Dec 20, 2016
After Tragedy in Orlando, A Comic Book Writer Declares Love is Love
While the recorder’s off, Marc Andreyko tells me he’s not a good person. I find this difficult to believe. Beyond the fact that he took time out to meet me during New York Comic Con weekend for fried chicken and coffee, the decades-long veteran of marquee comic book writing—Doctor Strange, Batwoman, and Wonder Woman ’77—took it upon himself to give something back to the world.
Like countless others, the openly gay Andreyko was directly affected by June’s horrific Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida that left 49 people dead and 53 injured. On June 12th, the weekend of Gay Pride in Los Angeles, Andreyko posted on Facebook: “Anyone interested in doing a benefit anthology comic book for the Orlando victims?” The affirmations, over a hundred in all, poured in. “I guess I’m going to make a comic book!,” he declared. With over two hundred contributors—including Patton Oswalt, Patty Jenkins, and Grant Morrison—all stretching from comics to prose to stage to screen, Love is Love is a 140-page act of camaraderie and defiance: “we’re not gonna be afraid” was the sentiment he craved, and that’s exactly what he got. Announced at this year’s San Diego Comic Con, Love is Love is a star-studded march in paperback, celebrating the diverse visions and voices that make us whole.
When did you first fall in love with comics? When did you start creating them?
When I was four years old. My cousin Todd read comic books and he was a year older than I was, so when you’re that little somebody older than you is your hero. I learned to read from comics and Sesame Street. Back when I was a kid, comics were looked down upon as “They’ll rot your brain,” but in the third grade, I had a twelfth grade reading level. I was using words like “Ragnarok” and “apocalypse” from Thor and X-Men and was quoting Shakespeare even though I didn’t know it was Shakespeare.
My parents were great because when I was little, I’d be at the grocery store and say “I want a candy bar” and they’d say “no, but you can have a comic book!” So I’ve always loved reading. I wish I had more time to read for pleasure as an adult, because I read so much for work, and that’s why people like JK Rowling are my heroes, because she got five year olds to stay up until midnight to read books over and over. She should get the Nobel Prize. She’s worth every dime she’s received, because it always makes me sad when people say they don’t enjoy reading. I would rather have my kid read the novel American Psycho than play Grand Theft Auto, because [reading] engages you. Video games aren’t evil, but they’re so predominant now that it’s a passive thing. You’re not imagining anything, you’re reacting. Reading is like going outside and playing. You’re engaging a part of your brain that’s important later. You’re world building in your brain. They’ve proven that parts of the imagination are getting smaller in kids, because everything is so visualized and presented to them, they don’t have to imagine it.
I drew as a little kid, but I don’t have the discipline or the technique to do that, and I never had any desire to be a writer, I kinda fell into it. I worked in comic book stores all my childhood, and all through college, and where I went to school, Kent State University in Ohio, a really famous artist named P. Craig Russell and I became friends. He’s adapted Wagner’s Ring cycle into comics, he just adapted The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. It was just announced he’s doing American Gods for Dark Horse. He’s just a brilliant, brilliant artist and a dear friend. He had done a Doctor Strange book early in his career, and it didn’t exactly turn out the way he wanted, and I said why don’t you approach marvel for a director’s cut and draw the original ending, and he pitched it and then he said “when can you start writing?” I hate telling that story, because it’s like Rita Hayworth being discovered at the soda fountain in the 50s in hollywood.
Who was the first superhero you really latched onto?
Spider-Man. I think it was because he was kind of a nerd and he wore glasses and had that secret life. He got to be himself when he was Spider-Man, and even though as a kid I didn’t know what gay was, I knew that I was different. I was very fortunate. I was never suicidal or tormented. I never had any Matthew Shepard experiences or anything like that, which is part of the reason things like the Orlando book are so important to me. I’ve led such a charmed life, this is a way I can give back. I was hitting puberty when AIDS came about, and had I been ten years older, I could’ve died in that first wave. I have friends who are ten, fifteen years older who lived in New York, who went to hundreds of funerals in those five years. I am also a child of the age of “We Are The World” so when you have a skill set, you want to use that as a way of processing your own emotional feelings for tragedies, and to give something back.
When was the first time you got paid to write a character you created?
Manhunter, because we got paid on the back end for things like Torso and The Lost, the Peter Pan book I co-created. But Kate Spencer at DC said we wanted to do a female Manhunter, and I came up with her.
How far along were you in your career at that point?
That was 2004, so I had been working for ten years.
