Does Superman ever make mistakes? What was Wonder Woman’s eleventh birthday like? These are just a few of the questions that eager fans ask DC superheros in Michael Northrop’s Dear Justice League. At the Mixed-Up Files, we had some questions of our own for Mr. Northrop, and just like the Justice League, he was super to answer them.
MUF: Dear Justice League is your first graphic novel. Have you always wanted to write graphic novels?
MN: As a kid with dyslexia, I wasn’t much of a reader or a writer. Comic books were huge for me because I was hesitant about reading, and comic books were the first thing that I could read both for fun and socially. As each issue came out, I could read them and participate in the discussion. So, writing Dear Justice League was like coming full circle. There’s a visual storytelling to graphic novels that was already there for me because comics were so formative for me.
MUF: Wow, from a reluctant reader, to an author. You started out at Sports Illustrated Kids. What was that journey like?
MN: I chose the most perilous of paths. I became an English major, and jot just English, but poetry. Poetry is also great for dyslexia or struggling readers because it’s something that is read and written slowly and carefully. I became the poetry editor for the literary magazine in college. My editor recommended me for a job with the sports section at World Almanac, which is how I got into journalism and Sports Illustrated Kids, which really helped me to develop the middle-grade/YA voice.
MUF: Was there anything from your time at Sports Illustrated Kids that informed or inspired Dear Justice League?
MN: The interaction with the athletes, and how they responded to questions from young fans as opposed to questions from me. There was just a direct connection between the kids and these larger than life figures.
MUF: Since you mentioned that comics helped you overcome your dyslexia, is that something that you thought about while writing Dear Justice League? Helping struggling readers build their skills?
MN: I did write with readers like myself in mind. I wanted to write for a lot of different levels, and to make Dear Justice League as accessible as possible. That’s why the story is broken up into a different chapter for each hero. It gives the reader more ways into the book. So, if someone only wanted to read about Wonder Woman, they could read that chapter, and get into the story that way. It’s also why I chose to start the story with Superman. He’s one of the biggest stars, and that chapter is also wordless with a lot of physical comedy. It’s like the first rung on the ladder, making it easy for reluctant readers to get into.
MUF: Speaking of heroes, who are your favorite heroes? Who were your favorite heroes growing up?
MN: Growing up, it was teams that really captivated me, particularly the Legion of Superheroes. The comics had a kind of soap opera feel to them, but in space. They had a dazzling array of heroes, like Lightning Lad, whose power I loved, and Mon-el, who felt like my own personal Superman because he had all the powers of Superman but not as many people knew of him. But what I really loved about the teams was the variety.
MUF: Now, I feel like I need to read some Legion of Superheroes. But if you had to choose one hero. All-time favorite?
MN: Superman. He made a huge impression on me. He’s the perfect superhero in that he’s not perfect. He’s a complicated character with great stories about doing what’s right and being responsible with power.
MUF: How did you come up with the questions that your young fans ask their favorite superheroes?
MN: The fun part was the mix. Finding a mix of serious and funny questions that would get into who the hero really was and bring out those relatable human qualities.
MUF: Hawkgirl was one of my favorite chapters because it was just funny and caught me completely off-guard.
MN: Hawkgirl was a choice. I mean, I had to include the founding members of the Justice League, like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, but I got to choose some of the other members, and Hawkgirl brings a young teen kind of energy to the group, and she really carries the through line of the story. She was a super fun character and super fun to write.
MUF: Speaking of fun characters, the Flash is a pretty fun character, and he’s the only hero in Dear Justice League that deals with bullies. Did you always want bullies to be in the story? And why is he the hero that you chose to address bullying?
MN: I knew that bullying was a topic that I wanted to deal with because it’s something that a lot of kids deal with, and initially, I had a really serious bullying situation in the story, but I didn’t want it to be heavy-handed. So, I gave the most serious topic to the most free-spirited character.
MUF: Last question. I’m sure that you have a lot of young readers writing to you, much like the fans do in Dear Justice League. Do you have any advice for young readers and writers out there?
MN: For young readers, there are so many kinds of stories. There are no wrong answers. For me, comics came first. Then, it was rule books for Dungeons and Dragons, which led to fantasy novels because I felt like I was already inside the story. Any kind of storytelling is valid. Find the stories that work for you. For writers, it’s similar. Everyone has their own way of doing things. There’s really no wrong answer. The only thing that’s really important is to finish something because it’s in revision that you learn how to become a better storyteller.
MUF: Thanks, Michael! This was a lot of fun.
Dear Justice League is out now, and one lucky reader will win a Dear Justice League prize pack, enter here! A winner will be chosen randomly on August 15th.