Skip to main content

Interview: February 7, 2018

It might be a new year, but superhero stories never go out of style. With so many superheroes and adaptations to choose from, it can be tough to find the perfect read for you and your children. One of our favorite middle grade series is Shea Fontana's DC Super Hero Girls, a graphic novel series set at Super Hero High, where well-known DC heroes, both male and female, not only attend  classes, but also deal with all the awkwardness of growing up --- oh, and superpowers. The sixth book in the series, DATE WITH DISASTER, is now in stores, and our reviewer, Katherine Szabo, had the pleasure of interviewing the author, Shea Fontana, and illustrator, Yancey Labat, about their process, the series and, of course, their favorite super heroes. Read on for their answers! Shea and Yancey, you’ve both worked on different projects before coming together to create the DC Super Hero Girls series. Can you tell us a bit about how you two ended up working together?

Shea Fontana: That was the magic of our editor, Marie Javins. Yancey and I didn’t know each other before working on this, and we actually didn’t meet in person until last year’s Free Comic Book Day. Marie brought the whole team together including our fantastic colorist, Monica Kubina, and the queen of lettering herself, Janice Chiang.

Yancey Labat: I had to audition like everyone else. Actually, I wasn’t even drawing comics at the time. I had just finished up doing projects for Chronicle Books and was working on online children’s book for I got wind of this project and put together samples. Then I had to put together more samples based on the style they were going for. Then I had to wait for what seemed like forever before getting the job. I did receive a lot of encouragement from my daughter who really wanted me to get the job.

KRC: Yancey, you worked on several adult comics including Wonder Woman and Deadpool; what were some of the difficulties and challenges that come with changing focus to create stories for a younger audience?

Yancey: My previous comics work was done so long ago I probably can’t even draw like that anymore. That said, it’s most likely a good thing as I cringe when I look at my old comics. There was a reason I ended up transitioning to children’s books. I had a nearly 10-year run working for Scholastic doing their book clubs and each series pretty much had a different look which allowed me adapt styles. And all were for younger audiences.

KRC: Shea, in addition to the DC Super Hero Girls comic book series, you have also written the animated series. What are some of the differences between writing for graphic novels and writing for television?

 Shea: Thematically, a lot of the stories I tell, whether in animated shorts, TV or graphic novels, tend to be about empowering girls, celebrating diversity and showing how individuals can make the world a better place. But, the medium certainly influences how we do that! In graphic novels, we’re telling a story in panels. I think of a graphic novel basically as a scrapbook of snapshots that tell a story. It’s a matter of boiling a whole idea down to the precise moments --- whether that be the biggest moment of action or most intense moment of introspective decision --- to effectively communicate the idea. In animation, the audience is using more senses to experience the work. You tell a story onscreen through movement, dialogue, sound effects and music. Animation connects more of the dots for fans, while comics rely more on fans’ imagination.

For DC Super Hero Girls, we’re able to explore some of the heavier and more complex issues in our graphic novels than we can in our DC Super Hero Girls shorts. For instance, in DATE WITH DISASTER, we can really explore the relationship between Batgirl and her dad, and think about bigger themes such as truth, trust and manipulation.

KRC: The DC Super Hero Girls series is unique in the comic book world in that it focuses so heavily on female heroes and female friendships. What is the inspiration behind creating this exciting series for young readers? What do you hope young readers will take away from these books?

Shea: I wanted to make DC Super Hero Girls something I would have loved when I was a kid. It’s about showing all kinds of kids that they can be heroes. Most of the shows I grew up with, if they had an ensemble cast, featured a bunch of guys and “THE” girl, and usually that girl was a ball of generic femininity who doubled as the catch-all love interest. In DC Super Hero Girls, we wanted to bring a diverse and complex group of girls to the forefront and show these empowered females as the heroes of their own stories.

But it’s not just about girls! It’s important for both girls and boys to see competent female characters. Another huge thing is the relationships between girls and boys at Super Hero High and portraying healthy friendships between them. We want to model friendships and teamwork across all kinds of people.

