Interview with Cher Martinetti

Cher Martinetti is an author, writer, and founder of SYFY’s FANGRRLS, the female-centric genre vertical syfy.com that ran from 2016-2020. She co-hosted & executive produced its flagship podcast Strong Female Characters. Cher has also frequently written, developed & appeared in various videos for SYFY, including the 20 Women to Watch in 2020 special during Women’s History Month. She’s the creator, executive producer, and former cohost of the popular podcast The Churn—the official post-show wrap-up podcast of the critically acclaimed space opera The Expanse. Cher’s hosted panels at ATX festival, New York Comic Con and San Diego Comic Con, & has interviewed celebrities on the live stage for ECCC, C2E2, & NYCC. Her work has also been seen on Cracked, Playboy, Death & Taxes, Uproxx, and IFC.com.

I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Cher, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Thanks! And I can try. I was the founder and EIC of SYFY Fangrrls, which ran from 2016-2020. We were a multi-platform vertical under SYFY’s digital site and focused on celebrating female, non-binary & LGBTQ+ creators and fans within the geek space. Right now, I’m working on what I hope to be my next book and mostly hanging out with my three rescue dogs, Grover, Rizzo and Fozzie. 

How did Pop Culture Pioneers come to be? Did someone reach out to you about the project or did you generate the idea on your own?

We (Fangrrls) had a flagship podcast called Strong Female Characters, which I hosted with two of my editors, Preeti Chhibber – who is now a full-time author and has probably written like 20 more books since I started this sentence – and Courtney Enlow. I had come up with the idea for us to do a special project for Women’s History Month called Forgotten Women of Genre where we would tell the story of a different woman within the geek space whose work was vastly under celebrated or just ignored. Britny Pirelli, my now editor at Running Press, reached out because she had heard the podcast and thought it would be a great concept for a book.

How did you get your start in pop culture journalism? What drew you to this field?

I always wanted to be a writer and was given an opportunity to write for IFC’s now defunct “blog”. From there, some of it was luck and some of it was me deciding “I’m going to do this thing” and then being relentless in figuring out how to do said thing. I quit my job at the time and decided I was going all-in on freelancing, which pretty much everyone told me I was crazy to do. I think I was drawn to pop-culture just because, for me, it was something I naturally kept up with. I can’t say I specifically dreamt of being a pop-culture journalist, because I didn’t really know that was a thing. I just knew I wanted to write and could write about this stuff. But in the beginning, I would’ve written almost anything anyone paid me to write. Writing is all I’ve ever wanted to do.

What have been your favorite fandoms to cover, and who are some female characters/ content creators you currently admire?

Oof, this is a tricky question because some fandoms can get a bit…intense, and not always in the best way. I think any time you find fans that genuinely love something and have these personal and meaningful connections to a story or character, that’s the best. It may not even be a property or franchise that I’m very knowledgeable or active in, but that fan’s pure joy and appreciation is such a special thing to witness. The Expanse has a group of fans that are lovely, called the Screaming Firehawks. Wynonna Earp probably has one of the most fun fandoms I’ve ever witnessed. I’m sure there are more, but those two just pop into my head because I was obviously more exposed to or aware of them because they were both SYFY shows. 

As for female characters, I will always and forever love Leia Organa more than anyone. She is definitely my main girl. Miss Piggy is also an icon. And I love me some Kara Thrace, flaws and all. For female creators, there are just so many! A good start is every woman mentioned in my book.

I had recently started reading your book and it reminded me of another pop culture centered book called The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, which discussed the almost forgotten legacy of Milicent Patrick, the creator of the creature from the movie Creature from the Black Lagoon, as well as the legacy of female erasure from genre fiction. Why do you think so many people find it so hard to believe that women are interested in genre fiction, even when so many of us have innovated the damn field?

Mallory O’Meara did a great job with that book, and we actually referred to it in an episode we did on Milicent for our Forgotten Women of Genre podcast. 

I mean, to be totally honest, it’s not just that women are interested in genre fiction, they oftentimes were the ones at the forefront. I think in the last decade or so, it’s become a lot harder to hide information from people, for better or for worse. It was a lot easier to rewrite or whitewash history when people didn’t have the ease of access that the internet affords them. There’s that saying about the history of events being written by the winners, and just that expression encapsulates why people believe all sorts of stuff. When one group of people have “conquered” or named themselves the leaders of a thing, they basically just tell everyone their version of how it came to be. 

Many would argue that pop culture isn’t that important a subject to discuss, serving merely as shallow entertainment. What would you say is the significance or function of pop culture in our culture?

I would say that is bullshit, because everything is part of pop-culture. And pop-culture reflects and often parallels the bigger issues happening in society, which I try to show examples of in my book. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to break into your field, or hoping to write a book of their own one day?

Everyone’s journey is totally different. I’m a high-school drop-out, I didn’t go to journalism school, and I didn’t become a professional writer until my late 30s. Being a writer was always my dream, but it took me a minute to really go for it. I honestly think I wouldn’t have been ready if I tried to accomplish any of this earlier. But that’s me. The best advice I can give is know yourself, know your limits, have a good support system, and nothing happens nearly as quickly as people may make it seem. Also, prepare to fall often and get back up even more. And have a day job. Don’t judge yourself or your trajectory based on other peoples, or even what you see them posting on social media. Do work you’re proud of, do work you enjoy, and try to work with people that make you laugh and whose work you admire. It makes you a better writer and editor. 

Since Geeks OUT is a queer pop culture site, could you tell us about some of the queer figures featured in your book?

There’s several of them. Joanna Russ, Alice Bradley-Sheldon, Alison Bechdel, Rachel Pollack, to name a few. Some people may already recognize or know those names, but more people should know them and their work.

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

Not that I can divulge at the moment. 

