Before Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo’s YA version of the Teen Titans can find their latest member — Teen Titans: Starfire was announced on Monday for a July 2024 release — the Titans have to deal with a Dick. Dick Grayson that is, who shows up to complicate matter in the newly-released fourth book in the series, Teen Titans: Robin.
To mark the book’s release, Popverse spoke to writer Kami Garcia about the new graphic novel, the differences between Damian Wayne and Dick Grayson, and just how exciting it is to finally tell people what’s coming up next. (Very mild spoilers ahead, if you’re concerned about such things.)
Popverse: I will start this by saying at the end of Teen Titans: Robin, when you see the list and you see the particular name at the end of the list, I kind of wanted to cheer. Maybe I should have expected Starfire was going to come into things, but I really didn't. So when I saw the name, it really was a, 'Oh, this is amazing!' moment.
Kami Garcia: Oh, I know! It's so hard to not tell people because they're been waiting for Starfire for so long.
I want to ask about the Robin-ness of Robin, because when people think Teen Titans, they do tend to think of Dick Grayson. One of the things that this book in particular does, is that it looks at things from Damian's point of view. As someone who loves Dick as a character, I think this is the first time I've understood quite how, for want of a better way of putting it, annoying Dick Grayson could be to those around him.
Well, he's a lot to live up to.
Originally, when I pitched the series way back when, Damian was the Robin because he's my favorite Robin and he's kind of damaged and complex, which makes him a good character to explore in a book. But Dick is Gabriel's favorite Robin! So, when it became clear around Teen Titans: Beast Boy that we could possibly continue the series, and Gabriel found out it wasn't Dick, he was so sad. It was so pathetic, I just felt like a villain. I was taking away one of his favorite characters. So I might have started trying to come up with a way that I could incorporate Dick as well.
Dick Grayson is an important character to the Titans, and it felt like just throwing him in as a side character would be a disservice. I have four brothers, and I thought about sibling rivalry and it seemed like pitting them against each other as brothers, especially because Dick even in our series is older, so he's kind of this older brother who is really perfect and amazing. Wven though he's not, he's so humble! He's not difficult or nasty about it, but he is a lot to live up to.
I think for Damian coming from not having been raised by Bruce, and feeling kind of insecure about his position with his father anyways, to come in and have this kind of larger than life, handsome, smart, friendly guy who has the Robin role is not easy.
You talked about Damian being damaged, and I think that that's something I think you deal with in a way that other writers don't. I think that you understand for want of a better way of putting it, that Damian isn't just a jerk, that this is coming from a place of neediness and a place of insecurity as much as anything else. I love the way that you write Damian in that way.
I think because I was a teacher for 17 years and I have spent so much time around young adults, one of the reasons I love writing for them is that they often are making mistakes or doing these things that seem like such bad behavior or such bad decisions, but there's generally very complex reasons behind why. As an adult, you've figured out kind of how to mask your flaws and how to control the bad side of your behavior, your temper and things like that, but when you're a teen, you haven't figured all that out yet. So, it's still all raw and right in someone's face. And I feel like Damian is a character in general who's just in your face all the time.
Which makes him the perfect contrast to Dick, who is, like you said, comes across as this perfect individual who again, like you said, is humble, but when that's who you're measuring yourself against, that makes it even more difficult.
I was able to meet Marv Wolfman and talk to him about Raven right before I started that book. I met him at the Titans [TV show] premiere at New York Comic Con back in 2018, and afterwards, we were at a dinner and he was talking, actually to Tom King, about Nightwing. I had no inkling at this point that I was ever going to write anything with Dick Grayson in it, but I just remember the way he talked with so much passion about Dick, and the fact that he is a nice guy and a decent guy, and that is what makes him special. Just listening to him talk about a character he created, I tried to remember that conversation and think about Dick, as you know, he is truly a decent good person at heart.
This is the fourth book in the series, and with the Starfire announcement, we're talking about the fifth as well. What does it feel like for you now being the parent of this new generation of the Titans? Raven and Gar and Damian feel very much like your versions -- they feel fully formed in and of themselves, not some sort of alternate take on the mainstream DCU versions.
I think that is one of the things that makes it really special for Gabriel and I: we've created characters that resonate with so many people. I have nine- and ten-year-olds come up with my books at signings at Third Eye, and then I have people who are grandparents that come up with their grandchildren and they have also read the book and love it. So what's really special about it is that the stories and these characters are really resonating with people.
One of the things that makes Gabriel and I very proud is that we feel like we respected the roots of the characters. I think Marv giving a quote to Teen Titans: Raven was proof of that. It was very important to both of us that, especially to me in terms of being the writer, to not tread on another writer's work. To make it my own, but also to respect the core of what he created. I feel like with art you're going to have a different style, so it's a lot easier to respect something but also put your own spin. But with writing, I'm using the same words he's using. So I have to find a way to make my work distinct without, in any way kind of discounting what the creator did, the original creator did.
Do you feel a sense of ownership over this version of the team in particular?
Yeah, I do. I think one thing that I feel a lot of ownership of is we have worked a lot to create layers for the characters, which I actually think would be really hard to do on a 20-page comic, because obviously you have whatever that story is and a villain. I have a lot more room in a script with all of these pages to explore their fears and their kind of inner demons and the things they love, the things they hate. And so, I feel like, number one, you get to have these layers to the characters that you can't afford to have when you're writing in a shorter form, and I also feel like we have created a really diverse cast: [Original character] Max is Black, Damian is obviously half Middle Eastern, just like he is in canon, [and] Beast Boy is Latinx.
