SDCC Interview: Tim Seeley on “Nightwing”

One of the highlights of DC’s “Rebirth” initiative was seeing Dick Grayson back in blue as Nightwing.  Don’t get me wrong, the Grayson comic series is one of my favorite books of all time, but having Dick back in costume just feels right.

In the course of a year, Tim Seeley has been steering the ship on the Nightwing title, building on his earlier work with Agent 37 and reinventing some of the core ideas of the character.  Put simply, it’s been one of DC’s most consistently good books in terms of quality.

I spoke with Seeley at San Diego Comic-Con and discussed his first year on the title, as well as different challenges and rewards he’s faced in the first twenty five issues of his run.  Conducted by an outdoor bar near the pool of the Marriott, this was a weird interview, full of interruptions and fun asides.  I’ve noted where there were breaks in the interview but kept some of the dialogue if it was relevant and/or funny.  Mostly funny.

And fear not: we discuss Hostess cupcake ads in far more detail than I ever imagined.

Jay Yaws: So Tim, it’s been a year of Nightwing.  How does that feel so far?

Tim Seeley: Well, I mean, it doesn’t feel like a year.  I think that’s number one.  When you’re doing these double-ships, it’s just, like, incredible the material you burn through and how many ideas you go through and how much time you spend with a character.  It’s, you know, two years worth of work… two weeks at least, maybe three, for every month spent with this one character.  It’s intense.  I don’t know that I would necessarily do a bi-monthly shipping book again on a superhero book–

JY: [laughs]

TS: –’cause it was a lot of work.  You know, I also got to spend all this time working on one of my favorite characters, so it’s really hard to complain, you know?  I mean, I’m really happy… I’m happy with the book, I’m happy with the artists.  I think everybody working on it has really, like, upped their game and evolved and really figured it out.

JY: Yeah, for sure.

TS: So yeah.  It’s a combination of proud and totally obliterated and devastated with exhaustion.

JY: For sure.  So, you wrote Grayson, and now you’re on Nightwing.  How is it different?  I mean, it’s the same guy

TS: It’s the opposite.  So, Grayson was about a guy who comes from a tight family, going out on his own, being alone, and having to figure things out without that structure.  And Nightwing has been about a guy returning to, you know, looking for his place in the world, and trying to find a new place to have a family.  So they’re opposites, you know, in a lot of ways.  And that’s hard… it was a hard… obviously the character is the same.  The motivation, the cast, the… I think, when we set up with Grayson, it was purposely a very small cast.  It was a limited supporting cast, the relationships were very defined.  It was more like a… almost like a sort of… the way that they approach a TV show, right?

JY: Right.

TS: But when you do Nightwing, you’re opening up to the entire DC Universe, and it has to be about that.  That’s a whole lot of work.  That’s a whole lot of different–

JY: It’s not just “let’s go on covert missions here and there,” pick and choose, like, one character.  You have to–

TS: Yeah.

JY: You have to be able to pull everything in now.

TS: Yeah, it has to be about this constantly evolving, eternal… whoa, that’s Margaret Atwood*.  I’m gonna have a beer with Margaret Atwood.  That’s crazy.

JY: I’m gonna leave that in the transcript, by the way. [laughs]

TS: [laughs] You probably should!  Not a thing I ever thought I’d say, but there you go.  It’s a weird job, man.  Comics is a weird job.

JY: Yeah.  So, one of the things that I was curious about is, Tom [King] on Batman has said that everything’s happened.  Like, you name it in Batman’s history, to him–

TS: The “Grant Morrison theory” of Batman?

JY: Yeah.  If he can incorporate it, it happened, whereas you have been reinventing things, like with Blockbuster, which just ended.  Kind of showed Blockbuster’s rise to power, so incorporating, like, things from the comics that were before but giving a new spin on it.  Do you have that same mindset, or are you going for the true… let’s say “Rebirth” idea of just putting new spins on old ideas?

TS: Yeah, I mean, I’m sticking to that.  I think… well, to me, and part of it is, you know, there… I’ve loved Nightwing longer than some of the things… I guess I’ve loved Dick Grayson longer than some of the things that are associated with the character.  I mean, I’m 40-years-old, so, you know, I knew him as Robin, I knew him as early Nightwing when he was in Teen Titans, and some of the stuff that I think can–

JY: The killer disco suit and everything?

TS: Yeah, totally.  And some of the things that are really canonical to current fans were, to me, added later.

[A gentleman approached Tim at this point]

TS: But… what was I talking about?