What LGBTQ+ books/media would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Truthfully, I would want to know what the readers recommend to me! I’m always on the lookout for new, cool stuff. I feel like I’ve lost my mojo a bit since Fangrrls closed down, so bring it on!

Interview with Namesake Creators Megan And Isabelle

When she was a child, Megan commandeered scrap paper and markers to create family “newspapers.” She learned to read at age 3 by reading out loud from the T.V. Guide. When a relative wasn’t convinced, she was handed pages from the New York Times to read. Her family is still trying to figure out where she gets her writing ability from.

Megan is a 2002 graduate of the University of Alabama, where she was a member of the Million Dollar Band and served on staff at the Crimson White. Upon graduation, she embarked on a newspaper career that took her from Alabama to the border of Tennessee and Virginia, up to Maine, across the country to Arizona and back east to Pennsylvania.

Megan is a journalist for PennLive.com/The Patriot-News, where she is a data reporter, podcast producer, and social media manager. She lives in (the real) Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, with her imported British husband, her cats and many books – and has yet to find any malicious clanks lurking in her house.

Isabelle Melançon is a French-Canadian artist born in 1985. She grew up in a family of book and comic-lovers. She reads manga, European comics and American comics and has been drawing ever since she could lift a pencil. She used to want to be a dragon-riding knight, then envisioned a career change as a fantasy writer at the age of 10.

Since then, Isabelle has been drawing her way through school, which included doodling on lockers, and graduated from the University of Ottawa with a visual arts and administration double-major. Isabelle has a few published graphic novels and art exhibits under her belt. Namesake is her first long-term project.

Isabelle’s drawing style is heavily influenced by American and Japanese animation, as well as older Victorian and French illustration work, creating a fluid yet detailed mix.

She is madly in love with fairy tales and literature and enjoys playing with the classics in her comic and written works.

I had the opportunity to interview both Isa and Meg, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourselves?

Isa: I’m Isabelle, I have been working on the webcomic Namesake for over a decade with Megan! We both take care of the writing, and do the art. I also work on other webcomic projects such as the comedy webcomic Crow Time, and an upcoming comic called Trinket, which is a magical girl story, with artist Inês Bravo. I work as an editor and in artist management, mainly at the webcomic focused publishers Hiveworks & Slipshine. I drink a lot of tea, have two cats, and identify as bi, genderfluid and ace!

Meg: I’m Megan, and I have been working with Isa on Namesake for over a decade! Like Isa said, we both do the writing and Isa does the art. I do the lettering and book design, as well as maintain the business end of our partnership. Outside of the comics I do with Isa, I do lettering for other comics as well. I am a journalist for PennLive.com/The Patriot-News, where I handle social media, podcast producing, and data reporting. I run Hivemill, the store for Hiveworks, as well as do book design for Hiveworks. Like Isa, I also have two cats. I identify as she/her and demisexual.

How did your webcomic, Namesake, come to be? Where did the inspiration for the project come from?

Isa: I think it came from a very aspirational place. At the time, webcomics that were huge fantasy epics were starting to pop up, like Gunnerkrigg Court, The Meek and Girl Genius. Megan and I were bathed in the light of incredibly creative fandoms on the platform where we met – Livejournal. I was always drawing very loose pencil comics inspired by fandoms we liked, and scraps of adventurous ideas we both longed to see in media. At some point, Megan was like, yeah, you should be drawing this. And my reply was basically, ok, but I’m taking you with me. Essentially, it was the idea that we could make something we felt was overlooked and unique at the time, a comic serial built around women in fantasy, and we didn’t need to wait for a large publisher to notice us, we could just dive in and make our world. We were both complete newbies at making comics professionally and to the English comic community. Me, especially, since I was still mastering English as a language.

This happened, as stated above, quite a while ago. When we met stuff like Patreon and Kickstarter, tools that are now considered essential to webcomics, didn’t exist yet.

Since then, there’s been a huge boom in comics both online and offline. Print publishers are making way more graphic novels than ever before, collective publishers such as Hiveworks came to be, and platforms such as Webtoons and Tapas were introduced to the English market. I have an abundance of favorite comics and authors online now, our dream of an abundance of unique comics came true. It’s nice to see this happening, after doing Namesake for so long. We went from this mindset of “we need to do this because it doesn’t exist” to “we are part of a massive collective of (queer) creators” and that’s a unique experience. 

Meg: The comic content itself came from a love of fairy tales, such as the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. The earliest form of Namesake is a fandom parody comic that ran on Livejournal.

How did the two come to know each other and work together creatively? How would you describe the collaboration process?

Isa: We met in fandoms, like many people do online. Collaborating came easily. I’m very flexible by nature and Megan was already used to collaborating with people professionally, being a journalist. The flow of how we collaborate is very much a conversation and even happens in the form of a discord chat nowadays. Usually we do a chapter outline, then I pencil the comic in sequences of 4 pages, which I then share with Megan, and we discuss them! 

Meg: It is an unusual process, but one that has worked well for us. One of my favorite stories about that is when we worked on the Womanthology anthology. It was the first one we did together, and we had a proper editor. We worked in our normal process of discussing pages over Isa’s sketches. And the editor wanted to see an actual script, despite us having completed sketches with dialogue. So, I wound up writing a Marvel-style script based on our sketched pages just to make the editor happy.

Isa is so great at coming up with the overall plot, and I am our details person. 

Who are some of your favorite characters to draw/write?

Isa: There’s a lot of characters that are fun to draw because they are very appealing, design wise. But I think my favorite to draw right now (and write) is probably the lead, Emma. I’m just a sucker for strong hero energy. I love how she moves on a page; I love how she thinks, I love to draw her monster forms when she changes, it’s all great.

I also really like drawing animals and weird creatures right now, a lot.