Did you feel daunted at all by the idea of doing a female character?
No, because I don’t write characters where it’s adjective character. In other words, female character, gay character, black character, male character, I write characters who happen to be things, because if you put the adjective first you run the risk of becoming didactic. And the worst kind of medicine is what somebody says is good for you. The example I always use is when the movie Hairspray came out, it came out the same time as Mississippi Burning. I think Hairspray is a much more effective movie about the effects of racism and segregation, because Mississippi Burning is an “Important Film,” and sometimes you just recoil from that. When you discover things on your own, they stick with you more.
I interviewed John Waters once.
I’m so jealous! He’s my spirit animal. I love him because even though his stuff can be dirty and vulgar it’s never from a place of lasciviousness. It’s from a place of acceptance and glee and humanism. No matter how filthy it gets. He’s one of a kind. I wish we’d have a president in his lifetime brave enough to give him the Kennedy Center Honor because he’s so specifically American and I’ve seen him speak a number of times, and he’s one of those people on my list that if I ever got to meet I would probably be crying because he helped shape my sensibilities.
Since you write a lot of dynamic female characters, what persuaded you towards Elliott Ness in Torso?
Brian Bendis [the illustrator] and I both grew up in Cleveland. When we were both still living there, we’d been good friends. As I was driving to his house for my first Passover dinner, there was an old brick building, and it’s one of the covers of the book. It said “Elliott Ness For Mayor” from the 50s, and I was like “Oh yeah, I always knew he was in Cleveland…” and I remember hearing about the Torso case. I went by the public library because I was early and I looked it up and said, “Oh my god!” If you didn’t know this was true, you’d think it’s fake.
Elliott Ness with the first serial killer, using the first lie detector test, Hitler commenting on how “Western decadence breeds those kinds of maniacs,” and then a couple years later the joke’s on Europe. The case was solved, but never officially solved, because the guy who most likely did it was part of a political family that’s still in Cleveland. But the the family committed him to an institution, and back then when you were committed to a mental institution, you weren’t getting out. So Elliott Ness couldn’t legally name him as a suspect, because he couldn’t be charged. But he sent [Ness] postcards saying “You got my vote” and paper mache torsos. You can’t make that shit up. Because it was pre-fingerprinting, pre-profiling, pre-psychology, I told Brian, because some of the people who were killed were male hustlers as well as women, I would love to do something and explore what a gay cop would’ve been going through back then, because the term gay didn’t exist yet. It makes the relationship between Merlow and Simon more interesting, especially by having Merlow’s wife be like “who cares? Is he a good person? Did he hit on you? Then does it matter?” then have it be progressive but period-correct as well.
When you started writing comics, had gay culture integrated into the mainstream comics world?
I’ve had nothing but great experiences writing gay characters. DC Comics has always been so ahead of the curve. In fact, I wanted to have a gay character in Manhunter because the book takes place in LA and I didn’t want it to be like Friends where there’s no minority characters except for Aisha Tyler in all of New York. I asked DC if I could make a gay superhero, but I didn’t want to retcon one, I felt like I wanted to make one that within the history it makes sense.
DC has always been nothing but supportive, which is why I was so gratified when they come on board with the Orlando book, because they’ve always been very progressive in a way that feels effortless. It’s never like “look! In this issue a gay character!” It’s just matter of fact, which is the way it should be. And now you have companies like Archie with Kevin Keller who’s got his own book and is openly gay in the Archie world. You have characters in the marvel universe that are gay. The learning curve for gay civil rights has been so steep just in my lifetime, I remember in the early 90s when they were trying to get gay marriage on the ballot in Hawaii and it failed, and if you told me that twenty years later it would be the law of the land, I’d be “no, it’s not!” There’s still struggle going on as things like Matthew Shepard and Orlando and kids who don’t live in urban centers especially now with the #1 cause of death for tradespeople is homicide and suicide, but the strides we’ve made…I mean, a president made a gay pride proclamation in my lifetime. I thought we’d have flying cars before that.
How’s the reaction to this new book been thus far?
We were the most retweeted story on the New York Times website the day they announced it. They got 30,000 retweets of the story in two hours. The reaction’s been insane. It’s been really nice, because it’s not about me, it’s about getting as many people as possible. Every penny from this goes to charity.
The fact that Patton Oswalt is attached and he’s not even the biggest name involved is pretty cool.
