Saturday, October 7, 2017

Zatannurday: Interview with MYSTIK U's Alisa Kwitney

A few of weeks ago I mentioned the news of the new Zatanna centric comic MYSTIK U, about Zatanna's days at university.
As you can imagine I did a very unmanly squeal of delight and immediately set out to finding out as much as I could.

Well, my obsessions are your gain!  I got the chance to interview Alisa Kwitney.

Tim/The Other Side: Hello, my name is Tim Brannan and this is my blog The Other Side.  Today I am talking with author Alisa Kwitney. Alisa has been given the reigns on a new Zatanna comic for DC; Mystik U.  Our favorite fishnet-wearing magician is headed back to school to learn magic. She meets some now-familiar names and encounters a bunch of new adventures.

But first, let's meet the author herself.  Hello Alisa, why don’t you introduce yourself and give us a little bit a background on who you are?

Alisa: I was on staff at DC for about 7 years, working in the Vertigo imprint on SANDMAN and SHADE THE CHANGING MAN and other books in Karen Berger’s group. At the same time as I joined DC, my first novel, Till the Fat Lady Sings, was a comedy of manners about the first year of college, published by HarperCollins. My 10th novel, a YA called Cadaver & Queen, is now coming out from HarlequinTeen which is part of HarperCollins, so it’s kind of full circle. And now that I think about it, it’s also a novel about a school--a Victorian medical school that reanimates corpses to produce Bio-Mechanicals.


Tim: Excellent. The big one now, how did you get into writing comics?

Alisa: I actually said I wanted to write and edit during my first interview. These days, you have to choose between writing or drawing and being on staff, but at that time, lots of editors wrote or drew or inked or colored. Dick Giordano, the Vice President, once worked as inker for me on Sandman. I had already had a novel published, so people knew I could write--at least, in theory. In practice, I was still learning how to write comics. My first comic was a Phantom Stranger special, and whenever we got pages back from penciller Guy Davis, I would check to see where he had changed my pacing. Basically, he was giving me a master class in how to tell a better visual story.

Tim: So, if I can, you are something of Sci-Fi Royalty! Your father is the late Robert Sheckley. Did he give you good advice about writing? Do/Did you take inspiration from his works?
BTW, Immortality, Inc. is still one of my favorites and Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming was a lot of fun to read.

Alisa:  When I was 19, I asked my father if he thought I had it. I wanted him to anoint me and say, in effect, Yes, my child, you have the magic spark of writerly brilliance. Instead, he said in this very dismissive tone, “Yeah, you got talent, I suppose. Whatever that’s worth.” At the time, I was disappointed in his response, but over the years I’ve come to realize that he was absolutely right. Talent counts for very little. Applying yourself to your stories is everything. And in a sense, that’s what I’m writing about in Mystik U. These 18-year-olds come to college, wanting validation of their special powers, and instead they discover their limitations.

Tim: You are no stranger to the DC Universe.  Your run on Destiny: A Chronicle of Deaths Foretold was up for an Eisner Award.  How did you get that job and did it help when pitching Mystik U?

Alisa: I pitched Destiny when I was pregnant and obsessed with plagues. I kept imagining these awful horror scenarios and I had to get it out of my system. I also wanted to do something sweeping and epic, like the big Frank Yerby historicals I read when I was a kid. (My favorite was The Odor of Sanctity.) Neil told me about The Secret History of Procopius, which is a history of the early Byzantine empire written by a scholar who was convinced that the emperor had been possessed by a demon.

I’m not sure how much Destiny helped in my pitching Mystik U. In general, I find that if you’ve written a historical horror story, people tend to think it means you can write historical horror stories. If you write a contemporary YA, (which I did for Shelly Bond’s Minx line at DC), then people might say, Oh, I see, you can write contemporary YA. Mystik U is sort of a hybrid of superhero and horror and YA, so it seems a logical next step to me--but I’m not sure it seemed logical to anyone else at first.



Tim: Now tell us about Young Zatanna and Mystik U.  Was this your idea?

Alisa: Yes. I wanted to do a book about college, because that first year of being off on your own and finally learning things you choose for yourself is really rich with story possibilities. People keep comparing the concept of Mystik U to Hogwarts, which is fine--I own not one but two Harry Potter wands, and consider myself a Ravenpuff--but I could never write a book about boarding school. At age eleven, I would have hated Hogwarts, because I was basically Neville Longbottom. I also really enjoyed Lev Grossman’s books about magical college, but his take is also different from mine. For me, college is a stage where people go to improvise themselves. It’s a place where you get to try on new ideas, new philosophies and new identities. And it’s a place where the bathrooms contain some unpleasant surprises.

Tim: Stories about schools and young heroes are very popular. You don’t need to look much farther than Harry Potter or Buffy to see that.  On the comics front we have the classic Chris Claremont run on X-Men and the George Pérez run on Teen Titans.  What do you want to do with Zatanna as a character that covers this same sort of time in her life and the storytelling opportunities?

Alisa: Zatanna comes to school thinking that she has a great power and that she needs training--and then finds herself unable to access her power when she wants it. There are other people there, on her hall, who seem a lot better at magic than she is--like Enchantress, and Davit Sargon, and her roommate Pia and the broody Sebastian Faust. She’s like a lot of people, who were amazing at something in high school, and then get to college and find they aren’t the top of the heap anymore. In an earlier version of Mystik U, I thought this character was going to be Tim Hunter, and I’m so much happier exploring the theme with Zatanna. There are fewer stories of female ambition and drive that aren’t posed as cautionary tales. There’s a parallel story about Rose Psychic, the dean of the school, and her relationship with Dr. Occult, who shares her body. (I wanted Rose to look like Ming Doyle, by the way. I met her when I first pitched Mystik U, and she remains the model for Rose in my mind’s eye.)

Tim: I am a huge fan of Paul Dini’s run on Zatanna, but I love the old Gardner Fox stories as well. What are some of your favorite Zatanna stories?

Alisa: I love Paul Dini’s storytelling. I also love a lot of the stories where she meets up with John Constantine. I figured she was always drawn to bad boys, which you get to see in her relationship with Sebastian Faust.

Tim:  What sort of older elements might we see in your version of Zee? (I already saw Zatara is still around).

Alisa: Mike Norton, the artist, has done an amazing job creating a Zatanna who feels like the bright, upbeat, pragmatic character we know, but also seems like a college freshman. I really wanted all of the characters to feel like real people. For example, Davit Sargon performs a small feat of magic when Zatanna first meets him, and says, “that’s just a little cantrip I picked up.” Zatanna doesn’t know what a cantrip is, and her roommate, Pia explains that it’s a clue that Sargon plays D&D.

Tim: And finally where can we find you on the internet?

Alisa: https://www.facebook.com/alisa.kwitney.sheckley/. Twittter @akwitney. My website is www.alisakwitney.com

Tim: Ok last question and this is one I always ask here at the Other Side. Who is your favorite wizard, witch or magic-user?

Alisa: I loved Witch Hazel, from the old Bugs Bunny cartoon.  She loved being green and hideous and hated being seen as a conventional beauty--which is kind of badass and punk, in retrospect. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzEYxGc2RmMI

I also totally understood Endora’s point of view in Bewtiched. Why was her powerful witch daughter wasting time on a dull mortal? In my dreams, Endora and Snape are sitting together in a pub, making caustic remarks about everyone sitting around them.

Tim: Love that visual!  Alisa thank you so much!

Zatanna and MYSTIK U will be out in Novemember.

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