Meg: I have always felt close to Elaine, and I really enjoy writing for her. I also really, really love writing for Jack. His sense of humor and optimism is fantastic, and my favorite romance in the series is actually the one between Jack and Penta. I also enjoy writing Warrick in peak snarky mode, as well as Agha and Hercilia from the Oz arc. We’ll be seeing those two again soon, which is great, because I really love writing those two.

Considering Namesake is based on several fairytales and classic children’s book stories, what would you say are some of your personal favorites?

Isa: My all-time favorites are Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, the Little Mermaid, Diamonds and Toads, and Prunella, to toss an obscure one in. I plan to tackle all of these in individual comics one day. I do think Cinderella is my number one because it’s so simple, efficient, and emotional. There are versions of Cinderella in every country dating far back. For as long as we’ve had jerks and classes, we’ve had Cinderella stories.

Meg: My favorite fairy tale is Thumbelina, and I was thrilled when we got to visit her world in Namesake. I have always enjoyed stories of little people wandering around a larger human world, like Thumbelina and the Borrowers. I blame watching way too much of the Smurfs when I was a child! My other favorite fairy tales are The Wild Swans, Momotaro from Japan, The Red Shoes, and The Emperor’s New Clothes. Lots of Andersen in there, because that’s what I grew up reading. My mom passed down her copy of Andersen’s fairy tales to me.

As an artist/ writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and sources of inspiration?

Isa: There are a few comics I always re-read when I feel stuck. Namely, the manga Gunnm (translated and adapted into Battle Angel Alita for USA audiences), the 70’s comic Elfquest, Sandman, the works of Clamp and Rumiko Takashi as a whole, Full Metal Alchemist, Berserk, Please save my Earth, and Sailor Moon. I don’t think they’ve all aged gracefully, but they still bring me a lot, emotionally, as inspirations. The Italian comic Sky Doll had a big influence on how I draw when I discovered it as a young artist, as does the work of webcomic artists Petra Erika Nordlund and Emily Carroll.

I’m focusing my response on what inspires me when I’m feeling stuck because, I’ll be honest, my inspiration list is long and updated daily with new favorites. I consume comics and novels obsessively. Right now, in the newbie category, Ascendance of a Bookworm is a big one, as well as the webcomic Obelisk and the Korean webtoon I Dream of Health, Wealth, and a Long Life. The manga series Kusuriya no Hitorigoto and Sousou no Frieren currently live on my desk and the recently printed webcomic Hooky book two is something I’m excitedly waiting for. I’m probably as much of a comic reader as I am a creator. 

Meg: My love of history directly comes from being given a set of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series when I was a child. I was heavily influenced regarding storytelling structures by J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5, and I still love re-watching this series. I find something new to appreciate, even 25 years after I first watched it. My biggest influence in writing dialogue is the In Death mystery series by J.D. Robb. I love the huge cast of still-growing characters and the banter they have with each other.

Rumiko Takahashi was the first manga artist I read, and her work got me into comics as a whole. If I need inspiration for writing, I actually turn to my favorite romance novel writers these days. Tessa Dare, Lisa Kleypas, Cat Sebastian, Courtney Milan and Eva Leigh all write lovely, witty dialogue. 

Why did you find yourself exploring/reconstructing the specific stories you do and why do you think as writers and readers we keep getting drawn to fairytales when making new stories?

Isa: Fairy tales are the building blocks of story and symbolism. Fairy tales and folk tales are an international story type that has existed forever. It’s so much the building blocks of story that the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales exists. If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically an ancient TV tropes composed by Finnish folklorists. 

Fairy tales have a rich imagery and a power that is undeniable. People have built media empires on the back of fairy tales. Peter Pan as a play has kept a children’s hospital financed for decades. Everyone remembers the illustrations of the first folklore picture book they have held. Loving fairy tales to a point where you work with them is just accepting that you’re enthralled by a fairy queen. That’s just your life now. However, I don’t think fairy tales should be used in modern stories without thinking about them critically, learning about their origin and using them in a transformative way. 

There’s always this underlying idea of beauty and riches tied to goodness in fairy tales which is complete rubbish when taken as is. Andersen wrote objectively queer fairy tales, but a lot of interpretations ignore that. There’s also a bucketload of patriarchy and outdated representation in a lot of fairy tales that you must make sure to shed. Peter Dinklage recently expressed concern regarding the representation of little people in Snow White and a lot of people pushed back, seeing it as him messing with the classics. But if you have imagination, removing what is rotten in your inspiration is a fun challenge. Fairy tales are good to use, fun to research, and an amazing way to create a world that feels magical but real, because deep down we all know the fairy tale rules. But they aren’t perfect. Using them without reflection is not ideal.

Meg: I have always been a fan of the “what if?” plot? What if you took a single element and just tweaked it slightly? How does this change the universe? I really love alternate reality stories. An example of this in Namesake is right at the very beginning with Charles Dodgson and Alice Liddell. After Dodgson died, his family decided it was in their best interest to censor his diaries. So they cut a lot out, including the pages in the diary discussing the split with the Liddell family. It’s led to so much speculation. I decided it was perfect for Namesake. In our story, the cut pages deal with Alice’s first Wonderland trip.

You’ve both been working on Namesake since 2010, so over a decade now! Do you see the story coming to a close anytime soon?

Isa: We are in the final arc of the story, which is the fun adventure one. I did have to slow down production to accommodate health concerns, so we’ll probably still be at it for a while. Namesake did get called a “classic older webcomic” on tiktok so I assume that’s my cue to take however many years I need to finish.

Meg: We have been working on it for so long that it’s hard to imagine not working on it. No matter how busy I’ve gotten, working on Namesake has been a comfort to me.

Considering all the changes (both in art style and narrative) this comic has gone through since its inception, how do you feel yourselves have changed creatively or personally since then?

