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Meg Cabot and Alexandra Monir Look Back on Bringing Black Canary to the World of YA

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Over the past few decades, Dinah Lance / Black Canary has become a unique staple of the DC universe, making her way into live-action and animated movies, several television series, multiple video games, and countless issues of comics. Along the way, she also has been reimagined for the young adult space in two key ways — first in the graphic novel Black Canary: Ignite, written by Meg Cabot with art by Cara McGee. Published in 2019, the middle-grade story follows a tween Dinah Lance as she learns the truth about her family legacy, while also dealing with the drama of best friends, overprotective parents, and the perils of junior high. Just under two years later, readers were also treated to Black Canary: Breaking Silence, a 2020 prose novel written by Alex Monir. Published under the DC Icons line, Breaking Silence follows a seventeen-year-old Dinah through a similar discovery of her powers, as she discovers her voice amid patriarchal dystopia ruled by the Court of Owls.

In honor of Black Canary’s recent birthday this past April 10th, as well as the upcoming 75th anniversary of her first comic book appearance, ComicBook.com sat down with both Cabot and Monir to break down their unique and significant additions to the character’s storied history, answer questions from fans, and so much more!

Ideas

ComicBook.com: What were the original ideas that drew you to wanting to tell these stories with Dinah?

Meg Cabot: I don’t know how it was for you, [Alex], but for me, it was the fact that her superpower was her voice, which I think is so important. I think that’s what draws so many people to her, that she just has this incredible voice, and she uses it to help humanity. That’s what it was for me.

Alexandra Monir: Yeah, absolutely. For me, just the idea of this iconic female superhero, whose power is not something that is outside of her, or some kind of magical hammer, or something that she has to get. The fact that it’s her voice was so poignant. I’ve actually spoken about this with Jenna before, but it was extra meaningful for me, because my family immigrated here from Iran, and they had to escape here after the revolution, where women’s rights were very much diminished, to put it lightly. To this day, women are not even allowed to sing in public by themselves. So just the thought of this woman, in a world where I’ve experienced women’s voices being taken away from them, the fact that this character’s power is her voice — I felt like I have to write this. It just was so meaningful for me in that way.

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Familiarity

What was your familiarity with Dinah ahead of time? Where did you first become aware of who she was as a character?

Cabot: It’s terrible to admit, but I literally had never heard of her. But DC contacted me, they were launching this middle grade series, and they said, “Pick anyone that you want.” And obviously, there was Wonder Woman. There were the better-known characters, but I thought “I really want to find somebody that people haven’t heard as much about.” This is so embarrassing, but I was literally looking through the list, and I saw this character Black Canary, and I was like, “Oh, my god, this is amazing. I love this character.” And then, of course, started reading all the history about her and was like, “How is this character not better known?” Obviously, she’s very well known to many people, but just not me. So that was how I stumbled across her.

Monir: No, but that’s so true. And I’ve had the experience, too, where — I don’t know if this happened to you, but anytime I would tell someone I’m working on a DC novel, and they’d be like, “Oh, who is it? Did you get Wonder Woman, Catwoman?” And I’m like, “Black Canary! She’s amazing,” and everyone doesn’t really know her. And then I have to mention, “Oh, well you’ve probably heard of the TV show Arrow.” But of course, she’s the love interest in that, as opposed to being her own thing. I had a little bit more awareness because there were a number of WB TV shows. There was a Birds of Prey show when I was little, that was sort of short-lived. And I started to get into comic books because of Betty and Veronica and Archie, so I would see the Birds of Prey at comic book stores and would get interested. But it was definitely later that I got more familiar with her, as I was researching this book. And DC also thought of me, because of the music connection, since I’m a singer. So I was aware of her, but I was always a fan of hers from these properties where she was very much one of a trio or a sidekick. This was my first time to really see her as the star that she should be.

Cabot: It was funny, because when I would say to kids that I was working on Black Canary, they all knew who she was because of Arrow. Anybody my own age was like, “Who?” People who didn’t watch the show, sad to say, in my age group, did not. Bartenders knew. A lot of bartenders watch it. [laughs] They all knew. And all the kids knew, but people my age who don’t spend a lot of time in bars did not know.

