Steve Orlando Interview – Flame Con 2022

Steve Orlando
Image: Twitter

I recently attended Flame Con, the world’s largest LGBTQ+ comic convention, which is held annually in New York City. After the past two years of virtual events – thanks to, you know, a worldwide panini – it was so amazing to be back and celebrating with the community. This year’s convention was just as fantastic as always, with a rainbow assortment of lanyards allowing you to choose your color and free rainbow-printed facemasks to help attendees comply with the COVID-19 policy.

But perhaps one of the most exciting things for me at this year’s Flame Con was the opportunity to sit down with not only some of the biggest queer names in comics, but some of the biggest names in comics period. On Saturday, I was fortunate enough to get a little bit of time to chat with Steve Orlando, who was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for his work on Midnighter and Apollo.

The Geekiary: Ok, so correct me if I’m wrong, but this isn’t your first Flame Con, right?

Steve Orlando: No, I’ve been to every one that had a physical, you know- I didn’t do the digital ones. But I have been otherwise here from the very start.

So what is it about Flame Con that keeps you coming back?

I mean, it’s a convention that, of course, being a queer adult now, I wish I had when I was younger. So you know, much like an aging pro wrestler who’s just like losing to put over the next generation, my job now is to be here, and appear at the show that I wish I had when I was a kid. And of course, it’s nice to see the intersection of the queer community and the fan community. At a place like this, you sort of feel like you have that community, especially as a creator. We’re often just, like, chillin’ in our houses and things like that. So it’s nice to see everybody come out and be excited, not just about our work, but about the existence of the community as a whole.

As someone that’s active in the industry, what are your thoughts on the continuous online discourse about comics becoming “too woke”?

Well, I mean, what you have to realize is that what is said online represents a fraction of a fraction of the demographic in every scenario. In perhaps an unfortunate sense, it also represents a fraction of the demographic when the discourse is taking a positive turn. So the challenge for any of us who have to know what to listen to, and then also know how to pitch these things up the chain is to sort of decode, you know, again, what matters and what does not.

So in regards to the specific thing you’re talking about, like, we’re on the inside. There is no conspiracy. This thing is all imagined. So it’s an annoyance, of course, but it’s also kind of meaningless. We’re the people that know how the sausage is made. People online thinking that there’s some sort of “woke conspiracy” running comics. I mean, again, they’ve never been in the offices and we have so… Like, honestly it is probably more of a hindrance for folks that obviously are not on the production side and on the creative side.

So it’s easy for us to ignore, it’s easy for me to ignore. The job is actually probably more considering how and when and if you respond, and if you’re somehow inadvertently subjecting your followers and things to those people where it is more real for them, you know. But the short answer is, I mean, it’s all a made-up conspiracy, and nobody knows that better than us. So it’s just kind of laughable. There’s not much more to say about it than that. 

You’re working on Marauders, which is in the present timeline, and Spider-Man 2099, which is in the future timeline. Do you have a preference for which timeline you write?

Marauders Annual Issue 1 review
Marauders Annual Issue 1 (Image: Marvel Comics)

Oh, no, I’m totally verse when it comes to timelines. But I do enjoy the commentary you can do with something like a 2099, which has always been sort of Marvel’s cyberpunk setting. And so, you can, by projecting 70 – well, the number of how much in the future 2099 is gets shorter all the time, which is kind of depressing – but what you choose to amplify and shine a spotlight on, […] it allows you to do commentary on the present. And I do think that that’s an advantage that you don’t necessarily have when working in the present. Because of course we live here. So you know, […] we know what’s real and what’s not. So it would be harder to make assumptions or extrapolations in a present-set book, that you can make easily in a future-set book.

But that being said, it being a future timeline, there’s also a lot [of struggle] to show folks how it “matters”, right? Because at the end of the day, the present timeline books are the ones that sort of set the tone and set continuity and things like that. So there’s a challenge to finding creative ways around that and ways to create stakes. And that’s a fun challenge for me. But at the end of the day, I mean, I’m a creator, but also a fan, and 2099 was the coolest sh*t. If you were seven in 1992, there was nothing cooler than X-Men 2099 and Spider-Man 2099. So to be working on that now, from a fan perspective, I couldn’t not say that I prefer 2099.

Do you have any dream casts for Commanders in Crisis? If it became a miniseries, who would you pick?

Well, it’s funny you say that, because I’ve always thought about it as adult animation first anyway, just because the- I mean, it would be extremely expensive to make as live-action. Like, it’s relatively easy to animate the inside of someone’s penis for The Boys. Less so to animate, you know, the multiverse and things like that or many places – the dawn of man, where we also go in that book. So I’d have to think more intently.

I mean, you can still fancast voice actors. It’d be hard for me not to bring up that I would like my friend Jen Cohn to be the lead for Frontier. She’s also Pharah on Overwatch. But if I give you a list, it would just be a list of people that I have gone to dinner with at shows. But, […] it’s funny. I could probably give you a longer answer than we have time for. But I would have to really think, because I do think of comics first.

That’s kind of a cop-out, but a lot of people love to ask about fan casting for things like Midnighter or the things that people know more. And I sort of have my answers in the quiver, but […] any type of cross-media adaptation, to me, is a bonus. They are comic characters first, to me. So outside of throwing my friends’ names out, I really haven’t thought about it. And I would be excited for that. But we set out to make a comic that does everything a comic can. And that’s sort of still where my mind is right now.

If you could pick one of your works to be adapted – into animation, live action, whatever – what would you pick?

