Interview With Super-Writer, Shea Fontana

Shea Fontana is a one woman super army of skill and versatility. She is most currently known for DC Super Hero Girls writing the on-going graphic novels, writing episodes on the animated series, and wrote the animated movies. She has also written TV episodes for The 7D, Doc McStuffins, Polly Pocket, and Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, just to name a few. Not only that, she has even written new material for two Disney on Ice shows, wrote a few issues of Wonder Woman Rebirth, wrote the back up story in Catwoman/Tweety & Sylvester comic OUT TODAY, is writing a graphic novel out next year called Batman: Overdrive, and wrote a feature film called Crowning Jules. Her work has gotten her a NY Times best seller status, a few Gem Awards, and a Comixology Reader’s Pick Award. In this interview you will find a bit of everything on how she got to where she is today, great advice, more about her graphic novels and writing for the various platforms (movies, TV, graphic novels, etc.), and her upcoming events for this year.

Lindsay Garber: So Shea, I’d like to start with DC Super Hero Girls. It’s a series that you’ve worked on the comic book line, the animated show, and an animated movie, and I know certain characters and points link up between different platforms. Can you talk about the positives about being involved in the writing in all of the platforms, and the differences you like between them?

Shea Fontana: It’s fun for me to be able to explore this whole big world that we created. I was involved from the beginning and wrote the bible for the world, and really starting to get into how huge and massive that the DC Universe is first with the shorts, and then going into the comics, and then we have three different animated features. One of which will be coming out this October, our Atlantis feature, which is a lot of fun. There are lines throughout the comics and the animation that connect. It is definitely a show where we start, and it is serialized. It starts with Wonder Woman coming to Super Hero High and then it really follows her journey and the journey of all her friends around her as they understand Super Hero High, and to understand the world outside of Themyscira. Then we get to see all these different characters who start to take on leading roles as well. Like Katana, and Bumble Bee. There is Mira, who has a role in the upcoming Atlantis movie. We also have a graphic novel featuring Mira coming out next month, “The Search for Atlantis”. It’s just very exciting to see how the material has connected with kids, and see all the little kids at Comic-Con, come up in their costumes that they bought or their mom’s have helped make for them. It’s really so cool to see how something that you have worked on has been something that kids love. I’ve been so honored to be able to be a part of the team.

Lindsay: Yeah, and I know you’ve been to a lot of conventions. Were you at San Diego Comic-Con this year?

Shea: I was not. I backed out. I had a few things going on that month, so I didn’t attend.

Lindsay: Oh I believe it. There are so many different platforms you work on, as you were saying. When someone says, “Write this comic, okay write this movie, now write this episode,” how are you able to switch between those hats, or those responsibilities? Or are you are able to do it, because they are very similar?

Shea: There is definitely a similarity in the way the stories are structured, and the characters between each different medium. Writing comics, and writing animation is different is the process, so in comics you are telling the stories through the panels. Which are single moments that you tell a story, while animation is told by movement, but animated. Really the kind of stories that we start to tell, diverge on what works best for comics, or animation. So in the comics and graphic novels, you get to see more personal stories because you get to have the comic caption boxes that shows what’s going on inside the heads of the characters as they go about these stories. While in animations, we focus on big heavy action, especially in the movies, the shorts are a bit more comedy oriented. It all is dependent on the type of format that we are going to be using. The story that is best told in that medium.

Lindsay: Amazing, and like I said, it’s on so many platforms, being on DC, it also has a lot of toys, action dolls, and apparel. Has there been any new toy that is about to be launched, that you have to tie in with, or are you mostly left to your own devices?

Shea: In the beginning, we were definitely aware that there was going to be toys involved. So we wanted to make sure that those kind of products were featured when we were making the animation. Like Wonder Woman’s invisible jet, or some of the weapons they use. Those kind of things, we knew that those toys were involved so we waned to make sure they were showcased properly. It was always story first. We wanted to make sure the stories were good, and everything worked in that way. That’s what kids fall in love with, and want to buy the toys. So it’s all about those characters first.