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Origins

Outside of a couple flashback sequences here and there in the comics, we haven’t really gotten to see Dinah in the early stages of her life. What was the experience like of putting her into the young adult space, and taking this character who is usually an adult who is kind of sexualized in her costume, and then putting her in the YA space? Did any challenges come out of that?

Cabot: It was more of a challenge for the illustrator, since mine was a graphic novel. Cara McGee, who’s the illustrator, really had to work on making her outfit be not as sexy. Fortunately, for me, I didn’t have to worry about that. But yeah, for the illustrator, that was a big deal, because we especially wanted girls and boys, obviously, to be able to cosplay her for Halloween or whatever, but we didn’t want their parents to freak out when she’s in the fishnets. But I think she did a really good job — she’s wearing shorts over the fishnets.

Monir: Yeah, I have to say I love your illustrations, and the way that you guys reimagined her classic costume. And that is one thing, it’s kind of a pet peeve I have with female superheroes. It’s like — why do they have to look sexy when they’re [fighting]? Doesn’t it make way more sense that you could fight the bad guys and do all this stuff in track pants? That’s something I’ll never understand, the skintight leotard and leather and this and that.

Cabot: It’s not practical for fighting the bad guys.

Monir: I know! Like, platform boots — I mean, maybe for kicking somebody, I guess that could work. But running? I don’t know. They’re all clearly a lot more coordinated than me. [laughs] But yeah, similarly, it was so nice to be able to just go distill the essence of this character, and who she would have been before all those images that we’ve seen of her in that classic black suit. Just to see where she started, a teenager just like any one of us would have been, except she has just this one very key thing that’s different about her. I loved getting to dive into that because, for me, the origin story is always my favorite part of superheroes, and that moment where they’re just like you, until something shifts. That was just so much fun to write.

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Superpower Princess

Meg, you’ve brought so many legendary female characters to life in the YA space. The Princess Diaries was my entire personality when I was younger.

Monir: Me too! Me too.

Cabot: That’s great.

What was the experience like, writing Dinah, who had already been established, compared to the characters that you had created on your own? And did you find any common ground or similarities between Dinah and your other protagonists?

Cabot: Well first of all, thank you. That’s very sweet of you to say. She has a lot in common with the kind of characters that I love, because she’s all about justice and empowerment and females. So in that way, she’s kind of like a superpower princess, and she’s all about trying to save the day. But because it’s a story that’s starting in her younger years, and like you said, it’s her origin story — in mine, she’s in the 7th grade or 8th grade — she’s making mistakes. So she’s not perfect. She is trying to come into her own, and be true to herself. There was a lot of friendship drama in mine because it’s for younger readers, and that’s something that we all experienced when we were in middle school. But at the same time, she’s also trying to catch the bad person and put that person in jail, and [deal with] drama with parents. So all of that kind of stuff came into play in my story. We had to keep it not too violent, because it’s going to be in the Scholastic Book Fair. There was even a part where I was going to have her, I guess, punch somebody who was bad, and they were like, “No, because that won’t work in the Scholastic Book Fair.”

Monir: Wow, that’s so interesting! I didn’t know that.

Cabot: Yeah, we really had to be careful. I think she ended up kicking them instead, but it couldn’t be on the page. Yeah, there was a lot of stuff that we had to tone down.

Monir: So a kick is okay, but not a punch, for Scholastic?

Cabot: Yeah, I said the same thing! I was like, “Wait, what?”

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Family

One thing that’s at the soul of both of your stories is the family story. I always have a soft spot for anything that recognizes and appreciates Larry Lance as her father, and the relationship between the father-daughter relationship and the family. What was, for both of you, the most important element of establishing the Lance family in your books?

Monir: Can I just say, Meg — I love the fact that you kept Dinah alive in yours, because my parents have gotten to the point where like, “Are you ever going to have a book where you don’t kill one of the parents?” I always do it. I can’t stop doing it, even though I have the best parents.

Cabot: I’m sure we’ve all researched this. I was like, “What is going on with her mom? She’s in a coma, and now she’s back. There are so many different universes.” I was very confused. I actually had — I’m sure you did, too — I was having phone calls with DC, going, “What am I supposed to do with this?” and they were like, “It’s up to you. You can do whatever you want.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, because Disney, of course, kills off all the parents in everything, I am keeping the parents alive in this book.” So yeah, that was more of a Disney thing, which I thought was hilarious. So then I kept both her parents alive.