We’re gonna keep dripping out names to keep the press for it. Patton’s an old friend, I’ve known him for about fifteen years. Morgan Spurlock, Matt Bomer, Petty Jenkins, who directed Monster in Orlando and is doing Wonder Woman did the introduction. Bendis, Scott Snyder [Batman], the list of comic people is crazy. Brad Meltzer the novelist, David Drake the playwright, Grant Morrison…I can’t remember everybody because we have 250 creators. The book is only 144 pages long, and is also going to be released digitally through comiXology, so anyone we can’t fit in the print book, there will be fifty pages of content that is exclusively digital. That way you can double dip.
How is it structured?
I purposely structured it to be one pagers from people, so they had no excuse to not do it. It’s a combination of pin-ups—because DC does a lot of those with their characters—and essays, poems, illustrations, silent stories, written stories, Orlando specific material, it’s autobiographical material, it’s a little bit of everything, but all revolving around the theme of “love is love.”
How long after the shooting did you realize you needed to do this?
About seven hours. I went to bed Saturday night and the news said there was a shooting in a club, and there was no idea what was going on. I woke up the next morning and it said forty-nine people were dead and fifty three were in the hospital, and I felt physically ill. I went on Facebook and said the comics community should do something. It was Gay Pride weekend in Los Angeles, and I’m a little long in the tooth to do that stuff anymore, but I wanted to be defiant and say “We’re not gonna be afraid.” Paul Dini, creator of Batman: The Animated Series and co-creator of Harley Quinn, saw that on my Facebook page and said we wanna go with you. He and his wife were at my house in twenty minutes and we went to Pride. By the time I got home at five o’clock I had seventy five messages saying “we want to be a part of this book.”
The following week, IDW said we’ll help publish it and Diane Nelson, the President of DC Entertainment, said “whatever you need.” That’s kind of monumental when DC is a part of Warner Bros. and is such a big source of profits and IP for a major studio, and I didn’t even ask! It’s a great mix from TV, film, from theatre, literature, comics, gay, straight, black, white, man, woman, trans. We have artists from Australia, artists from Asia, artists from South America, artists from Europe, the joke I’ve been using is basically everyone from the comics community except for Jack Kirby, and I’m trying to get him through my Ouija board.
It’s been really gratifying because genre stuff gets such a bad rap lately, with stuff like Gamergate and harassment of cosplay, and this has been two of the biggest publishers of comics coming together and doing something. It’s six months after the dead have been buried, and most of the people are home from the hospital, which is where the real healing begins. Money from this will hopefully pay for headstones, because some of these families can’t afford a marker. A lot of people who were killed had no money. I read a story about a guy who was there with a bunch of his friends and he went home early because he wasn’t feeling well and all his friends died. He’s gonna need psychiatric care. There are a number of elderly women whose gay sons were their caregivers—are they gonna get evicted? Who’s gonna take care of them? The workers of the bar are gonna need psychiatric help. The rescuers are gonna need psychiatric care. There are ripple effects of this. There were survivors who were shot by an AK-47. Those people are never going to work again or have physical complications their whole lives. The reaction so far has been giving me hope in a world with the Orange Monster. There’s still people in this world who genuinely care about other people. That’s why the book is called Love Is Love because it’s a not a political book at all. There are pieces that are a little edgy, but I didn’t want this to be preaching to the converted. It comes from a quote that I borrowed which is “It doesn’t matter who you love, just love somebody.”
Obviously you have other people contributing, but is it all from your vision?
I’ve invited most of the contributors, but both DC and IDW have each given me an editor. I have Jamie Rich from DC who is the executive editor of their Vertigo imprint, and Sarah Gatos of IDW, who’s also from Hasbro, and they’re both incredibly gifted editors and incredibly busy, and the moment they heard about this both said “I wanna do this.” I wouldn’t be able to do it without them, because I’m really good at shaking the trees and I know all the people because I’ve been doing it for so long. But when it comes to production stuff I don’t know any of it, and they’re really more important than I am in this, because they have full time jobs editing 10-12 books each, and they’ve focused on this as much as anything else. I’ve been really fortunate.
Even just among my friends, some of whom are just casual readers, it’s gotten a terrific response.
Part of the beauty of it is because it’s 144 pages in print for ten dollars, every penny goes to Equality Florida, but specifically earmarked for victims and survivors. That was really important to me, because you hear about some charities where three cents of every dollar actually goes to people, and this is all going. People can know that this money is going to make a difference in somebody’s life.
It also helps that now we’re at a point where the comic book culture is such a way that your exposure is far wider.