It was very important to Gabriel and I that we represent the variety, the many types of people in this country that are reading. We wanted to make sure that, especially in the original characters we created, you'll notice almost none of the best friends and side characters are white. We really wanted to make sure that every kid reading these books would be able to see someone like themselves. There's also visibly disabled characters in the series. It's just very important that we want everyone to feel represented and to be able to just open a book and feel like there's people like them in it.
What is it like when you see someone like Max be accepted by the fans? Max is there beside characters who have been around for 40 years now and Max feels equal.
I love that, because I've kind of always been known for my side characters because I always feel like they shouldn't feel like throwaways. They really should feel important. The thing that comes to mind is on the first tour on the Raven tour, when Gabriel and I were in LA at an event at Barnes and Noble, a girl came cosplaying Max and looked exactly like her with the t-shirt and the hair. It was so surreal to see someone cosplaying an original character of ours and it just was so overwhelming. But it was exactly what we hoped was that we could give a Black girl a character to cosplay that actually looked like them in every way. That was really, really fun to see that somebody picked, because obviously Raven is incredible. She's my favorite Titan, but that someone picked Max to cosplay instead of Raven was awesome.
You've just answered the question I was going to ask, which was, which one of the Titans is your favorite? Has Raven been the one that's always stood out to you?
Raven has always been the one that resonated with me the most because I think I was kind of broody and dark and wore lots of black as a teenager. And then strangely, my daughter, who is now 15, almost 16, fell in love with Teen Titans Go when she was young — it was one of the first things I watched with her when she was really into shows — and she actually cosplayed Marv's Raven as a child at a Comic Con and I showed him the picture and he loved it because he was like, “she's doing my Raven!” [Laughs]
It's interesting because it is really hard not to fall in love equally with each of them, because the way Gabriel draws them brings them to life for me in a way that's really different than reading a comic or watching the animated series, both of which I love. So it was strange because Beast Boy — I always loved him, but he was not my favorite like Raven. By the time we finished that book, I was like, “oh my God, I think I almost love him just as much.”
Gabriel's Beast Boy is so much its own thing.
Well, Beast Boy looks a lot like Gabriel. I mean Gabriel now is a little older and has a mustache, but when Gabriel was drawing Beast Boy at, like, 25, Beast Boy had a lot of Gabriel in it, which I love.
We also have a layout artist, Rob Haynes, who is very talented and knows Gabriel and what he likes to draw and everything like the back of his hand now!
This far in, it feels like the two of you — or the three of you with Rob — are working so closely that, especially with Teen Titans: Robin, it feels like the work of one person.
It's all about just knowing what the other person likes. Rob knows exactly what Gabriel loves to draw, how he likes to do an establishing shot. And I'm the same way. One thing that's challenging about the series is Gabriel has been drawing this for a long time. So with each book I try to give him a totally different type of location. So first in Raven, we did New Orleans, in Beast Boy, we did a small Georgia town that was suburban and Beast Boy as Raven, we did Nashville. And now we are doing an island that's based on the islands off of the coast of Georgia. So it's like beaches, palm trees, people, the kids in their bathing suits.
I have to find a way when he's drawing these characters for such a long period of time to make it fresh and fun for him. So one thing I do is I try to switch up where they are. At the beginning of [Starfire], I said, “okay, what is your dream things you want to draw?” It's weird, because they're not about story. There're moments that he wants to draw. So he'll give me this list and I'll be like, okay, I have to figure out how they're going to be, go to the skate park, how they're going to have ice cream cone. I feel like that's my job as his partner because I want him to get to draw the things he dreams of drawing.
So, even though I have an outline already, I have to find these clever ways to fit in all the things — he always knows locations. He’s like, “oh my gosh, we're doing Nashville. I want them to go eat. I want to do the iconic places.” So then I have to figure out how are they going to go on a little day trip where they're going to the country Music Hall of Fame. But that is also fun because that makes it more challenging for me as a writer. I can't really rest on my laurels.
We opened with it, so let’s close with it, too: what can you tease about Teen Titans: Starfire? What is coming up in the next book in the series?
The one thing I'll tease about Starfire that's really fun is it feels more like an origin story in the beginning because she doesn't know [the rest of the Titans]. She's not with them. And so, you get this kind of origin of, like all the books, how the character's powers are kind of surfacing. And then at the same time, there's kind of this other story on the side, which is exactly where [Teen Titans: Robin] leaves off.”
It's fun because it's kind of like I cut away because I have this kind of dual story going on in the book that will eventually converge. I've had so many fans of the series ask us for years now if we were going to do Starfire. I pitched her in the original pitch! Before I even wrote Raven, I knew if we ever got to write multiple books, we would do Starfire, but I was not allowed to say that. So now I say to people, 'well there's six books, so maybe you can figure out who's going to be next...!'
Teen Titans: Robin is available in stores now. Look below for a preview from the book.
Of course, Garcia and Picolo’s Teen Titans books aren’t the only new Titans en route; there’s a brand new series by Tom Taylor and Nicola Scott on its way later this year as part of Dawn of DC.