Steve Orlando: The Midnighter

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Mitchell Library
Glasgow
March 19

​Steve Orlando reminded me of how much I generally like being around Americans. Straightforward confidence tempered with humility and empathy is a winning combo. And winning he seems to be; writing and producing comics such as VIRGIL, Undertow and Midnighter, as well as taking part in Batman and Robin Eternal and CMYK: Yellow at DC Entertainment. The crowd was quirkily niche and highly individualistic compared to other audiences; but as a whole, quiet and subdued in their respectful wait, they had to be encouraged to chat with each other. I suspected I was the one in the room with the most superficial knowledge of comics. Ann Louise, the school librarian who made the introductions, told me that greater numbers of libraries in Glasgow were opening up to comics due to demand from teenagers.
Orlando talked a great deal about creating art that is respectful and the importance of representation that is thoughtful and fully researched. He spoke of creating characters that are fully fleshed out and detailed to avoid flat, generic characters, and not to worry about an LGBT character having to represent ‘all’ who might fall into that category. He obviously relishes his career and using the subversive nature of comics to effect social change. He is careful to mention various aspects of a character so they are not flattened to a one dimensional stock ‘minority’ to tick off some diversity boxes. He characterises Midnighter as ‘more violent that Batman, but more caring than Batman’, which sounds intriguing.
 Some readers have written him to express that this is ‘the book they have been waiting for their whole life’ and is sensitive to how much his readers invest of themselves and their emotional lives in his books. I was impressed by his sensitive handling of an audience member’s concerns, from someone who seemed to be projecting much of their own painful life into the handling of a gay relationship in the comic. While he respectfully disagreed, he recognised the importance of taking that person’s concerns seriously, and took the time to continue the discussion after the talk.
He emphasized just how cutting edge comics can be, and how much more one can convey in the collaboration between writer and artist; and touched on how new technologies have opened up the pool of potential creators worldwide, and along with them, diverse perspectives. He talked about what happens in a collaboration with an artist, from subtle language issues with foreign artists, and, like any good author, the importance of leaving your ego aside to concentrate on the characters leading the story. He discussed the importance of Midnighter being both a hero and an openly gay man, giving him 100% confidence to occupying a role previously reserved for white cis gender characters. He has spent much time in outreach to marginalised communities, and his comics becoming the very first book that young people in those audiences have ever read.
 He called for a greater variety of creators, and understood the weight of pushing up against the boundaries of the mainstream; mainly to make sure that he was respectful in his representation of minorities and he stressed the importance of doing thorough research and continually improving from others’ criticism to make sure that everything comes over as true and realistic rather than fetishistic. I was eager to know how his protagonist in his new comic, VIRGIL, not just Black and gay, but also Jamaican, has gone down particularly with Jamaicans, both gay and straight. I will have to wait for the next talk for the full answer perhaps, so I hope he comes back to the UK soon. I am off to buy my first Marvel comic!
Reviewer: Lisa Williams
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