Welcome to Ink Spots, a quirky little corner of DC.com devoted entirely to all of our favorite Young Adult comics and fiction. In this exclusive interview, Tim Beedle talks to Sina Grace about his upcoming Superman graphic novel.
When a character’s been around as long as Superman has, it’s hard to think of him as ever being young. For most of us, the first time we ever saw Kal-El of Krypton, he was working at the Daily Planet, flirting it up with Lois Lane and taking to the Metropolis skies as the Man of Steel, and that’s usually more or less how we’ve seen him since. Yes, Smallville is a pretty big exception, and some of the movies have included flashbacks or sequences from when he was young, but most Superman stories focus on his years as an established superhero.
Which is what makes Superman: The Harvests of Youth so wonderful. This upcoming YA graphic novel from GLAAD media award-winning writer/artist Sina Grace is set firmly during Clark Kent’s youth, as he’s a teenager at Smallville High figuring out his place in the world. When a tragedy hits the school and town, Clark finds himself wrestling with difficulties and challenges for which his superpowers offer no help, and which make it a challenge to hold onto the very thing he’s always been associated with—hope.
Superman: The Harvests of Youth shows just what untapped potential DC’s original superhero holds when it comes to YA fiction and comics, and while its release is still over a month away, it’s not too early to start talking about it. At least, it’s not when you’re sitting across from its author, as I recently found myself at San Diego Comic-Con. Grace was kind enough to share some thoughts with Ink Spots on his first YA book for DC, including what a teenage Superman might struggle with, what he struggled with while figuring it out and why we should never let things like fear get in our way.
You’ve worked for DC before, but this is the biggest thing you’ve done for them.
By over 100 hundred pages, yeah!
Was it a goal to work on a Superman story? How did this come together?
No, I assumed I wasn’t allowed to touch the golden trifecta. I went in and pitched my editor a Green Arrow and Black Canary book, thinking that’s the corner I was allowed in. I spent thirty minutes pitching her this whole graphic novel and everything that happens in it. She just listened and nodded and finally asked, “So, what would you do with Superman?”
I had also never been given the chance to draw and write at DC. So, it was such a crazy vote of confidence when they later asked me, “Would you draw this?”
It was mind-boggling. Really, this was all DC saying, “We think you’re great enough to tell a great story.” And at the same time, me not having any confidence in that and needing this company to hold me and tell me, “Yeah, you can do this.”
Superman: The Harvests of Youth is a Young Adult comic, but would you say it’s something that any Superman fan would enjoy?
This is a book that’s for high school students and up. I would say that if anyone grew up liking Smallville or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that same button is being hit. It’s a group of plucky, affable, well-dressed teenagers who are dealing with insane issues like grief, isolation and lots of other things.
So, it’s set in Superman’s Smallville era? We shouldn’t expect to see him as the Metropolis hero that everyone knows?
Yeah, in the book, Clark Kent is a teenager in Smallville. He goes to Smallville High. We have Lana Lang, Pete Ross and Chloe Sullivan, for the Smallville viewers, plus a few new characters. As Clark is dealing with a major tragedy on campus, LuthorCorp is moving into Smallville.
Clark is starting to face these really complicated challenges for the first time in his life, and it’s really great to watch him grow in real time because I think so many people are used to just seeing Superman fully formed. This is somewhere between the spaceship crashing and the tights.
Did you want to tell a coming of age story with Superman, or was focusing on him at a younger, less accomplished time in his life a way of addressing the issue some writers have with creating adversaries for him?
I don’t actually really remember what the genesis of my thinking was. I remember one of the editors asked what I would say about Superman and what it means to be a man. He’s a teenage Superman, and it’s that time in life when boys are becoming men. What does that mean outside of very blanket statement sentences?
I think it’s always great when Clark is serving as a reflection of humanity and that point where you’re becoming an adult is just the best time to explore.
A lot of people say that Superman represents the best of us, but he’s not actually of us. You mentioned you’re exploring this idea of what it’s like to be a man, but is Superman also trying to figure out what it means to be human?
What’s interesting is that for all intents and purposes, he’s perfect. He’s good looking, he’s smart, and I think it was fun to show how his friends feel about that, and how he feels about it. He wants to be perfect and do great. Sometimes that gets uncomfortable. His imperfection is that he’s perfect, and it’s fun to watch him stumble with that.
It’s not very common to see writers who are also artists getting to do both at DC. That’s something that sets you apart. How do you approach writing something you’re going to be drawing yourself versus when you’re writing something for another artist?
I think when I’m writing for myself, I get to lean into the things I know I draw well. One of the unfortunate luxuries of having drawn this book during the pandemic is that I had a lot of time to really craft every character’s aesthetic and build a visual tone for it that I don’t think I would have had if we’d been doing this in more normal times. Every character’s aesthetic, the city’s aesthetic—I spent a lot of time building that out.
I think a lot of experienced comic writers who find themselves working with an artist they know will try to play to that artist’s strengths. That’s pretty much what you’re doing, only you’re the artist here.
Yeah, and hitting these big emotional moments was something that I felt like I could do. Getting to these sweeping romantic moments, or these more somber moments, or even these more impactful action moments. I’ve drawn action before, so I know I’m not the best at it, but I can get the art there when need be.
Are you coloring The Harvests of Youth as well?
No, we worked with Cris Peter, whose art I had seen on Shadow of the Batgirl by Sarah Kuhn and Nicole Goux. She did such a good job of complementing Nicole’s artwork that my editor, Sara Miller, and I were both like, “Yeah, she’s great! Let’s use her!”
Cris did such a good job of adding this cottagecore element, but I knew she could then also bring the action scenes to the level that they needed to be, so it was a really great pairing.
What’s interesting is that Shadow of the Batgirl was a Gotham-set book, but now you’re in Smallville, and the two settings couldn’t be more different.
Right, and I didn’t even think about that. It’s a completely different color palette. She was using blues, purples and greys for Shadow of the Batgirl, along with these really fun splashes of pink. But with our book, she’s using these muted greens and oranges, along with these really nice flat yellows that I love. That’s the mark of a great colorist. She matches the mood and tone of the book.
What did you take away from the creative process now that this book is complete? Would you want to do more with Superman or would you prefer to do something totally different now?
I want to start challenging myself to look at characters that I’ve always been scared of. My big career dream is to have my own version of Batman that’s so iconic that I get my own Batman: Black & White statue. So, that’s my next goal in this life. I don’t even draw Batman because I’m so scared of him. I love him so much and just want to be a fan, but now I’m thinking I’m going to start drawing him for twenty minutes every day until I have my version of him. Then, hopefully, I’ll get invited to do a Black & White story and get my statue.
Superman: The Harvests of Youth by Sina Grace will be available in bookstores, comic shops, libraries and digital retailers on October 3, 2023.
Tim Beedle may work and live on Earth, but he prefers to spend his free time in the worlds created by Philip Pullman, Garth Nix and Philip Reeve. His favorite superhero is Batman, which he knows is everyone else’s favorite too, so he’s really trying hard to get into a slightly less popular one. Keep tabs on how it's going by following him on Twitter at @Tim_Beedle and on Bluesky at @TimBeedle.