The cover of Batgirl #48, art by Babs Tarr.

Brenden Fletcher on Writing DC Comics’ “Black Canary” and “Batgirl”

Turning Life Into Comics

Apr 06, 2016 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Two of the most interesting ongoing DC Comics titles are Black Canary and Batgirl, and writer Brenden Fletcher is lucky enough to work on both. While Batgirl is a touchstone of DC's dedication to diversity and relatable characters that buck the trend of hyper-masculine superheroes, Black Canary is a full-fledged rock band drama, as the title character tours the country fronting a band that also goes by the name Black Canary and fends off mysterious villains. In both series, Fletcher's approach to writing is to draw on reality for the most effective and authentic storytelling, no matter how fantastic the end result may be. Whether he looks to his career as a young musician, or living in a culturally diverse city, Fletcher believes the best ideas come from real experiences. We talked to Fletcher about his primary inspirations for writing comics. 

Cody Ray Shafer (Under the Radar): Since Black Canary has taken a turn into a band drama, are there any specific musicians that have influenced the characters or story?

Brenden Fletcher: Yeah, I think if you look at the characters you can see where we're sort of culling from, and where our influences lie. When [artist] Annie [Wu] and I first sat down to discuss what this book would be, we started with our own personal musical influences. My background is in music, in fact, it's what I went to University for. I've played in bands for years, toured in bands, this is kind of my wheel house in a lot of ways.

The very first thing [Annie and I] talked about was Bowie and the various characters Bowie has played over the years and the eras of his work and how that would come into play in what we wanted to do with Black Canary. From there we discussed a lot of the influences we would bring to bear on the other characters in the band. If you look at the way she designed them you can see our drummer, Lord Byron, has a real Grace Jones thing going on. Our multi-instrumentalist, Paloma, is pretty close to being a female Jonny Greenwood, both in how she approaches music and also in the way she looks, the way she dresses.

Aside from that we have our lead guitarist Ditto, who pretty much just sticks to guitar, but she's a mystery character, very important to the plot, so she is her own thing. We will reveal as the arc comes to the end...why she looks as she does and why she is who she is. But she sticks to guitar for the most partthe interesting point about that is that she doesn't use any electronics to manipulate the sound of her guitar. She plugs straight into her amp and she is able to do sonically with her guitar what other musicians require a lot of circuit boards to do.

You mentioned your musical background, which reminds me of how issue 3 uses musical terms to describe the action on the page. How else has your background in music helped in this project?

I look back on that and I wonder if maybe using the classical terminologythe Italian termswas maybe a mistake? I don't know. Maybe it doesn't speak to a broad enough audience. We were just trying to have some fun with it, trying to play around with how we could use elements of the world of music to describe what's going on in the story. I'd like to play around with that some more and see what we can do, see how it works.

I did the Royal Conservatory of music training from a very young age, primarily to become a singer. It was a lot of vocal music. I did piano training as well, which I didn't love, but there you go, I did it. I was, and still am, a musician that is happier playing by ear than by sight. That sort of training deals a lot with being able to read music and music theory, and I never loved that stuff. It's very mathematical. But I went on to do a lot of classical performance and studied that in university under a great musician and great singer, and I did that for a lot of years as my profession. Mainly singing, a little bit of acting, a lot of musical theater because it pays well.

But I always played in bands at the same time, which is not the best thing to do if your primary source of income is classical vocal performance. Staying out late playing in bars is not a great thing to do. Probably got some vocal nodes, probably got some scarring on my vocal chords. But these days that's fine. I still record in a studio, I work with a producer in Montreal. The Dears, Sam Roberts, Stars, Arcade Fire. That's been my community for the last number of years in making music.

But professionally I've shifted over to writing comics as my primary gig. But this Black Canary series was an incredible opportunity to merge the two in a lot of ways. I'm super thankful that DC is letting me experiment like that. It just seemed part of this zeitgeist surrounding the character of Black Canary, a character whose scream can literally level a building. It speaks to being a great rock singer, being able to be on stage and holler over the top of a band. It just seemed like something that was happening. DC made this Black Canary Bombshells statueBombshells is like an alternate universe of the female DC charactersand the Black Canary version is a sort of torch singer from the 1920s. She's standing in front of a microphone.

