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Kami Garcia Talks Teen Titans: Robin And Building A Universe - Exclusive Interview

While the "Titans" series may be ending on the small screen after its fourth season, the "Teen Titans" universe created by Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo is expanding once again in a different medium. In the new young adult graphic novel, "Teen Titans: Robin," Beast Boy, Raven, Max, and Damian Wayne will be joined by Dick Grayson's Robin. The new series will explore the growing friendship of the core group while adding to the world-building that Garcia and Picolo have already created in the series' previous entries — "Teen Titans: Beast Boy," "Teen Titans: Raven," and "Teen Titans: Beast Boy Loves Raven."

We spoke with author Kami Garcia about the fourth installment of the "Teen Titans" YA series for an exclusive interview, where she dove into the characters, shared what it has been like developing their stories with Gabriel Picolo, and teased what readers can expect in the installments to come.

Expanding the world of Beast Boy Loves Raven

How does it feel to see this universe continue to build out of the events of the last book, "Teen Titans: Beast Boy Loves Raven"?

This one is a direct sequel, so it picks up right after "Beast Boy Loves Raven." It's fun because now we actually have a group assembly. That was always the intent, but it took a few books before we got enough characters to feel like a group. Now it's fun because it feels like a whole "Teen Titans" posse finally coming together, and it's fun to see all the characters together on the page.

This must feel like a culmination of multiple books in the series coming together ...

It's probably been five years because we started a year before "Teen Titans: Raven" came out — almost five and a half, because there was extra lag between "Teen Titans: Beast Boy" and "Teen Titans: Beast Boy Loves Raven." This is the fourth book, but we were working for an entire year before that, and I think even longer. Gabriel [Picolo] and I have known each other for six years now, so it's fun. [From] the second book on, we've had the same layout artist, and the same colorist since the first book. Gabriel and I have been with David [Calderon] since "Raven" and with Rob Haynes and David since "Beast Boy."

It's fun because we have a shorthand. We all know each other, and we feel comfortable with what everyone else brings to the table. It's nice to see that payoff when the books come out and the readers are so excited about them.

What made Robin — both Damian [Wayne] and Dick Grayson — the next characters you wanted to focus on?

In my original pitch, it was a Damian-Robin pitch. Then, once Gabriel was the artist for the project, and we were co-creating together — Dick is his favorite Robin. He saw there was a Robin pitch, but he didn't realize it was Damian. Even though he liked Damian, he was sad and sounded upset. He was like, "I really want to have Dick too." That was complicated because I was planning on one Robin, but then I tried to figure out how would I incorporate both of them since Dick is his favorite and Damian is mine. The idea of a brothers' story came to mind, and that's in line with the series anyway. All of the books are about found family, but they all have different bits of family in them.

In "Raven," you see her foster mom who's about to be her adoptive mom. You see her new mom, which is really her aunt. You see Beast Boy's family in "Beast Boy" and "Beast Boy Loves Raven." I liked the idea of continuing a family theme where you're not only seeing the found family and the Teen Titans group form, but you're also looking at real sibling dynamics. I have four brothers and a sister, so I have a lot of siblings, and it was fun to draw on all that. We were young; we drove each other nuts. It's fun to draw on all those personal experiences, and I'm sure a lot of readers have the same experience.

Bringing an older hero into the group

What was it like to introduce a character who is more mature? Dick's older than Damian, Raven, Maxime, and the core group — what dynamic does he bring?

I like the fact that he is older in canon and also in the series because Dick is such a solid, grounded character. Beast Boy's a little wild, Raven is broody, and Max vacillates between the two; Damian is so explosive, and he reacts immediately. Dick is this calming presence where he's not in control all the time, but he has his soulful personality where he is a calming force. 

I like the fact that he is a little older. He's college-age in our series, because when you're a teenager, college and your early 20s is when most people settle a little. I have an 18-year-old, [and] I have a 16-year-old; you see a big difference in the teen years. I felt like if [Dick] was a couple of years older, he would be more settled. I like it because it goes with Dick's personality. I always think of Dick and Nightwing as the calm before the storm. He's a strong presence, but he also makes you feel secure.

Where do we find these young heroes in this story?

