Last weekend, I had the privilege to speak with comic writer Sam Humphries (Legendary Starlord, Weirdworld, Jonesy) mere hours after the Wondercon DC Rebirth press conference and the reveal that he would be taking his first foray into the DCU with upcoming Green Lanterns.
Humphries already has a handful of excellent series for Marvel, Boom Studios, and Image Comics under his belt, so I got to find out about his adventures to weird worlds, love-sick schools, and beyond. He also gave The Geek Initiative an awesome idea of what he’s bringing to the table as a part of DC Rebirth. Check out what Sam Humphries had to say about his current and upcoming works, his comics favorites, and advice for aspiring creators:
The Geek Initiative: First things first, just for fun. Are you left or right handed?
Sam Humphries: I’m left handed, a proud leftie. I was raised to be very proud of my left-handedness. My grandmother went to a Catholic school when she was younger, and the nuns would hit you on the hand with rulers so you wouldn’t use your left hand.
TGI: Do you prefer coffee or tea?
SH: I’m more of a tea drinker. I can do coffee sometimes, but I can drink tea throughout the day without getting bad jitters or a crash like coffee. A good green tea, I can do that.
TGI: What inspired you to get into writing comics?
SH: Well, actually, comics inspired me to get into comics. I really loved reading them, and if you stick with comics, as you grow up and your tastes evolve, you can find new comics to challenge and entertain you. Things like manga, Euro comics, and RAW Magazine are just as important to me as superhero comics. But I don’t necessarily think that’s the best qualifier for becoming a comic book creator.
TGI: So, the first printing of Jonesy went really, really well. It totally sold out – congratulations!
SH: Thank you.
TGI: It’s so unlike anything else on the stands right now. What inspired the character of Jonesy and her powers?
SH: It’s very silly. Me and my friends had this kind of ongoing joke about shipping. It was definitely coming from a place of love about shipping, I mean, shipping is such a beautiful thing! But then we’d go and say things like, “I ship you with a fart!”
Then it was like, what if you could wield shipping in real life? What if you had the real life power of shipping? I was literally in the shower when I thought this, and then it was like, BOOM! And immediately, Jonesy as a character came to my head as well. And I was like, “There is absolutely no way this character would use these powers for good. They are going to be mischief, trouble.” And that was the genesis of Jonesy.
TGI: Are there any challenges to writing a character like Jonesy, whose successes are disastrous to others?
SH: No! It’s a lot of fun. I love that she messes up. Somebody read it and was like, “Oh, I don’t like that she did this to this person,” or whatever. And it’s like, no, people make mistakes, and then they apologize for them. We’ve all done things to people we love that we regret, or we’ve all been careless with people’s feelings, and I think it’s more important to accept that this happens and to watch out for it.
If we don’t accept this as a reality then we don’t watch out for it. We’re not careful about it. So I really do think that having a character who screws up and apologizes for it is a really cool thing.
TGI: Do you have a ‘ship’ that you wish you could borrow Jonesy’s powers for?
SH: Oh my god. Any ship? Oh god, it’d probably be Finn and Poe. I would love to see that ship really actually happen.
TGI: We’ve got to make that happen.
SH: I’d also go for the tri-ship of Finn, Poe, and Rey. But if I had to just pick a pair, it’d be Finn and Poe.
TGI: Now, you’re also writing Weirdworld, and that’s a sword and sorcery book that’s really different than anything else coming from Marvel right now, almost uncharacteristic of Marvel. What’s it like to be writing in such an out-there universe within the Marvel universe?
SH: The experience has been amazing, insofar that editors Tom Brevoort and Alanna Smith have really backed us the whole way. By us, I mean me and artist Mike del Mundo. It’s called Weirdworld, it’s a weird book and weird things happen, like sandsharks! But it’s also uncharacteristic of Marvel in that it doesn’t have any explicitly known Marvel characters in it – there are some minor characters like Morgan le Fay and Jennifer Kale, but Marvel characters are not the focus of the book. The main focus is these two new characters, Rebecca and Goleta, who – you know Goleta.
TGI: I know Goleta! I tell everyone about her who even looks at the book in the store.
SH: You can say that I named her after the city, especially if it helps you move copies.
The story really focuses on Becca and Goleta’s emotional journey together and their own emotional journeys. There was really a point where I stopped in the development and asked them, “Is this really the book you want? Is this what you’re looking for? Is this a book we should be doing?” And Tom and Alanna didn’t hesitate or waver on this. They said, “Whatever you feel is the best book, whatever book you feel most inspired to do, that’s what this book needs to be.”
And having Becca trying to get home, having her deal with the suicide of her mother, having Goleta dealing with things you find out later on, and having them deal with each other- all of this really connected with something deep in my heart, and that is the book I feel inspired to write.
TGI: I was really struck after the latest issue, after thinking it was all fun and fancy free, by the serious emotional journey at the heart of Weirdworld. Is there any difficulty finding that balance between the silly fantasy and the reality of the story?