Lindsay: It has an all-star cast, as you know, with Wonder Woman, Super Girl, Bat Girl, Harlequin (who is my favorite), Poison Ivy, Bumble Bee, and Katana to name a few. Also, I’m sorry to say that I had to look up Katana’s history, but I am glad I did. As I expected she is super bad ass. I might have to pick up her individual story arc because I just now know about her, which I’m sad to say.

Shea: She is awesome.

Lindsay: Was there a character you didn’t know well before writing for DC Super Hero Girls, but you are really into them now that they are in the show, and you know about them?

Shea: Bumble Bee is definitely my favorite along those lines. I was not aware she was in the Teen Titans before. I found out about her on Super Hero Girls, I found out that she was a character in the mid 70s. She has this amazing long legacy. She is the second African American hero, behind Nubia, the sister of Wonder Woman. It was really cool to get to see how she was formed, and get into her history, and bring her up as a really cool character. Sometimes she has not been used to the best of her abilities in some stories in the past. I think she is kind of part of the assemble, and sidelined. It was really fun to get to know her as a character and have a spotlight on her. Especially in our next graphic novel, “Search for Atlantis”. She has a really cool emotional arc that we get to play with, it’s fun to see her in this whole new light and bring out this energy and optimism. It’s a great presence that she has as a character.

Lindsay: I am so intrigued by these other facts that you have just doled out. You are like a super hero Wikipedia, I should just ask you!

Shea: I have done a lot of research.

Lindsay: Since you’ve done the research… If you could have any one skill or power from the man cast of the DC Super Hero Girls, which would you choose?

Shea: I would say flight, because I live in Los Angeles, and there is a lot of traffic. That is my big winner, to get to places faster. It would save me so much time.

Lindsay: I’m on the same page as you as well. I’m really excited for you, because this series is a New York Times Best Seller, won a few Gem Awards for best all age graphic novel, as well as Comixology Reader’s Pick Award for best all age graphic novel. Just congratulations!

Shea: Thank you!

Lindsay: I’m loving the pictures that I’ve seen you are being tagged in with really happy kids and parents who read the series. Even a few younger girls made their own version of Comic-Con in their house and tagged you. Did you expect this series to be such a success in inspiring young readers?

Shea: When I first heard that they were doing a series about these super heroes specifically for a girl demographic, I thought of course! I would have loved that as a kid, and I think of a lot of women who are in geek culture, of course it was going to be huge! Why didn’t they do this a long time ago. I was never surprised that it took off. I was never surprised at the success of it. I am just so honored to be a part of it. It’s really exciting to see how these characters and stories that I’ve worked on are really connecting with kids and the kids are making Comic-Con in their house, and the books that they were selling back and forth, it was super cute to see just how big and substantial it is in some of these kids lives. I’ve had so many parents tell me that their kids have learned to read from DC Super Hero Girls graphic novels, because it was the only thing that interested them. It’s such an honor to be a part a kids life in that way.

Lindsay: I know they appreciate it. When I was growing up my parents didn’t have a filter on the type of comics I could get. They were like “It’s comics, it’s fine.” I remember, at a really young age, picking up X-Men, and that might have been a little too old for me at the time. Knowing that there is a comic like this, that’s for all ages, and parents know about it, is so perfect. I’ve even seen guys, grown men, with Wonder Woman tattoos on them. Something that they can share with their children, and have something to bond over. It’s something that I’d love to do one day.

Shea: It’s so nice to hear, especially the dads too. Who have taken it as an opportunity to really bond with their kids, “I know these characters from my comic books, and now there’s something I can share with you.”

Lindsay: So the first DC Super Hero Girls volume came out in 2016, five more volumes later you are still writing, with another volume coming out next month. How far ahead do you plan for in your writings for the next volume in your story arc?

