Writer Interview: Devin Grayson

Artist Bio & Interview Notes:

Many people who are fans of Roy's know Devin K. Grayson. She has redefined the current view of Roy and made him more accessible to new readers. Her work on Batman, Nightwing, Titans and Black Widow to name a few have cemented her as a name still recognized within the comics industry, even if she is no longer active within it. :) I had the privilege to meet, lunch and talk with Ms. Grayson a couple of times during her run with DC Comics, enjoying her charm and enthusiasm for her characters and her craft. I was dismayed when she left with so many other writers and artists during the regime change at DC. No matter your opinion of her writing, she must be commended and given her due credit for giving us the Roy we now miss from the current 'new 52' books.

Jude DeLuca: "I sent Miss Grayson a couple of questions pertaining to Roy and Lian, and being a writer, and she answered them."

You are the writer who is often considered to be the only one in recent years who ever had a clear vision of Roy Harper's character. Why did you spend so much time and energy in Roy's character development, and Lian's?

Roy really spoke me. His particular brand of masculinity, the way he carried himself, his voice…he immediately felt like someone I knew – not that he was literally like anyone in my life, but that he’d totally fit in with my friends. Many of the men in my life did relate to him, though, so I got valuable input from multiple sources. What I didn’t initially know much of anything about but found fascinating was his Navajo background. Much like studying the Romany culture as part of my research on Dick Grayson, I just couldn’t find enough material on the Navajo to paint a convincing picture for myself until I reached out directly to the community. The support and input I got from them, in addition to making me fall in love with Navajo culture, made me feel responsible for creating a character that, although not technically Navajo himself, could represent the culture in a positive way.

Additionally, my parents divorced before I was two and from about two to ten, though I did still regularly see my mom, I spent a lot of time with my single dad being my primary care-taker. And he rocked it—he had a gift for turning boring errands into fun adventures and was also genuinely interested in the world and sharing what he loved about it with me. So I guess another part of what I saw in Roy and Lian was a chance to share that very positive experience.

What do you think the name "Arsenal" really means for Roy?

When I was writing him, there was some concern from the editors that he was too much of a Green Arrow clone (editors and publishers worry about such a things a lot, unnecessarily in my opinion; if a grown son and his father are both doctors, does that make the son an irrelevant, redundant character?). So I’m the one who came up with the moo-gi-gon idea. Despite having a funny name, moo-gi-gon is a fascinating martial arts form that allows you to use basically any found object as a weapon. Visually, it’s very entertaining—maybe you remember the Jackie Chan/ Yuen Biao bench fight in Young Master, for example, or the “ladder fight” in First Strike (in which Jackie Chan also uses his jacket, somebody else’s jacket, a box full of papers, a table, a bunch of costume dragon’s heads, wood planks, two brooms and staff-length sticks before he even finds the ladder). I thought that if someone with a quick mind and nearly supernatural aim mastered it, they could be a pretty devastating—and also creative and at times amusing—fighter. So for me—though I didn’t come up with the name--“Arsenal” was a reference to the fact that Roy could actually walk into any fight with absolutely nothing. His arsenal of weapons is really his skills and his ability to be observant about his surroundings (a skill which I think was heightened by his move from the Navajo cultural into Ollie’s world; Navajo beliefs have more than a touch of animism in them, and Ollie’s world was initially filled with unfamiliar trappings Roy had to learn to navigate). In Navajo culture, too, objects are not so much owned as used, so a martial arts form that let him “borrow” whatever was around him felt like a good way to come back to his roots a little bit after years of using Ollie’s very consumer-oriented archery forms.

What do you think is the most appealing aspect behind having Roy as a single parent?

Roy being a single parent was definitely part of what attracted me to him as a character. On one level, it let us explore a growing reality that you don’t often see reflected in comics. I was thrilled to see a young man raising a little girl on his own; that’s part of my reality and the reality of a lot of my peers (unlike single grown men taking pre-teen wards into their custody…I have yet to meet anyone with that background). Secondly, it gives Roy everything he needs to grow and evolve. We take this event—having sex with Cheshire—that really isn’t his brightest moment, and let it become an opportunity for him to redefine himself as a responsible adult with parental obligations. In my mind, that’s one of the most compelling and resonate themes in superhero comics; turning a negative experience into a positive progression.

