From Fashion Blogs To Biker Femmes: The Art Of ‘Batgirl’ With Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart And Brenden Fletcher [Interview]
Years after her rebooted New 52 series debuted, the Bat Signal illuminates the iconic hero Batgirl more brightly than ever before in a retooled title written by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, drawn by Babs Tarr (from layouts by Stewart) and colored by Maris Wicks. A stark, dramatic departure from the decidedly dour tone of previous issue, the new book introduced Barbara Gordon’s new life in the newly created and decidedly hip Burnside neighborhood of Gotham, where she makes time for crime fighting in between her graduate studies and hanging out with her new supporting cast. Vividly youthful, funny, cute, action-packed and even sexy, the new Batgirl of Burnside sparked interest amongst existing fans, lapsed Batgirl readers and curious newbies (and inspired criticism from people who just hate fun). Crucially, cosplayers immediately started replicating Barbara’s new self-designed Bat-digs while the Batgirl of Burnside Tumblr debuted with daily boosts of fan art inspired by the hero’s new look.
With the new run’s inaugural issue, Batgirl #35, flying off the shelves and Batgirl of Burnside cosplayers running, jumping and otherwise posing all around the Javitz Convention Center, Barbara Gordon was the It Girl of last month’s New York Comic Con, where we sat down with the series creators to talk about fashion, boys, and Batgirl’s new villains, the Jawbreakers — a gang of cosplaying bikers making their debut in this week’s issue #36.
ComicsAlliance: As you guys probably know, I really love Batgirl’s new look. In terms of design elements, what did you want Batgirl to look like as opposed to what she looked like in the initial New 52 redesign seen during Gail Simone’s run on the title?
Cameron Stewart: For the last three years, she has had this very armored high-tech look, with lots of spikes, lots of ribbing and seams and things, and it wasn’t really something that was to my taste or sensibilities. When I was initially offered the book, my first thought was, it’s going to be something that I would have to draw over and over again, and I wanted it to be something that was going to be fun for me to draw while reflecting the tone in the story that I wanted to do — which I knew was going to be a 180 degrees from the dark, rain-soaked, grim, angsty stuff, and do something fun and adventurous.
I wanted it to be something that was kind of a spiritual successor to Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl in Batman ’66 [the television show]. If you look at our Batgirl’s costume, there are a lot of things that are echoed from Craig’s costume, like the ankle boots, the cowl that’s not attached to her body, the zippers, and the color scheme. It was a matter or approaching that costume with a 2014 sensibility, so I was just looking at a lot of contemporary fashion – I was looking at Lookbook and The Sartorialist and all these street fashion blogs and things that were recurring shapes, patterns and themes that I saw that could be adapted into a superhero costume.
And then I also had the Captain Marvel redesigned by Jamie McKelvie and Darwyn Cooke’s Catwoman, both of which were still sexy costumes, but in a way that wasn’t sexually exploitative and it felt far more empowering, practical, and wearable, and definitely something that appealed to women more than what a man’s idea of what a woman would wear. It took a lot of trial and error, and I gave it to Babs to revise and she added a ton a great stuff to it.
CA: So when you chose Babs as the artist for Batgirl, you really wanted to work with someone who was also forward-thinking in that same way, in terms of fashion sensibilities and modern fashion?
CS: Absolutely, that was almost the entire reason why I chose her!
Babs Tarr: Yes, I knew that all that shopping would pay off!
CS: And I wanted someone who had a completely different style to what was being done [in superhero comics]. I feel like having a completely homogeneous art style line-wide is not really that interesting and you should have different styles to appeal to different people. So I wanted something that would be notable for how different it looked and something that was influenced by animation and fashion, and Babs hit all of those notes — she was at the top of my list from the very beginning. Brendan and I complied a list of other potential artists, but Babs was always number one.
CA: Babs, how has the transition to sequential art been for you? I know that you’ve done a lot of conceptual art for gaming companies, but this is your first sequential comics gig.