Shea: We are so far ahead because it takes so long to make a comic, especially a graphic novel. We are launching these to a mass market, we don’t have as quick of a turn around time as we do in the direct market. We have to finish the books 6 months ahead of time. Which means I have to finish them almost a year ahead of time. We are pretty far out when we plan stories like that. I think from the beginning of when we pitch a story, the time is 18 months.

Lindsay: You’ve also worked with the animated series and movies. How long does that take?

Shea: Those were also a notoriously long process. I think the movie that is coming out this fall, I believe I wrote that two years ago. That’s about an average time for a movie of that length. The shorts did not take quite as long because obviously, they are shorter, and aren’t as production heavy, so I think those were 6 months to a year from when we started writing.

Lindsay: Is it sort of like a surprise when you see your movie two years later, maybe you forgot something?

Shea: There are things that I definitely forget between. Oh we did put that in the movie… I forgot. There has actually been things were I don’t remember writing it at all. Then I have to go and look up. If it’s in the script, I go… “I guess I did…”

Lindsay: You also wrote a few issues for Wonder Woman: Rebirth. That’s a little bit different of a genre, and a different artist. I’m curious, do you change anything with the way you write or approach these stories as a result of different types of illustrators you work with?

Shea: If you know who the artist is going in on a series arc, then you can write to their strengths. One thing that Mirka Andolfo, who did the first two issues of art on that, she is so great at showing the power of Wonder Woman, while remaining feminine. That was definitely a theme we wanted to explore. There is no contrast, between being strong and a woman. It is only a compliment to her femininity. We looked at who the artist was, and decided what theme we would put into the story. We hope that we are doing stories that are complimenting what the artist can do, and bringing it up front. You don’t always know who that artist is going to be though going in. We do our best as writers to hit those points. You want the book to be the best it can be, and it truly is a group effort in comics. You really want to make sure you are working to the strengths of the team.

Lindsay: Speaking of another powerful, feminine woman, you have a new comic, Issue #1, Catwoman/Tweety & Sylvester special coming out today. Can you tell us what the dynamic and story balance be between Catwoman and the Looney Toons?

Shea: I actually did the backup story, Gail Simone and Inaki Miranda did the main story. I got to write Catwoman in a Looney Toons world. It was so much fun to dive into this cartoony world that we placed this classically villainous sly character in. She is not normally a squash and stretch character, so it’s fun to see her in this world that we aren’t use to seeing her in, it’s not the regular Gotham, that you would expect. Of course Sylvester and Catwoman team up to break into Grannie’s house to steal Tweety. It’s great working with Walter Carzon who just brought such great big cartoony expressions to this that you don’t normally see so much in comics, because everything is so on model and subdued with adult orientation. So it was fun to bring this big Looney Toons sensibility to the comics.

Lindsay: I think that it adds to the overall experience of the comic, having a backup story. I don’t really like the term “backup” story, but I’ll use it if it’s a technical term. I liked how this comic has the main story in the DC Universe, and then this “backup” story that is in a whole other world where they can break the rules and be a bit “Looney”. To understand the format though, will there be more Tweety and Sylvester, or will it be more Looney Toons characters that you’ll be writing “backup” stories for?

Shea: I believe all the DC/Looney Toons crossover books are all one offs, but don’t quote me on that. I believe they are all individual stories, not a series of each character, just different characters that they pull out every once in a while.

Lindsay: Very cool, because I grew up with Looney Toons. That was my intro to animation. To this day, most of them hold up. With the music in the episodes, I haven’t heard music like that since. There was something so different about how they did things. It’s nice to see them crossover with something so serious. Catwoman, I would say, is a pretty serious character. I don’t think I’ve seen her in a silly fashion before.

Shea: Not at all. That’s why I think these are so fun to do, so they have a whole line coming out on today with different characters. It’s unexpected and fun, and it doesn’t have to be within the continuity of the rest of the world. You can just have some bizarre and great stories.

