Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Interview With James Peaty

I recently had the opportunity to interview current Supergirl writer James Peaty about his writing influences, his thoughts on Supergirl, and what lies ahead. Hope you all enjoy!

Anj: We are in the middle of your current arc on Supergirl. This is the second time that you have been involved with the title and the character. Have you always been a Supergirl fan, or fan of the Superman Family?

James Peaty: I’d have to say that I’ve always been a fan of Superman – and by extension – the broader Super-family of characters. I can’t pretend that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Supergirl aficionado, but I absolutely get and appreciate where she sits in the wider pantheon of the DCU.

Anj: Can you tell us some of your comic background? Any particular creators or story arcs that influenced you as a fan or writer?

JP: Hmmm…that’s a tricky one. Like all people my age Watchmen, Swamp Thing, Elektra, The Dark Knight Returns and Sandman were the key books that made you think ‘this is what I want to do with my life!’, but at the same time I was also a huge fan of Grant Morrison’s work on Doom Patrol and Animal Man, most of Pete Milligan’s work on books like Shade, The Changing Man, Garth Ennis’ run on Hellblazer and James Robinson’s Starman. As you may have guessed, I was something of a DC kid! 

Of the more mainstream stuff, I always really liked Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle’s work on Batman, the ‘triangle years’ on the various Superman books and I was also a huge fan of Mark Waid’s work on both The Flash and Impulse and latterly Geoff Johns/David Goyer’s work on JSA.

More recently…well, I still love pretty much everything Morrison turns his hand to. Whether it be JLA, X-Men, We3, The Filth, Seaguy, Joe The Barbarian, Batman or All-Star Superman…I’m there! Beyond that, I really loved the Geoff Johns/Richard Donner run on Action Comics a few years back and I enjoyed Superman: Secret Origin quite a bit.

Outside the superhero mainstream, well I’ve always really liked Dan Clowes, Peter Bagge, Charles Burns, Paul Pope and David Mazzuchelli, although I doubt they influence my superhero work in any significant way.

Anj: I have to say that many of your influences are the same as mine. Sure, everyone rattles off Watchmen, Swamp Thing, and Dark Knight. But not everyone mentions Morrison’s Doom Patrol or Milligan’s Shade, two extremely important books for me.

JP: Well, I suppose they came along slightly later than those other books, so they can never have the same impact. I think in many ways Milligan is the great British writer from that period that people never really mention. His work on Shade, that fantastic run of very weird Batman stories in Detective, his Animal Man arc and then his work on Enigma, Face, The Extremist and latterly Human Target was simply stunning. It’s also through Milligan dropping references to ‘The Crying of Lot 49’, ‘Finnegans Wake’ and ‘The Naked Lunch’ in his comics that I read Thomas Pynchon, James Joyce and William Burroughs as a teenager. Thanks, Pete!

Anj: So what were you thoughts about Supergirl’s character coming into this arc?

JP: My feeling was that the book – which had struggled for a long time to settle on a character and an identity for Supergirl – had really found its sea legs with Sterling Gates writing it. It seemed – from the outside looking in – that for the first time the book made sense, was integrated with the other Super-titles and that there was a clear idea of who Supergirl actually was. I think what I wanted to do was honor that to some extent, but also play with the idea of maybe toughening Supergirl up a little bit. Just because she’s a girl doesn’t mean we should forget that she’s an alien and something of a warrior, but by the same token just because she’s those things as well that doesn’t mean you should gloss over the fact that she’s also quite inexperienced and far less integrated into human society than Superman. I guess, when all’s said and done, I just wanted to write her with a bit of range. If that worked or not…well, that’s for other people to decide.

Anj: My sense from what I have read of the story is that this arc is setting Supergirl up as the sort of Superman equivalent/role model for the next generation of heroes. She has impressed Damien, awed M’Gann, and inspired Blue Beetle. Is that what you were aiming for?

JP: Absolutely. When I took over the book it was made very clear to me that this was a note that DC wanted to play fairly strongly, which was fine by me as I thought it was a good idea, but it was also the main reason I pared back the supporting cast for these issues to just Robin, Blue Beetle and Miss Martian. Before I came on board there were a lot more guest stars planned, but I’m not sure Supergirl would have been at the heart of her own book or that that many characters would have had different enough responses to her. So I pretty much honed it down to the ones I thought would be the most interesting and visually distinctive.

Anj: It is great to hear that the DC Editorial powers-that-be wanted Supergirl to be cast as a leader. As a character, I think she has so much potential. And I have to thank you for trimming down the guest stars. One of my initial fears when I heard about this arc was that Kara would get lost in her own book.

JP: Well, you have to be mindful of that. One of the real attractions of taking on this job was the fact that it was an arc that placed Supergirl within the broader context of the DCU, but that can be both a blessing and a curse. Crossovers and team-ups are generally always a better idea in theory than they are in practice, but the ones that do work are terrifically entertaining. One of my favourite team-up stories is the finale the fourth season of the revived Doctor Who. That two-parter – The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, by Russell T Davies - is probably as good an example of this kind of story as you’re ever likely to see. It has tons of cool moments, a brilliant villain, excellent reveals and reversals, great roles for the supporting characters and yet it never loses sight of the fact that it’s the Doctor’s story. So I kept that in mind when writing this arc. Not saying it’s as good as Russell’s story, but it was a definite influence.