BT: It’s been really fun. Cameron is still doing the layouts and I feel like that I am learning as I’m drawing and using his layouts and noticing things that he is doing. I’ll tell you guys something really funny: when I first got the gig, I went out to a store and brought a how-to-draw-comics book and it was from DC Comics, and I was like, “This is great – it’s perfect! This never fit a person better than this book fits me right now!”
But yeah, it’s been really great. The most special thing about this is that I’m always working for other companies and I’m always having to adjust my style to match the company’s style, which I can do. But they wanted [me on] Batgirl because of my own personal work — that rung true with them and I’m getting to draw that and bring my style to the book and it gives me chills. I still can’t believe that I am getting paid to draw my work. That’s really great.
CS: When we started communicating before she was officially hired, I wanted to gauge her ability in terms of story-time. I knew she could draw, but I wanted to see how she could do with storytelling. And she had never drawn a comic page ever, so I wrote a couple of short scenes for an illustrator and gave her no input at all. I was like, “Just do this and let me see where you are at.” And she sent them back and they were pretty good, I won’t say that they were great.
BT: They were great, they were great!
CS: I mean, there were some significant problems in them, but it was far greater than what I was expecting them to be, so I knew that there was a solid foundation working on here. So for this first storyline I’m doing fairly detailed breakdowns for her, not quite full pencils, but the page designs are mine and a lot of the body language and stuff and she is redrawing it. But every page that she does you can see this progression, she’s getting better and better at doing it. My goal eventually is to be able to step back from it entirely so she can do it on her own.
Brenden Fletcher: I can’t tell you how amazing issue #36 looks. If you liked the way issue #35 looks, you’re going to be blown away by #36. Every single page is a step forward for her. It’s amazing.
BT: They wrote that story — the new villains are evil cosplayers on motorcycles!
BF: We had mapped out the entire story arc, but when Babs was confirmed as our artist, we went back and retooled. The Jawbreaker characters didn’t exist before Babs. By looking at her art, we were like, “OK, Babs really loves to draw motorbikes. Let’s really look hard at this to see what we could do to really take advantage of what she does best.”
CA: That’s what I like about this new series. It’s a bit reminiscent of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s Batman and Robin with Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne. What I liked about them was that they had a whole roster of new characters for their villains, and similarly, I like that the Jawbreakers are going to be Batgirl’s villains. That style of villain is so weird for DC Comics, and I love it. Is Barbara going to have her own Rogues Gallery in Burnside?
BF: I think she has had her own Rogues Gallery, but we’re just developing a Rogues Gallery that’s specific to her current circumstances.
CA: Like Nightwing’s run in Blüdhaven.
CA: Do you think any of the classic Batman rogues are going to show up?
BF: Not in the first arc. The first arc is about this fresh start, about her finding and re-discovering who she is; finding her true north. She’s in Burnside the entire time — she’s in this borough away from the central part of Gotham. So everything that she’s up against is born out of that situation in that part of the city.
CA: Which is basically how it is when you move to Williamsburg anyway – you never go into Manhattan anymore.
CA: Since Black Canary is in this storyline, are there going to be any other Birds of Prey members or Batman family members?
CS: It’s key that it’s not Black Canary – it’s Dinah Drake. She doesn’t appear as Black Canary in this and that was a conscious decision. We didn’t want it to be Birds of Prey. This is a Batgirl comic. Similarly, we wanted to make this about Batgirl, and not about Batman, so we wanted to completely have her stand on her own and not have to rely on Batman or even be defined by Batman villains. Eventually, these characters might come into play.
CA: Well, will she go on a date with Dick Grayson?
BF: Well, she doesn’t know that he’s alive, right?
CA: I mean, I ship Barbara and Dick forever. It’s a question I always want to find out. But, I’m sure it’ll pan out eventually.
CS: There are a lot of romantic opportunities for her in the series.
BT: I want to draw a love triangle!