Lindsay: I’m rooting for Sylvester on this one.

Shea: I think Tweety is kind of a jerk.

Lindsay: Little bit.

Shea: I never really liked him. He is kind of cocky, and snarky with his attitude. He thinks he is so great sitting in that bird cage.

Lindsay: Oh yeah!

Shea: Tweety was always the mean one. Always dropping anvils on that poor cat.

Lindsay: That’s probably why Sylvester wanted to catch Tweety, to make him apologize, or at least I’d like to think.

Shea: Exactly.

Lindsay: One more thing I’m excited about, and I know I keep on saying I’m so excited, but it’s true. You are doing all these amazing properties, including Batman: Overdrive which is coming out April 2019. You get to come up with your own Batman origin for this one. Will we get to see new villains? Younger versions of the classics we know?

Shea: Absolutely! There is a new villain, who has hench girls from different stories before. I don’t think I can spoil who those are yet, but we have announced that Catwoman will be in this one as well. We start off with Bruce Wayne one month before his 16th birthday. He finds this old wreck of a car in the garage that used to be his dads. As a way to connect with his dad who had died years earlier, he decides he will restore this car and throughout this story he meets a new friend at the junkyard named Mateo Diaz, the nephew of the scrapyard owner. He knows everything about cars, he’s the doctor of cars. He is going to come in and help him. We also meet Catwoman, whose mom also used to work at a mechanics shop, and she knows a bit as well, and she is going to lend her expertise. There are all new villains, and some old villains from different stories. It’s fun to bring Batman into this age where he is a teenager and he is really trying to find out what he is going to do with his life, and how he is going to pursue the justice that he wants in this world that is so unjust. It was so much fun, and everything I see from Marcelo Di Chiara, who is the artist on it, is amazing so far. So I can’t wait till the book is actually finished.

Lindsay: I’m curious, from what you’ve just said, this story be more about Bruce? Or will it will be more about Bruce, trying to find himself transitioning into Batman?

Shea: It is definitely the origin story of the Batmobile, which will be the origin story of Batman in this universe. It really is a coming of age story for Bruce, and finding out who he is, and how he is going to live in this world. I wouldn’t separate Bruce and Batman that much. They are the same guy, and about the start of the journey into how he becomes Batman.

Lindsay: I love how you said, the origin story of the Batmobile. So this is more a vehicle oriented comic book series?

Shea: Yes it is. It’s all about cars that go fast and do cool things!

Lindsay: Are we going to see other cool vehicles besides the Batmobile, or is it mostly about the Batmobile?

Shea: We will see other cool vehicles, everybody needs a cool ride in this world.

Lindsay: I know we talked about toys earlier, but the Batmobile is such an iconic toy and object in the series. Was there a car that they already created and said, “This will be the Batmobile,” or did you and the artist work together to make this Batmobile, which will be in the comic?

Shea: We worked together to make the Batmobile in the comic. Slightly in my head I was modeling it after a 66 Ford Mustang. Classic, not super nice luxury sports car. It’s not a Maserati, it’s not something super fancy. It’s something that is accessible for this teenager, and a thing that a 16 year old kid would be able to get into, and figure out. It was a fun process to work with Marcelo and figure out what that car looks like.

Lindsay: I can’t wait, and I hope there will be toys as well, because that is one of my favorite cars.

Shea: I hope so too, it’ll be super fun.

Lindsay: So you have written for so many platforms. Comics, Disney on Ice shows, Television, Webisodes, and Feature Films. Can you tell us a brief overview about your journey to becoming who you are today?

