It’s a good time to be a DC Comics reader. But it’s also a great time to introduce new readers to DC Comics. Not only have some of our most popular heroes been reinvented in exciting, fresh new ways, but the creative voices behind some of those comics are evolving. Like you, we’re huge fans of Scott Snyder, Jim Lee, Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns and all of the other talented writers and artists with whom we’ve been working for years. But we also have some amazing new writers and artists currently making waves on their titles, and we’ve become big fans of them as well.
We want to share that fandom with you, our readers, through a recurring series of interviews that we’re calling “DC Voices.” In these Q&As we’ll be talking to some of our newer writers and artists, many of whom you may not yet be familiar with. We’ll be talking about the DC or Vertigo comics they’re working on, but we’ll also be talking about who they are and where they come from. We want to know what inspires them and drives them, and how that passion has brought them to the literary medium we love and enjoy so much.
Up first, we’re talking to Keto Shimizu. You may not know Keto’s name, but if you’re a fan of Arrow, you know her work. As one of the writers on the show, she’s working hard on the current season and recently took her first dip into the world of The Flash, co-writing one of the episodes that will officially introduce Firestorm to Central City. Last year, her work on Arrow took her from TV to comics as one of the writers on ARROW SEASON 2.5, our digital first comic that sets up the current season of the show. Today marks the release of the first chapter in a two-part story that focuses on the Suicide Squad, which was introduced on Arrow last year in an episode Keto co-wrote with Bryan Q. Miller (who has also written a popular digital first TV spinoff series for us).
We spoke with Keto about Arrow, but also about her experiences with comics, which include falling in love with Batman and the writing of Paul Dini early on, as well as a life changing experience with Frank Miller on the set of The Spirit.
Art from Arrow Season 2.5 #11 (All art in this post by Szymon Kudranski)
Just for a way of introduction, what are some of the things you’ve written or shows you’ve written for? Is the Arrow comic your first comic book?
Well, on television I was a staff writer on The Cape. That was my first job in TV. After that, I was a writer on the show Being Human, the Syfy adaptation, and then I came to Arrow. So this is just my third show. As far as comic books, other than the comics I drew myself when I was in high school and published on a photocopier, this is my first foray into professionally published comic books.
Were you a comic book fan before you starting working on Arrow?
Absolutely. I grew up reading comics. Comics taught me how to read. Comics shaped so much of my taste growing up. I didn’t really have access to television when I was little, but I had comics and I read them voraciously. I loved Batman most of all. I’ve been obsessed with Batman since I can remember. He’s been an idol, a hero and almost a religious figure for me. It was actually Paul Dini’s book, Mad Love. There’s a really amazing little story in there about Two-Face that made me want to be a writer and to do that kind of writing—the kind that really creates empathy in the reader or viewer for characters that you might not initially understand. That’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I read that book when I was eight years old.
So it’s safe to say you’re a pretty big fan!
Huge fan! I have a Batman tattoo on the back of my neck. I’ve been pretty obsessed with him since I was a little kid. My house and my office are covered in action figures and trades.
So writing comics—you mentioned that at one point you were even drawing them—was that something you wanted to do with your life?
It was, actually. There was a point in my life where I was considering going to school for sequential art because I loved comic books so much. I used to draw constantly. All throughout my childhood I was drawing characters and then coming up with stories about them and telling them to all my friends and family. That eventually turned into a love for other forms of storytelling like playwriting and screenwriting, and I eventually decided I wanted to go into film and television rather than comic books. But comics were definitely my first outlet. When I was in high school, that was how I got my stories out, by writing and drawing my own comic books.
For fans who aren’t reading it, tell us a little bit about the Arrow comic. It’s set between Season 2 and 3, correct?
Yes, it’s Season 2.5 and it’s between Seasons 2 and 3. It’s really keying up the emotional issues that Oliver and the Arrow are facing in Season 3 as well as answering some questions as to why certain characters are the way they are coming into the next season. Also, [it looks at] what happens to characters that we may have dropped away from at the end of last season. And then of course setting up Vertigo and setting up the dynamic of the Suicide Squad, for instance, coming into Season 3.
Why create an Arrow comic series in addition to the show? Are there things you can do and stories you can tell in the comic that you can’t tell on the show?
There absolutely are. The Arrow comic really allows us to go very big and a little more bold with some of the storylines and certainly our locations and action sequences. I think it was in Chapter 2, they’re falling out of an airplane. We can’t do that on the show. In my Suicide Squad story, we’re going to Khandaq. We can’t go to Khandaq on Arrow because we just don’t have the location. We can’t create a desert and have characters with camels. But in the comic anything is possible. There’s not budget other than what our artist are capable of drawing and so far they’ve been able to cover anything we’ve thrown at them!
