An Interview With Cecil Castellucci
by Travis Hedge Coke
Sometimes everything gets away from you.
I am an embarrassingly big fan of Barbara Gordon, the 1960s and current Batgirl. I am also an embarrassingly big fan of Cecil Castellucci and what she did in The Plain Janes; Shade, the Changing Girl; and The Female Furies. Her part of the Young Animal/DCU crossover, Milk Wars, contains some of the scariest moments in comics. Anyone’s comics.
I am afraid that stuff was going to get the emphasis, because holy holy holy, Female Furies, and because there’s a new printing of her The Plain Janes out this year, from Little, Brown Books.
Soon as we got this interview moving, people were asking from all sides about Batgirl, the ongoing title Castellucci has been writing since summer of 2019.
Travis Hedge Coke: What has been the appeal of Batgirl for you?
Cecil Castellucci: I really think that Batgirl is really one of the most interesting characters in the Batfamily. She’s brilliant, very resilient and is constantly growing and learning. She has an enormous capacity for change and tries to solve problems from every different angle and seeks out solutions that are both soft (psychological/ emotional) and hard (with her fists). She is ever curious about how to be helpful and is never down for the count, even when other people try to take her off the table. (I’m looking at you, Joker.) Her becoming Oracle is a testament to her commitment to being a hero in whatever way she can.
When she started, she brought a real feminist view to her book and really balanced being a modern woman and a hero as best she could at that time. She really challenges Batman and she still does, pushing him to broaden his view on things. Honestly, I think that is one of the reasons why Dick Grayson/Robin/Nightwing has always been smitten with her from the start. Another thing I find fascinating about Barbara/Batgirl’s origin story is that she becomes the youngest person (and one of the only women) in congress in her early run. So you can see that she has really always taken a whole view of what it means to be hero. She’s also is an early adopter of technology and how it can be used for good. So she is always trying to push the envelope. Basically, I think she’s a great well rounded person that a lot of other DCU heroes could learn from.
Hedge Coke: What do you feel distinguishes Barbara Gordon from the other Batgirls and Batwomans?
Castellucci: What distinguishes Babs is that she kind of set the tone for the Batgirls, who are all uniquely themselves. But one thing I think one thing that they all have in common is that they are all resilient. That’s what you need to be a Batgirl or Batwoman, a certain flexibility and openness to change. To becoming who you truly are and pushing the envelope. To own your mistakes and make repair. I actually instigated a whole panel on this at SDCC @ Home this year with some of the writers of the other Batgirls, Oracle and Batwoman. You can watch it here. All the Batladies are pretty fabulous.
Hedge Coke: Do you prefer writing about grounded situations or magic/scifi/cosmic stuff?
Castellucci: I love both equally! Each genre, contemporary grounded stories or speculative offer such different vibes in terms of story telling. I like to think of it as painting with a different narrative palette. I am a huge space enthusiast, so I love science fiction and don’t feel like I’ve dived in it enough. But there is something great about reflecting the real world. I do a lot of that in my young adult work. Or say, with a graphic novel like The Plain Janes (with Jim Rugg).
Hedge Coke: How do you do your writing most? Specific tools? Place?
Castellucci: Well, like everyone right now, I’m working in my house and barely leaving it. So that’s the big switch. Usually I like to mix it up between my home office and a cafe. So I’m super looking forward to that time again. There is something great about the random white noise of a cafe that brings about a certain vibe when I’m in the revision process. Mostly I use my lap top. But I always have a notebook in my purse for when I used to be out in the world. I also sometimes jot scenes down on index cards and put them on the floor and move them around. Sometimes writing random scenes down and shifting them helps. If I had room for a whiteboard, I’d probably use that. But instead, I use the floor! I do love a fountain pen. I prefer Lamy brand. So when I write long hand I use a fountain pen.
Hedge Coke: What is the place of politics in comics?
Castellucci: Gonna adjust your question a bit and say I don’t think that you can create art of any kind that is divorced from the world that you live in. Art reflects the world and the times so I think inherently all art is political by default. And I personally believe that it is the job of the artist to speak to the truths or lies that are happening and reflect what’s going on. Art without a point of view (whether you, as a consumer of it, agree with it or not) is super bland and boring. And even that is political unto itself. So I would say it’s not so much a matter of place in art, but art springing forth from place. Art is political from the get go because there is always going to be a relationship between it, the times, the creator, and the audience. Whether it’s intentional or not, everybody is bringing something with them to the art table.
Hedge Coke: What makes comics worth it?
Castellucci: The collaborative aspect of the medium is what makes comics so incredible. That’s my favorite thing about it. And I think comics are totally worth it. Just like I think opera is worth it. Or punk rock. Or theater. All art forms are worth it.
Hedge Coke: How much rewriting do you do on average?
Castellucci: I think that writing is mostly rewriting. I do a lot of revision. I don’t have a fast and loose set number of drafts that I do. It’s a per project thing. Some take longer and more drafts to crack. Some are easier to find a way in.
Hedge Coke: What did you write recently that you are most proud of?
Castellucci: Well, I can’t pin it down to just one thing. These past 12 months have been a pretty banner year. I’m fiercely proud of The Female Furies with Adriana Melo. It was a real honor to write that story, and to play in Kirby’s Fourth World. It was a hard story to write, but it felt essential. I’m also really proud of the end few issues of Batgirl. Starting from issue 47, where I got to directly confront Batgirl’s history with the Joker and to flesh out some of the Gordon family drama. Then for a switch there is the memoir, Girl on Film (art by Jon Berg, Melissa Duffy, V Gagnon and Vicky Leta), that I did with Boom Studios about how I thought I would be a filmmaker but art had different plans for me, my intersection with a lot of people that became a part of pop culture and a lesson in memory and neuroscience. And then there is The Plain Janes with Jim Rugg. That’s about a group of girls all named Jane who do art and activism through street art. It is an omnibus of the first two books that Jim and I did 12 years ago along with a new third book that finally finishes the tale that we wanted to tell.
Hedge Coke: What is your favorite misinterpretation of your work?
Castellucci: This question is weird. How about what’s a favorite interpretation of my work? Because it’s much more fun when people see the things that you are truly trying to do with a character. Like I loved when people really got that me and Marley in Shade the Changing Girl were equating Loma Shade being an alien and possessing a human with the alien way we all feel when we are teenagers and our bodies are changing. Or that they understood that I was making a connection between dark matter in the universe with the madness that Shade’s coat captures.
Hedge Coke: What can we look forward to from you in the near future?
Castellucci: I’ve got a short story in an upcoming DC Metal Dark Knights issue that I’m really excited about. And then I have a couple of other things that aren’t announced yet but are in the works that I can’t wait to share.
You can just about trace where my questions built around comics about young arts activists and women soldiers on a demon planet of misanthropy of sexism were pushed back a bit to focus on Batgirl, a comic that is, to be fair, currently serializing and making waves and tied in with other Batman-related goings on. And, has been really good!
Many readers (including myself) were hurt by one recent issue of Batgirl in particular, and I did ask if Castellucci had anything she wanted to say to that, but like my questions about Shade and Barda and the People Loving Art In Neighborhoods, they’ll have to wait for another interview, when we all have more time.
An Interview With Cecil Castellucci
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