Steve Orlando stands as a young, provocative and inventive voice in comics, and 2015 looks like his biggest year so far. We spoke to him about his inclusive, taboo-busting work and launching the new Midnighter series for DC Comics.
Steve Orlando is contributing to the Broken Frontier Anthology, created to celebrate the magic of creator-owned comics. Check our Kickstarter campaign and please share it with your friends on social media using #BFanthology. You can find Steve on Twitter @thesteveorlando.
Can you give us a quick summary of your career to date?
Sure! I started off in small press, where I self-published some weird works like normal:adj, which was about gender roles, and Octobriana – Samizdat Edition, which was drawn by Animal Man‘s Chaz Truog and reinvented the Russian Pop Culture icon of sexual freedom.
From there I worked on Outlaw Territory at Image, with three stories in total appearing in volumes 1 and 3. Next at Image I created Undertow, a revisionist Atlantis adventure series, with my friend Artyom Trakhanov, set in a world where Atlanteans are the dominant species, and explore the surface hunting for our insane version of Namor or Aquaman. PLUS, for them, the final “frontier” was in fact land! A great turnaround, in my head at least.
Around that same time I took part in Mystery in Space at Vertigo, with a story about Centaurs going through puberty via drug-induced gladiatorial combat. Just this past year I returned to Vertigo with CMYK: Yellow and a story about Indian painting, cow’s urine, and the end of the world. And in June I’ll be launching Midnighter with DC Comics proper, bringing back everybody’s favorite heartwarming sadist vigilante and fan of sarcasm – just like me!
What can you tell us about your upcoming story in the Broken Frontier anthology?
Our story will be all about atmosphere, and just like all of my work it will dive deep into the bowels of science fiction and pulp tradition. Here we’ll see God Archeology, the type of thing you imagine Kirby would have tackled if he’d had a too-long discussion with Neil Degrasse Tyson. It’s about the rate of decay on a body that is cosmic in proportions, and what the forensic team discovers when they dare venture inside.
Yaroslav Astapeev, the artist on your Broken Frontier story, might be a new name to some readers. What can you tell us about him and the nature of your collaboration?
Yaroslav is amazing! He is a friend of Artyom Trakhanov, who I did Undertow with. He actually was kind enough to contribute a wonderfully dark, moody stinger scene to our sixth issue. Yaroslav simply draws like no one else I’ve seen, with a wonderful energy and enthusiasm, and a textural darkness to his pages that make them almost seem like they’re created on a scratchboard. He’s a killer artist with a love of horror and the wildness of space, and I couldn’t be more excited to be working with him again.
Your book Virgil, a thriller tackling homophobia in Jamaica, is a very bold bit of work. How has it been received, and is there any chance of it being published beyond its original Kickstarter project?
I think because comics have always been somewhat subversive, and because we aligned ourselves with the exploitation style of fiction, like blaxploitation (we called ours queersploitation), everybody knew the book was going to be in your face and blatantly queer. AND be blatantly awesome and full of punching and revenge – everything you want in an action story.
We are still wrapping up the last of the KS rewards, and will definitely be on the lookout for wider distribution once the time is right.
As a connoisseur of both, what warms your cockles most: a fine wine or a darned good comic?
It’s got to be comics! I do love wine and single malt (give me a great bottling from Blackadder and I am a happy man), BUT I’ve loved comics since I was four years old, so there’s no contest. The 90s may get a bad rap in some circles, but to me many of those books are comfort food. Give me Ostrander and Mandrake on The Spectre and I am a happy man.
What is the one bit of your work you’d recommend to a new reader?
It would undoubtedly be Undertow which I think has been one of the best experiences so far of my career. Everything I love about fiction is in that book, and Artyom and I left nothing on the table when it came to crazy action and big ideas. I couldn’t be happier with it, and he is an incredible collaborator.
In fact, I think 2014 was the most fulfilling year for me in comics, as my CMYK: Yellow story also ended up being more fun than I could’ve imagined. If people picked those up, that’s me in a strange, misshapen, vulgar nutshell.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
Working on the character is a dream come true. Young me was heavily influenced by Midnighter, as he showed that there was no one way to be LGBT. He could be a loving boyfriend AND a total badass, and it was eye-opening for me. To be able to contribute to that legacy, launch him in his first solo book in the DCU, and bring that message to a new generation is just about everything I could ask for.
AND it’s a chance to write action that is even more insane than anything I’ve done before. Cynicism, punching, explosions – Midnighter is an action writer’s dream and I honestly can’t wait for people to get eyes on it.
What ‘frontier’ would you like to break through with your comics?
I am always trying to push the boundaries, or break new “frontiers” as you say. To me, I want to offer worlds that are inclusive without being fetishistic. I don’t want to write “gay books” or “Jewish books” or “black books” because those approaches point a big glowing finger at those characters and themes. It fetishizes them, it doesn’t treat them as normal. In fact, it makes them taboo by overemphasizing.
So for me, the perfect world, the frontier, is to create fiction that is just as accepting and nonchalant about minorities and nonconformity as we hope our readers and people in our lives will be. That is my statement, my mission statement – if something is truly supposed to not be a big deal, the book itself, the story itself, should treat it that way instead of aggrandizing it. Total acceptance on an intra- AND intertextual level, so we can make kick-ass stories for everyone.