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“You Have a Voice”: Talking with Meg Cabot about BLACK CANARY: IGNITE

Meg Cabot’s take on classic a classic DC superheroBlack Canary: Ignite—is out today (you can find our review here)! We got a chance to chat with the best-selling author over email about the project, the character, and how middle-grade fits oh-so-neatly into the superhero genre. Find Cabot’s answers below, and if you have a middle-grade comics fan looking for a buoyant adventure complete with family secrets, a training montage, great outfits, and a battle of the bands, you know what to do!

SARAH HUNTER: This is your first graphic novel—How was working on it different from your other books?

MEG CABOT: I had no idea writing a graphic novel would be so different! It’s more like writing a screenplay (which I did for the movie Ice Princess starring Michelle Trachtenberg and Kim Catrall), although even more work, because you’re describing what’s happening in every panel. Fortunately DC held workshops in NYC taught by legends like Jim Lee. I’m so glad attended theseI learned so much!

Did you have to change the way you think about writing a story with the change in format?

The books I liked most as a kid were novelizations of movies, like Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage, and of course comic books like DC’s The Secrets of Isis, so I sort of write cinematically anyway, imagining each scene as it would look on screen first before I write it. So I didn’t really have to change much as far as my thought process went.

What’s it been like working with an artist?

It’s been great! Cara McGee took the characters I described in words and turned them into living beings! She gave them so much more emotion than I could ever have been able to convey through mere dialogue. And of course Caitlin Quirk did a beautiful job with all the colors, creating such a buoyant and vibrant mood.

What drew you to Black Canary as a character?

I had a lisp as a kid and got made fun of a lot, so I was very shyuntil I went through Speech and Hearing in second grade. Then I gained a lot more confidence (literally my middle school principal told me I was the loudest kid in the whole cafeteria and that I needed to shut up). I hated being the girl who was “too loud” almost as much as I hated being the girl who was too shy. What drew me to Black Canary is that she only has one superpower, and it’s her voiceand she uses it to make things right in the world! I think that’s a great message for not only girls, but all kids you have a voice, and it’s not only okay, but important to use it, especially in this day and age.

Black Canary has been around in various iterations since the ’40s—did that make it easier or harder to dive into your own take on the heroine?

It actually made it a lot easier. Black Canary has such a rich backstory to draw from thanks to the many talented writers who’ve worked on her character in the past. I had so much to choose from!

Was there anything about her history that you wanted to include? Or, conversely, that you felt should be refreshed for a young, contemporary audience?

Uh-oh – get ready for me to geek out: I was definitely intrigued by some aspects of the original story of Dinah Drake (Dinah Lance’s mother)how she became a vigilante after being rejected from the police force (it was the 1940s, after all!) and then met her husband, Larry Lance, a police detective. I loved that she worked in a flower shop who would suspect a florist of being a crime-fighting vigilante?and that Ted Grantaka Wildcathelped train her in martial arts. And of course the fact that her superpower is her voiceso many people are still struggling today to make their voices heard. What superpower would be more timely?

But since my brother is a police sergeant and has two young daughters, I know what it’s like to be a real life Larry Lancehe wants to shield his wife and daughter from the grim realities of Gotham. Unfortunately for him, he can’t – his daughter really wants to become a police officer (just like my nieces). Playing around with that idea in this new, updated version of Black Canary felt very necessary to me. It wasn’t the police department rejecting Dinah’s application out of sexism this time it was her own dad, out of fear for her life. What dad wouldn’t, who lived in Gotham?

Do you think there’s something unique about superhero stories that makes them especially well suited to middle-grade books?

I definitely think that superhero stories are especially well suited to middle grade readers, whose bodies are rapidly growing and changing, and who are just discovering who they are and where they fit into the worldjust like certain fictional characters I could mention!

Are there more adventures for Dinah in the works?

We’ll have to wait and see!

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When Sarah Hunter is not reading for her job as editor of the Books for Youth and Graphic Novels sections at Booklist, she's baking something tasty or planning trips to the Pacific Northwest. Follow her on Twitter at @SarahBearHunter.

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