Isa: Well, we both grew from young adults to being in our late 30’s to 40’s, so I’d say we’ve changed a lot, across the board. Our approach to Namesake itself has not changed much – the themes we had initially are still themes we care about greatly, and the fairy tale adventure inspiration keeps the story timeless. We have gotten better at telling the story – our touch is more subtle, our approach to characters gentler. Scenes are more balanced, and our goals have oriented towards including more joy. I would say the main change is general improvements as storytellers and more happiness making our work than ever.

Meg: I agree with Isa. We especially wanted to write a healthy relationship being at the core of our center romance in the series. Really, both center romances. I know personally that I have gained a lot of self-confidence doing this series.

What are some of your favorite elements of the webcomic/graphic novel medium? What craft elements/techniques stand out to you the most?

Isa: I really like designing a page (and inking it). I still work traditionally so page design is fun to do. I like to think my paneling is pretty good.

Meg: I learned how to do lettering and book design when I worked as a newspaper designer, and I always loved that work. I really enjoy the process of book design and lettering panels. There is something magical about fonts and how using the right one can determine the entire mood of your work.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were (and the answer to that question)?

Isa: I’m not sure! People ask me questions all the time, as an editor. I never really think about un-asked questions. I suppose I’d love there to be more discussion about working traditionally in contemporary comics. It’s getting rarer, especially with traditional paper comics adapting poorly to scroll-down comic formats. I’m not the type of person who has disdain for digital art and tools. Digital comics are gorgeous, and digital tools are very useful and I use them myself often. But I do think we are losing something important if nobody inks comics traditionally. It would be nice to have more tutorials and general attention for them. Inking challenges are a big help to that, I love those! 

Meg: I love that you asked this, because I ask it myself as a journalist! I can’t really think of anything off the top of my head.

Are there any other projects you are working on or thinking about that you can discuss?

Isa: I’d just like to encourage folks to follow me on Instagram to read my short Crow Time comics, and to follow Inês for future Trinket news! We do have other comics in the works – we really want to draw an adaptation of Carmilla. But due to health issues I’m mainly focused on Namesake, Crow Time, and Trinket for now!

Meg: What she said! Right now, my main focus is supporting Isa.

Trinket

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Isa: Always take at least one day off per week, even if someone is on fire. No matter where you are in the industry; print, studio, webcomic, webtoon, successful or beginner, you’re always in a situation where it’s easy to accept overwork as part of your life, especially if it’s being pushed on you by success or deadlines. A lot of people expect that when you reach a certain level of success, you can relax. But there’s a pressure to perform that comes with success, even tiny success, and this idea that if you don’t capitalize on it fast enough, you’ll lose it. There’s never a stage where you “make it” hard enough that you can relax. There are always more deadlines and demands. Take your rest when you need it, not when you earn it. This is the hardest thing to do as an artist – I’m not even successful at it, at all. But the consequences of overwork are numerous, so even if you fail, you should always try to incorporate rest time in your work week.

Meg: Turn off any sort of anonymous commenting, whether it be on Tumblr, in the comments section of your comic, or any other social media. There are so many people trolling out there because they know they upset you. They are specifically looking for a response from you, and it rewards them when you grant it. Don’t let them get to you. Don’t be afraid to block or mute someone. Heavily curate your experience. My Twitter feed is largely romance novels, comic artists, and cats. Your mental well-being is so important. Have a safe support team that you can vent to. Don’t be afraid to get off social media entirely. It all plays into what Isa said as well about taking time off. That especially includes social media.

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/comics would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Isa: Ooh, Yoru to Umi is superb, I wish more people would read it! It’s only available in French, I’m afraid. The webcomic Kiss it Goodbye by Ticcy is adorable and will be in print soon as well! These are the two I’m into right now! I like cute ones!

On Hiveworks the webcomics Vainglorious, Tiger Tiger, Speak of the Devil and Obelisk have good gay energy that I love! Please also check out Brimstones and Roses on Webtoons. It has nice bi rep!

Meg: Hi, let me tell you about my immense love of Letters for Lucardo. I love that series so much, and I also love Check, Please! as well. If you like romance novels, read the works of Cat Sebastian, Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue, Alyssa Cole’s How to Find a Princess, and The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite. One thing that is on my to-read list is A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall, which features a trans heroine. I’m waiting for my copy to come in through the library!

LGBTQIA+Creator Spotlight: Steve Orlando

In this installment of the Queer Creator spotlight I spoke with Steve Orlando about his career and his various works and what it was like to work on the iconic landmark issue of Wonder Woman #750!

Orlando began pursuing his dream of writing comics at the tender age of 12 when he attended his first San Diego Comic Con. Steve pounded the convention floor, as it were, where he met his mentors Steven Seagle and Joe Kelly who happened to be writing X-Men at the time and the rest is modern history.

Chris Allo: What made you want to work in the comics industry?

Steve Orlando:  It’s not a lie, in my case, because I started breaking in when I was 12 years old, but I always kind of had my eye on this. It was always something I wanted to do, whether it was writing, or editing, or being part of a visual art team. That didn’t really come into play until I was a little older. Going back to when I was young, even when I was about three or four, my father sold sports memorabilia, and I was not a fan of sports. So I would always be collecting all these non-sports cards at baseball card and baseball memorabilia shows. 

And that gave me a strong fascination with superheroes, because they all looked incredible! You know, you’re a kid and here are all these brightly colored costumes and all these things. I was also going through, like, Garbage Pail Kids and things like that, but that’s a little less viable these days. There was a lot of Alf. A lot of fucking Alf cards as well. That’s going to date my childhood. But what stuck with me, I think, was the vibrancy of the worlds. Especially because I came in from both trading card collecting, and also back issues at flea markets while my dad was out collecting things. 