Monir: But I think it works really well because, with me, having the mom dead, it brings this element of darkness that works in YA. But I think for a middle grade, like yours, it was such a joy to read. And I think it was so nice to see that, especially after I had killed her off, then I could see her alive in yours.

Cabot: Yeah, I think that’s very YA to have one of the parents dead. In middle grade, we’re keeping it more concentrated on the friendship fights, and she has a problem with the principal of her school who is mad at her for breaking stuff with her voice, which she doesn’t understand. So it was a much lighter. Although, for that age group, there were still some problems. But yeah, we didn’t want to bring in the parental death, or I didn’t. I love the dynamic between the parents. And I have to say, I do love her dad and the mustache. We had to give him the mustache.

Monir: It’s so perfect. And I love that we both played with the idea of Dinah wanting to follow the family business, so to speak. And the overprotective dad-daughter relationship, that was so fun for me to write, and I felt it so much when I was reading yours, too.

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Legacy

You both mentioned the Dinah Drake of it all — it really is one of the first mother-daughter legacy relationships that we had in superhero comics, much less in the DC universe. How important was it to build that legacy in?

Cabot: I think, to me, it was really important because of so much of the history that I was reading about the character. Her mom tries to become a police officer and is denied that because, of course, it’s the 1940s in the original comics. Literally, that’s why she becomes a vigilante, because they won’t let her become a police officer. So I had to fudge that a little bit in our book, which is set in the current time. But I thought that that was really important for this mother-daughter scene where she’s like, “Look, this is the thing that I couldn’t do, but you can do it, because now you can do anything.” I just thought that was really poignant, and that’s something that drew me to the character in the first place.

Monir: Yeah, I feel the same way. The mother-daughter aspect was really like the anchor for me. Just this whole idea of being able to pass down a superpower like that — it felt like, to your point, it hadn’t really been done before. But it also lent this emotion to her power, the fact that it wasn’t just like, “Oh, look, I can do this really cool thing and fight bad guys.” It’s like, “This is my last connection to my mom.” For me, that just made me feel connected to it on a deeper level, just knowing that there was that story there. And then I think there’s that element of, as we grow up, do we want to follow in our parents’ footsteps or be like them, or do we want to break away? There’s that push-pull. So it was really interesting to explore that through her, too. I’m also a huge history nut, so reading about the history of the character, as wild and strange as it sometimes is with all the different versions and retcons, it did give me that sort of nerdy excitement to be able to pull the older historical stuff for the mom character, while also infusing some of that in the new one.

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Green Arrow

Both of your books reference Green Arrow in one way or another, in wildly different ways that flip the script of how people usually regard Green Arrow and Black Canary’s relationship. What was the decision process behind referencing Oliver the way that you did in your books?

Monir: Oh, yeah, because with middle grade, you probably couldn’t do the whole romance thing, huh? I love a good Meg Cabot romance.

Cabot: Thank you. That’s so sweet. But no, we didn’t want to get into it, because also, we really wanted to keep it just focused on Dinah, and not have Oliver. Also, I had a really low word count, so we really had to keep it at a certain number of pages. So even though I was really bummed about that, we couldn’t have him [directly] in it, because there just wasn’t enough room. So I am jealous that you got to maybe explore that a little more, because I didn’t. I was like, “maybe book two,” and then that never happened.

Monir: Yeah, that was super fun. When I was writing that, I was like “Am I being paid to write fan fiction right now? Because that’s what it feels like.”

Cabot: That’s so fun.

Monir: It really feels like that. Yeah, I loved getting to flip the script, and have her be the star and him essentially be the sidekick. She’s the more powerful one. He’s the one following her lead in this. And of course, there is a little bit of the enemies-to-lovers trope that I love with them, that I wrote in there. That was definitely one of the most fun parts, and getting to see him in a different light. Writing that love story was so fun. It was like my YA dream.

Cabot: I’m jealous.

Monir: I know, I still want to see how you would do it.

