Not to sound like a snot-nosed kid or anything, but I’ve been following your career for as long as I’ve been reading comics.
As a kid, Superman sold me on the idea that a man could fly…but Blood Syndicate convinced me that I could. You’ve worked on both properties, and loads more (X-Men Unlimited, Justice League of America, and Spike, just to name a few). It’s an honor speaking with you today.
When you reached out to me via Twitter, I assumed it was because you were going to give me grief for my character Blackest Terror essentially being second rate Wise Son fan fiction. I’m glad you wanted to talk about the recent Smallville controversy instead…
CHRISCROSS: Well if you told Wise Son that you believed you could fly, he might laugh at you and chime in a round of “I believe I can fly” from R. Kelly. He’s a jerk like that.
And it is a pleasure to be doing this with you. Just tell me you’re not really wearing a red Superman towel with blue thong on to test out that theory?
You know what…. don’t tell me. :D
ESQUIVEL: Ha! I can neither confirm, nor deny that…
So, speaking of The Man of Tomorrow—you recently had the honor of, along with author Brian Q. Miller, introducing both Batman and Nightwing into the Smallville universe.
…Which is a pretty big deal on two counts: Smallville fans had been clamoring for a Bruce Wayne cameo for eleven years, ever since season one of the television show, and the Previews solicitation spoiled (pun intended) the fact that Stephanie Brown was going to be this universe’s incarnation of Nightwing.
As everyone in our industry knows…Stephanie Brown fans are out of their damn minds. Ever since DC editorial rebooted her out of continuity, Steph’s fan base has been incredibly vocal about their displeasure–going so far as to mail frozen waffles to the DC offices, in protest of what they perceive as a misogynistic attempt to keep the batcave a “boys only” club.
Ever clever, you and Miller found a way to give all of the Steph fans back their favorite superheroine, while still keeping her out of the post-reboot “New 52″ hoopla: introduce her in the out-of-mainstream-continuity Smallville series.
Except…there was a last minute change, right before the book came out. Can you tell us about that, Chris?
CHRISCROSS: Waitaminnit. Don’t make me go ELECTRIC Heeyuh…. Before I answer that, did they REALLY send frozen waffles to the peeps at DC?
Leggo mah eggo!!
ESQUIVEL: Yeah, dude.
Apparently Brian Q. Miller (the author of Stephanie’s Batgirl run, and your collaborator on the Smallville comics in question) had folks bonding over waffles as a recurring motiff, and it really resonated with people.
Personally, I was never a huge Stephanie Brown fan–mostly because it bummed me out that her, Supergirl and Wonder Girl were all blond, blue-eyed, Aryan poster children. It seemed like DC had decided what their standard of teenage female perfection was, and just kept pumping out clones for every franchise in their stable.
Which, y’know, in an industry that constantly complains about our lack of a female audience, seemed like a pretty odd strategy.
Also: wicked creepy.
You actually pitched reintroducing Steph as a black woman, didn’t you?
CHRISCROSS: Heh …
Well let me go back a bit to what you asked me before…
I like Stephanie Brown, as I’ve actually drawn her before in a jam annual for Gotham City some time ago. And, while drawing her, I thought she would make a perfect Batgirl since Barbara Gordon was already another moniker. I never knew Steph had such a fan following! It’s like when everyone was wondering why Pierce Brosnan wasn’t picked for any James Bond roles and it garnered this big discussion way back when.
The change was a surprise to me, seeing that I had already begun drawing our version of Nightwing, and with Steph in mind. Bryan’s suggested that we give her a light purple wig. I thought that was too Hit Girl, so I suggested that, since this is the Smallville universe, we could score some cool acclaim if we made her a “sister”. I think Bryan swallowed his breath a couple of times and then wondered if it was the right thing—but I like scaring people with innovative ideas. I think I really scared him when he saw those Afropuffs zooming outside that funky mask. It’s Smallville, doggonit. Not the DC universe as we know it. The landscape is free for terraforming. I think Steph should have been “less universal”. It would have shaken up the concept and truly separated DC World from Smallville.
