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NYCC 19: Black Canary goes through her awkward middle school phase

By Kristina Manente

Black Canary — AKA Dinah Lance — is one of DC's oldest superheroes. Now, she'll be one of the youngest.

The character is everywhere these days. She's a staple of the DC comic book pantheon, rocks the Arrowverse, and will be played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell in the 2020 film Birds of Prey. Known for her sonic screeching and wardrobe of fishnets and a lot of leather, Dinah Lance might not have been the most obvious DC character to take back to middle school (although anyone whose voice cracked during puberty might have felt they had sonic screeching powers), but in the upcoming new graphic novel Black Canary: Ignite, that's exactly where we find her.

The book is written by Meg Cabot and illustrated by artist Cara McGee, whose participation is something of a surprise, even to herself. McGee is known for drawing books like Over the Garden WallAdventure Time and other youth-oriented stories, so she never thought she'd be drawing superheroes. When the Black Canary project came to her, however, it was a perfect fit.

"Other people had a hard time drawing Dinah looking like an actual kid, so I had that advantage," McGee tells SYFY WIRE at New York Comic Con. She explains that her illustration audition consisted of drawing a few sketches of her interpretation of Dinah as a 13-year-old girl, and that obviously meant no sexy, sultry outfits. In this story, Dinah's still a child, after all.


The fashion and world this younger Dinah inhabits are all about youth and finding oneself, so it was important to McGee to have visuals that matched. Her Dinah would wear clothes that not only reflected her character but also reflected her age and what young readers would be able to identify with and emulate if they so desired.

"At that age, it's about discovering who you are," McGee explains. For Dinah's tweenage years, McGee decided to tap into a young rock star vibe. Dinah in Ignite is more punk and quirky than overtly sexy, which makes perfect sense for Black Canary as a character, especially since she's still growing up. This Dinah is in a band with her best friends and wants to be a cop when she's older. She's just barely a teenager and has all the questions and issues that regular teenagers have... and yeah, she's got a superpower that ties into those things, too. That all needed to translate through the art, too.

"She doesn't have a big showy power, it's literally just her voice," McGee explains, adding that Ignite is about Dinah discovering her ability, especially when she gets a little too emotional. "At that age, you're dealing with all that stuff that makes you want to scream all the time, so you can imagine how chaotic it would be to have that power [as a teenager]."


In creating Dinah's world, the color scheme was particularly important, because it too had to reflect Dinah's youth and growth. McGee was excited to have Caitlin Quirk, best known for her dreamy coloring of Image's Moonstruckprovide the colors for Ignite.

"My only criteria was that I really want a Sailor Moon color palette!" McGee says while laughing, recalling that she didn't know if DC would even allow such a palette for a superhero book at the time. But the publisher obviously agreed, and the result is beautiful. "Those pretty saturated watercolor backgrounds, I really love them. And Caitlin just took that prompt and killed it. She did it perfectly, I was so happy."

The entire graphic novel was a collaborative effort, and McGee says adored working with writer Meg Cabot.

"By the time I had joined the project, she had already written the entire script," she says. But the collaboration was seamless. McGee reveals that even though Ignite was her first graphic novel, Cabot didn't ask for many changes to the art and was very open to suggestions. They were such a good team that it's shocking that the duo never met face-to-face during the process of making Ignite, and will, in fact, meet for the first time at a Sunday panel at New York Comic Con. "She's very cool," McGee says. 


McGee has a lot more on the horizon that she can't talk about quite yet, and she says there's no word on whether there will be a sequel to Ignite or not. However, after dabbling in superheroes, she's interested in doing more for DC.

"I would honestly love to draw Robin, anyone from the Bat-Family," she says. McGee also admits she would love to draw the Teen Titans but can't imagine anyone other than Gabriel Picolo doing that. "The young adult line really appeals to me, because those are the heroes that got me reading DC in the first place."

As for those young adult artists who are looking to get into comics as a career, McGee says to just keep drawing what you love.

"Don't pad your portfolio with drawings you think editors want to see," she cautions. "They know. Instead, do that dumb original comic about a dog. You'd be surprised what you'll get an audience for."

Black Canary: Ignite is available for pre-order from DC Comics and comes out on October 29th.