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Graphic Novel

Diving into a couple questions that we got in from Black Canary fans, @CanaryDaily asked for Alex, “Is there any chance that Black Canary: Breaking Silence could be made into a graphic novel like the other ones in the line? And if so, who would you want to do the art?”

Monir: I hope so. I really do. Last I heard, because I think DC Ink was the one that was doing the graphic novels, and those imprints aren’t there anymore. It’s now just DC proper. So last I heard, they weren’t sure if they were going to keep doing the YA graphic novels, but if they do, this is on one of the top priorities. So I hope so. It would be amazing to see it. And there’s so much art that I love. I think Gabriel Picolo did the … I believe he did the [Teen Titans] ones.

Cabot: Yeah, with Kami Garcia. Yeah, those are great.

Monir: I love the art in that. I love all of the artwork, but I think that one really lends itself to that gritty Gotham City vibe that I can imagine. So hopefully, fingers crossed, that would be amazing to get to see it. And I’m so curious what it’s like to actually write in that comic script form or graphic novel form, because I’ve never done that before.

Cabot: It’s crazy. I thought it was going to be so easy, and I was so wrong.

Meg, what was that process like, having Ignite be your first graphic novel?

Cabot: I went to DC University. You didn’t have to go to DC University did you, Alex?

Monir: No, what is it?

Cabot: Oh my god. I was like, “I have to go to school? Do you know how many books I’ve written?” [laughs] They teach you how to write a graphic novel or a comic book. And it’s so hard. You have to describe every single panel, how it’s going to look, and it all has to fit on one page, and what exactly happens. I was like, “Oh, they let the artists decide that, don’t they?” No. No, they don’t. You have to plan out the entire book, and how every single panel is going to look, and what everything that’s going to happen, all the dialogue. I thought “This will be like two weeks,” and it took a year. But it was so fun, and I loved it. I’m still going to do more someday, but it’s just crazy. It’s much more work than I ever thought it was going to be, and I have so much respect for graphic book writers now. I thought “Oh yeah, the artists do it, and the writers just fill in the little bubbles.”

Monir: This is blowing my mind right now! I didn’t realize they have to describe every panel.

Cabot: Yeah, like the opening of my Black Canary is the bird is flying over the skyline of Gotham City, which I have happen in five different panels. And poor Cara McGee, my artist, was like, “Thanks. I have to draw the skyline of Gotham City five times in five different points of view.” I didn’t even realize, at the time, that that’s what she was going to have to do, because I was like, “It’ll be great!” Poor thing.

Monir: So it’s sort of like you’re a writer and a cinematographer at the same time?

Cabot: Yeah. It’s like writing a screenplay, but even more detailed. It was fun, though. I loved it. But it gave me a renewed respect for artists, in a way I never had before.

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Family Dinner

@Canarydaily also asked, for Meg, “What was your favorite part of writing Ignite?”

Cabot: I don’t know about my favorite part, but my favorite scene that Cara drew is the scene where Dinah and her family are eating in a Chinese restaurant, which I didn’t describe in so much detail. I just said they’re having a family dinner, and there’s dialogue going on, and I said they’re eating dumplings. Cara just drew the hell out of that scene. It was so much better than I ever envisioned, because Cara loves food. I don’t know if you follow Cara — you definitely should follow Cara on all of her social media. She has a lot of pictures of food, and the closeups of the dumplings that they’re grabbing with the chopsticks. It ended up being my favorite scene in the whole book, even though nothing is really happening. They’re just kind of talking — Dinah is mad that her mom didn’t warn her that she was going to inherit this superpower, and she’s like, “Why can’t it be invisibility or something?” It’s just such a great scene, and then to see it come alive that way, with these beautiful illustrations, for me, that was really great. But it just has to do with how the artist made it come alive, which was really special.

Monir: I love the juxtaposition of a conversation like that, about something so wild, with just the beautiful ordinariness of eating at a restaurant.

Cabot: Yeah, It’s so great.

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Elseworlds

@Laith_DC_Heroes asked, “How important are the Elseworlds and alternate Earths and alternate timelines to how you both told your stories of Dinah and her family?” Because, as we mentioned earlier, it can get very weird, depending on who’s writing those stories.