Look, who’s going to believe that a white blond girl is taking up a campaign of ultra-urban warfare with some Billionaire in the ‘hood, Gotham or otherwise? Any white guy in a black populated gang who’s that accepted did some off-The-wall crazy thing that made those other brothers accept him to begin with! Like bite a grandpa’s kneecap off and chew it, or jump off a 20 story building to save some money they ripped off from a department store…. Or run butt nekkid through a train with cops there… Some nonsense like that. What would Steph have to do to be accepted in an urban landscape to be taken seriously?
…Shoot, now that I think about it… The way I designed him, with that get-up and that black facepaint….I think I answered my own question!
She was supposed to have the black facepaint also…. I think someone goofed or got skerred. ( That’s “scared”, for the hoodrat-deficient. )
ESQUIVEL: I love that thing you said about making Stephanie “less universal”. DC’s “kryptonite” (see what I did there?) has always been that their characters are difficult to relate to. They tend to treat heroism as if it’s a quality exclusive to white, wealthy, heterosexual, non-disabled folks.
And when DC has the good sense to purchase other, more worldly franchises–like Milestone or Wildstorm–they either misunderstand their appeal and present them poorly, or retcon them into irrelevance.
Static was a revolutionary piece of work because it had all of the elements of early Spider-Man—young kid from a modest household, suddenly imbued with God-like abilities and thrust into a life of high-stakes responsibility—but it also dealt with real, modern day issues: his civilian identity was named after an African-American guy who was denied entrance to the University of Florida’s law school, he wore a Malcolm X hat in-costume, his villains were all neighborhood gang bangers, in one issue he used his powers to save his best friend from getting gay bashed, etc.
Static’s New 52 counterpart is as far removed from the street as he could possibly be, working in a science fiction laboratory and using high tech gadgetry to duke it out with generic villains-of-the-week and evil twins and all of that. Completely untrue to the character, and about nothing other than superficial, ephemeral DC continuity.
Stormwatch is even worse. When they rebooted, DC literally took the only same-sex married couple in their universe (Apollo and Midnighter), broke them up, and nullified the adoption of their baby daughter.
And then there’s Voodoo. DC got buried in the backlash from readers after her New 52 book dropped, and everyone realized that the only black female superhero in the current universe is a stripper.
Even as someone who’s kind of critical of DC’s recent editorial decisions, that was a hard one to watch–and I was just on the sidelines.
One would think that DC would’ve responded to your offer of reintroducing Stephanie Brown as a black (non-stripper) woman by throwing boat loads of The Dark Knight Rises money at you and giving you a permanent spot of the editorial staff.
It’s not like they’re doing anything with the character, anyway (either in Smallville or in The New 52).
Why do you think DC turned the idea down? Do you think character diversity makes them nervous?
CHRISCROSS: Wow, Eric, sounds like you should be wearing that “X” hat, huh? Heheh….
Well, let’s break this down for a minute. I’m not thinking it’s some kind of conspiracy that Stephanie Brown wasn’t dubbed an African-American woman in Smallville and that I was all hurt up over it.
My plan was to add to the mystery of Smallville and create a diversity that would differentiate Smallville DC from DCU—something that was done when Marvel allowed Bryan Hitch to use the likeness of Samuel Jackson to play Nick Fury in their new renovation and re-imagination of S.H.I.E.L.D. I think a lot of people readily accepted that change because the thought of Samuel Jackson playing anything Marvel related—including Nick Fury—is just a great thing and cool as hell.
Who knows if they put a black Stephanie Brown in Smallville if she would have been accepted by the fans? I think they would have been a touch God-smacked at first, but if the actress was really good and the situation and lines were great, they would have immediately accepted her as Smallville’s Stephanie Brown.
I think people are more peeved about Stephanie’s alias being Nightwing than they would have been if she was a “sister”. And I also think they made Barbara Gordon Nightwing instead of Stephanie Brown because they thought it would be an uproar that Barbara wasn’t given a chance to be the classic partner to the new Batman because of the lore of the character in the Batman Universe. It had the opposite effect. They pulled Steph… which made me nervous because I didn’t want to have to redraw panels… hahah…but really made me raise an eyebrow and smile because I didn’t know that everyone was so passionate about Stephanie Brown.