Let’s talk about that Suicide Squad story. Was that something you were looking for an opportunity to do, to tell another story with the Suicide Squad?
Absolutely! I love those characters and I’m a big fan of the old John Ostrander run. I loved his writing. I loved how he would always contextualize the stories in a way that was speaking to current world issues. I thought that was very brave of him and made for some really compelling work. So I’ve tried to build on that with this current story. I’ve tried to create an analogous situation to some of the really terrible things that are happening in the world and to create character that put things in context and try to illustrate how complicate these situations are without being preachy. Just trying to illustrate and put the readers into this other world via this story.
I think just the nature of the Suicide Squad—these flawed characters that are also super spies, that can travel the world and sneak into these really dangerous situations that are politically sensitive and if something goes wrong, the government can wipe their hands of them—that makes everything really exciting. Plus, I love the characters, they’re so fun to write. I love that they’re all by nature anti-heroes.
Who are some of the writers who have influenced you? I know you mentioned Paul Dini earlier…
Oh gosh, I just absolutely adore him. Kurt Busiek. I love Astro City. Chris Claremont with all of his X-Men runs. Alan Moore. I love how he deals with these really dark, grisly scenarios and really delves into social issues. I love Frank Miller. He was a big influence on me.
Actually, my first job in Hollywood was working for The Spirit movie, which I know had a, uh…mixed reception. [laughs] But let me tell you, working on that movie was so fun. Yes, I was just a post PA, but it meant I got to get Frank Miller lunch every day and that just made me feel happy. He was so sweet. I had this really old, beat up copy of The Dark Knight Returns that I’d had since I was a kid and my last day of work I asked him to sign it for me. And first of all, he was really excited that it was really beat up because he said he hates signing pristine trades. He was like, “What’s the point? You should be spilling coffee on it! You should be loaning it out to all your friends!” So he was really excited about that, but then he signed my favorite panel in it, which is this splash page of Batman falling from a building as the rain is pouring down on him and he’s talking about being baptized by the rain and how it’s his reemergence as Batman. He signed it and drew this speech bubble coming out of Batman’s mouth that says, “This book belongs to Keto. Don’t you even think about stealing it!” That was just amazing to me.
So what you’re saying is if I ever get anything signed by Frank Miller, I’d better make sure it’s pretty trashed before I hand it to him?
Yes, make sure it’s a well loved book! [Laughs]
Are you reading any comics right now that you’re particularly enjoying?
Oh yeah, I’ve been a huge fan of Fables for years now. I love that series. I really love The Unwritten. Mike Carey is also a writer that I deeply admire, also for his work on Lucifer which is one of my favorite series ever. I’m reading East of West, which is a really fascinating book. I’m reading Fairest, which is the offshoot of Fables. Morning Glories, that’s a really good one too. Of course, Batman. Whenever there’s a new collection of Batman, I tend to buy it if I haven’t already read it. Oh, and Locke & Key, which is now over, but that was one that I loved.
I keep meaning to get into The Unwritten. It’s definitely on my list.
The Unwritten is incredible. It’s so smart and the art is just beautiful. It’s a story about stories, which is just inherently compelling to me. And again, I think Mike Carey is just a genius so I love, love, love that series.
Finally, would you like to write more comics? Are there any other DC super heroes you’d love a chance to write?
Yeah, absolutely I would love to write more comics. I would love to write Batman, obviously! That probably is many years away, but I love him so much. I would love to write more villain-centric stories. I’ve always been drawn to villains. Two-Face is probably my favorite Batman villain, partially because of the story that Paul wrote, but also because I think what tortures him is so fascinating. The duality of living with these two characters in your head, I just find that really compelling. I’d love to write Katana because she’s Japanese and I’m half Japanese and really drawn to the culture. I’d love to play with the magical realism of her character. It’s so interesting. Green Arrow is cool. I love our version of him on the show, but it would be really fun to write him in the comic too. And I know it’s Marvel, but Rogue. She’s my favorite of the Marvel characters.
I expected Batman, but hearing you’d like to write Green Arrow surprises me!
I’m a big fan of old school Green Arrow! There’s a lot he did in the comics that we don’t do on the show that would be really fun. Contextualizing him in the real world and playing more into his liberal nature—I loved that. I loved that he could do that because he was this bleeding heart liberal who was inherently flawed, but he always had good intentions. He always had a big heart and he always tried to fix things even though some things are too complicated to fix.
Part one of “Crisis in Kahndaq,” the two-part Suicide Squad scripted by Keto is now available for digital download. Look for it in ARROW SEASON 2.5 #11.