Oh, that’s actually an easy answer. It’d be KILL A MAN. My two favorite books I’ve ever done are Martian Manhunter at DC and KILL A MAN at Aftershock with my friend Philip Kennedy Johnson and Alec Morgan and Jim Campbell. And, I mean, I think it is the most adaptable in some ways. It’s not like you need a giant planet-shaking budget. It’s a sports book. But it’s a sports book with a heart that says things about both mixed martial arts and the carny sh*ttiness of that industry, as well as a generational queer story that hasn’t been told before. So that’s always my answer.

Kill a ManAnd I hope it happens someday, because I’m extremely, extremely proud of that book. I’ve done a lot of work that is queer-focused, as you might imagine, we’re sitting here at Flame Con. But what’s important to me is to never repeat myself, or at least as little as I can. So with KILL A MAN, it was the first time I really got to address a more generational story, something that I would then do later with the creation of Somnus at Marvel. And that comes from moving to Boston and [meeting] a lot of queer elders who lived through the AIDS crisis. I was alive during it, but I mean, I was like two, so I was not active during it, as you might imagine. And so KILL A MAN really gave me a chance to say things that I haven’t said before and explore things that I haven’t explored before.

And it’s also really rewarding to me that it’s also been a crossover book. Of course, it’s not like the queer work is only for queer people. But I’m always excited when of course it is pleasing to queer people and it’s pleasing to a broader demographic as well. Because I do think, like, there’s an element in the industry that, “Oh, like, this work is just craving straight acceptance.” I think that that’s horsesh*t. It’s always for the queer community first, if I’m involved, but I do think that you can build bridges with work like that. Because if you have a reader who maybe lives in a relatively remote area, doesn’t think – I won’t say doesn’t know any queer people, but certainly thinks they don’t. You know, it’s hard to dehumanize someone who has a face to you. It’s easier when you never have met.

So if you can’t meet a person, I think if they’re reading any type of content, not just a comic, and they realize, “Oh, like I understand this person’s struggle,” that’s important. It’s a different thing than, yes, we have to diversify our work and do queer content. But if you can build bridges with it, if you can change opinions with it, or even take, like, a neutral opinion to a positive opinion. “Oh, I never thought queer people could be in mixed martial arts.” Now they can. And maybe that’s the bridge because mixed martial arts is your lens on life – if that’s your thing, or sports is your thing. Oh, well, now these are people. And that sounds very baseline. But clearly, if you look at the country, that’s what we’re fighting for right now.

So, yeah, I’m extremely proud of that book, and what it’s done. And I think if you could put it on to film or TV, obviously that is a much broader platform and it can do that work in a bigger way.

Do you have anything coming down the pipeline that you can tease?

I mean, I definitely do. Let me say I have an announcement coming up in the fall from Marvel that I can’t really say more about other than, if you’ve been following my Marvel career, it will not come as a surprise. It should come as something that folks- it will make a lot of sense to folks and be right in line with what I’m doing. And that’s about all I can say about it.

That said, the art team on it is- I could not have been set up with a more amazing set of co-creators. And, again, that news will be out probably sometime in early fall. But I’ve been working on the book since March and I’m very very excited for it. And it is, again, it will be like, “Oh, that makes sense.” It won’t be like, “What? Steve is doing Howard the Duck?” Well actually, that would make sense because I did Man-Thing, but you know what I mean? “Steve is doing Slapstick and The Hate-Monger,” no, like, it won’t be that.

And I do have a story coming out, I believe also in January by strange coincidence, from Aftershock, my next Aftershock book. They did publish KILL A MAN and a bunch of my work. And it’s a story that is not unlike my book, Virgil, which was the queersploitation revenge story set in Jamaica. But this new book has a completely different lens. And again, it combines both. Something that I think folks expect from me, which is that it’s going to be queer and angry. I’m not a hugging writer.

But with, again, a new lens, it’s inspired by a true story from Italy about a surgeon whose father was connected to the mob. And the father actually had put a hit on his son because he was becoming too public and [tried] to break his hands and end his surgery career. So we took that and adapted it somewhere else, which you’ll see when the book is announced. But, you know, two of my favorite things to write about, obviously, are the queer community and family relations. But here we’ve poured nitroglycerin on it. And I’m very excited for that.

One last question. What are you currently reading?

Oh, man. I mean, specifically this month, very little, because I have many deadlines. But in general, I’ve been rereading. My nostalgia read has been Mystic from CrossGen. I was a huge CrossGen fan. And that was one of the first companies- When I started going to conventions in the late ’90s, trying to learn how to do this business, the folks at CrossGen were some of the most welcoming and constructively critical people that I had encountered. So I’m a big fan of that. And I just tracked down a couple of the Mystic trades. It was written by Ron Mars, it was drawn by Brandon Peterson and then some other folks as the series went on. And I’ve been enjoying that reread.

And then also on my desk right now is a book about health and lifestyle by George Hackenschmidt, who’s called the Russian Lion. He’s one of the first professional wrestlers, but he’s also a shoot wrestler, before that – this is in the early 1900s.

And the other thing on my desk that I haven’t read yet, but is next up is a book about organizing your workspace and home space. It’s written by Jenette Kahn, who if people don’t know, I think everybody should know more about. She took over as the person running DC Comics at 28 in the ’70s. And obviously, it’s very in vogue now to talk about women in comics, as it should be. But one of my soapboxes has been always, “Yes, but we should also be celebrating the folks that have been here for a long time.”

So, like, I’d love to talk about Jenette. We’ve only met once. She is an icon but, like, basically beyond human to me for doing that. And this is the book she wrote; it was not about comics. It was about this, so I’m excited to read it next.

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I’d like to thank Steve again for taking the time to talk to me! Make sure you follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Also, please do consider attending Flame Con in the future! It’s one of the most – if not the most – welcoming cons I have ever been to. And you will spend so much money on the exhibitor floor!

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.


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