you like to write the most between Cassie, Stephanie and Barbara, which one would it be?

BC: My answer, I think is Steph. And it surprised me because I didn’t know as much about Stephanie when we started writing it. Like she was probably the background I knew the least about. And I think you just have it in your head that you know who the character is, even though you’ve only read a couple of things with her in it. You just make assumptions about just a person or a character, whatever. Before knowing that much about them. But then when we started writing her, I realized there’s so much more to her character. And it’s not that she’s inscrutable at all. Because she’s, you know, wears her heart on her sleeve. And she’s very animated. And I think you can always tell what she’s thinking because she’s so open about it. But there is a lot going on underneath that as well. That makes her so interesting to write because I think there’s a lot of like double meanings that she’ll maybe say one thing when she’s if she’s feeling down, she won’t express the same way that anyone else will. She’s very positive.

MC: I’m glad Becky said Steph, and I had a feeling she would because I was planning on saying Cass and part of the reason I love writing Cass is we’ve got her working with limited vocabulary. She’s a character that there’s so much you want to just to come out and say the stuff. I think that there’s a visual language there that takes a high-level artist like Jorge to be able to communicate. And hopefully as people, like have more pages with Cass in there doing some of this body acting some of this face acting.

People will learn that Cass is saying a lot every time she’s in a panel, even when there isn’t text coming out of her face. She will become more verbal and more communicative as the series goes on, and in different circumstances. But right now, it’s, it’s very fun too, to have this pint-size, killer. She is undoubtedly one of the deadliest characters in the DCU. And she’s also funny, and she’s also sweet. And she’s also learning. She’s learning about emotions, and to allow herself to have emotions.

BC: Yeah, she’s like the best compartmentalizer.

MC: You put them together and you got almost a full person. And that’s kind of the intersectionality that Babs can represent sometimes is somebody who’s been through a lot and has come out the other end even stronger and even better than ever before.

BC: Babs is definitely gone through so much. And she’s been written and drawn, of course, by so many amazing teams, that we’re here trying to represent that and do the best for her that we can. And I think having her in this mentor role just makes a lot of sense. We said Stephanie and Cass, but Babs is also really fun to write because of this, like, more umbrella role that she takes over these two younger Batgirls.

MC: Watching somebody who’s maybe not used to being in a mentor role be in a mentor role. That is kind of fun and interesting, too.

Batgirls #1

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: How old is Babs?

BC: She’s in her early 20s.

MC: Like marginally older. She’s like, old enough to…

BC: …old enough that it’s a little bit older. I think Steph and Cass are meant to be like 13 and 14, and our series. Is that what it is?

MC: I think it might be a little bit older than that. We try and keep it vague.

BC: When we came in, they’re like, Babs is like, out of college. She’s like, in her 20s. And these girls are definitely like in their mid-teens.

JC: I just had to check the other day because I was drawing a panel. I was like, “Wait, how old are these girls in this continuity?” I think they are like 17 and 16. Of that spectrum.

AIPT: I love that page where they say “Let’s rumble!” Is that similar to the mantra Avengers Assemble?

MC: We like the same things y’all like.

BC: If you like it, then it is, but if you hate it, it’s not.

AIPT: Sarah Stern’s colors are incredible throughout the book, but I think anyone who picks up this book who loves Gotham is gonna go wait a minute, why is it so bright? Do you have an answer for those folks?

JC: Yeah, shut it. [laughs] Yeah, no, that was a lot of of the starting conversations that we had, especially when we started bringing Sarah in to do the coloring work. She has such a good vision for what this toxic palette ended up being that it ended up not dark colors as in the sense of muted colors, but you have a very saturated palette. Just Sarah did amazing work by turning this city into a very oppressive environment, which is what you want from Gotham, Gotham is not just light off.

From the get-go, I think we gave her maybe a general description of what kind of like where we were coming from inspiration-wise. And then she just came back with this palette, and I was like, “Oh, my god it’s perfect.” I think it suits the characters too because it’s like dark characters contrasted with which I think it was one of the things from the get-go that we have in the Bible of the book, it was just like, bright characters against a darker environment or something like that.

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