Cliff Chiang: Boy Wonder of the DC Universe

Originally posted at Pop Culture Shock.

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Sorry for the confusing headline. Not trying to imply that Batman has a new sidekick. At least, not yet. As far as I know, Damian Wayne is still going to be Robin in the all new, all different DC Universe this fall. That said, the controversial, yet still eagerly anticipated, reset of the entire DC Universe has some fans scratching their heads, and others drooling over the creative teams announced to navigate the new DC landscape. One of those drool-inducing teams is writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang at the helm of the new adventures of the Amazon princess herself in this September’s Wonder Woman #1.

Though he couldn’t divulge any classified information about what’s actually going to happen inside the covers of the comic, Chiang was able to discuss what makes Wonder Woman such an enduring icon as well as why Diana would make for a badass rock star. Also discussed: Cliff’s love of ’80s music and giant robots. Not necessarily in that order.

What was your initial reaction upon learning you were penciling Wonder Woman?
Excitement, then dread. It’s a lot of pressure!

My daughter, who will be four soon, just instinctively says Wonder Woman is her favorite superhero. Why do you think she has been such an enduring icon?
She’s THE female superhero, and is the vessel for everything we want women to be. Like Superman, it’s an impossible standard, so it’s a good thing she’s fictional!

Since NBC didn’t pick up the television show starring Adrianne Palicki, are you disappointed there won’t be a high-profile live action Wonder Woman this fall?
It would be great to have more Wonder Woman stuff out there, but I’m kinda relieved that our book won’t have to “compete” — or worse, tie into — a show that has a very different premise.

Why has it been so difficult to adapt Wonder Woman for live action?
More than any other character, Wonder Woman means different things to different people. If you put ten people in a room, you’ll get ten different answers, and most of them will not make for good comics or adaptations.

Speaking of “adapting” Wonder Woman, I kinda love the piece you did recently depicting Diana as Joan Jett (and Canary as Cherie Currie?). What was the inspiration behind that?
I was watching “The Runaways” with my wife, and I realized how important women rockers are to young girls, as a model for independence and confounding expectations. Check out the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, and you can see how rock becomes an important tool for empowerment and growth. It’s awesome. Female superheroes do a similar thing, so that piece is not about Wonder Woman having Joan Jett hair — fun as it is, but really it’s about rocking out and owning your identity.

Your “12 inch remixes” are always consistently great in concept and execution. Clearly, you’re a big fan of 80s iconography. How did the idea of mashing up superheroes and classic 80s album covers first come about?
A friend needed flyers for a club party where he’d have dancers in costume, so I needed to figure out a way to combine music and
superheroes. He’s a huge Batgirl fan, so I was looking at images of Batgirl and her motorcycle and something clicked: the colors, the
bike, the attitude — Prince! I just started laughing and pretty much laughed the whole time I was drawing it.

Batgirl/”Purple Rain” is an all-time favorite, for sure! Do you have any more “remix” ideas brewing at the moment?
No, I’ll probably take a break from them. It’s hard to find the right combination of character and album cover. Both need to be pretty
recognizable for the gag to work, and the original album images need to have enough story to comment on the character. I rejected a lot of ideas because they’d just end up being portraits. It’s a tricky thing to balance.

I still remember a pretty epic night of karaoke a few years back with Jeff Yang, Derek Kirk Kim, and a few others. What’s your ultimate 80s karaoke playlist?
Two words: Peter. Cetera.

Speaking of “epic,” (see what I did there?) how did Jerry Ma sucker you in to designing a t-shirt for Epic Proportions?
We’ve been talking about doing an Epic Props shirt for a while, actually, and this year we’re sharing a booth at San Diego, so I had to rally and give him a cool design. It’s for his Signature Line, which has shirts from Walt Simonson, Geoff Darrow, and Larry Hama, so there was a lot to live up to.

It really is a fantastic design, can you talk a little about the back story behind it? You’re not normally associated with giant robots or that whole mecha aesthetic.
I’ve been watching a lot of anime and reading manga, so giant robots are never far from my mind. But the prevailing anime aesthetic is pretty different from my own design sense, so I tried to figure out what a giant robot would look like in my world. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved commercial planes and the idea of these hulking, riveted machines taking flight, so I wanted my robot to have some of that styling, and for the pilots to be wearing functional flight suits and not skin tight fetish gear. I didn’t want the shirt to be too masculine, so the female pilot is taking a smoke break, just a quiet tiny human moment set against this weird sci-fi backdrop.

The Cliff Chiang Signature T-Shirt will be available exclusively at San Diego Comic-Con. If you’re planning on being in San Diego this July, be sure to stop by booth #1221 and catch Cliff with fellow SIUniverse alums Jerry Ma and Bernard Chang! You can also find Cliff in San Francisco this weekend at the Sing Tao Education Expo talking to young Asian American students about colleges and careers. Wonder Woman #1 will be available, along with all the other #1s in the new DCU, this fall at comic shops everywhere.

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Keith is the Editor-at-Large of the groundbreaking graphic novel anthology SECRET IDENTITIES and Outreach Director for SIUniverse Media. Visit the official Secret Identities blog to keep up with Keith and the rest of the SI team
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