Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures In the Eighth Grade was reviewed on this site a few months ago when the fist issue came out. Conclusion: funny, sly, and cute as a button. Since then I’ve been reading the book and it has managed to keep all those descriptors accurate, despite having to pull off several difficult balancing acts. The book has to fold in enough ancient continuity to make the long-term superfans happy while making sure the story is accessible to new readers. It has to keep the language simple enough for young children without being dull for an adult reader. And it has to make us laugh at the miseries of junior high while reminding us why we wouldn’t be dragged back there kicking, screaming, weeping, thrashing and begging for mercy.
At WonderCon, Landry Walker and Eric Jones spent most of their time signing and sketching at the SLG Comics booth or being mobbed during signing events for DC, but I managed to talk to them briefly about how Supergirl came about.
I start off by mentioning that two years ago at WonderCon, a comics retailer got up and asked Dan Didio for a Supergirl book that was more kid-friendly than the current Supergirl comics. Didio told her to watch out for something to come out soon. Were they already involved with the project at that time?
Walker shakes his head and says that they weren’t aware that DC comics was looking to do a Supergirl book at all. Their involvement started at WonderCon one year ago, when they were looking for more projects after their run on Disney Comics.
“We didn’t know there was any demand for it. We gave them a list of characters we wanted to work with, and Supergirl was one of them. We wanted to create a younger Supergirl, and use her emerging powers as a metaphor.”
He says that Jann Jones, an editor at DC who was also working on the Tiny Titans book, was looking at Eric Jones’ sketches of Supergirl, and her face lit up.
I ask Eric Jones, the artist on the Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures series, what inspired him to create a more cartoonish, younger Supergirl instead of the traditional mid-teens Supergirl. He tells me that primarily they were shaping Supergirl to appeal to the audience they wanted.
“Younger readers latch on better to younger characters. We wanted her to be a character that would appeal to nine-year-olds,” Jones says. “The first sketches looked nothing like this. At first she looked more like the characters in our series, Kid Gravity. She looked like a super deformed character. Then there was a version that Dan Didio said looked a little too manga.”
At this point I feel a little out of my depth, being a writer and not an artist. I like comics art, but phrases like ‘super deformed’ throw me off, and it takes a little time for me to summon up a visual.
Jones helps me out, explaining, “Big, round head, proportionately small body.”
I ask him if he ever gets frustrated when being interviewed, having to explain visual concepts verbally, or if he breathes a sigh of relief when he’s around other artists. He laughs.
“Sometimes. But if the writers write comics, then – usually not,” he says. “First and foremost I consider myself a storyteller.”
He says that it’s particularly easy working with Walker, since they’ve been working together for nearly twenty years and collaborate on every stage of the process.
At this point Walker steps in to further explain to me how art shapes the story, by showing me a black and white page of Supergirl, and then the finished page in the book, after it has passed through the hands of colorist Joey Mason. The black and white page shows Superman and Supergirl talking, the lines crisp and clean, the shadows definite. In the finished book, the two are bathed in the golden light of a sunset, making the art softer and adding more shadows. The scene is warmer and yet also more melancholy, and the emotional resonance of the scene is strengthened.
That’s what good colorists do, Walker says. When they know what they’re doing, they can really, “push the feel,” of certain scenes, and add emotional depth.
I ask them about the editing process, and both of them can’t say enough good things about Jann Jones. Eric Jones says that since she first saw his sketches, she helped make the book what it was. Walker agrees.
“She showed that ‘mature’ is not limited to ‘adult.’ It doesn’t just mean sex and extreme violence. With her work on these [Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures and Tiny Titans], she has re-shaped the direction of kids comics, and the comics industry.”
And how do they feel about new editor, Elisabeth Gehrlein? They say that they had dinner with her and “never talked about comics,” because they were too busy talking about everything else.
“We have a lot of the same tastes,” says Walker, expressing relief that he’ll be working with someone who shares the same vision for Supergirl.
When asked about Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures at a panel, Gehrlein does seem in sync with the rest of the creative team. She likes the art and pacing of the story, but most of all she likes the message. “It’s learning how to not cheat about being who you are,” she says.
Finally, the most fraught question for any comics fan. Is there more?
Both Walker and Jones hope that there will be.
“There’s always been talk of it,” Walker says. “It depends on the realities of the market.”
Speaking of, the fourth issue of the series hits stores today. I heard Jones and Walker mention to the throngs who gathered around the DC signing booth that there was going to be a surprise twist in this issue. Check it out!