Comic book author Steve Orlando talks about queer series 'Midnighter & Apollo'

Following up on GLAAD Media Award-nominated Midnighter, one of the strongest action books of the past year, DC Comic's new miniseries, Midnighter and Apollo hits back with more explosive, creative, and page-bursting action than ever before. On October 5th, the miniseries brings back the queer couple in a six issue run to face down a new enemy. GLAAD had the opportunity to chat with writer Steve Orlando about LGBTQ characters in comics and his own experiences as an out writer in the industry and get a two page preview of the upcoming miniseries!

GLAAD: Tell us a little about LGBTQ representation in comic books - why do you think it is important?

Steve Orlando: Representation is important in all media and in all fiction, not just comics. It’s really important across the board. When we’re met with fiction when we’re younger, it’s all about messaging and who we see and who we see get to be the hero. And it’s very easy when you are in the "mainstream" from a young age to look up and see that you can be anything that you want to be and do anything you want to do because there are so many heroes who look like you. The fact is, everyone deserves a hero who looks like them and is like them. We all deserve that moment where we see that no matter how mundane or how much life has us down or how much we might feel insignificant, we’re not. We can be heroes too. Fiction needs to show us that. Comics more than ever show us that because it’s such an electric pop culture medium. But we need that out of everything. It’s a sad world when queer youth are growing up and they’re never told that they can the hero. And that’s not just about queer youth – it could be any kind of underrepresented group. Why do we need it? Because when Midnighter #1 came out, I was getting messages from people on social saying that they had waited 30,40,50 years for a character that looks like them and that’s too long.

GLAAD: What is it about working on Midnighter and Apollo that is the most exciting for you?

SO: Midnighter and Apollo is exciting for me firstly because they were characters that heavily influenced me when I was younger. Everything we were just talking about – being everything that you could be and seeing a hero that looks like you - that was them for 12 or 13-year-old me. The fact that I’m now helping to steer their narrative is unreal. It’s like getting to play for the Yankees if you know what sports are, which I do not. It will never not be unreal, it will never not be a huge responsibility every time I put a word on the page for Midnighter and Apollo. But beyond that, I love that they are the action movie heroes that function on Id and act in ways that we often wish we could. There is a catharsis to them for people who want to strike back against oppression and strike back against hate and fear. They’re icons for that because they don’t suffer fools and they look fear and hatred and oppression and death and evil in the eye and they tell it to move. And I think that makes them incredibly important and it’s why I love writing them every day. Because we all wish that we could do that and we need to be inspired to do that when it comes to being strong. Not of course to punch our fist through people’s faces, but that’s the most exciting thing about being able to tell these stories. Finally, a gay couple gets to be the heroes and get to tell stories, where, for a relative rarity, we don’t die at the end. We’re the heroes now and finally we get to be in that space. So it’s very exciting for me.

GLAAD: Can you talk a bit about Midnighter and Apollo’s relationship and its development over the years?

SO: There is an opportunity with the DC Rebirth where we’re meeting them at an earlier time then we’ve ever seen them before (discounting nerds like me who’ve been following them since the beginning). When we first met them in 1998, they already knew for sure that they were the one for each other. They already knew each other, barring a quick flashback, for five years off screen that we never got to see. Since they were reintroduced in the new continuity, we’re living in those moments. For example, we know that Superman and Lois are meant for each other, and I‘ve never had any questions about that, but it’s fun to see Midnighter and Apollo get there, because it’s a place we’ve never gotten to see before. We never got to see their formative years as a couple. And of course for superheroes, formative means explosions, and superhuman fights at the ends of the earth and all those things, but it’s still them figuring all these things out. And it’s intimidating for me to tell that story, but it’s exciting that they’re the world’s finest couple. And getting to really give them the time and the work that we all do in our real lives to make relationships work as multifaceted as possible and as tangible and earned as possible. That’s how I look at their relationship. It’s an opportunity to do something that is rarely done in comics. Honestly, with queer or heterosexual couples.

GLAAD: Tell me about your experience being an out comic book writer and how you got involved in it?

SO: I always wanted to make comics but it can take a long time to break in. For me, I started going to conventions when I was 13, and Midnighter didn’t come out until I was 30 and trying to get work and meet editors and network - so I didn’t “break in” until 17 years later. Although breaking into comics is something that you’re never really done doing. You’re always having to network and work at it but, so it took a long time but I always knew that writing comic books was what I wanted to do. I like it because it doesn't have rules, because of the sort of primal pop culture flash fiction nature of them. The fact that you can do anything, the fact that you aren’t limited by the boundaries of the page, and sometimes not even that now. So I just kept working at it and making my books better until they were at a publishable level.

But as a queer creator, honestly I don’t perceive that I’ve ever been treated any differently than any other creator that’s coming up in my generation. But I do think that my point of view is valued in many ways because of what I went through when I was younger. And this is why it’s not about me, but why diverse voices need to be valued, and are valued in comics. We inform those narratives with our own experiences. We know, as queer people, very well what it’s like to have a public face and a secret life that is truly ours. We’ve lived that in many cases. Hopefully future generations won’t have to. And we know it, and I think that informs a lot of the work in comics, especially in the case of secret identities. It’s interesting, I get questions that I don’t think straight creators would get. I was once asked on an interview if Midnighter and Apollo’s costumes are made of a different fabric because they’re a gay couple. I don’t think that’s a question many other people have had to answer.

It’s interesting to me as well about dealing with your public image and when to make a statement and when not to. Because Midnighter himself is gay, I’m frequently misidentified as the openly gay writer of Midnighter, even though bisexuality has been my soapbox since I was 20 years old. It's an interesting thing to see people’s perceptions based on the characters you write them. There’s never any malice in those things, it’s just something that I didn’t expect to be confronted with but it’s all good, and more than those things – is the fact that it’s all celebrated. The reception to Midnighter and the reception to me doesn’t follow along social lines. People are just excited to hear a new voice and my being queer is just one part of it.

GLAAD: Midnighter is so different from many LGBTQ superheroes – can you talk about that and the importance of having a variety of LGBTQ depictions?

SO: Luckily for me that was always part of his character. For better or worse, Midnighter, at least on his exterior, is traditionally a somewhat more masculine character and I think that has made him, on a base level, slightly more relatable for a lot of readers. But at the same time, in having different facets. It’s important for me to show that he isn’t just that. He can be hard and he can be soft and he can show that masculinity can look like a lot of different things. And that there is no value judgement there. I try to have queer people of all different types all different looks, all different points of view. Whether it’s different ages, queer people of color, queer people of different abilities, and that will continue to in all my work if I get my way. He is the symptom of a larger idea, that there is no one way a queer person looks. And it’s not an idea, it’s a fact and it’s something that sometimes in the mainstream gets ignored. There is no one way that we look, there is no one way that we act and there is no one way to be strong in that. And hopefully Midnighter is an icon for that, but so is everyone else in the book that is treated with just as much passion and just as much care.

GLAAD: Midnighter and Apollo aside, who is your favorite LGBTQ superhero?

SO: As of recently, Wonder Woman. There was just an interview that definitively confirmed that she is queer. 


Follow Steve on Twitter at @thesteveorlando and be sure to check out the upcoming Love is Love comic he is contributing to which will benefit the survivors of the Pulse shooting in Orlando.

Midnighter & Apollo is available October 5th.