One thing that comic book writer Paul Dini and I have in common is a deep love for DC’s magical fishnetted heroine Zatanna. Yet, despite being created in 1964 but, for some reason, Zatanna has always remained to be a displaced character that has lived in back up features, guest starring roles, long and far between mini-series and one-shots and, most prominently, as a member of the Justice League during different incarnations. Zatanna has been a character often without a voice, a supporting cast or a rouges gallery all her own. Although she has remained to be a fan favorite, it seems that nobody has ever really known what to do with her….that is until recently. Ever since he first put her in an early episode of Batman: TAS, Paul Dini has been pushing Zatanna further and further into the spotlight, finally putting her in the ranks of DC’s most recognizable heroines. Finally, in 2010, forty-six years after her creation, Zatanna was awarded her very own ongoing series with Paul Dini at the helm. Now I may be biased, but Zatanna was amongst my personal favorite books of 2010. With jaw dropping art by Stephan Roux, Zatanna proves to be a fun read, with Paul Dini building on everything that fans love about Zatanna, while creating a new world for her to live in. In November 2010 two Zatanna fans collided as Paul Dini and I shared our love for the character and Paul went into more detail on his thoughts on who Zatanna is, as well as insights into the world she lives in and her family and friends.
Sam Tweedle: One thing that you and I have in common is a deep affection for Zatanna. What is the appeal of her to you, and when was the first time you came across the character?
Paul Dini: I don’t know the first time I saw Zatanna. It was probably in a back of Supergirl or something like that. She was an obscure character and I didn’t know who she was and I was thinking that she was kind of neat looking. There was an unfamiliarity with her because I didn’t know her as well as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, and when someone shows up and you’re kind of interested in them as a character and [wonder] when the next time they are showing up is [and find out] she doesn’t have a book and she’s not going to be in the book regularly, that makes it sort of interesting.
Sam: That is exactly the same story I have. I first saw her in an issue of Justice League and she was the only member of the roll call I hadn’t seen in a cartoon series and it sort of fascinated me.
Paul: I also liked the fact that she was doing wacky magic. I had read Doctor Strange and he was more mystical, summoning up demons from other dimensions and such, but Zatanna would just point her finger and “poof” something would happen. I liked that. I also liked the character for the exact same reason that other readers despised her. There were no restraints on what she could do, which I didn’t think was necessarily a bad thing. I actually feel that with a character like that, that there should be concerns that comes with using magic so casually. I’m getting into those things more now in the book. But at the time I just sort of liked the idea that if Superman can just move a planet around, Zatanna can just snap her fingers or just say something backwards and make anything she wants happen at that moment.
Sam: For the last two decades you have been probably one of the driving forces behind increasing Zatanna’s popularity, especially in the last few years. You brought Zatanna into Batman:TAS very early on, you did the best selling Everyday Magic one-shot, and then you incorporated her into Detective Comics with a very strong connection to Batman’s mythos. Suddenly she is all over the place. She’s been on Smallville, she has her own series, and she is appearing in Streets of Gotham and Gotham City Sirens. This seems to be the peak of Zatanna’s popularity. She’s become a major player in the DC Universe for the first time.
Paul: Well I think she’s had a really good year. If I have any one particular talent for these characters, and especially the DC characters, is that I’ve been lucky at taking characters that have been secondary, or even lower then that, and bumping them up a bit by looking at them from different aspects and saying “What can we add here” or “If we twist this and look at the character from this point of view maybe the character can become more of a player.” I think I’ve done that with Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy and a few other characters here and there. All these characters have existed before. I didn’t create them, but maybe if you go and reconfigure them, and give a more contemporary slant on the character, maybe the character fits a little bit more. I think what happens is that there becomes something attractive about their personalities that other writers gravitate to and other artists find appealing. So if I brought anything to Zatanna, and I can’t even pinpoint what it is, maybe it’s more of that kind of feeling, and maybe that is what people are responding to.
Sam: I think that you give her an actual voice that no other writer has been able to figure out.
Paul: Well, being married to a magician helps with that, and having grown up around show business most of my life helps as well because I think of Zatanna as a show business book as much as a magic book. There are elements of being a performer that I don’t think a lot of people have touched on [in regards to] her personality. Where that was part of her back-story and something that she did, the day to day life of a performer and trying to juggle being in charge of your own show, and being in charge of your own dysfunctional family of fellow performers and technical people taxes you in different ways, and taxes you in some ways that even if you did have magic powers it wouldn’t necessarily work out that well for you. One of my favorite images of Zatanna was one done recently as an alternative cover by Brian Bolland that has this poster of her in the background looking all glamorous and making a card float, and in the foreground is Zatanna wearing a pair of sunglasses, a ball cap, what looks almost like an army jacket and carrying a dancer’s bag over her shoulder while sneaking into the theater. That is the pure vision of both sides of her life as I can imagine. I think she has to be that way. She has to be low key to make the more glamorous and mystical version of her work.
Sam: In Zatanna #4 – 6 I really liked that you, for the first time, did a story featuring Zatanna and her cousin Zachary, and in the process not only defined their relationship to one another, but fleshed out Zachary’s back-story and personality beyond the pompous jerk that we all love. You gave Zachary a soul.