JY: Rebirth… new ideas.

TS: Yeah, so, since to me some of those things are new and not necessary, I think.  But, to a lot of fans, Blockbuster is important to Nightwing.  Blüdhaven is important to Nightwing.  And for me, I had to come at those things with ways to make them matter to me, ’cause they aren’t to me inherently part of the character.  So, you know–

JY: Do you have an example of what that is?

TS: Well, I mean, just, I think… I have an appreciation for, you know, I grew up reading Nightwing before he moved to Blüdhaven, right?  But there’s a whole generation of fans who would define it by “Nightwing is the guy who used to work for Batman, he lives in Blüdhaven, he fights the dirty characters in the town.”

[Another gentleman approached]

TS: To me, that’s a new addition.  So I have to come at it with an angle to make that work for me and to make it feel right, you know.  Like, yes, everybody wants to see Blockbuster, but I don’t want to do the Blockbuster that you expect just because we’re supposed to do Blockbuster.

JY: Exactly, yeah.

TS: I have to come… I have to understand what makes Roland Desmond a reflection of Dick Grayson.  What makes him a good villain for Dick Grayson.  And, you know, as much as I enjoy reading Chuck’s [Dixon] run, and I think it’s a great run, I don’t personally connect to why Blockbuster’s here.  I just don’t.  So, I had to make a version of Blockbuster that made sense to me.  To me, if Blockbuster is a guy who feels like this is his town, and this guy, this stranger, this interloper, this outsider is trying to force his views on this town, I get his motivation.  I get it.  And I don’t have access to, like–

[Again, a gentleman approached Tim]

TS: Ok.

JY: Blockbuster making sense to you. [laughs]

TS: That’s right.  So, I had to give him a motivation that feels right to me.  So, that works for me.  I don’t have access to… you know, the original motivation for Blockbuster was he got smart because the Devil gave him powers.  Like, that… I don’t have that access, and I don’t think I want to use that.  I’d rather, you know…

JY: Speaking as one of those “younger fans” who grew up on the Dixon run, that’s where I became a Nightwing fan, I mean, I think it worked.  Because it’s not just making Nightwing the main character and then there’s these other guys reacting to him.  It’s a whole world.  Blüdhaven’s it’s own world.  It feels bigger because you may not sympathize with Desmond, necessarily–

TS: Yeah.

JY: –but he at least feels like a person.  So I think you succeeded in that regard.

TS: Right, and it’s in… it’s all of those characters.  It’s like, you know, I need to give them motivations that I understand.  What makes a reflection… and I think that’s part of what makes Dick Grayson hard to give a… he doesn’t have a villains  gallery… a rogues gallery the same way that Batman does.

JY: Right.

TS: Because Batman… and over time, people have expertly always given villains that reflect a part about him, right?

JY: Yeah.

TS: You know, Joker is chaos to Batman’s order.

JY: Correct.

TS: And the Riddler is that arrogance about intelligence to Batman’s attempt to try to, you know, use his intelligence for good, right?  It all–

JY: Yeah.

TS: It’s perfectly reflected.

JY: Whereas Dick is Batman if Batman had had a Batman.

TS: [laughs] Right.  So, I mean, that’s why Raptor is a perfect villain, right?

JY: Yeah.

TS: So you need to give him characters that reflect something about him to make them last.  So I think that’s kind of what we’ve hopefully added to the mythos.  Like, that was part of the job: let’s give him characters that reflect and expand upon him.  Make him more interesting because he’s dealing with them, you know?

JY: Yeah.

TS: And I had to make Roland a version of that.

JY: Yeah.  So when you were on Grayson, you and Tom kept… kind of kept up with the theme of seasons, where it would be like a television show season.  The first arc was one “season” and everything.  Nightwing 25 kind of felt like an end to a first season.  Do you still kind of have that mentality of more of a long-form, long-game storytelling that it’s building up on top of each other like that so there’s… so effectively Nightwing 26 is going to start the new season of Nightwing?

TS: Yeah.  I mean, I don’t know if I do that on purpose, but I do feel that has become a way I do things.  And I hate that in some ways, because it’s comics, we don’t have seasons.  I don’t know why I treat it that way, but it’s just the way my brain works to some degree.  But I think, because the way the Rebirth books work, they don’t necessarily line up to seasons, but certainly 25 is an ending in that if the first part of the story was about a guy looking for his new place, his new home, after… you know, going to that analogy I think we said at the beginning which was “this is… it’s that period in your life where you’re out of college–”

JY: Right, right.