Monir: Yeah. I read everything, and there was so much I just didn’t use. I just boiled it down to Dinah Drake. The sort of classic, you know — falls in love with Larry Lance, opens a flower shop, they have a daughter. I went with that, and I lost a lot of the other stuff that just, to me, was just confusing and out-there. I just really tried to boil it down to what were the most human, emotional, resonant things.

Cabot: Yeah. What did they tell you? Did you ask them? Because I was like, “What do I need to have in there?” And they were just like, “It doesn’t matter. Just do what you want.”

Monir: Yeah. I got total freedom, which was amazing. I feel like that’s really cool, that a powerhouse like DC let us both just do that. But yeah, there was so much to go through.

Cabot: Yeah, there’s a lot. And so many people have just done the wackiest things with that character. Oh, my god.

Monir: I know! Like, how many times has she died or split in two?

Cabot: Or been in a coma? It’s just like, “Whoa.” I can’t handle it.

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Return

Both @CanaryDaily and @ArtofSiuJerkJai also asked, “If you were given the chance, would you write Dinah again? And if so, would you want it to be for a show, a comic, a YA novel? What kind of form?”

Cabot: Yes! I think we both would, right? Of course.

Monir: Definitely! I definitely have dreams of one day seeing this as a TV series or something. I don’t know. I could picture it. Maybe it’s just because I watched Arrow, but I feel like it would be great for her to have her turn in a Black Canary TV show.

Cabot: A kids show, and then she grows up to be a teen. A musical?

Monir: A musical! Yes!

Cabot: Oh my god. Because she’s singing, obviously, because of her voice. There are so many things it could be, obviously.

Monir: A musical that could be Broadway, and then also on HBO Max. So many things.

I love it. Well, they are developing a movie for her on HBO Max, and I was going to ask you guys’ reaction to that, because that is going to be so cool.

Monir: Oh yeah, with Jurnee Smollett!

Cabot: I didn’t know that! Great. But then it’d be grown-up Dinah. That’s good. I’ll still watch it.

Monir: Even though it’s grown-up, we’ll still watch it. I’m excited because I loved her portrayal in Birds of Prey, so I was actually hoping they would do more with her. I’m so excited for that.

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Fan Response

What has been your favorite part of seeing the fan responses to your books?

Monir: Oh my gosh. The fan art, that was amazing to me. There have just been some really cool things that I’ve seen. There was one bookstagrammer who, she does these paintings — it’s almost like she’s tattooing her skin with book covers.

Cabot: Really? Wow.

Monir: And she did one for Black Canary, which was amazing. And Laith, who I heard his name mentioned when you were reading the questions, he had commissioned a couple different artists to do Black Canary art inspired by this book. So yeah, things like that that I’ve seen have just blown my mind. Just the idea that we can envision a story and have this idea in our heads, and then all of a sudden someone takes that and creates their own art with it. Meg, I’m sure you’ve seen this so many times with Princess Diaries fans, but for me, I was mind-blown by it.

Cabot: I think that all of that is amazing. Also, seeing them dress up like Black Canary. I was fortunate that my book came out before COVID, so I actually was able to go to Comic-Cons, and go out on tour and do school visits, even. So I would get to see kids dress up like her on my day that I would come — which, thank god they were not wearing the old Black Canary outfit, because they wouldn’t probably be allowed to by their school. [laughs] But they had the leather jacket, and they had the shorts and the combat boots and stuff, and that was so cute and fun. It’s like a whole new little generation of Black Canary fans. That’s what we did. It’s so great.

Monir: Oh, I love that you got to do school visits and all of that. I was so bummed — mine came out in the thick of the pandemic, and I kept asking DC, because it came out end of December 2020, so I was like, “How about we just move it to January?” thinking maybe the pandemic would be over by then. “Or what about March 2021? It’s got to be over by then,” and they were like, “No, we don’t know when this thing is going to end, so we’re just keeping it where it is,” and they were right. But yeah, that is for sure one of the best parts of this job, getting to meet readers and see how they respond. That’s so cool that you got to see the kids in schools, dressed up as her. That’s just awesome.

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Black Canary: Ignite and Black Canary: Breaking Silence are now available wherever books are sold.

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