The following is an interview with New York Times bestselling author Claudia Gray and artist Eric Zawadzki regarding the upcoming release of the graphic novel, House of El: Book One – A Shadow Threat, from DC Comics. This will serve as the first graphic novel within a trilogy, exploring Krypton like never before: through the eyes of two teenagers on opposite sides of the same extinction-level event. In this interview, Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp chats with Gray and Zawadzki about the shared creative process of bringing the story to life, their favorite iterations of Superman, and more!
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: What road brought you to collaborate on a DC project? Did you know each other before teaming up on this book series?
Claudia Gray: We did not! This is my first-ever work in comics, so I didn’t even know that I would really get to work with the artist beforehand. I’m tremendously grateful that I wound up with someone as hugely talented and flexible and patient as Eric. Without the right look for Krypton, this whole thing might fall apart, but he nailed it.
Eric Zawadzki: The original editor had read an indie book of mine, Eternal. He seemed impressed enough with it to reach out to me about getting involved with House of El. Fortunately I was winding down on Heart Attack at Image Comics, so I jumped at the chance. I had never met Claudia, but I was aware of her work around Star Wars. I have to say that her scripts have certainly lived up to the expectations I place on her from seeing how rabid her fans are for her work. She definitely has a knack for making you quickly fall in love with her characters.
KS: Claudia, you’ve had the chance to play in so many varied universes as a writer. What was the appeal for you of diving into yet another one, with such a long history and so many different portrayals — including its final fate — over the decades?
CG: I’ve been a Superman fan more than half the time Superman has existed, so now I feel ancient and am going to go off and wither somewhere. So, I’ve loved this mythos for a long, long while, and I’ve both seen and loved many different takes on the legend. As a fangirl — one who wrote a ton of fanfic and particularly loved “alternate universes” — I always love the idea that there’s more than one way the story can go out. As a result, creating a new take on the final days of Krypton felt both natural and incredibly exciting.
KS: Eric, did you go back to any of those earlier Kryptons for the look of the world here? What’s the balance for you between echoing that which has come before and creating something entirely alien to readers?
EZ: When I signed on to the project, I was very intimidated. I like to be prepared, so I saw it as my responsibility to do my research and view as many artistic interpretations of Krypton as possible. I particularly enjoyed what Gene Ha visualized. But when I sent some early sketches to editorial, they made it very clear to me that they preferred that I made this as unique as possible and make it 100% my own. So, from that point on, I decided to cut back on all the research. I think it’s a smart approach, being beholden to nothing from the past, as it provides an antithesis to the continuity-heavy main DC line of books.
KS: Claudia, what was the original “way in” for you on this project? What unlocked the story and made it something you were excited about writing?
CG: Probably it was hitting on the idea of genetic engineering, both as the device around which Krypton has built its whole society, and one of the fundamental reasons the planet is so incapable of comprehending the terrible danger it’s in. That was the first time this book’s Krypton really began to take its own unique shape.
KS: When you’re writing a story that will be spread out over three books, how do you go about breaking it down? Do you fully write a giant narrative and then divide it up, or do a general outline/treatment but then specifically plot out one book at a time?
CG: It’s funny, because I originally pitched House of El as one book. Then, DC came back and said, we like the worldbuilding and there could be even more story here — can you try breaking it into two books? And after that, they came back wanting the trilogy, which is where we’ve wound up! Some of that was probably due to my newbie mistake of packing a little too much worldbuilding into the initial pitch, but there really was more story there worth exploring. DC gave me an incredible amount of trust, signing on for a full trilogy from a new comics writer, for which I am both deeply grateful and — still — very surprised. So, to answer your question, I actually am not sure how I’d start out with a trilogy pitch! I just came up with a single-book pitch that kept on growing.
KS: Even though Kal-El doesn’t appear in this book, I’m wondering if you have a favorite version/portrayal of Superman from any medium.
EZ: It sounds cliche, but All-Star Superman is not only my favorite Superman comic, but it’s one of my favorite comics all around. I keep the Absolute All-Star Superman close to my drawing desk if I ever need inspiration. Otherwise, I have fond memories of finding John Byrne’s Man of Steel comic in the library when I was a child. That was my first introduction to Superman, and I really enjoyed it at the time.
CG: I would have to say the John Byrne’s Man of Steel run from ’86-88 for comics. For movies, I’m still a Christopher Reeve diehard. For TV — even though Superman himself is only a supporting character — I’ve really loved Supergirl.
House of El will be available from DC Comics on January 5.