Do you believe Lian is a viable character and not just a plot device?

Completely. You can use her as a plot device, as almost every writer—myself included—did at some point, but that’s just part of the rich history of endangering the hero’s loved ones. Lian as a character stood for everything that was good and on track about Roy; she absorbed and utilized all of his good qualities and he worked very hard to keep his demons away from her. That’s what father’s do. She was bright and funny and cool and, for the most part, happy and well-adjusted. Did Roy always do everything perfectly? Did your dad? Of course not. But he really tried, and that’s compelling drama.

As a civilian—at least in her youth—Lian was also one of the few characters in the Titans’ universe that grounded the heroics in real-life consequences and motivations. I have a great job that I love, but there are some days, some deadlines, that take a lot out of me, and I soldier on in part because of my obligation to create a safe and fulfilling life for my kids. We don’t see enough of that in superhero stories. Roy and Lian, more than any other characters I can think of in that group, were two people invested in creating a full and meaningful life. They had an apartment. They had a schedule. The idea that the readers couldn’t relate to them seems crazy to me; they were the only ones living lives that looked anything like ours.

I do want to acknowledge, though, that kids make super-hero story-telling difficult. You’ve got twenty-two (or now twenty or however many) pages, you’ve got your main action through line, and then you also have a child character that you have to be constantly aware of providing care for. I saw that as a meaningful challenge rather than a burden; an opportunity to ground Roy’s super heroics in a more immediate, every-day reality, but I imagine that some writers felt it wasn’t worth the effort. That said, I can almost guarantee that her death was the result of a higher-up saying that being a parent made Roy seem “old” and “unrelatable” to readers. I can’t tell you how many times I heard that when I was working at DC. That was the same logic used to discourage letting characters get married; “you don’t want to be reading about your parents, do you?” It’s ridiculous, but it only takes one divorced guy with daddy issues to screw it up for the rest of us.

What were your plans for the Titans series before you left? What plans did you have for Roy and Lian?

To be honest, I don’t remember what the next adventure I had planned for the Titans was; that was more than ten years ago. I know what they meant to me and what I felt was important about them as individuals and as a group, but my six-year outline vanished at least four computers ago.

I did know exactly who Lian would grow-up to be, though. She’s brilliant, of course, so I imagined her getting a full scholarship to Yale, but deferring in a brief fit of young adult rebellion and ending up at Langley, somewhat to Roy’s horror (“You can’t work for the government!” – “What are you talking about, Dad? You did it for years!”). Eventually she does go to Yale, though, and ends up as a well-respected criminal psychologist working predominantly with STARR Labs, very close to her very proud father, and, in my mind at least, a lesbian (I guess I just love the idea of adult Lian and Roy catching each other checking out the same woman). She sites Oracle as her primary vocational inspiration and does a lot of work with the superhero community, but never dons a costume herself (well, maybe once or twice, to help save her dad--special miniseries issues). Roy never marries, but does have one or two long-term, meaningful relationships, which Lian encourages. Lian does marry—by the time she’s ready to, gay marriage has been legalized—and of course Roy walks her down the aisle.

Why did you become a writer?

I really didn’t have much of a choice. Writing is a compulsion for me—I do it, sometimes to the detriment of everything else I’m supposed to be doing, whether I’m being paid or not. Being able to actually make a living at it has been both a tremendous gift and a tremendous relief.

What have you ever hoped to accomplish as a writer?

Writing isn’t a means to an end for me; it’s its own reward. I suppose at some level I use fiction as a way to examine and synthesize truth. So all I’ve ever wanted to accomplish as a writer is the clarification and sharing of truths about the world and the human condition.

Do you enjoy what you do?

Very much so. There are aspects of the job—as with any job—that are less pleasurable than others, but overall I feel extremely fortunate to do this for a living.