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This past Sunday morning, I got up bright and early to make an interview at New York Comic Con. A comedy of errors meant I didn’t get to interview Steve Orlando until 25 minutes after his interview period started. Soon enough, though, I was sitting across from him.
Orlando is not a physically imposing man (unlike his most well-known current character, Midnighter). I see something of my favorite kind of Clark Kent in him, in all honesty — calm, and well-mannered, his speech considered, but passionate, and his smile genuine. I mentioned that we’d met before, once, at FlameCon this past August. He remembered me. I mentioned that I would be taking audio, not video, and he laughed about being able to keep drinking his coffee.
Talking to Steve Orlando feels like talking to a peer. Someone who understands the growing zeitgeist in comics fanbases to get more and better of stories that are less white, less straight, and less male. Fitting, since at present, he pens the ongoing Supergirl, the mini-series Midnighter and Apollo, and is writing the upcoming Justice League of America and associated one-shots. He knows who his audience is, and legitimately cares about what they want, because it’s what he wants, too.
Take a look at the interview transcript, and see for yourself:
Murphy Leigh: So, first of all, I read Midnighter and Apollo #1 and it was fantastic. One thing that I’m really curious about: Did you have any input for stuff like those really cool inset panels, that sort of mark the visual style of the book?
Steve Orlando: Well, that’s a good question. So, I could have, but I truly believe that part of collab — you know, any writer can basically act like an artist works for them. But I don’t think that’s the relationship; you work together. So the real answer is that I could have, but to me collaboration is about knowing when to lean back and give your artist room to work and be creative, and bring their own style. So honestly, I’m happy to say that no, because I trust Fernando, I trust that he’s here on Midnighter, and collaboration is a risk, but it’s a necessary one. You have to have trust in your collaborator to bring their game, and I do.
ML: Yeah, it’s definitely made it distinctive from pretty much everything else I’ve been reading lately, which is always cool. In terms of story, you set up something really interesting by putting Apollo in Hell. Was there supposed to be a symbolic connotation to that, given that these characters are gay?
SO: Well, we’re gonna, you know, Midnighter and Apollo are unsubtle characters, by definition. Midnighter’s the kind of guy who loves to punch someone in the face, and that’s why we like him. But at the same time, like, yeah, comics are fun, but we can do more. And I think that they’re great characters to reject that idea. They’re great characters to look at that concept, the concept of sin, the concept of punishment, of self-hatred, and honestly stare it in the face and give it the middle finger. They can do that, and we all wanna do that, and that’s why characters are here: to give us the catharsis to do things that we’re either physically incapable of doing, you know, or can’t do for other reasons. That’s what these characters do for us, they give us hope, and that’s where we’re going with Midnighter and Apollo. It’s this idea that now, more than ever, a gay couple is facing down evil, and facing down death, and they’re looking them straight in the eye and they’re saying ‘No, fuck you.’ And that’s, that’s what we need.
ML: Yeah, that’s awesome. I actually was really into X-Treme X-Men, the version that had Hercules and Governor-General Howlett, and like, we didn’t get to see that sort of thing happen for them, and it’s really nice to see it happening for Midnighter and Apollo. And, uh, shifting gears to Justice League of America, I’m really excited about that announcement. Are there any things that you’re allowed to say at this point about JLA?
SO: Here’s what I would say, you know, the Justice League of America, as you saw with the first four members, is a Justice League that looks like America, which, we deserve. The face of America’s changing. Or it already has changed, and it sucks for the people who aren’t on board with that, but honestly it is, and this is what we are now. But by virtue of that fact, by virtue of having different voices on the team, different people in places of power, it means that the team is going to go different places, and bring the same type of Justice League-style action and adventure, and heroism and hope to places that maybe thought it was something they would only see on the television, they never thought it would find them. And that’s what the book is about.
ML: That’s great. Also, I was really impressed by the fact that for the one-shots for Vixen and Killer Frost, you brought on board a woman to cowrite the book. Was there a specific reasoning behind that, or was it just a happy accident?
SO: No, not at all, I fought for it, because it was important. And, to be clear, like, we can always do better. I would love to see a woman of color tackle Vixen as soon as possible. I think that these things are important. That, in the case of Vixen, not only has a female co-writer, she has an artist of color drawing the book. Killer Frost, as you may have already said, has a woman drawing the book. And I should point out as well that the Ray is a gay character, with me as a bisexual man and Stephen Byrne, a gay man, drawing the book. We’re very proud of those things, and they’re things I fought for. Because I think it’s right. But I’m not gonna rest on my laurels, I think there’s an incredible amount of work more to do. I can already see where we could have done better, and I want to do that.
ML: Yeah, you said in an interview with ComicsAlliance that ‘what’s next is more.‘ That really struck a chord for me, because as a writer myself, that is absolutely something that I work for. Do you have any further comments about what ‘what’s next is more’ could translate to, in terms of actual comics that might be upcoming or coming down the pike, or that you’re thinking about doing someday?
SO: That’s honestly hard to say. It’s hard to say for a practical reason, because Justice League of America is my life right now. It has to be, it’s incredibly important to so many people. The same with Supergirl, like, I’m working on so many things and characters that have touched people for fifty or sixty years, they deserve my bandwidth. They demand it, and they should. So, the pragmatic answer is that I can’t possibly do another book.
ML: I understand.
SO: But, at the same time, I have a lot of plans as Justice League of America continues to do more and more. I was very touched by, I was on a panel with Ta-Nehisi Coates on Thursday, talked to by some Romani fans who I met who were talking about how they were underserved by us, and by the competition. I would love a chance to help them, if I could.
ML: Yeah, like Zatanna Zatara has Romani heritage, is she a character you’d like to tackle someday?
SO: Well, let’s be clear, I love DC characters that no one knows even exist. I would love to work on Zatanna. But there are some other characters as well with that heritage I’d like to tackle as well. It’s about doing it right, it’s about talking to people, and respecting them, and that’s how I do everything. And not just them — there are so many things I would like to do. So I guess what I would say is: Watch Justice League of America going forward, I have a lot of plans, it is almost my entire life, but it’s also a great platform for these things. I hope to be able to do as much as possible, without, y’know, keeling over.
ML: Yeah, you have to take care of yourself so you can keep telling the stories that matter to people. Like, self care is so important. Do you have any self-care rituals? That like, when you’re tired and when you’re stressed — ’cause doing this kind of work in this day and age can be really stressful. Is there anything that you do in your process to sort of help yourself handle that responsibility?
SO: Well I work a lot, I can’t lie. I mean I exercise, I have a water-rowing machine. So that’s like thirty minutes of being able to do something that is not comics, which works really well. But you know,you’re thinking about this stuff all the time. You’re like, eating a sandwich, thinking about Martian Manhunter, but you’ve gotta have little things. I watch a lot of food, travel shows with my partner. It’s like one hour when we eat dinner and do something else.
ML: Yeah, I watch MacGyver with my partner. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I know that New York Comic Con can be super exhausting for everyone involved. But it was really nice to talk to you, and I hope you have a really great rest of the day and rest of the con.
SO: Thank you.
Midnighter and Apollo #1 came out 10/5, with the next issue debuting 11/2. The second issue of Supergirl is slated for tomorrow, 10/12, and is a monthly offering as well. Four one shots about the new Justice League of America will appear in January. In February, the ongoing series will begin in its own right. A story by Orlando will appear in the DC/IDW anthology Love is Love this December, and next week, the second trade paperback volume of his Midnighter solo series will debut with the subtitle ‘Hard.’