Anj: Despite that sense of leadership, Kara still seems to be shouldering some self-doubt, still carrying some weight of the New Krypton tragedy. Do you explore that more in the upcoming issues?

JP: Some elements of that are floating around in the background, but it’s only in the background. Those events happened to her, so I’m writing a Supergirl who’s affected by all that, but this is very much a new story. I also think her feelings aren’t just related to the fall out of New Krypton, but are related to the unfolding story of her life, the age she is and her quest to sort of find her own, particular niche within this mad and exciting world that she inhabits. Yes, the events of the last couple of years play a part, but this story is about moving on from that…which I think is clear by the end of the final issue.

Anj: I don’t know how much you can say about this, but you picked up this storyline after Nick Spencer left. But unlike Grounded where JM Straczynski is still listed as plotter, yours is the only name on the writing credits. Would you say this is your Supergirl story? Was it hard to step into a plot that was already started? Can you talk about the development of Alex as a villain?

JP: Yes, it’s my story. Was it hard to step onto a plot that had already started? Not really. Taking over halfway through an arc would be problematic, but I think when you have the chance to take the story over early, do some rewriting of the first issue and turn it into some sort of prelude to the arc…well, it’s not really a problem at all. As for the Alex character…well, all I’ll say is that he isn’t quite what you think.

Anj: As I said before, you have been on this title before, having written Supergirl #33. That was the last chapter of the ‘Saving Thomas’ arc started by Kelley Puckett . What can you tell us about that experience? Did you have some direction of where that storyline was supposed to be when it was over?

JP: That experience was kind of similar to this one, but every job has it’s own quirks. That issue was designed to specifically tie-off the Puckett run and to set up Sterling Gates’ take on the title. It was a lot of fun to do that job and I enjoyed writing Supergirl a great deal (which is probably why I was asked to step in this time) but the experience of writing a single issue is very different from penning a four or five issue arc. I felt on issue 33 my job was simply to steady the ship before the new writer came onboard, whereas on this current arc I was more concerned with telling an engaging, exciting and larger scale story and less concerned with where I left the book and the character for whoever came next.

Anj: I have enjoyed your work with Bernard Chang on this arc a lot. You really have portrayed Supergirl the way I want to see her portrayed as a fan so I am sad to see you leaving. Where can we look for you next in comics?

The Ballad of Frank Sartre pg 14

JP: I have no idea! I’ve been working on a creator owned project for a while now – The Ballad of Frank Sartre – which I’m doing with the hugely talented (and fellow Brit!) James Reekie, so hopefully that’ll be out in some form sooner rather than later. I’ve also just got an agent to represent me in the TV business, so I’m more than likely going to be doing something with that next. However, writing Supergirl has sort of rekindled my love and passion for mainstream comics, so I doubt it’ll be the last you’ve seen of me…

Anj: I’ll be sure to look for that stuff and thanks again for chatting. I look forward to reading the end of this arc. Hopefully this opportunity has made you a true ‘dyed-in-the-wool’ Supergirl fan.

JP: I think I’m getting there. Enjoy the rest of the story. 

Supergirl #63 written by James Peaty with art by Bernard Chang is on sale today.


Martin Gray said...

Excellent interview Anj, thanks to you and James for that. What a nice fella, I like his way of thinking. I've just read #63 and he's right, Alex wasn't who I thought (any of 'em!) but the reveal makes sense, and satisfies. And the lettercol finally shows the real cover to #64, with the villain cackling as villains should.

Anonymous said...

As with most interviews, I like some of what I'm hearing, but maybe not everything. Still, with Peaty I like what I hear a lot more than most of the recent writers of Supergirl.

I really like the "toughen her up" comment. Unfortunately, she has been treated a lot differently because of her gender recently. She really needed this as a character. Certainly Puckett and Palmiotti (and the little I saw of Gates) had too many tears, too much obedience, apologizing, and screwing up, and she never seemed to get the job done well.

I also really like the "leader of the next generation" aspect.

If all of the other Supergirl only restrictions to art/hormones/behavior go away and she can have the same sex appeal she had in the 50's-90's or as Superboy et al have now, I can be very happy with this take as opposed to the rest of 20-present.

Anj said...

If all of the other Supergirl only restrictions to art/hormones/behavior go away and she can have the same sex appeal she had in the 50's-90's or as Superboy et al have now, I can be very happy with this take as opposed to the rest of 20-present.

You have been staying on point recently. And I thank you fir that.

This is approaching the no fly zone.

Glad you liked the interview.

Gene said...

Thanks for the great interview Anj! Its goodies like this that makes your blog a treat to visit every day.

You asked all the questions I was wondering about Peaty's take on writing Supergirl. I'm glad he was given some creative freedom instead of just being a space filler between writers. I agree with his views on team ups and Supergirl playing a leadership role.

Anonymous said...

Good interview, "good get".

John Feer