I think that’s why I have such an appreciation of “deep cut” characters and concepts, if you’re talking about the lore outside of like the Big 2. You don’t know any of the characters as a kid, and when you’re that young, you don’t even really know who Superman and Batman are. They all seem just as important, right? That’s why I love Big Sir just as much as I love Wonder Woman, or loving – take your pick at Marvel – Slapstick, or Quasar, as much as I like Storm or Captain America. 

So it all came from following my dad around really early on, but when they made Superman permanently electric and blue in the early 1990s, because he was never going back, they made an article in the Syracuse Standard – I’m from upstate New York – it really made it a time to get in. Because here you are in a ground floor moment, when Superman’s powers are changing forever. In that article as well, there were interviews with the folks who were putting it together. Of course Dan Jurgens, but I can’t remember who else was involved. Probably Stuart Immonen and Tom Grummet. And more, because at that time Superman was essentially a weekly book. I was fascinated with the creative process, and that made me think “hey, maybe this is something I want to do.”

Justice League America/DC Entertaninment

I gravitated more towards the visual side when I was younger, and I still like visual art, but it quickly became apparent to me that the speed of my ideas, and what was going to be most interesting to me in a visual sense, was going to be writing. So I started hustling and doing it! You know, my friend? Some kids do can drives to get themselves, I don’t know what normal kids are into, a shiny new bike? But what I wanted was a plane ticket to San Diego Comic Con. So that’s what I did.

Allo: Good for you. 

Orlando: At 12 I met Steve Seagle and Joe Kelly, who were writing X-Men at the time, and they started mentoring me on this whole business. It took almost 20 years, but that’s how it all began.

Allo: I read this before about you, but you kind of just hit the convention floor and pounding the pavement and approaching companies and editors?

Orlando: Yeah, I mean I don’t have any shame. And also, the narrative at the time was like “oh, you know Jim Shooter was writing the Legion of Super-Heroes when he was, what, 14 or 15? And it was Paul Levitz who only worked for one company his whole life, and it was DC Comics, kid! And he got in when he was 17!” So I was like, “shit, I’ve gotta get moving! If I’m going to be the next Jim Shooter, with no concept of what that entails, I need to get my ass in gear!” I tend to still be someone who doesn’t really sell fame. So I began approaching Seagle and Kelly. They kind of looked identical in the 90s, so it was easy to find them. 

And that was also when Crossgen was starting to get going. I was following them almost monthly, I really loved those books. And because not as many people knew them at the time, they were really easy to talk to. I always talk about people like Seagle and Kelly, but I should really talk about people like Tony Bedard, and Barb Kesel, who also took a lot of time to kind of show me the ropes really early on. To this day I always remember to bring my balloons, and that’s because Barb Kesel told me that anybody who doesn’t do it is an unprofessional fool, and I’m not going to argue with that woman, so I always remember my balloons! 

Allo: I worked with Tony Bedard when I was with Marvel. He’s a really good guy, and a really good writer. So you did a creator-owned first?

Orlando: Yes, that’s true by numerous tokens. My first published work was in 2008, in the Eisner-nominated Outlaw Territory anthology through Image. I had two shorts that I made with my co-creator on that, an amazing hearing-impaired artist named Tyler Niccum. He actually has a book out that you can buy right now actually, about his life as a deaf hitchhiker. We worked together in 2008 and even that was through networking, actually. He was like “shit, I need someone to work with. Let’s make it Steve.” So we did that, and then I also worked with Celal Koc, a European artist, for Outlaw Territory volume 3. And if I’m mixing up which volumes I’m in, come and slap me in the face, because I did that a long time ago.

Allo: (laughs) Okay.

Orlando: And then in 2012 I had already been networking with DC for over a decade. So I got the opportunity to do a story there in the Strange Adventures anthology, about centaurs taking space peyote and hallucinating gladiatorial combat.

Allo: (laughs) Very topical!

Orlando: I know, all the time, right? That’s how bisexuals decide. We take our straight half and make it fight our gay half, and whoever wins, you know, gets to choose where the dick goes. Anyway, so I did that, and that was with DC, with editors Will Dennis and Mark Doyle. The funny thing is this was around the same time Tom King broke out with an anthology called Time Warp. This was years before we would meet, but it was the same round of early Vertigo short stories. That was around 2014, when I did Undertow, and I also appeared in the “yellow” issue of the CMYK anthology, with future friend and collaborator Gerard Way. So my past was really prologue in a lot of ways. I didn’t know it at the time.

So we did Undertow at image, and a lot of my friends and peers at DC were following my work and said “look, this is somebody reliable who can be trusted with work.” So thanks to the success of the Burnside Batgirl repackaging, I got an opportunity to pitch whatever I might do in a similar mode. Which ended up being Midnighter.

Undetrtow/Image Comics

Allo: Which is awesome!

Orlando: It is funny when you think about it. I was in an anthology with Gerard, who ended up being a good friend and collaborator. And I was friends with Tom. He and I both had these poorly selling but well-regarded books at DC at the time.

Allo: I wouldn’t blame yourself. A lot of it has to do with marketing. DC was pushing out so many books at the time. It’s like, “what do I buy this month?”

Orlando: Not Midnighter and Omega Men, I’ll tell you that much! But that was in 2015. We’re both doing fine.

Allo: Would you consider Midnighter your breakout hit?

Orlando: Oh, very much so. I’d consider that my “Freebird,” actually. I’ve gone on to put out stuff that I’m much more proud of. But any creator evolves over the course of seven, eight years. At this point it’s been long enough that I can go back and… unquestionably it showed folks who I was at DC, and I made a huge fan out of Dan DiDio. I got signed as an exclusive probably about a year after Midnighter launched.

Allo: So being at DC, you got to write Midnighter, and then Midnighter and Apollo. You went on to write Supergirl, and then Wonder Woman… obviously Wonder Woman is a heavy hitter. What was that like for you?

