There have been several attempts to reboot the Teen Titans but none came close to the appeal of the original cartoon. That was before I came across the work of Gabriel Picolo whose bold character designs were able to capture the charisma of the Teen Titans cartoon while also updating their looks to teenagers of today.
Robin, Raven, Starfire, Cyborg and Beast Boy look as if they stepped out of Tycho’s Daydream. It just goes to show that you can’t keep a good Titan down and that fan-art can take you to amazing places.
Tito W. James: I first discovered your work when you drew redesigns of the Teen Titans in 2016. What attracted you to those characters and what was your approach to modernizing them?
Gabriel Picolo: So, my idea was to draw those characters that I liked doing teenage stuff. I didn’t see enough of that in the comics or the TV show I used to love so much. When I started drawing [them], people resonated with the content so much that I just kept going; fleshing out their personalities as humans outside of their daily jobs as superheroes. The more I did that, the more people enjoyed it, and at some point DC also enjoyed it. They hired me to draw a series of graphic novels for the Teen Titans.
TWJ: So you’re working on a series of YA original graphic novels featuring your renditions of the Teen Titans?
GP: I won’t say they’re exactly my renditions but they’re pretty close. DC just released new imprints called DC Ink and DC Zoom. DC Zoom is targeted toward middle-grade and DC Ink is for the YA audience. They’re focusing on a new sort of reader; not the usual “comic book” style. When DC saw my work, everything kind of fell into place. Now I’m getting to work for them and I’m very grateful for that.
TWJ: I see what you mean. Your take on the Teen Titans would appeal to teenagers because they’re actually behaving like real teenagers. They hang out, play games, and go to parties. Are we going to see any superheroics?
GP: Yes, absolutely. The story is about how each Titan got their powers in the first place and how they’re dealing with them at such a young age. That what I like so much about the Teen Titans. They aren’t fully fledged superheroes, they’re still figuring stuff out. They aren’t like the Justice League, who have full-time jobs as superheroes saving the whole world. The Teen Titans can maybe save their neighborhoods or their city. Their powers are still incomplete; I love that about them and that’s exactly what the novels are about.
TWJ: Tell me about your unique take on each Titan.
GP: I imagined Raven as this goth girl who has this cursed raven following her all the time. It’s not going to be like that in the new story. The writer Kami Garcia, fleshed out the character way better than I did.
GP: Beast Boy has all of these pets and is focused on saving local animals. Animal shelter pets, stuff like that.
GP: Robin is dealing with this secret persona of his, Red-X, which is from the cartoon.
TWJ: Red-X is so badass!
GP: I love him so much. So Robin is dealing with his secret persona and hiding it away from the other Titans. I drew a scene where Robin finally tells the team that he’s Red-X.
GP: Starfire is this alien girl who’s just trying to fit in. Which is what all teenagers do. But for her, its more complicated. She’s not just from another country, she’s from another planet.
GP: Victor [Cyborg] is this really chill guy. He’s trying to deal with an accident that changed his body. Which is also a very teenage thing; having your body change. But his changes are more exaggerated. Cyborg’s mechanical parts are modeled after prosthetics. So, he feels a little more relatable as opposed to being “the robot guy.”
GP: This is my own vision for the characters from my own drawings. I can’t say whether it’s going to be exactly that way in the comics because I’m working with Kami Garcia. I absolutely love her writing! When we were doing Raven she was very very close to the character.
TWJ: Raven’s a very important character to a lot of people, myself included. I’m glad that Kami is passionate about trying to crack that character.
I’m curious, even if he doesn’t appear in the graphic novels, what would your interpretation of Slade be?
GP: To be honest, Slade was the only character that I still haven’t found a way to connect to the other Titans. In my own version of the casual Teen Titans, I have a vision for Red X and The Hive. But not for Slade, not yet.
TWJ: Yeah, Slade doesn’t do casual. He’s too mysterious and creepy.
GP: But if you are a fan of Slade, you might have a surprise in the Raven novel. I just can’t talk about it.