When did people start liking Stephanie Brown more than Barbara Gordon anyway? :D
As for DC and diversity, I think they’ve come a long way since i’ve been in Milestone. I think with what Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan and Derek Dingle put into play, it put people on notice that you’re not going to just put people of color into comics anymore without stepping into the shoes of that character’s culture, behavior and situation and the wisdom that follows that line of cultural concept without doing your research.
The characters in Milestone were so full of life and connectivity (and not just African-American—they made that a point of interest when making the company and brand) that you now had to follow suit because the populace would then be awakened to what makes people of color operate and you would have to tailor stories and dialog accordingly. With Static (now Static Shock) with who he was and how he was written, (expertly by the late and great Robert Washington lll and guided by the Late Dwayne McDuffie), it wasn’t just superhero stories… it was situation drama and comedy splashed in. It played to history and difference of thinking. It’s not the same people and cloned style of watching teen angst on the CW or ABC Family… it was actual people with actual problems that most people who lived in urban surroundings lived through.. whether you were European, Latino, or African or ASIAN for that matter… can’t leave out the Asian brothers and sisters…. or whether you were living the gay lifestyle… it was all portrayed as the times saw it whether you agreed with it or not. And stuff like that can create waves.
And I’m guessing that DC is a wing of a corporation that has a higher echelon to answer to and those higher echelon folks want to make sure that if you’re creating diversity that you create characters that won’t make waves that incite negative credulity… no matter how ignorant or militant some people will be regardless… or, as they say down sowf, “irregardless”.
I think it’s just when a company becomes superhuman they can lose touch with the humans. And they need the people who delegate humanely through them to have more power in understanding that when characters are portrayed that it’s not in a condescending nature. So to avoid that situation, they go for the mainline storylines, the ol’ faithfuls … like stopping a runaway train, dealing with that super-villain that robs a bank or hold people hostage.. to keep people from having to deal with whether they get the accent wrong on that person or having a character make a boorish remark about a black brother eating fried chicken when he’s really a vegetarian.
It would take someone in charge to fully step into the process and realize what is being done in those books.. like Static Shock... I’m still getting used to saying “Static Shock”… To delve into the material and want to shine and polish what makes those stories great and let the writers write those stories and make them.. guide them… into narration that might not make them comfortable but will create great stories.
And like in the vein of Static Shock, I think there was just lack of communications and lines got blurred. And that blot just cascaded all over that book. I know that they want to have a chance to redo that whole thing to make it right sometime soon.
As far as Voodoo is concerned, I don’t know why everyone is trippin’…. Voodoo was ALWAYS a stripper! And she’s been stripping even when the X-men crossed over years back. So they bug out that she’s stripping now? That’s not DC’s fault. Someone just needs to write a great pitch that either makes that idea work, or find a way to re-invent that character and do it right.
I think people are, for the most part, ready to coil when anything is said nowadays. People are all of a sudden politically-correct and conscious and it’s annoying to me. Don’t get me wrong. If something is written and drawn that’s blatantly wanting to cause a fight, it should be pointed out and dealt with in the marketplace…. but people who’ve never been whipped or shot with water-hoses or dragged by a car or hanged for their beliefs…who have freedoms that people have suffered for so they can enjoy them and have that freedom to openly say without limitation seem to be versed in all of reality and are willing to do and say things just to have a voice. We take ourselves too seriously or not serious enough. There’s no in-between.
In the end, as Walt Simonson said to me, “… after all, it’s just comics, Son.”
you can’t beat that with a bat.
ESQUIVEL: Yeah, I don’t think people would’ve responded so critically to the DC relaunch’s lack of diversity if the whole point of the initiative wasn’t to…y’know…diversify their line, and appeal to a broader, contemporary audience.