From "Beast Boy Loves Raven," Damian is introduced in that book. You already know Damian, and what you find out is ... A lot of this is on the back, so this isn't a spoiler. But Dick is Bruce's adopted son. He was an orphan, and Bruce adopted him. He's in college. Much like in canon, Damian Wayne arrives on the scene. Talia al Ghul, his mother, brings him to meet Bruce and is like, "By the way, here's your son." Damian is very nervous about that in general but arrives on the scene to meet this father that he's never known — and there's already a kid, a boy almost his age, that this person has adopted and is close with. So even though they're very welcoming, Damian immediately feels replaced, which is tough, because to be fair, Bruce didn't know about him.

[Bruce] wasn't replacing him. He wasn't subbing one son for another, but that's how Damian feels. Dick is excited to have a brother and a sibling and somebody ... close to his age that he can have camaraderie with. But Damian — his personality in canon — is not having it; he's not interested. We started off immediately with this tricky dynamic where Damian has left Gotham because he didn't want to have anything to do with Bruce. Dick is this heroic big brother figure who wishes that his little brother was there and wants to find him. We start out with this cool dynamic where there's already conflict even before we get to see them together on the page.

Backstory and bonuses

We're seeing the universe expand and seeing another side of the DC Universe, especially how this connects to Gotham and Bat Family stuff. What was it like bringing in that dynamic? We've met Damian Wayne before, but now we're diving a lot deeper into his personal history.

It was tricky because I want to show some of the backstory, but one of the things that Gabriel and I were very set on — and our editors agreed with — was we did not want Batman in the book in a big way. We did not want Bruce in the book in a big way. We did not want Gotham to overshadow the "Teen Titans" universe and the Bat Family to overshadow the fact that what the book is about is Dick joining this group of kids — not the Bat Family and what they're doing.

You do see another favorite of mine that's adjacent to Bruce. You might be able to guess who that is. We kept Batman off the page for the most part, because we felt like that was a good way to keep the story focused on the teens and not to tread into this as a Batman story. You hear from him — you hear him talking to the boys; you hear what happened. You see that as Damian's remembering it in the backstory. At the same time, we wanted to keep the focus on the teens because you're not going to see Bruce hanging out with them and stuff. Max's mother is a big figure in the series, but Bruce is not. This is not a Gotham Batman story, but you get to see just enough of it.

Specifically, Beast Boy and Raven hinted at a romance between Max Navarro and Damian Wayne. Does this book explore that a little bit more?

It is very interesting that you asked that. There are two exclusive edition covers to the series, and they both have some bonus material in the back. One is Barnes & Noble, and the other is Walmart. They both have an exclusive cover, and then they have eight additional pages of character designs and art in the back. They are different, so Walmart's back matter bonus stuff is different than the Barnes & Noble [edition] ...

Walmart has a cover that might answer that question. Walmart has a romance-y cover, and it features Damian and Max — which I was excited about because not only is Max a strong female Black superhero that we created, but it is really nice. We very often see white superheroes always getting all this play. It was fun to see two characters of color on the front of the book.

Gabriel and I are super proud of that, even though I did zero art on the cover. I just get to take credit for thinking it looks gorgeous. It's interesting because as someone who loves books and collects books, I'm always like, "Are these worth it? Is there anything cool in them?"

I'm flipping through this one, and it is so fun. You get to see the car designs [and] the different character designs that he played with for us to be able to come up with outfits for Dick and Damian. I love these. You also get to see some different covers that we either passed on or that were the ones that the exclusives didn't pick, [so you] get to see all Gabriel's color cover designs. You will get to know a lot more about that romance from not just the covers but from reading the book.

A new side to Beast Boy and Raven

Beast Boy and Raven were prominently featured in the first batch of stories. What is their role in this book, and how does that connect with Robin?

A lot of people have been asking us online, "If this is a Robin book, are Beast Boy and Raven still in it?" They are. Since it picks up right at the end of "Beast Boy Loves Raven," without giving anything away, Damian is with them at that point, and Max. They are still together at the beginning of the book, and they stay together. Damian doesn't break off and go somewhere with Dick. They're now a group, and they are together.

That was fun because you get to still see development between Raven and Beast Boy, but you also get to see the dynamics of them as a group, like, who's the troublemaker? Who's the peacekeeper? Who's closest with which characters? That was fun because you get to see a different side of Beast Boy in this book too. You get to see how he functions in the bigger group, not just with Raven. Kong, his monkey, is very prominent in the book also.

What about Deathstroke — what is his role?

I am a huge Deathstroke fan. I have always loved him, and that's how he made it into the first and second book. By then, there was five. He's also featured. Like the original books, even in the origins, Deathstroke is trying to find the kids — and like in canon, he becomes this arch-enemy of theirs. He is still on the hunt, and he's had some setbacks in "Beast Boy Loves Raven" that you can read about in that book.