Midnighter and Apollo/DC Entertainment

Orlando: It was fascinating to work on a character and see… you know she’s one of the Trinity, but I think her character is easily the most complex. She has a lot of oppositional forces in her life, and she’s in one of the greatest corners of the DC Universe, and she’s also an agent of peace, which is something we tried to wrestle with throughout all my two-and-a-half runs. But I loved building parts of that world. It’s something I’d love to come back to, but sometimes I feel that I’ve said what I’ve said. I had wanted for years to do Martian Manhunter, and I was lucky enough to do a 12-issue series. I think it’s my best. It’s the best work I’ve ever done, and easily my best DC work. I worked with one of my favorite people ever, Riley Rossmo. The editors I worked with, Chris Conroy and Dave Wielgosz. I felt that I said exactly what I needed to say. It was unadulterated. I don’t know if I ever need to write J’on again, even though he is my favorite DC character. But with Diana, it’s like the more the world gets shittier and more hateful, there’s always more to say with Wonder Woman. It was an honor to be part of that, but of course there’s always stuff on the drawing board that couldn’t get done. That said, Conrad and Cloonan are doing a great job, along with of course Stephanie and Vita, who are doing stuff that I wish I could have done when I was there. So I’m really excited right now.

Allo: In recent years, comics have become more inclusive of LGBTQ+, black and brown characters. Obviously not enough, but things are changing. As a creator on that front, what are some things creators can do to help facilitate more exclusivity and even exposure to queer folks and lifestyles within comics?

Orlando: The thing is, my answer is not going to be sexy. One thing they can do is buy the books. And they can pre-order the books and not buy them in trade and not buy them in digital. I’m going to be honest because I just said that, and it sucks. But that’s also the reality right now. And people come to Orlando for reality when the reality is shitty. The reality is that right now for the publishers, their customers are retailers, and the retailers’ customers are readers. For better or worse, the industry is in need of a ballistic overhaul. But we’re not there yet. So right now, the best we could do is… the language of the Big 2 publishers is preorder numbers. It’s not ideal by any means, and I’m speaking euphemistically when I say “ideal.” 

I remember when my friend  David Walker was on Nighthawk… he’s a good friend of mine, and that was with Ramon Villalobos. That book was canceled shortly after it came out. And I don’t fault the publishers either, because the markets are so tight that they’re going to do what they have to do. There’s not really a villain here, or maybe there are so many villains that nobody is a villain.  But that happens because preorder numbers weren’t high. 

There are many other problems in the world, but if the question is how you can support more inclusive content, for better or worse, support the places that are supplying it. For the Big 2, that means you have to preorder and support the periodical editions. That said… the world doesn’t stop and start with the Big 2. There are other publishers with different metrics, like book market numbers and they expect books with a longer tail. Support books that you are interested in, but if the question is how you can support books at big publishers, the answer is preorders.

Rainbow Bridge/Seismic/Aftershock

Allo: Talking about the landscape of comics, obviously right now there are more publishers. Of course smaller than Marvel and DC, but there’s definitely a lot more publishers and a lot more content out there. How exciting is that for you as a writer? Do you approach other companies? Does the new world of comics, with the amount of publishers right now… is that a good thing?

Orlando: More competition is always a good thing. More options for creators is always a good thing, because at the end of the day… if this wasn’t comics, say you were a farrier, the first job that comes to mind because I’m an idiot. Say you were a cobbler, and other jobs that don’t exist right now. The point is, if you have any type of office job, as we all know, it’s not a guarantee that you’re going to remain in that office. And if you work freelance, there’s no guarantee that it’s going to work out. If you work in comics, you’re probably working in 10 different offices in a given month. You know, sometimes you need to refresh yourself. You need to revitalize. A pitch that you might have at one company may be a nonstarter. That might be because of the people you pitch it to, and it might be because of what they publish. But it might be gold somewhere else. And that doesn’t mean, because one person turned down the idea, that it was bad. It just wasn’t a good fit for that company. 

The more companies we have that are trying to do different things and push out different kinds of comics, the better. Unquestionably. RIP the companies that tried along the way and failed, like Speakeasy and Crossgen, which I referenced before. I referenced those before because I love Crossgen books and I love Rocketo, which Speakeasy published. Frank Espinosa, amazing. Not only are those different places to work, but each company brings in a slightly different kind of creator, and they’re gonna know how to best hone their ideas and get them out there. 

The onus is on us as creators to not just cold pitch things, but… something that I might pitch to Aftershock, who I have a great relationship with – and honestly, they’re kind of my ride-or-die because they supported creators intensely during the pandemic – a book that would be a good fit there maybe wouldn’t be a good fit for Vault, who are also doing great work. And vice versa. There’s nothing wrong with that. You’ve got to know which brands you’re going to. The problem is now there’s more brands than ever. Which means there are more homes than ever for unique stories.

Allo: You worked at the Big 2, you worked at smaller publishers, you worked creator-owned… what are the benefits of work for hire versus creator owned? What do you enjoy the most? What things about those experiences do you like or not like?

Wonder Woman 750/DC Entertainment

Orlando: I think the best situation is to have your feet in both pools. There is unquestionably something exciting and invigorating about being part of what is really a gigantic, decades-long ongoing story. Listen, I was the lead writer of the 750th issue of Wonder Woman. Nobody else can claim that, it was just me.

Allo: It was great, by the way!

Orlando: If I make it to 100 years old, I will still be the writer of Wonder Woman 750, and it will still be an amazing thing. And yeah, that’s a responsibility. It’s an honor, it’s exciting, and there’s no question there. I’m in the X-Men office now, and that’s an honor. I would argue it’s the biggest renaissance the mutants got in at least a decade. Not that there wasn’t incredible work in the interim there. To act like it’s not an honor and a privilege… anyone who says otherwise is complete horseshit. So those are exciting moments.