Yancey: What Shea said :)

KRC: This particular story puts the focus on Batgirl and her relationship with her father, Commissioner Gordon. How do you balance a “real life” story with one that is also packed with superheroes and villains?

Shea: Superheroes are people, too! Especially when we look at them as teens, with messy and multifaceted emotions, who are seeing their lives change as any teenager would. They couldn’t possibly compartmentalize all that as they do their superhero duties. The whole series is about looking at these teenage stories through the super lens and balancing the inner lives of teenage heroes with their equally complicated hero lives.

Yancey: I feel a personal connection to this story as I have two superhero girls of my own, though my nerdiest moment came when read I was going to be drawing Giant Turtle Boy. Thank you, Shea!

KRC: With so many heroes to juggle in a single story, how do you both find the right balance?

Shea: We have so many heroes who attend Super Hero High, it is often difficult to choose which characters to focus on! This is our fifth printed graphic novel (additionally, there are two more available digitally), and we’re finally getting Catwoman properly in the spotlight. Plus, we see a lot of Lois Lane, who teams up with Batgirl to investigate an explosion at S.T.A.R. Labs, and she is the journalistic force that discovers the truth behind all these villainous activities.

Sometimes, we decide first which characters we want to focus on and others, the characters naturally spring from the story. In SUMMER OLYMPUS, we specifically wanted to focus on Wonder Woman. On the other hand, in PAST TIMES AT SUPER HERO HIGH, we started with the idea of a dinosaur time travel story and it seemed natural for Batgirl and Harley butting heads to be at the heart of that.

Yancey: I sometimes have to have a few characters sit out certain panels. When you have team books, pages can get crowded pretty quickly. I tend to focus mainly on the talking characters and who they’re talking to. If there’s room, I’ll squeeze others in unless they are essential to that panel. The amount of dialog also plays into it. The more speech bubbles, the less room for art. It all works out.

KRC: When you two work together, does the story come first, or the character designs? Do you two work together the whole way through, or do you each work a bit and then compare?

Shea: We do full script and Yancey works from that. Generally, the script is complete before Yancey begins working, and then we do edits as needed throughout the art, coloring and lettering processes. 

KRC: Yancey, the art style in DC Super Hero Girls series is totally captivating. What were some of the challenges that came along with taking these recognizable characters and giving them a new look to go along with these stories?

Yancey: By the time I came aboard, the style was already created by Warner Bros./DC. I was sent a slew of reference and told to copy the style. I have tweaked it a bit to incorporate my style but kept it close enough to the original. The challenge is to keep the style consistent. This is where my Scholastic days come into play where I was routinely asked to copy a certain style.

KRC: DC Super Hero Girls has been a huge success. What has the response from your readers been like? Is there a particular fan interaction that stands out to either of you?

Shea: The response is tremendous and I love hearing from fans. There’s nothing that makes my day more than seeing the kids in their DC Super Hero Girls costumes and participating in “geek culture.”

Yancey: I agree with Shea. The positive reaction at conventions really shows how special it is.

Of course, we have to ask…which of the DC Super Hero Girls is your favorite? Who would you want rescuing you?

Shea: Harley Quinn is my favorite to write because she gets the punchlines. But I would definitely prefer Wonder Woman rescuing me over Harley. Wonder Woman takes rescuing very seriously. Harley does not.

Yancey: Bumblebee. Kind, caring, grounded, genuine. She’s the ultimate best friend or bestie as the kids would say. Do they still use that term? Oh, the ever-changing world…

KRC: Lastly, can you give us any hints about the next book in the series?

Shea: We will be seeing two new characters in the next book, but I can’t say who yet!

Yancey: Yes, the next book will be written by Sensational Shea Fontana, drawn by little ole me, colored by Marvelous Monica Kubina and lettered by, as Shea put it, “The Queen of lettering” Janice Chiang. She really is.