It's senior year, Garfield is 17 years old, and is still looking for acceptance from his high school's elite. He finds the attention he craves through pranks, the bigger the better, but more than just his social circle changes with his new hobby as he morphs into Beast Boy.
Before the new OGN hits shelves September 8, we spoke with Garcia and Picolo about how their background in YA fiction and fan art, respectively, had led to their passion (and success) with this DC OGN series. And also looking ahead to the third book in the series, Teen Titans: Beast Boy Loves Raven, and the potential for even more.
Newsarama: Kami, Gabriel, what's it like returning after Teen Titans: Raven for this Beast Boy OGN?
Kami Garcia: It was even more fun because we both kind of knew what we were doing and we had the hang of it. So, we could play around more with the characters. And I think both of us just felt more comfortable that we weren't messing anything up.
Gabriel Picolo: Especially because I was learning a lot of the craft during Raven, because it was the first big book that I have ever worked on. I felt like on Raven I was learning, and on Beast Boy I was just having fun and just drawing what I already know how to draw. Kami knew what I liked to draw. So, she added that in the layouts and the script.
Nrama: Kami, how do you feel your work in YA prose has helped you with this Young Adult graphic novel?
Garcia: I'm a very lean and visual writer in the first place. I'm very dialogue and plot-driven. So, writing graphic novels has been really fun for me because I don't have to write tons of what I call fluffy description. I set the stage and then Gabriel takes over.
I think the thing that has helped me most is just the fact that I know how smart teens are. I was a teacher for 17 years before I wrote for teens. It really helps to know what they're struggling with, what their problems are, what they care about. Because I feel like, especially in a visual medium like graphic novels, they really want to see those things on the page.
And Gabriel really comes in with that because he is so hip and cool and he really wants to draw our characters like real teens.
Nrama: One of the things that helped you make your name was drawing modern versions of the Teen Titans. What's it like now drawing these characters for DC?
Picolo: It's pretty much a dream come true. I started posting on social media and at some point, they blew up and that was like 2017, I think. And by the end of the year, DC contacted me in an email and they said something like 'is this your drawings? We love that. Can you keep doing it? But for us.'
Nrama: Were there any changes you had to make to your style when drawing for DC?
Picolo: Kami and I changed a few elements.
Like for Raven, she usually has the red jewel on her forehead and we changed that so she could wear it as a necklace. So, it wouldn't be distracting. It wouldn't be too out of place for the other characters. Like other students wouldn't look at her and be like what's that red jewel, or for Beast Boy he usually has green skin.
In our comic, Kami found a way to make that a little bit more grounded. So, they wouldn't be too distracting to the other characters in the book.
Garcia: Also, we don't want other characters to know about their powers.
Picolo: Exactly, we had to find a way to conceal it a little bit.
Garcia: Which is tricky.
Picolo: Especially with Beast Boy because his powers are so showy. His personality, he loves using his superpowers. So, it was a little bit tricky.
Nrama: How did you want to make Beast Boy's origins your own?
Garcia: I chose Gabriel because I had seen his fan art and I really wanted to work with him because he was already doing what I wanted to do. I wanted to take the characters - I didn't want to change them. I wanted to make them feel a little more realistic. So, it could seem like you could be going to school with Beast Boy and not know it.
We really worked together to figure that out. Especially with Gar because that's Gabriel's favorite character. He's such a great character, but he's always being funny and we felt like you don't really get to see the other layers. What else is he about?
We both agreed that even though he has a great sense of humor and he is really funny that he obviously has a serious side too. So, we really talked about what do we want that to be like, what do we want to see? And we both immediately - I had said to Gabriel, what if it's like pranks and he immediately was like, yes, like YouTube. We could both see him doing things like that, pulling stunts. So, we were just trying to find ways to translate him so that he could feel like somebody you could be going to high school with.
Nrama: What can you tell us about the book's supporting characters?
Garcia: Tank and Stella, his best friends, are really important. Gabriel and I wanted them to be people he would have something in common with, but also be really distinctly different from him. They all love video games. Stella is actually a competitive gamer. She has like her own equivalent of a YouTube channel with tons and tons of subscribers. I wanted to do that because I wanted somebody who kind of was like Gabriel, who had built an audience organically.
Picolo: And she's the serious one of the group because Tank, usually goes with Gar's crazy ideas. But Stella is there to call them out. Like, hey, this is crazy.