Darkhold/Marvel Entertainment

At the same time, you can’t take those things with you. So you also wanna be working on originals where you are not part of an 80 year tapestry. You are thread one on that tapestry. And it’s not that it isn’t exciting, it’s just a totally different thing. The way that I think you stay fresh for either one of those is by doing the other. Like, if I spend a month in the work for hire mind, I get that hunger to work on originals, and vice versa. And it’s not really like I just spend on a month on one or the other. Let’s be real, I do both every day, seven days a week. That’s what it takes to be a creator. A freelance creator, at least. But I think one fuels the other. And I think there’s a certain amount of freedom when you know there’s not going to be any sort of S & P person telling you can’t do this. 

But that can also become a negative, because the reality is that you can’t say that with 50, 60, 80 year old franchises. There’s always going to be S&P  on a huge character that’s also on lunchboxes, backpacks, or whatever else. To expect otherwise is folly. I expect to have different hurdles at different companies. I think that’s part of the game. Again, I’m not negging myself when I say to myself that more people are reading Wonder Woman or the X-Men, than a book like Loaded Bible: Blood of my Blood, a book in which Jesus was makes out with Dracula and wants to fuck with him. That’s just a fact. There are freedoms and restrictions that come with both of those scenarios.

Allo: You’ve been doing some really great stuff at Marvel. Last year you did the Darkhold with Wanda. You’re working on Marauders now. Not to compare DC to Marvel, but what have been the good experiences from working at each company? What do they do differently that’s great for writers? What could they do better?

Orlando: A lot of times as creators we talk about… I think there is a fundamental difference between, at least the classic characters at Marvel and DC. And I think it’s a product of when the characters were born. What we love to say, when we’re fingering our assholes as it were, is that DC is the world as we wish it was, and Marvel is the world as it is. But, you know, that is flowery fucking bullshit. The reality is that DC characters tend to be much more mythological and aspirational, and Marvel… not to say they were built around Spider-Man, because they did acquire Timely and other characters, but their trademark characters are mostly  people you could meet on the street. That’s why Peter Parker was so revolutionary. He could shoot webs, but he’s also just like you. He can’t make rent, and he can’t get the girl, and the old Parker luck, and…

Allo: And he’s late for school.

Orlando: And Batman… look, I love Batman, but he does not have the old Parker luck. He has the old Tony Stark billions. Again, the general DC character is more mythological, and the general Marvel character is more… I don’t want to say more street level, but more humanistic and relatable. There are exceptions to both rules. Batman is more like a Marvel character, and Thor is more like a DC character. So they stand out in a world that contrasts them. And then of course there are characters like Captain America and the Destroyer, the original Vision, Sub-Mariner, the original Human Torch… they were all created in World War 2, and the way that they function was more like a DC character. But they’re a rarity, and I think that makes them special at Marvel. And Captain America, by the way, was fighting the Nazis before we were! That’s always going to be one of the coolest fucking things. Not like I was fucking around then, but still. 

Marauders #1/Marvel Entertainment

Allo: Of course. Obviously this is a visual medium, so can you name some great artists that you’ve worked with? And maybe some great artists who you’d like to work with? 

Orlando: Great artists that I’ve worked with… I’ve never worked with a bad artist!

Allo: Well, the standouts. I know you love all artists, but who really brought your work to life?

Orlando: I would love to say I love them all equally, but I would be lying (laughs). Well I’ve already said that I love to work with Riley Rossmo, who’s at a few different companies right now which bums me out, but stay tuned because I might get the band back together for something really quick. Riley and I hit it off from moment one. We worked together on “Night of the Monster Men,” and we worked together with Roge Antonio. And Andy MacDonald – Andy actually has a book with me coming soon, so keep an eye out.

But Riley and I, we just got each other. We’ve always loved the same kind of stuff. And he’s someone who always wants to be challenged, which is good because I’m a bastard when it comes to writing challenging scripts. We loved working on “Night of the Monster Men,” he was the first name that came up when DC offered me Batman/The Shadow, and I’m probably one of the biggest Shadow fans at DC. I’m probably one of the biggest Shadow fans around. He is my favorite character.

Allo: Really?

Batman/The Shadow/DC Entertainment/Dynamite Entertainment

Orlando: Yeah. I’m frequently asked who my favorite Marvel and DC characters are, and there’s different answers for that, but my favorite character is The Shadow. So it could only be Riley, and it led to an incredible visual reinvention of that whole world. Sure enough, as soon as we got the final pen stroke of that book, we began lobbying DiDio, who’s one of my strongest supporters, for Martian Manhunter. Once again, I’m a kid in a candy store. I would work with Riley in a second, and not just because he’s one of the nicest Canadians in comics, but that certainly helps. 

But he’s not the only one. I want to point out that I loved working with ACO and Hugo Petrus during my Midnighter and Apollo run. Fernando Blanco… Ryan Sook  on The Unexpected. I’m going to lightly fluff him here and say Ryan Sook was like, in Wayne’s World “we’re not worthy!” But he’s just the kindest guy. Of course his work was off the chain. His work was incredible, but always so humble for someone I consider a giant. And funny story, he actually drew a portrait of me for my alumni review at my college. So I’m gracious, I’m not lying. I don’t know that I’ve ever worked with Joelle Jones, but I love Joelle Jones. I’ve met her a lot at summits and stuff like that. Maybe I got a cover or something like that, but she’s incredible. I’m probably forgetting countless people at DC.

Allo: It’s okay!

Orlando: Oh, and of course, beginning to work with Ivan Reis on Justice League of America. And getting a Kevin Nowlan cover, are you fucking kidding me? Who am I, what’s going on? On the Shadow/Batman crossover.

Allo: That was incredible.