You mentioned the last minute Stephanie-Brown-To-Barbara-Gordon switcheroo. Let’s talk about that a little bit.
You and Brian made the decision to have Batman’s sidekick in the Smallville-verse be Nightwing, and to have that Nightwing’s alter ego be Stephanie Brown. DC editorial turned down your idea of Steph being a black woman, but they okayed the overall concept. The solicitations hit Diamond, people got all excited, and then the book hit stands and Stephanie was nowhere to be found.
What was that like, behind the scenes? Who swooped in and demanded the change? Was there a reason given?
CHRISSCROSS: Well, it was a thing that Bryan came up with …. I learned about it when I got the scripts and then-editor Kwanza Johnson gave me the lay of the land. It was something that brought me to the yard as an added bonus. At first I thought that Nighwing was going to be a male like in the DCU… and I suggested how cool it would be to make Nightwing a woman and he said”, Dude! Didn’t I tell you? Nighwing’s a GIRL!!” And I was like, “What? LOL! Dude! Why didn’t you say that?!”
So we went back and forth a bit about the look Bryan had in mind and we went back and forth a little bit more. He wanted purple hair… which would have been funkified to me but I felt it would resemble Hit Girl from Kick Ass and I wanted nothing to create a link to anything anyone thought was vogue at that moment. I wanted Nightwing to visually stand on her own.
Bryan agreed, and I came up with a couple of color combinations in the outfit that we eventually decided on …along with the then-purple hair… that would create a cool look for the world of Smallville.
Then it was still Stephanie. But I actually learned about the change in a link I saw that came across my notifications in my iphone and found out that Steph had been replaced by Barbara.
And I saw the uproar and thought, “Wow. People REALLY love Stephanie Brown!”
So my only concern is that I would have had to re-tailor all those panels I had already drawn, but I just made the suggestion that Barb keep the same hairstyle, just recolor the hair red!
I wasn’t upset by the change… when you’ve worked in this biz as long as I have, you learn to deal with last minute changes and roll with the punches to help the story see daylight.
So like in any industry, if it benefits the people involved, you just get it done and make it look great.
And like I said before, it was just a last minute decision to use Barb Gordon to keep the Bat-family history alive and to show honor to the character in a slightly-parallel-universe-“What If?” capacity.
Hey, I just draw the characters and make them look pretty. I powder them, apply last minute makeup, touch up the smokey eyes and mascara, smack them in the butt and send them down the runway!
ESQUIVEL: Chris, thanks for doin’ this, man.
You’re one of the most respected voices in comics, and I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to debunk all the conspiracy rumors and let folks know what’s really goin’ on.
While we’re on the topic of your busy schedule–what’s next? Rumor is you’re doin’ some crowd funding research, thinking about launching an independent project via Kickstarter or IndieGoGo…
Wow! Thanks, Eric, if I’m that respected, I need to speak more often!!
So what’s next, you ask….?
Well, after I come back from a much NEEDED vacation, I’ll be working on the Green Lantern Corps annual with Peter Tomasi, who the last time I paired with him, he was the editor on the second reboot of Firestorm that had myself and Dan Jolley (And yes, People, I did create the look to Jason Rusch). I’ve been reading his work and the man is really a writing powerhouse. It’ll be great to work with him in this capacity.
While that is going on , I’m working on my own various projects, but the main concepts are going to be paired up for the most part with Vito Delsante, a great writer who’s been working with DC on various projects in the past like Superman and Batman Adventures. He and I came together to create Eternal Kick LLC, a transmedia company that will allow us to branch out our ideas into the marketplace in many ways. With what we got cooking, I’m sure people will really like it. We should have our website up and running next year. Everyone will know when it pops off.
Im so glad you wanted me to be down with this interview and I hope to do more with you, dude.
In the meantime, if anyone wants to know what I’m up to, I just created a new blog called The ChrisCrosser, which is a newer version of my older one…which is about to be trashed….(and the link is http://chriscross.posterous.com).
And my business partner Vito Delsante… so you can get to know his work in case you’re not aware of him is at: www.vitodelsante.com