Garcia: Stella is actually named after my daughter. Tank also has a little of my daughter in him, because Tank is actually dyslexic in this story. It's a spoiler – it's something that they figure out later.
We wanted to also show that his friends have their own lives and their own problems going on. They're not just like there to tag along with him. They actually have personalities and real lives. Tank's also a competitive eater, which is my favorite thing about him because that's like an actual real thing. So, he's a competitive eater and they go to his competitions and cheer him on.
Nrama: What attracted you to work on a story for Beast Boy? What do you enjoy about working on his character?
Garcia: When I was first pitching and they asked me who I'd want to do first I said Raven because she's my favorite.
And Beast Boy is Gabriel's. So, I'll let him talk about what he was excited about.
I knew the minute we started Raven the next one would have to be Beast Boy because the more I got to know Gabriel I knew how much he loved him.
Picolo: Yeah, he's my favorite character. The moment I started drawing this book I was waiting for the page where he was going to transform and it takes a while for it to happen. We get to see some - not transformation, but he kind of uses the animals at a molecular level throughout the book. So, those are really cool too because I had to make him emulate the poses of that animal. But my favorite pages are the ones that he actually gets to transform. I had such a blast drawing those.
Nrama: You also have Teen Titans: Beast Boy Loves Raven - how's work coming along for that book?
Garcia: It's really exciting because Gabriel and I have known about it for a long time and have been talking about it for a long time, but we couldn't share. It's kind of like our gift to the fans.
Picolo: Keeping it a secret was so hard, right?
Garcia: It was really hard. I felt like there were so many times when I almost slipped.
Picolo: Me too.
Garcia: But it was kind of like our gift to the fans because readers responded so strongly when we announced Beast Boy, and they were so excited about the previews. People just kept saying, are they going to meet? Are we going to see them together? And we were really excited since we got to know the characters, we wanted to see them together also. So, we just wanted the fans to be able to get the book they've been hoping for.
Nrama: Would you like to work on more Teen Titans characters with this type of graphic novel treatment?
Garcia: Who would we love to do, Gabriel? We have the same mind about this.
Picolo: Can we talk about this?
Garcia: Well, we're not doing it yet, so yeah because this is not like an official thing.
Picolo: I would love to work on a Starfire book because she's also one of my favorites. After Gar and Raven she's like top three.
Garcia: She's my top 3 too.
Picolo: Stuff with Robin would always be great to work with.
Garcia: I also think Starfire - I like the idea of her too. Like how do you make those powers, being from another planet, how do you make that feel more grounded? It's always fun to take on a challenging character, but we're not like spoiling anything we don't know what's next. Beast Boy Loves Raven is the only thing we actually know about officially.
Picolo: I think Starfire could be perfect.
Garcia: I feel like one of the things I love about... Max, who is Raven's foster sister, and also like Stella and Tank is I love to take characters that are very different from the ones that we've seen already, which is one reason why I love the Teen Titans as a group so much. They are such different characters that were brought together on the page and in the animated series. And I feel like when you take really different characters in that dynamic and then you put them together that's when you get something fun.
Nrama: Are there other characters, not Teen Titans related, you'd like to do this graphic novel treatment for?
Garcia: I love a lot of DC characters. I tend to like characters that are either kind of antiheroes or get themselves into trouble. A little bit misunderstood, which is why I feel like I love especially Raven and Beast Boy. The characters get themselves into a little bit of trouble.
I pitched for villains in the beginning. [Laughs]
They were like, 'we're not really doing villains. We're doing mostly heroic characters.' But I always gravitate towards dark characters, or characters that have some duplicity. That's one reason why even on the adult side, I love writing Harley. I love a character that has a dark side, but also does some good things. Isn't an evil villain, just takes a while to find their hero side.
Picolo: I have a thing for sidekicks. I would love to work on any character from either the Teen Titans or Young Justice - Blue Beetle, Kid Flash, etc. I like characters that are not fully developed yet. Like the big legendary ones, for me, they're not as interesting as the characters who are still learning how to do it.
Garcia: I agree. I like the ones still making mistakes. And that's what's fun about writing the YAs, like even if you're doing a character that you know is going to become really heroic - there's room for them to grow. We're both big Super Sons fans. We can show that you might turn into a hero or you might have heroes in your life, but when you're young you might not have figured out how to do it yet.