TS: “–and you’re looking for where you’re gonna be and what you’re gonna do and who you’re gonna be with.”  If we’re doing that with Dick, this is him deciding “I’m going to be here.”  And his motivation is maybe not what we expected.  His motivation is partly, like, I think he wanted to stay there because he had a girlfriend and he saw a chance to do something good.  And I think, by the end of 25, we find out he’s here because he’s got a guy he doesn’t trust and he needs to keep an eye on him.  And I think that’s… I think even Dick would surprise himself that he’s–

JY: He thought he was there for love, but he’s there–

TS: Because f–k that guy.

JY: [laughs] He’s there because he’s needed there.

TS: Yeah, exactly.  He’s… he knows there’s… I think what we do with Roland… everything Roland does, you can’t honestly… it’s hard to say, like, “well, that was a bad-guy thing to do.”  Like, so far he’s just tried to get rid of bad guys, right?

JY: Right.

TS: And the way he does it is what Dick disagrees with.  And Dick doesn’t trust him, but nothing… we have never seen Roland kill an innocent person, we have never seen him… to me, it was important, you know, to make him somewhat relatable.

JY: Yeah.  So when you introduced him, unless I’m fudging facts here, forgive me.  But you introduce him as he had just come off parole, or–

TS: He had been in prison, yeah.

JY: Yeah, exactly.  So he’s making… trying to go straight, quote unquote.

TS: Right, right.  Yes.  And he’s a guy who… there’s so much story to mine from before.  Clearly he lived his whole life.  He lived a very, like… and he was the manipulator–

[Yet another gentleman approached Seeley.  This time it was one of DC’s lawyers bringing Tim the royalty agreement forms for having created Mr. Nice and Defacer, stating that if they’re ever used in other media he’ll make royalties off of it.  This was pretty cool to experience.]

TS: But, uh… what was I talking about.

JY: Desmond, going straight–

TS: Oh, he’s a guy that spent his whole life getting away with things because he talked other people into it.  Right?  And now he’s… he’s suddenly got physical power, and it’s turned him into a different guy, right?  Like, now he’s gonna be the boss because he used to be able to sit on the sidelines.  And it makes him a more active guy.  Like, I think that’s an interesting change for this, especially the–

JY: Brutal state he left Tiger Shark in in 25.

TS: Yeah.

[Tim signs the forms at this point]

TS: So if there’s a Nightwing movie and it has Defacer in it, you witnessed it.  They’ll have to give us some cash.

JY: So, the Pigeon.  Were you already aware of the Hostess cake ad with the Pigeon–

TS: Wait, wait, was I aware of it?  Why would I create a character called “Pigeon Person” if I wasn’t aware of the– [laughs]

JY: Well, I meant did… were you around the office or whatever talking to one of he other writers and you’re like “ok, I need this really, really obscure villain, and it needs to be as crazy as possible” and then someone’s like “hey!  Remember those old Hostess cake ads?”

TS: No, I… ok, here’s what it actually is.  I have… since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by Hostess cupcake ads in comics.

JY: Because they’re amazing.

TS: And they’re amazing and weird and–

JY: Yeah.

TS: And it represents this very specific time in comics where comics were obviously for kids and, you know, you could… you could have a sugary snack advertised in comics or have them make up a story.

[Another guy converses with Seeley]

JY: Hostess cake ads.

TS: Yeah. [laughs]  I’ve always been fascinated with them.  I’ve had an idea in my head to update and add one of the Hostess characters to a comic since I was a kid.  I’ve wanted to do it.  So when I started working on Nightwing, one of the goals– I told my editors this– is “I’m going to put a Hostess cake character in there.  Is that legal?  Do you guys own that?”  And then they had to look it up– the poor guys had to find out– and I always thought Pigeon Person was the dumbest, of all of the characters.  Sometimes writers, especially comic book people, you want to challenge yourself to make something cool that no one else thinks is cool.

JY: Yeah.

TS: That, to me, was the goal.  I was like “there’s a great idea in Pigeon.”  Especially in the modern… like in the world of Banksy, you know, and all this sort of stuff.  Her idea was that she ruined monuments because she hated that they had a tribute to the past.  Like, that’s Banksy.  She’s supervillain, winged Banksy.  I couldn’t… to me that was too great not to use.

[Another guy approaches]

JY: So lifelong dream accomplished there.

TS: Yeah.

JY: Updating Pigeon Person. [laughs]

TS: Yes.  And so, when people, like–

[Another guy]

TS: Sorry.

