Steve Orlando is having a good year. Since signing an exclusive contract with DC Comics, Orlando has launched Supergirl as part of the publisher’s Rebirth initiative, is a couple issues deep into the publication of a Midnighter and Apollo miniseries, and has now seen the first issue of his only creator-owned work of the year published. As the writer of multiple books for one of the big two comics publishers, Orlando is not going to be wanting for interviews about what he’s working on but that focus does tend to shift in the superhero direction.
When scheduling time with Orlando to talk about his DC work at San Diego Comic-Con, we made sure to reach out to the team at Boom! Studios to conduct another interview focused on his four-issue miniseries Namesake with artist Jakub Rebelka (you gotta go through the proper channels). The first issue may have dropped already, but Orlando’s message about the power and potential of genre works to bridge gaps between different people remains necessary in light of recent events.
“It is a punching version of Brigadoon,” Orlando says when describing Namesake, referring to the musical about a mystical village that appears on Earth for one day every 100 years. For the purposes of his story, the magical world of Ektae appears for seven days every seven years to make time for and create urgency surrounding all the punching the writer has planned. “That idea has changed in many ways over time, but I always loved that idea of worlds out of time. These relationships you check in with every century.”
Namesake—Orlando’s only creator-owned project in 2016 since signing his exclusive contract to DC—is the story of a young man who must grant his recently deceased fathers’ wish to bury them where they first met, which means traveling to this punching world carrying the urns containing his parents’ remains.
“That image came first on Namesake. It doesn’t always happen that way. I texted [editor] Eric Harburn at seven in the morning to say, ‘This is finally it! Can we talk right now?’” Boom! Studios works a little differently from some publishers. Rather than being brought forth by an completed creative team, it tends to be the case that a creator like Orlando will come to editorial with a concept to develop before they reach out to artists. “It was about filling that in and answering the questions it brought up… I knew it would be something instantly recognizable that whatever artist we found could jam on. My job, and Eric’s job as my editor, is to build a world around that.”
When asked how Rebelka’s designs compared to what he had in mind and whether or not there was an extensive back and forth on them, Orlando admits, “I have no expectations for those things and I think that’s healthy. On whatever book it is, that’s their chance to be seen and have something they own. I would never be disappointed because I know what their style of work is. I’m there to get out of their way and have them bring that to the concepts in the book.
“The way my first major book Undertow came together, I knew the world of that book but when I worked with Artyom [Trakhanov]… The look of things when I describe them is more about the feelings they should elicit from the reader. That’s where Artyom and Mr. Rebelka will bring what they have to the table,” Orlando explains. Rebelka joined Namesake in the early stages even considering the publisher’s idiosyncratic method of pairing creative teams, and he began working on designs for the world of Ektae while Orlando was first putting together pages. “It’s comics! Great collaboration is about building something your collaborators can use as a launch pad. It’s a chance to do very inventive stuff with magic and design.”
“The way that magic works in the book is very rooted in the idea of there being just one change. There’s one more law of physics in Ektae and that’s what allows them to do what they do,” Orlando explains. He seems wary of falling into what he sees as the traps inherent in a lot of other books featuring magic. Rules need to be in place and followed so the story doesn’t devolve into a story where anything can happen without reason.
When the book begins, Namesake protagonist Jordan is an orphan who never knew of his parents before their untimely demise. He finds the realization of their absence unignorable, and this spurs his extreme journey to the magical world of Ektae that they hail from in order to fulfill one of his fathers’ last request. Orlando notes that he’s half-Italian when asked if he has any experience with large or hectic family reunions and laughs when questioned about what personal elements have gone into Namesake.
“The easy answer is to say it’s the queer themes. And, y’know, I obviously write about that from time to time to say the least. I think it’s important, extremely important, but more of Namesake for me is about examining family relationships… The greater story there is about familial relationship. It’s about the phrase ‘it’s family.’ We do things that don’t make sense, we go to great lengths, and make compromises for people we normally wouldn’t otherwise under the auspicious of ‘it’s family.’ That to me is what this book is about. It’s father-son relationships. Fathers-son relationships. And it’s about identity which Midnighter is also about.”
In response to a question about art credit, Orlando provides an earnest answer, “I like to think I had something to do with the success of Midnighter but also a huge part of that is ACO so I mention him all the time. And companies care about that – not to get derailed too much – but when we did the DC Rebirth livestream one of the first buzzwords that Dan Didio said was, ‘Mostly what’s here is writers; everyone must mention their artists when they talk about their books.’ People do care about that.”
Another creator in the room interjects when Orlando is asked what he’s changed in his approach to this project, “Why would he change anything? He’s Steve Orlando, he’s perfect.”
Orlando doesn’t get visibly flustered or offer a self-deprecating refusal of the playful compliment. He smiles and lets his peer know that he likes what he’s doing before returning to the interview.
“It’s a tough question,” Orlando admits when asked about what audience he hopes to reach with this new release. His books have made a point to feature a variety of queer characters within different genres and vastly different experience. “Of course, a lot of my work is ‘for’ the queer community but, on the other hand, I do these sorts of exciting genre books to build bridges and change people’s minds. It’s not necessarily for everybody. My hope is that a diverse group of readers will be excited about the book and find the book, but I do hope that mainstream readers pick it up like Virgil and Midnighter and say, ‘Oh, I like this guy.’
“Genre books are a great medium for understanding other people. You meet these characters through a very primal, emotional hook that everybody understands. In the case of Virgil, it was protecting the person I love. In the case of this, it’s dealing with the death of my parents. You latch onto people with something that is simple and easy to understand. Then as it becomes more detailed they say, ‘Okay, on the surface this person’s life seems strange and we don’t have anything in common, but there are core things that connect us.’”
This leads to a short discussion of Orlando’s favorite movie of last year, Creed. As a resurrection of the Rocky franchise placing it in the creative hands of co-writer/director Ryan Coogler along with co-writer Aaron Covington and on the shoulders of actor Michael B. Jordan, the film struck a chord with audiences by telling a familiar story through a black character with an experience different from Stallone’s Rocky Balboa.
“There’s no such thing as the experience. It’s an impossible standard. That’s the catch-22 of representation. We always need more. Midnighter was never going to be the queer experience, but it’s a queer experience. Anyone that shoots for that is just going to come up with some vanilla shit that doesn’t actually matter to anyone because it tries to matter to everyone.
“I do have an agenda. It’s giving people what they deserve from comics, but I think that happens organically when you create new books. Any time you try to ham-fist something or say ‘look how okay we are with this,’ well– fuck you.”