Paul: In Geoff John’s original stories about him, he is kind of arrogant and haughty which makes him kind of fun. He’s not a white bread character. So then I look at him and say “If I’m going to bring him in contact with Zatanna, which I really should, what makes him haughty? What makes him arrogant? What makes him standoffish?” Maybe he didn’t have a very cool childhood growing up. Look who his cousin is. Look who is uncle is. It’s like having Blackstone Sr. as your uncle and then you’re trying out as a magician. Zachary is probably about seventeen or eighteen and Zatanna is probably ten or fifteen years older then him. He’s grown up in her shadow ever since he could hold a deck of cards. She’s been appearing on TV with her father since she was a kid. He’s grown up watching her and admiring her and seen her get really famous. I don’t know what his mom or dad is like, and I’m not really going to tell that story. Geoff created all the particulars so I can only take care of his relationship with Zatanna. But he does say [to Zatanna] in one of the issues “You are the only one in the family that ever understood me.” He always sort of idolized his uncle and his cousin and when she came over to the house she would teach him tricks. Then she became a hero and started going out with the Justice League and he got left behind. He always wanted to be a magician, and then when he tried to do things to impress her, she was never there. That ties into her being a performer. No matter how good they are at connecting with their fans or giving to a charity or a hospital, when it comes to their family [a lot of performers have to say] “I’m sorry. I’ll see you on my next time through town. I know we were supposed to have dinner tonight but I can’t make it. I’ll see you in December.” With Zachary, he not only grew up in her shadow and felt that connection [to Zatanna], but the older he got, the more distant they became and he became sort of resentful of her.
Sam: Any chances of fleshing Zachary’s sidekick Bunny out in the future?
Paul: Possibly. I talked to Geoff a little bit about that, but I think he has first dibs on her because he created her.
Sam: How about Zatanna’s manager/romantic interest from the 1970’s Jeff Sloane? Will we ever find out what ever happened to him?
Paul: I think he moved on. Who created him? Gerry Conway?
Sam: Gerry Conway created him in the World’s Finest back up stories.
Paul: They sort of implied they were having a relationship together but…
Sam: He was a boring character.
Paul: I always thought he was a bit sleazy looking.
Sam: With his big pornstache?
Paul: If I make any mention of him [Zatanna would say] “He was just one of many. I switched managers.” I may bring him back at some point but I don’t feel that I need to because whatever it was just didn’t work out between them as a couple or as someone he was managing. For me, it was more interesting to have her current manager, Arnie, as how I see managers. He’s a bit of an operator. He’s actually a little bit weasely in kind of a funny way. I think that agents have to be a little more predatory then Jeff Sloane was ever made out to be. Also, what interested me, was to make Arnie gay and to put him in a relationship with one of Zatanna’s assistants.
Sam: I love Zatanna’s different assistants. Are we going to see more of them and learn their back stories?
Paul: Yeah. Vladi, who I have barely developed at all, comes from some place in Central Europe. I came up with him when I heard that Circus de Soliel hires a lot of people from Europe where circuses are still flourishing. I figure that she hired him because he was in the States and needed a job and he is very good at movement and dance and everything that an assistant is supposed to do. I haven’t done a lot of work with him yet. Jon is Asian American and I think of him as sort of waiting for the perfect girl to come along but isn’t having a lot of luck at love just yet. I think of Arnie and Andre as pretty much a couple, but Arnie is sort of set in the past. When he finds out that this billionaire is interested in Zatanna [is issue #4], he figures that he’d go with him in a shot. I don’t know how faithful he is. He’s a bit of rouge. Andre is the most centered. He’s the more grounded personality out of all of [Zatanna’s assistants] and the one that she relies on the most. Mikey, Zatanna’s carpenter/director is pretty grounded as well. Mikey is kind of a tomboy. She’d prefer to spend a lot of time building stuff and figuring out tricks. She is stage manger/director/carpenter. She really takes on the burden of doing the show on herself and does it all for Zatanna. Zatanna comes up with the big idea and then hands it over to Mikey and says “Barring the fact that I could do this trick with sorcery, how do we do it in a real world terms” and Mikey takes it and figures it out.
Sam: Now Zatanna was created in 1964. Why do you think it took over forty-five years to get her own regular on-going series?
Paul: I don’t think people really know what to do with her. It took a long time to get her started for those same reasons. I talk to other writers and they say “Oh yeah, she shows up when we need magic. Her powers are undefined so I don’t do much with her. She’s the daughter of a magician, but nobody’s ever given her a back-story or a family group beyond that.” Eventually that did come in little bits and spurts. Alan Moore was the first to suggest that there was a relationship between her and John Constantine at some point. Neal Gaimen got into developing her more in The Books of Magic. As different types of writers became associated with Vertigo and the little bit darker DC stuff came in and handled the different magical characters, there was a little bit more added to her character and her back story and her motivations. But she always remained a little bit in the background. There were mini-series here and there. Grey Morrow did a one shot, and there was the Zatanna: Come Together four part series, and Grant Morrison used her in Seven Soldiers and they all added to her overall history. I looked back over that material here and there but I didn’t use much of it. I’m sort of interested in creating a version of Zatanna that has her own supporting characters and family elements that are exclusive to the series that I’m doing.
Come back next Saturday when we’ll talk with Paul Dini about Batman!