One thing I love about Deathstroke is, in canon, that idea that he always gets the job done. He will deliver. He is very much that way in this series. Part of this is [that] he's on a job, but the other part of it is he won't lose. He will not give up because this is also part of his identity. The idea that he always finishes the job is paramount to his self-concept.

You have this person who is not just an adult, who's been hired by someone else to do this job, but as the books have progressed and he's had some setbacks, he is even more determined. I like that, because in the beginning, it wasn't personal. In the beginning, it was a job. Now it is becoming, with each book, more personal for him.

Working with Gabriel Picolo

What is it like to continue to work with Gabriel Picolo on these books?

It's fun because when I started working with Gabriel, I had actually pitched a six-book series with very detailed outlines and descriptions. One of the paramount things in my take was the characters look like regular kids, because I would want them to be in a high school where they could be sitting next to you, and you don't know they have powers. [That] is the main reason why Beast Boy only turns green when he uses his powers — because I was like, "I want Gar to be able to be at your school, and you have no idea he's Beast Boy."

Along those lines, they couldn't wear superhero costumes, because again, they're regular teens. They're going to be wearing regular clothes. I didn't know what that would look like. I just said, "They're wearing regular clothes." When I was hunting around looking for art, and I searched on Pinterest, "Teen Titans comic book art," his design started coming up. I was like, "This is exactly what I said, only he actually has figured out all the cool outfits and everything."

In a lot of ways, it was serendipitous, because it was like he was doing this thing. I had described this thing that I wanted to do that was ... They were all in line with each other without either of us knowing each other. When something like that happens, and you have two people who have a shared vision for something who happened to be able to come together, it's special. I feel very lucky because it would've been much harder to explain to an artist what I was trying to do versus somebody who already was thinking of them in those terms. He already wanted them to be more regular and have regular lives, and do all this kind of dance, and go to the convenience store and eat snacks, and play video games when they weren't using their powers and dealing with bigger things.

I consider myself very lucky that we happened to come upon each other. We're really different. I could be Gabriel's mom, literally — he is that much younger than me. We're from different generations. He lives in Brazil; I live here. But we have this common love for the characters and the animated series, and it brought us together in a way that is part of what makes the series special. If you love something — if you love what you're writing and you love what you're drawing — it comes across on the page.

What's next for the Teen Titans

This being the fourth installment, what do you hope readers get from this particular chapter?

One thing we try to do in the books is represent real teens. If you're an adult reading, you can think back to when you were a teen and when you felt like this and [were] struggling with things. The books are really about found family and identity, which are both very important to Gabriel and me, because not everybody is necessarily born [with that]. 

Not everyone has a family, number one. Not everybody has a family that accepts them or a family that they're comfortable with. If you're lucky enough to, you're still going to go out in the world and — hopefully — make some friends. We like the idea of people being able to find their own people, the people that will accept them for who they are. That's the core [and] has always been the core of "Teen Titans": these people who feel a little different who come together, and then have other people to support them in new friendships and a new family. We want everybody to feel like that and to get this sense of belonging and hope when they read the books.

Are we going to see any more characters get added to this version of "Titans"?

Definitely, because there are six books [including the recently announced "Teen Titans: Starfire"]. I am writing number five now, and DC was ... I originally pitched six, and it was great because DC when they said, "We're doing five," I said, "We're going to also do six." It's nice because as a writer, I get to plan six knowing it's coming, which for a story — for writing purposes — is really helpful. I'm excited because of the support of all of the readers and comic shops and bookstores, we are going to get to tell all of the stories that we're hoping to tell ...

We actually dedicated this book to Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. I wish we had done it before [so] George could have seen it, but at the same time, we are lucky. We love the original characters. It's a big honor to be able to take them and do something different with them. When I did get to meet Marv ... Gabriel and I both got to meet him, but I got to meet him twice. The first time I met him, I said, "Do you have any advice for me? I am such a big fan, and I don't want to mess up your work." He said, "I want you to make everyone else love Raven as much as I do."

That felt like — if I can deliver that, if I can bring a new generation of people to the Titans as well as not offending people like myself who already love them — that's a tall order. That's the thing that I always try to keep in my mind, more than sales or popularity. I want the people who love the Titans to find Easter eggs and still love these books, but I want a new generation of readers who might not know anything about them to fall in love with them.

"Teen Titans: Robin" by Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo from DC Comics is available in comic book shops and bookstores now.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.