JY: I’ll edit… most of this out. [laughs]

TS: You can add in all these weird moments that adds… it adds color to the interview, right?

JY: So we had Pigeon Person here–

TS: Oh, yeah.  So, the idea was, like, one of my favorite things in comics is that comic ideas, whatever they are, can be recycled infinitely.

JY: I agree a hundred percent.

TS: And you can take something that maybe– whatever context it was in 1974 or 1960 or 1942– you can recontextualize it and still make it work.  So it’s a great way to come up with new ideas, but you combine two things that don’t… that are incongruous and make a brilliant thing together.

JY: Yeah.

TS: Right?  So the idea about a–

[Another dude]

TS: [to the others]  It’s kind of packed right now, but if you guys are willing to hang out– I think Margaret Atwood is here.  That’s weird.  [laughs]  That’s a thing I didn’t think I would ever say.  “Had a beer at my party with Margaret Atwood.”

JY: The title of this interview is “Tim Seeley loses his mind because Margaret Atwood came to his party.”

TS: [laughs]

JY: Repurposing villains, the great thing about DC is you can do that because there’s–

TS: Yeah, you’re recontextualizing, and you end up making something that combines two things that you wouldn’t have thought of by yourself.  So, like, a winged pigeon-person who literally s–ts on monuments is so great. [laughs]

JY: [laughs] Yeah.

[Another dude]

JY: [laughs]  Like I said, I’ll paraphrase it to make that make sense.  So anyway, just to wrap up here, next arc’s going to be more back into Spyral and everything.

TS: Yeah, yeah.

JY: You know, that’s kind of your baby there, even though Gr–

TS: Grant made that up.

JY: Well, I mean, like I was about to say, it existed, but you guys really expounded on it.

TS: Absolutely, yeah yeah.

JY: So it’s gotta be nice to return to that world.  I mean, just anything you can tell us before it comes out and where it’s headed.

TS: Well I mean, the idea when we first… the thing that I really loved about Spyral that Grant wrote was that… the idea that they were so covert and so clandestine, they didn’t really know what they were doing.  I think that’s a brilliant idea, it makes me laugh.  So that was something I want to pick up on.  I used it in Grayson: what were they doing?  I’m not sure they knew what they were doing, they just knew they had to do these things.

JY: Yeah, sure.

TS: So here we are, playing with that to the utmost degree.  What does Spyral actually want?

JY: Like, a guy who’s undercover and he doesn’t even know he’s part of this organization? [laughs]

TS: Yeah, yes.  Exactly.  And so we’re gonna play with that here.  It’s a little bit simplified, you know, because it’s a Nightwing story, it’s not a great system.

JY: Right.

TS: But, I think we pose some cool stuff, we use some characters that I was dying to expand upon but I didn’t get a chance to because Grayson got turned into Nightwing.  And I’m getting a chance to–

JY: Thank you for anticipating my question there.

TS: Yeah. [laughs]  Well, I had ideas for characters and I didn’t… I couldn’t follow through with it.

JY: Yeah.

TS: And now I’m gonna get to do it, you know what I mean?  But, in an interesting way, I’m forced to recontextualize all those ideas.  And I think it actually makes it stronger.  In a weird way, we ended up making something that feels like a perfect fusion of Grayson and Nightwing, but it’s still… it’s a pure Dick Grayson story.  And he’s in a different place.  When he was working for Spyral, he was doing so out of duty, and now, he’s being forced to work with them again.  It’s not out of a sense of affection or duty.  It’s out of, you know… well, you’ll see.  I want to make sure that it all makes… you know.  I want you guys to be surprised.

JY: For sure, for sure.  So, will we at least get to hear Tiger call Dick an idiot?  At least seven times?

TS: It’s like a plot point.

JY: A plot point.  An entire plot point revolves around my favorite thing from Grayson. [laughs]

TS: [laughs] Yeah.

JY: Well, thanks very much for talking to us, Tim.

TS: Thanks man.  Appreciate it.

JY: Loving the run–

TS: Sorry this was a weird interview.

JY: That’s quite alright.  It was very laid back and casual, so thank you for that. [laughs]

TS: People constantly interrupting and adding color to the whole proceedings.

JY: So thanks for talking to Batman News.

TS: No problem.  Thank you.

*Found out later that it’s actually Trina Robbins, which Seeley said was even better.

Dick Grayson runs afoul of Spyral once again in Nightwing #26, which hits comic shops and digital platforms this Wednesday, August 2.