Hope Larson And Christian Wildgoose Explore The Future Of ‘Batgirl’ And Burnside [Interview]
While Batgirl has spent the last six months backpacking around Asia, there's no place like home, and this week Hope Larson and new series artist Chris Wildgoose bring Barbara Gordon back to a Burnside full of changes. There's new shops, new career possibilities and a new love interest and potential villain in Ethan Cobblepot.
ComicsAlliance caught up with Larson and Wildgoose to talk about the evolution of Burnside, and what "Son of Penguin" has in store for Batgirl.
ComicsAlliance: I’d like to start with the question I know a lot of our readers want the answer to. This issue sees the return of fan-favorite characters like Frankie and Alysia; what sort of plans do you have for Batgirl’s supporting cast going forward?
Hope Larson: This arc in general has a lot to do with life stages, growing up, and family. So you’ll get to see stories on those themes from Babs, Frankie, and Alysia --- and from our villains, too.
CA: One of the big changes in this issue sees Barbara transferring majors to Library Science, something associated with her Silver and Bronze Age incarnation. Why the switch?
HL: Yes, it’s a nod to her past incarnations, for sure! It makes sense for her leading out of the previous arc, which had to do with education, and it will bring her in touch with Burnside on a different level than she’s experienced as either Barbara or as Batgirl.
Also, I have a number of friends who are librarians, and I knew they’d be psyched.
CA: Now she’s returned to Burnside, Barbara’s noticing the borough isn’t as nice as it was before she left, and there’s a lot of references to gentrification, homelessness, and other social issues. Is this going to be a driving motivation for Babs, both in and out of costume?
HL: Lots of themes of gentrification in this arc --- Burnside is the Brooklyn of Gotham, after all. I wouldn’t say it’s less nice, but it’s changed. Or perhaps Babs is seeing those changes for the first time, after having spent time away. The gentrification stuff has let me come up with all kinds of ridiculous bars and youth-oriented businesses, and once I saw Chris’s take on the pool-themed nightclub in #7, I really leaned into that. He’s a wizard with environmental design.
CA: Again, going back to the Bronze Age, Barbara served as a member of the US Congress. Is this the first step back to Congresswoman Gordon?
HL: I hadn’t considered it. Definitely something to chew on. I don’t know if I could stomach writing a political arc, but I would definitely like to read that story.
CA: There’s lots of developments in the issue, but the big one is the introduction of Ethan Cobblepot, the titular “Son of Penguin.” What led to the creation and introduction of Ethan, and what sort of collaboration did you have in finding his look?
HL: Ooh boy! I’m excited for everyone to meet Ethan (and see Chris’s brilliant designs for him)! He came about during a brainstorming lunch with my editors, Mark Doyle and Rebecca Taylor. I’m not sure whose idea it was, but as soon as it was out there, we all knew we had to write that story if possible! Ethan is just the sort of sympathetic villain I most enjoy writing, and it’s been a pleasure to add a new wrinkle to the Penguin’s history.
Chris Wildgoose: When Hope, Mark and Rebecca approached me to take on this arc they had already brilliantly nailed his description, so I had a pretty easy job of designing him. I think we got approval on the very first design I did, which is rare on any project!
They had some ideas for his look which had been jokingly thrown around, such as the Google Glass style monocle. I really loved that idea, so I pushed to keep it in! There was no way we could miss out on such a perfect and knowing nod to who his father is. It’s slightly over the top, but makes total sense. I’d also suggested possibly a tuxedo T-shirt at one point, but thankfully the team quietly ignored that idea!
CA: Whenever a change like this happens, there’s always a lot of fan chatter along the lines of, “They did it because it’s like that in the TV show”, this time in reference to Robin Lord Taylor’s young and sexy Penguin in Gotham. Was that portrayal at all an influence on creating Ethan?
HL: No, I haven’t seen the show. But I approve of young and sexy villains in general.
CW: I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t referred to him at one point, while gathering initial reference material. I’m a fan of the show, and he’s one of the best things about it in my opinion. However, I can honestly say that Taylor’s Penguin wasn’t in mind for the final design. I can see the similarity fans have pointed out, but it wasn't intentional on my part.
CA: Chris, I’m curious how you approach debuting at DC on a book with such a strong visual style established by the likes of Babs Tarr and Rafael Albuquerque. How do you juggle the established visual language of a comic like Batgirl with your own style?
CW: Going in from day one I was conscious of nothing more than the boots I was having to fill. I’m a big fan of both of their styles, but I just had to step back and remember, this is my own thing. I've tried to do what I naturally do and visually tell the story in a way that's no different to how I approach any other project.
There is a fun energy that comes with Batgirl of Burnside that's very easy to tap into, as it’s already been so well established. It's a vibe I think occurs naturally in my own work, so I’ve actually found the whole thing fairly easy to fit into. I've tried not to worry too much about the previous styles, choosing instead to concentrate on maintaining their energy and vibe.
CA: I love the lettering in Batgirl, and I’ve kinda been obsessed with it since the first issue. The first arc had cool stuff with language translation, and this issue plays with text chat. What sort of collaboration do you have with Deron Bennett?
HL: Deron is a genius. I basically just write the script and watch the pages roll in, and go, “Ooooh.”
CW: What Hope said! Deron is a king of letters. I plan for the space of lettering, and try to not make things too annoying for him to work around. I've designed company logos, but I like to give him the option to delete any lettering I do, because he will have a much better knowledge of what works.
CA: This issue really lays the groundwork for what seems to be a long future for the pair of you in Burnside. What teases can you give us for the future of Batgirl and comics’ hottest borough?
HL: It’s been a lot of fun to work with Burnside and its established cast of characters, especially after writing the previous, extremely research-heavy arc. This is a much more playful arc in general; it’s more elevated and more along the lines of the "Batgirl of Burnside" run. I’m feeling a lot more confident and comfortable with the serialized format and with the character, and hopefully that will come through! And Christian and colorist Mat Lopes are making this an incredibly beautiful, stylish book. Every time new pages come in, I’m giddy.
CW: I’m having a blast. I feel really at home drawing Babs in Burnside. Hope, being an artist herself, knows how to write a beautiful quiet scene and suggest framings, angles or action that I would never have thought up myself. I have no teases that I’m allowed to mention I'm afraid, but trust me, we’re in for a fun ride back in Burnside.
Batgirl #7 is available digitally and in stores this Wednesday, 25 January.