Everyone is claiming to be a nerd now. When I was a kid, I was more in the closet about reading comics than I was about being gay. Now, if you think hipsters are phony, go to Comic-Con there are so many people who saw an Avengers movie on HBO and now they’re gleefully reclaiming themselves nerds. No! You’re not a real nerd! You’re a carpetbagger! But it’s great. My mom knows who Groot is. If you told me at ten years old that Suicide Squad would make seven hundred million dollars, I’d say no its not. When I was a kid it was Wonder Woman [with Linda Carter], reruns of Batman and The Incredible Hulk. And now every two months these studios are making a 200 or three hundred million dollar movie. There are nine superhero movies coming out next year. It’s insane. Marvel was almost bankrupt twenty years ago. When disney paid 4 billion dollars for them, Marvel paid for itself in three years just from the movies, not even counting the licensing. Now the geeks are inheriting the earth!
Is it hard for you to let go of some control with your work?
Oh, no, no, no. I majored in theatre in college with a focus on directing. I learned that a good director surrounds himself with people who are good at what they do. You have a shared vision, but you trust the people who are good at their specific jobs to let them do what they’re good at. My only edict was I didn’t want this to be an uber-liberal thing because I didn’t want the liberal extremism or the right extremism. This is about humans. This is about caring about each other beyond what your political beliefs or orientation are. And don’t get me wrong, I’m a pinko commie when it comes to stuff like guns in this country. But that’s a whole other book. Gay clubs are to the real world what comic cons are to nerds. They’re safe spaces. They’re where you can go whether you’re gay or straight or bi or trans. I have straight guy friends who go watch sporting events at gay bars because they can be left alone. Girls have their bachelorette parties there. It’s not going to a sex club. It’s no judgment. It’s going to a place where there’s just acceptance. And for this massacre to have happened in such a place… It’s why I think it struck a nerve with people beyond the LGBT community. It was Latino Night at this club. It was a bunch of young gay latino and minority kids, basically.
One of the most heartbreaking stories is a woman named Barbara Makhoul, an African-American mom who is 49, she survived cancer twice, had eleven kids. She stepped in front of the gunman and saved her son and got killed. That shouldn’t happen to anyone. One of the most haunting things I heard was when one of the rescue workers went into the club, it was dark, all you could smell was gunpowder and blood, and all you could hear were all these phones vibrating on the victims. It’s heart-crushing. There was one guy who was texting his mother and got killed. He said, “I’m scared.” I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, so if this book could ease any of that pain or help people begin to heal, it’s worth every bit of stress. It has been emotional working on the book, much more than I thought, because every piece I get is so deep in feeling, whether it’s defiant or its sad or archly comic that it’s been the emotional equivalent of you bite your lip and keep biting it for a week. I’ve been a raw nerve for a while, but I’m not complaining about that. I’m not asking for sympathy. It’s the least I can do because hundreds, if not thousands of people are going to feel reverberations of this. I think this should hurt. It’s easy to write a check and give it to the Red Cross and compartmentalize it. This shouldn’t be forgotten. This sort of stuff shouldn’t become normal.
From the community itself – did they approach you for this?
We have a couple contributors who lost people. One of the artists of the book, his neighbor’s son was killed. One of the writers, his best friend and his best friend’s boyfriend were killed. At the panel for IDW at NYCC, there was a girl in the audience who lost three of her friends. She thanked me for doing it. I said, “No, you’re why we’re doing this. Don’t thank me, this isn’t about me.” I’m a little uncomfortable with some of the press and some of the stuff being thrown my way because I’m not doing this because I think I should. I do it because this is how you react to these things. This is what I can do. The only reason I’m doing all these interviews is because I want as many people as possible to buy the book.
Some of the friends I reached who were super famous because I know that if you’re a Morgan Spurlock or a Patton Oswalt and you write something for this, not only do you have a point of view and have been supportive of the community, but you have tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of fans. So if two percent of Patton’s fans buy his book, that’s potentially fifty- or a hundred-thousand dollars that’s going to help people. I wanted to have lots of diversity. Lots of gay creators and alternative creators. And people who aren’t comics people. Trans people that I know, I wanted them to write about their experiences. But ultimately I went after a lot of A-list people because I wanted this much press for it. I didn’t want to do this in a vacuum. I wanted this to make as much money as humanly possible. So if that means me doing 150 interviews and my face annoying people…I hope people get sick of seeing my name and buy the book to shut me up.
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