That happened around the same time Cliff Chiang, a fantastic illustrator and friend, did this fan art of The Runaways with Dinah Lance, our Black Canary, as Cherry Currie screaming into a microphone. All of this happened at the same time and I couldn't help but be influenced by it when I needed to find a new direction for that character in our run of Batgirl. So it was just something we played with in the background of Batgirl. But man, to have an opportunity to take that into a full series? What an incredible thing, and how perfect for me.

What do you imagine Black Canary, the band, would sound like? Are there any plans for a supergroup EP, and who would do that?

[Laughs] This is a challenging question to answer without revealing things I shouldn't reveal. The sound of Black Canary is something I know very specifically, because I've heard it. It might exist in some form. If I'm to break it down it sounds like kind of a throwback in a way, it's a bit like dance goth, late '80s dance goth, there's a lot of Siouxsie and the Banshees, but also very modern. So it's like Siouxsie and the Banshees meets Yeah Yeah Yeahs. You can really hear throwback to the groovy goth sound in the bass. There's a very pronounced picked bass sound that speaks to that era of music. In terms of production of the vocals, the way the synths sound, and actually the production overall, sounds very modern.

So it sounds like there is a Black Canary EP out there somewhere?

I wouldn't be able to speak to that (he says with a wink). [Since this interview was conducted a Black Canary EP was released, which you can stream below.]

Batgirl embodies the new diversity DC is trying to approach. Is there something about the character that lends itself to that? Or do you struggle to find ways to incorporate it?

Not at all. If we're talking about diversity, I think that comes up a lot when people talk about Batgirl. For us, it's just about representing the world of a young 21-year-old woman living in Gotham City's version of Brooklyn. Speaking of the reality of that situation leads us to a cast of characters that are extremely unique but reflect the world around us, I think, in a realistic way.

I live in Montreal, Babs [Tarr, penciler] was living in San Francisco, and Cameron [Stewart, co-writer] was living in Berlin. We're not surrounded by groups of people who are all straight white males and females. I think the cast that we've got in Batgirl really reflects the people around us at the time we were creating it. In fact, her roommate, Frankie Charles, is very much based on a friend Cameron and I have in common that we met in Montreal. So we're just kind of fielding from our own lives.

Any good art, if you can call what we're doing good art, it's only best when you draw from real life and not from previous works. We're trying not to look back at previous comics, other than to find the core of who Barbara Gordon is as Batgirl, you know, the iconic version of that character. But we're trying not to draw from decades of other people's comics to build her world. We're trying to build her world from what we know as our real world. I'm drawing from Montreal, Cameron from Berlin, Babs from San Francisco. And we're all looking to Brooklyn as a way to build Burnside. I think drawing from real life is always going to make better stories. Looking at people around you is going to build stronger stories.

Is there ever a fear of pandering or going too far in that direction?

It's subjective. There is, in a lot of cases, nothing we can do to reflect reality that wouldn't come off as "pandering" to some readers. That's just the nature of subjectivity. There's nothing we can do. Our focus has always just to tell the best stories and to reflect the reality of the characters. So, again, we just had to take a long hard look at what the world of a 21-year-old young woman in grad school would be like in a place like Brooklyn. What would her friends circle look like? How would she interact with them? That's the starting point of it all.

If you're not drilling down to the truth of the characters and the truth of their reality, it could feel like you're pandering because then you're just pasting things on top. We try desperately not to do that. We try to make everything come from the core of the characters and the situations and from good story telling. Maybe we're not always successful. But we're so dedicated to trying to do the best we can with this. It's never about trying to speak to a movement, or an audience in particular, it's just about the story and the characters. And we're so grateful and thankful that people have found that it resonates with them.

[Also read our recent print magazine article on Black Canary incorporating interviews with Brenden Fletcher and Annie Wu.]

http://www.dccomics.com/characters/black-canary

www.dccomics.com/characters/batgirl

www.brendenfletcher.com

www.anniewuart.com

www.babsbabsbabs.com



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