CA: Yeah! I’m so excited because when I saw that one panel of Barbara drunkenly getting it on with that guy at the party, I was like, “Oh my!”
CS: That’s Babs, though. She’s like, “More shirtless guys! More making out!” But we listen to it, because if Babs wasn’t working on the book, she’d be reading it.
CA: I love that. I like that it reads a lot like a shoujo manga — it’s very girl-oriented manga for teens, with enough sexy things, but not lewd. It’s cute.
BT: I love being able to provide that on DC’s end, because I feel like when I was younger I would walk into comic shops and be like, “Do you have something flirty and fun?” And they wouldn’t know what to give me, when I was 14-15. They didn’t know what to do with me. It’s nice to be able to be the one to provide that for maybe a Little Me that’s out there that likes drawing and likes something fun to read.
CA: The week that Batgirl #35 came out, people kept texting me asking me if I read Batgirl yet, and saying it was amazing. All these friends that never read comics before, including a lot of girls that never read comics. When I posted an image of your Batgirl, all these fashion bloggers were like, “What’s that comic? I want it!”
CS: We need one of those ‘Mission Accomplished’ banners.
CA: Brenden, since you’re currently working on both Gotham Academy and Batgirl, will there be a crossover?
BF: In both cases, we want to do something very specific and those things don’t line up. I’m sure you’ve read Gotham Academy and the tone is very different. You compromise the tone when you bring in other elements that need to work in a specific way. What we’re doing is making it very clear that it’s all in the same universe, so you’ll see things from the worlds that we’re building popping up in both books. If you keep a close eye out in both Gotham Academy and Batgirl #35, you’ll already see things. Last page of Batgirl #35, Dinah is wearing a Gotham Academy shirt. Another clue in Gotham Academy #1, the character Heathcliff who is Pom’s boyfriend, who you’ll meet soon, is wearing an Ashes on Sunday t-shirt, which is a Burnside band, since he’s very into music.
CA: Even back during San Diego Comic-Con, when you guys were giving out those Ashes on Sunday pins, I remember being like, “What does that mean?” Once I started reading Batgirl, I saw hints of Ashes on Sunday in the comic. It’s cool that you see hints of it in real life too.
CS: These things will become something of significance.
CA: I was wondering if Barbara is going to have a Tumblr?
CA: Yeah, is she going to have some kind of blog?
BT: In the comic or real life?
CS: I think you’ll see there’s a distinct progression in the way that Barbara adapts to her comfort levels with social media throughout our first arc.
CA: Isn’t it interesting that someone like Barbara, who is on a computer all the time, is kind of weird about social media?
CS: Well, because she’s a private person too. She’s on a computer, but she’s a coder, she’s not super social. She’s actually a bit socially awkward.
BT: She’s a nerd.
CS: Yeah, part of our first arc is her experimenting with trying to get more comfortable socially and figuring out where she fits with that, and she probably isn’t going to make the right move.
CA: So maybe she’ll swipe left on the wrong guy?
CS: She might – she’s only had that dating app to try and catch a villain. Maybe she doesn’t delete her profile.
BT: She’s still awkward and still cared about what her roomie wrote on her profile.
CA: I love that social media plays such a big part in the comic because that’s the standard in our everyday lives.
CS: It’s who we are.
BT: It’s more relatable than any comic I’ve ever read.
BF: I’ve only known you through social media, today is the first time I’ve seen you.
CA: I think that Batgirl is very reflective of that reality. It really taps into what a lot of fans love and deal with on a daily basis. The fact that you have people who feel like they’re a part of the comic and a costume design that has so much fan art – it’s great how Batgirl is evocative and immersive in this way. I’m excited to see what happens in issue #36 with the Jawbreakers.
BT: Check it out!
CS: One of the things we’re trying to do with it is have every issue be a surprise. So even if people have read issue #35 and have an impression that this is what the comic is going to be like every month, it’s not.
BT [in a heavy southern accent]: Buckle up, because you’re wrong!