Milk Wars/ DC: Young Animals

Orlando: Getting a Frank Quitely cover to Milk Wars… I could go on! Oh, and RIP by the way, getting a John Paul Leon cover for Midnighter. Just the nicest guy, and gave me the cover for a very gracious price for someone who, again, I consider one of the greatest artists in the history of the industry.

Allo: Definitely.

Orlando: That was great. It’s a small thing, but Brittany Holzier and I campaigning for Ramona Fradon to be a part of Wonder Woman 750. Something I’m incredibly proud of. Something that was mostly Brittany’s work, but she and I came together and I’m incredibly proud of it. Easily the most historic living female comic artist. There are no words that could be heaped upon her that would be undeserving. 

And at Marvel, they lined up a murderer’s row for me. Cian Tormey on Darkhold… everyone I worked with on Curse of the Man Thing… Andrea Riccardo… Francesco Mobli… they’ve all gone on to do incredible work at Marvel. Eleonora Carlini on Marauders… the energy she brings is incredible. It’s a revelation. Folks who haven’t checked out the book really don’t know what’s coming.

Allo: Any tidbits about… well of course my favorite character is Psylocke, so any big plans for Psylocke on the Marauders?

Orlando: Well, before I answer that, why don’t you explain more, because I think a lot of folks who are Psylocke fans… I have an answer for you, but I wanna hear you turn the tables. I’m always fascinated about why people like Psylocke. I think we both know that the person in the body that we once believed to be Psylocke is not the same character. As she always should have been, the actual Japanese woman is back in the Japanese body. When you say it’s your favorite character, do you mean Qanon, who appeared in roughly three issues before disappearing for roughly 30 years, or do you mean Betsy Braddock?

Marauders #1/Marvel Entertainment

Allo: I mean, it’s funny because I loved Betsy when she was introduced, and when she was introduced in New Mutants and took on Sabretooth, I fell in love with Betsy. And then the evolution happened, and the visual of Kwannon was something I loved too. Those are kind of my favorites. I follow Captain Britain, and I follow Marauders because I follow Kwannon wherever Kwannon goes. 

Orlando: I’m just always interested. Psylocke is a war captain, and you’re going to see her… I don’t want to spoil too much, but she’s going to step up in a leadership role more and more over time. You kind of see that evolution as she’s more confident in herself and can do a lot more now that the correct mind is in the correct body, so to speak. You’ve already seen that in Marauders #1, but it’ll become text, not subtext, by the time the year’s over.

Allo: Awesome, that’s exciting. They’re both really great characters.

Orlando: And look, she goes to fucking space if she wants!

Allo: Your book Party And Prey touches on the “Party and Play” gay subculture.  Which is known as the “PNP” crystal myth fueled sex scene. It’s known to be a bit scary filled with predators, extortion, suicide and addiction.  What was your interest in this and what was the impetus for the story?

Orlando: In regards to PARTY AND PREY, since I co-wrote the book I tend to not do solo Qs for it. BUT I think a lot of what you’ve asked is answered by the text piece my co-writer and I included in the book? We try to let the work speak for itself on things we’ve done together, and intended that to be our statement on the content.

Party and Prey/Aftershock

Allo: Any advice for up and coming queer creators, or creators in general, that you wish you had when you were starting out?

Orlando: Look, comics is a challenging business. There are less spots at Marvel and DC… it’s easier to play for the Yankees or Red Sox. Know that it is a challenge, but know that it can and will happen if you don’t give up. I like to tell my story because it’s a story of almost 20 fucking years. I know someone can buy a pie for someone in a diner and get a book the next week, but that is not my story. And there’s nothing wrong with that story either. There’s no one way to break into the comics industry, just as there’s no one way to break into the comics or any other entertainment industry.

The thing is, make your books and hone your craft. It’s easier than ever. When I was a kid we didn’t have crowdfunding, and we barely had the internet. Now all those things exist. It’s easier to connect with likeminded creators whether they are established or aspiring. And make content! Make the content, and make it short. Almost everyone, myself included, is guilty of saying “this is my Dune, or this is my Lord of the Rings. My first book will be 100 issues long, and everyone will see!” 

Killman/Aftershock

No one will see, because no publisher will take a risk on the faith of an unproven talent. Make eight page stories, make 10 page stories, which, by the way, are harder to tell than a 100 issue story. And find peers or editors or creators who you respect and you think have your best interests at heart and get critiqued. Get ready to hear some things that you’re not necessarily excited about, but that’s why I say make sure to find creators who you respect and have your interests at heart. Even if they’re things you don’t want to hear, they’re probably things you need to hear.

Look, I was mentored by one of the most lovably gruff people in comics. When I met Steve Seagle, he told me “here’s what’s unprofessional about your work, kid. Either I’ll see you next year or I won’t.” It doesn’t have to be that harsh, but you have to find folks whose critique you respect, and you have to get ready to take it. If you do that, it could be a long process, it might be a short process. And maybe you won’t get there. But use the resources that are out there, like crowdfunding. It’s easier than ever to tell your story unadulterated. You don’t have to be like me sneaking in in 2008. You can do your book with 38 dicks like Euphoria, and it can get funded, as long as you’re speaking your truth. Don’t be deterred by speed bumps and things like that. You can get there. And also, know that before they got in, every creator you know probably quit trying to make comics a thousand times. God knows I quit many times, and the only reason I didn’t is that I’m extremely stubborn. That’s what you take to heart. I would call Steve Seagle and he would be like “this isn’t fair, I want to quit!” And he’d be like “no you don’t.” And that’s when I’d be like “fuck you, old man! I’m never going to quit!” Even though he was probably the same age that I am now.

Allo: Thanks so much, Steve for a great interview!


For more info on Steve Orlando and to see a list of his works check out his Twitter and Instagram.