The young superheroes of the Teen Titans always seemed like they’d be a perfect fit for DC Comics‘ line of acclaimed graphic novels aimed at young readers. After all, the word “teen” is right there in the name, so those characters should be perfect fodder for young adult storytelling. When the Teen Titans: Raven graphic novel debuted last year, it became clear not just that the Titans would fit right into the young readers line, but that they could do it in a way that didn’t fall back on conventional superhero storytelling.
With Raven, writer Kami Garcia and artist Gabriel Picolo took a “teens who happen to have superpowers” approach, instead of a “superheroes who happen to be teens” approach, and told a gripping story of a young girl trying to come to terms with who she is when “who she is” just happens to be a half-demon with magical powers.
This week, the Teen Titans series continues with Beast Boy, another graphic novel about a teenager trying to find his place in the world while also struggling with sometimes frightening and sometimes thrilling new powers. In anticipation of the book’s release, SYFY WIRE is pleased to an offer an exclusive preview of Garcia and Picolo’s next installment, along with commentary from Garcia about the next chapter in a story that’s already set to continue into a third book.
According to Garcia, the Teen Titans project began with a discussion of which characters she and Picolo would most like to tackle. Since the series launched with a story centered on her favorite Titan, Raven, it was only natural that the second installment would star Picolo’s favorite, Beast Boy. Though Garcia admits to some trepidation in her introduction to the book, the writer and artist team found the right approach through a series of conversations searching for a compelling way into the Teen Titan who’s typically seen as the goofy one.
“I mean, I think one of the things that always was lacking for me is that Beast Boy so often is kind of the jokester, so you don’t have a chance to get to know him as well. So, the opportunity to have a whole book just focused on him in all those pages was really my way in,” Garcia said. “Gabriel and I talked a lot about him. ‘What kind of music does he like? Besides video games and pizza and things we know from the animated series and the comics, what does he like to do? And what does he care about?’ So, the idea of a kid who really just wants to be accepted and wants to feel like he’s cool was something that was pretty easy to relate to.”
That desire for acceptance is deeply rooted in the ambitions of Garfield “Gar” Logan when we first meet him in Beast Boy. As his senior year of high school nears its end, Gar grows increasingly obsessed with achieving a series of goals that he thinks will complete his high school experience, from bulking up his body to connecting with his crush, and even lays them out via a list. As Gar works to cross every item off of that list, he finds himself sucked into the world of attention-seeking, social media-driven dares in an effort to impress the popular kids at his small town Georgia school. In the preview below, you can see Gar taking on one such dare, which involves sneaking into a local university and getting some pictures with a very intrigued snake named “Crush.”
For Garcia, the incorporation of social media-based challenges was a natural evolution of Gar’s status as one of the most outgoing, bold Titans.
“I treat these novels very much like prose before I start writing, in the character creation. I really thought about, ‘What would he want? What kind of senior would he be? What would he want more than anything at this point?’ You know, I taught for 17 years before I became a writer, so I have spent most of my life with kids and teens. He just seemed to me like the kind of kid who would have a bucket list, like, ‘These are the things that I’m going to accomplish,'” Garcia explained. “We both wanted the book to feel really modern. He is older, so we weren’t going to do regular dares. Because Gabriel is very big on Instagram and I have a lot of readers who are YouTubers and stuff, I really felt like we could translate the idea of taking on dares and being brave and getting attention that way and kind of translate it into the kind of online life that so many older teens have. So, that was kind of the impetus.”
Of course, Gar’s changing social status as he enters the world of dares and stunts as an ambitious senior isn’t the only evolution he’s going through. This is Beast Boy we’re talking about, after all, and just as Gar finds himself beginning to tackle the items on his list, he also finds other major changes are in store. As with Raven and the way her magical abilities were slowly, often subtely incorporated into the story, Garcia and Picolo sought to find equally subtle ways to infuse Gar’s beastly gifts into this installment. What begins with a kind of strange connection to various animals — as with a friendly snake, as you can see in the preview above — soon morphs into something more, and one of the challenges of crafting the story was developing those abilities in a way that readers could see, even if other characters on the page couldn’t.
“Developing powers as a teen, to me, is kind of perfect, because all of your teenage years are about all of these weird, unexpected things happening and your life changing and you having to constantly adapt,” Garcia said. “So, having powers kind of come out of nowhere that you’re not expecting and you can’t predict really mirrors that well. So, the challenge for me with both of them is, I mean, again, Raven is half-demon. Beast Boy turns into animals. These are not subtle powers, like mind-reading. So, the trick for me was, ‘How do I make that as grounded as possible?’ That’s why, in Raven, Trigon kind of talks. She hears him, but other people can’t see him. And in Beast Boy it was even trickier, because I wanted to show the progression of before he turned into an animal, but I didn’t want other people to be able to see it. So, Gabriel and I spent a lot of time working on, ‘How do we do that?’ And he said, ‘Okay, well, his eyes could turn green when the powers are kicking in.’ Then we came up with the idea when other animals would sense the animal in him, there would be that green mist. So, we just came up with different solutions in the art, and the idea of when there’s animals transposed behind him but he hasn’t turned into them, but he’s kind of channeling their powers. Gabriel and I would just talk, and I would say, ‘I really want him to be like a cougar.’ So, we came up with the idea of, ‘Well, what if you see the animal behind him, but it’s kind of translucent, so you know that no one else can see it but he’s using that power?’ Again, I think that’s the heart of collaboration. It’s a lot of back-and-forth and brainstorming and bouncing ideas, and everybody participates, our editors, and I think that’s the fun thing about having a team. You put all your heads together and you come up with a cool answer.”
That collaborative spirit translates not just to the way the graphic novel’s visuals work, but the way the story comes together in the first place. As Garcia explained, conversations with Picolo informed much of what the Beast Boy story would entail, and as the pair release their second graphic novel together, it’s clear that they’ve hit their stride as a creative team. As the author tells it, much of her scripting for the story is — thanks to some advice from a fellow DC Comics creator — built on the idea that her first audience is not her eventual readers, but her co-creator.
“One of the people who I listened to and later got to meet was Brian Michael Bendis. He talks a lot about the idea that the script is like a letter to your artist. Literally, the script is for your artist. It’s like you’re not writing it for anybody else,” Garcia said. “Now, every time I’m writing I think about, ‘Will Gabriel want to draw this?’ I love the idea of kind of surprising him, where he starts reading the pages and freaks out when he gets to the certain page where I know he’s going to like drawing a splash page or like drawing certain animals. So, I kind of write with him in mind. Having worked in other adult stuff at DC with different artists, I write very different scripts for him than for someone else, because I try to really write the things that I know he excels at and also will be excited about. Just like any kind of medium, when you give someone something they’re excited about the product is going to be better.”
The mutual excitement over the Teen Titans story Garcia and Picolo are telling together has already carried over into a second volume, and earlier this month DC announced that it will also carry into a third. Next February, Garcia and Picolo will release Teen Titans: Beast Boy Loves Raven, a story that weaves together the separate tales of the first two graphic novels, and give the co-creators an opportunity to explore the bond between two very different Titans.
“I want to explore how it feels to find someone else who feels different and how that friendship/connection can give us the shot of courage we need to find our inner own strength,” Garcia said. “Raven and Beast Boy have such different personalities, but often those are the friendships and relationships that allow us to see ourselves in new ways. It also makes for fun banter.”
Teen Titans: Beast Boy is available Tuesday. Teen Titans: Beast Boy Loves Raven is available for pre-order now and hits stores February 23, 2021.