Shea: I knew from when I was a kid, that I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t know what kind of writer I wanted to be though. I thought I might maybe be a journalist, because that seemed what smart people did. It was very serious, smart, you had to be very sophisticated, and know lots of big words. I started out going to college towards journalism. Then I went home and watched SpongeBob, Home Movies, the Adult Swim lineup, and then one day I realized, that maybe instead of writing these serious things, I should write something I like. So I switched over to animation and haven’t looked back. After college I started as an assistant and was looking for freelance writing on the side. I got a few freelance writing jobs, and were able to write a couple episodes for different animated series. From there my focus has been in kids and family. Occasionally I go out of it. I did a Deathstroke story for a summer anthology DC put out. It was so much fun because it was so unlike anything else I had written before. I have a live action film that’s out, and I have a bunch of animated series. I have story edited and written, and that Disney on Ice show, which was a totally different writing experience. I like to shake it up and do different things, to really expand my profile.

Lindsay: Is there one platform that calls to you more then the others, or is it about even?

Shea: I like doing all of it. I think there is something great about doing graphic novels, because it is a really small team. You are really collaborating with so strongly with your artist, your colorist, and everyone involved, but it’s a small enough team that you are able to get your creative vision across. Things aren’t going out of control as they do with big movies. Things on set start to get changed, and directors change things. I think with comic books and graphic novels is a very pure vision that you get in the final print of the project.

Lindsay: Is there anything else on your list of comics, shows, movies (super hero or otherwise), that you’d also love to write for? A list of wished for work?

Shea: I don’t know. I’ve been so lucky to do so many great things and be involved with so many classic incredible characters. All those worlds. And Wonder Woman, the biggest female character in the world. I got to write for her. Then I’ve also done Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse. I had the opportunity to do a bunch of really big famous characters. One of the things I’d like to do more of, would be some original content. Things that are directly in my voice, instead of going through the lenses of characters who were created before I was even born in most cases. I would love to do some original graphic novels. I have a few of those I’ve been working on as well as a couple of some animated series.

Lindsay: Awesome. Since we are talking about comics, do you have any advice for young adults, or the young at heart, who are considering a career in the comic industry.

Shea: I think the big thing is to read a lot to understand what comics you like, and what you don’t like. To get into the worlds to understand the pacing and how comics are put together. Things like, what a page turn is, and how you use that effectively in comics. You get that mostly from reading comics, and starting to have the instinct of how comics and comic stories work. I also really say, beyond just reading things, get out and do a lot of stuff. One thing that we more introverted people start to overlook when you are really focused on something, like, “I just really want to do comics,” but when people are looking for writers, they want writers with experience in all sorts of areas. If you love martial arts, then go out and do a bunch of martial arts and be able to bring that back to your writing. If you love cars, then learn about cars, what ever the kind of stuff that interests you, go out and do it. The more experiences you have the more you’ll be able to draw on for stories.

Lindsay: Are there any comics that you are reading right now?

Shea: That’s a good question! I’m always keeping up on Batman because he is my favorite. I have been reading a lot of middle grade comics recently. Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, is super great. That came out earlier this year. I just read The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang, last week, which was very fun to. There are so many great things going on in comics these days, beyond the two big ticket super hero publishers. It’s really interesting to get into these comics that are either independently published or published through other means, that are so personal and so deep, and shows all the things that comics can do.

Lindsay: Some of my favorite comics have happened that way. I will like a cover, and read issue one, and become addicted to the whole series.

Shea: Definitely.

Lindsay: Today, you are doing a signing at Brave New World Comics in Newhall at 5pm til 7pm, are there any other upcoming events, projects, or conventions you’d like us to keep a look out for?

Shea: I will also be at in South Dakota on the 28th through the 30th of September. I will also be at Grand Rapids Comic Con, November 9th through the 11th. Those are the next big dates that I have.

Lindsay: Then you’ll relax for the holiday, and get back to work?

Shea: I hope so, we’ll see.

Lindsay: Shea, thank you so much!

Shea: Thank you so much Lindsay!

Shea is a truly inspiring and humble nerd, who happens to have a background in roller derby and can tell you unlimited fun facts about the DC Super Hero Girls. Be sure to connect with her on her Twitter @SheaFontana for all of the latest news.

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