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Interview: Shea Fontana on ‘DC Super Hero Girls: Out of the Bottle’

baticorn header

The recently released original graphic novel DC Super Hero Girls: Out of the Bottle is the sixth in the series, all of which have been written by Shea Fontana, one of the co-creators of the Warner Bros-produced toy line and multimedia franchise. In this volume, Fontana and her artist collaborators Agnes Garbowska, Mirka Andolfo, and Marcelo Di Chiara find a handful of of Super Hero High’s students staying after school one afternoon to work on their perfectly appropriate for the genre art projects: Comics.

Out of the BottleEach of the girls has a very distinct style to her comics reflecting their drawing ability as well as her personality—Katana’s is pretty sharp, Supergirl’s is super-cute to the point of saccharine, Wonder Woman’s is pretty much the opposite of wonderful—but it’s Harley Quinn’s comic that ends up causing all the trouble that the rest of the book will be devoted to dealing with.

Harley’s comic features an alternate, villainous version of herself, which comes to life and brings the other drawings to life with the power of art teacher June Moon’s magical paint. Soon she’s leading an army that includes chibi-like Supergirl and Batgirl riding upon Comet and a, um, “baticorn,” plus three poorly drawn Wonder Women who can almost but not quite finish one another’s sentences.

The girls rally their friends to try and stop their own creations from taking over the school and the city, but things only get worse from there, as Miss Moon’s other personality asserts itself and brings to life some much more dangerous drawings of her own.

We took the opportunity offered by Out of the Bottle to check in with Fontana on DC Super Hero Girls and some of her other recent-ish DC super hero work.

Can you tell us a little bit about the process of assembling one of these original graphic novels? At this point, do you have pretty free rein, or do you have to pitch each individual story?

About a year and a half ago, I got together with the editing team and together we figured out the big ideas for the last three or four graphic novels. I take those seedlings and expand them into proper outlines. That’s the official process, but we’ve never had any major disagreements. Though the vision grows and changes throughout the writing and art stages, I have been very lucky to be on the same page with editorial on these books.

Because of the nature of the franchise, being a toy line in addition to all its various multimedia iterations, when you first started writing the comics, was there something akin to a character bible that laid out who was who, their relationships to one another, and so forth?

Yes—I wrote the bible! I started with DC Super Hero Girls very early on, worked with the team to develop the brand and I wrote a season or two of the shorts that appear on YouTube before I started writing the first graphic novel. Our bible for this series is massive because we have such an extensive cast from Amethyst to Zeus. Plus, all the classes and clubs (and even a few we never ended up using in the series!) were outlined as well.

“Out of The Bottle” focuses on art teacher June Moon/The Enchantress, and in addition to the regular cast, there are some pretty unexpected cameos and guest-stars, like Doomsday and The Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man. How widely can you cast your net, when it comes to DC characters? Can you use anyone you want, or are there certain restrictions, or do you have to ask permissions for certain ones…?

I’ve had very free rein on characters, and nearly every character we feature is a pre-existing character from the DC universe–even if they are really, really deep dives. DC’s Mike Carlin and Brittany Holzherr were always huge help in that regard as they have encyclopedic knowledge of the DC universe. I can always go to them with a “I need a character who does ____” and they would immediately have the perfect solution.

baticorn

Is Batgirl’s Baticorn the sensational character find of 2018?

I hope so! I loved that first chapter of Supergirl’s comic so much. Agnes Garbowska incorporated her own cute style as Supergirl’s own, and I can’t help but say “Awwww!” every time I see something from that chapter. Since Supergirl has her horse, Comet, who is canon, Batgirl needed her own fantastical steed.

evil harley

The girls’ comics creations all come to life, and they too have their own personalities and art style-specific designs. Some of them were actually remarkably compelling, like the evil Harley who has evil ponytails that function a little like voices in her head. Was it fun writing such unusual characters for the book?

The ponytail idea actually came after seeing some of the early designs for the character! That was such a fun, circus-y and perfectly bizarre design. Harley had these really ragged ponytail ends that looked a bit like monsters, and I immediately thought “What if her ponytails acted as two devils on her shoulder, egging her on to do bad things?” I loved being able to take some of the characters and skew them toward the evil side. Wonder Woman #3 is actually my favorite. The poor girl’s just not on the same page as the other Wondy doppelgängers.

mirka

You wrote a fill-in arc on DC’s Wonder Woman monthly with artist Mirka Andolfo, who actually contributes a section to “Out of The Bottle.” How different was it writing the grown-up, “real” version of Wonder Woman vs. the teenage, DC Super Hero Girls version…?

Mirka’s chapter, which is the comic book that in the story is written and drawn by Miss Moone, brings such a fun contrast to the other bits of the book. I love how visually diverse this graphic novel is, and Mirka really opened it to a new level in this comic. I also loved working with Mirka on the Wonder Woman issues. She really captures the feminine side of Wonder Woman while keeping her strong and powerful. She instantly portrayed how physical strength isn’t a compromise to Wonder Woman’s femininity but a compliment.

In writing the characters in such different worlds, I really looked at Wonder Woman’s core values–her deep sense of justice, willingness to self-sacrifice for the cause. She is certainly more mature in my Wonder Woman run—she’s dealing in more moral gray areas and deciding how she will define herself after the fallout with her patrons—but she’s still the same character.

More recently you wrote a pretty dark Deathstroke story for DC’s Beach Blanket Bad Guys special, which may surprise readers who only know your work on the Super Hero Girls series. What was that experience like? Did you find yourself using writing muscles you don’t normally use as much?

When the editors of that anthology approached me with the potential characters, I was immediately drawn to the darkest one I could get! It was a great chance to do something unexpected. It was such a great experience, and I’m so thankful to DC’s Alex Antone and David Weilgosz for giving me the chance. Of course, I love writing kids stuff, but it’s always fun to try something different.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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