SH: No, actually. The balance really helps you. If things get too serious, you can have a big monster come and gobble them up, and you break the tension and you have an experience with ups and downs. You build tension, and give relief, and it’s something you can really take people on a journey with.
There are certainly successful examples of stories that are very grim and very emotional, and that’s a certain kind experience, but in a book called Weirdworld, a book that’s sword and sorcery, you want to have fun, you want to see the weird stuff. So the balance isn’t a problem. The balance might be our secret weapon.
TGI: I can’t comment on your books Starlord or Citizen Jack, because I have not had the opportunity to read them yet, but the diversity in your books like Jonesy and Weirdworld is so effortless and fun. Is this something you stress to your collaborators, or does it arise naturally?
SH: Stress might not be the right word, but it’s something we talk about for sure. I think it’s very important. Representation and diversity is very important to me. With Mike and Caitlin, my artists on Weirdworld and Jonesy, we’ve discussed it and they feel the same way. Once you’re on the same page as your co-creators, it does happen effortlessly and naturally. And that way, if you take a misstep on the comic, you already have an open dialogue. The one or the other person on the team can say, “Hey, maybe this isn’t a direction we want to go, because I know you feel strongly about respecting diversity.” And you can be like, “God, you know, you’re right.” And then you can fix it. We get to fix it, bounce things off each other, and make sure we’re doing things the right way.
Because it is important, and it’s worth doing right. I’m very glad that our books our diverse, and I’m very glad to have books that are diverse, but this does not replace having diverse creators in comics. It’s an ongoing process, and we need to work harder on getting diverse creators into the mix on all levels.
TGI: On that note, The Geek Initiative is all about celebrating women and diversity in geek culture. Do you have a favorite female fictional character?
SH: Tons, really. I don’t know where to start. I remember when I was just a kid, and I loved Marvel comics, I had three favorite characters and two were women – one was She-Hulk and one was Rogue. I just really gravitated to the way they were written, specifically Chris Claremont writing Rogue, and when John Byrne was writing and drawing She-Hulk. And then when my tastes grew as I got older, I just loved Tank Girl. Still love Tank Girl.
And probably my favorite fictional characters of all time are Maggie and Hopey from Jaime’s work in Love and Rockets. Love and Rockets is my favorite comic book of all time, and I really think what he’s achieved with Maggie and Hopey is just some of the most amazing in-depth, complex character work we’ve seen anywhere. If you ever came over to my apartment, you’d see Love and Rockets covers framed on my wall, I have a giant lithograph framed of Maggie and Hopey. They may be my favorite fictional characters of all time, period, regardless of gender. So, actually, I started out by saying I couldn’t choose, but I think I just picked. It’s Maggie and Hopey.
TGI: Who would you rather have backing you up in an important fight- Jonesy, or Goleta?
SH: Ooh, that’s tough. Goleta is fierce and bold and loyal, and she’s strong and has a giant axe, but I feel like Jonesy- her power knows no bounds. She could end a fight faster and more cleanly than Goleta could with the right application of Jonesy’s power.
TGI: Now I don’t exactly know what I can and can’t ask you about Green Lanterns- do you have anything you want to say about the series? Because that’s so cool.
SH: Absolutely. Oh my god, it’s great. So exciting. I mean, we’re talking just hours after it has been announced that I’m taking over Green Lanterns. This has been in the works for a while, and it’s such a relief to be able to talk about it now. You were talking about women and diversity in comics- I’m extremely proud of this book because it features the two new Green Lanterns of Earth- These are THE Green Lanterns of Earth, of the DC Universe. The first is Jessica Cruz, a Mexican-American woman, and the second is Simon Baz, a Lebanese-American man. I think it’s such a cool thing for DC to want to do with Green Lantern.
It’s such a great fit for both characters, I’m very proud of them for stepping into this role- it’s a weird thing to say for fictional characters I’m writing! But I’m really proud of them because being a Green Lantern is all about having the courage to overcome your own fear, and these guys are rookies! They’re rookie Green Lanterns, and they’re literally wearing the most dangerous weapon in the universe. They’re partners, and they don’t know how they feel about each other, they don’t really know how to work their rings, and now they’ve got to protect Earth, the most treacherous place in the DC Universe.
And as far as the Green Lantern Corps is concerned, it’s all in their hands. They’re in the Justice League. They’re taking on so much, and it’s really going to take all of their courage to overcome their fears in these situations. We’re going to bring the entire mythology of Green Lantern down on their heads, starting with the Red Lanterns. They may be rookies, but the stakes are epic. I don’t know, I’m just really proud of them.
TGI: You’re proud of them, but you’re not afraid to send them through the wringer.
SH: I’m proud of them, but I’m really gonna put them through hell. No question about it.
TGI: So, finally, do you have any advice for people looking to write comics?
SH: Yes, absolutely. The advice is to make your own comics. I know it feels daunting, but one of the ways in which it feels daunting is that you don’t know if you’re qualified or not. You don’t know if you’re talented enough to make comic books. I certainly felt that way, “I don’t know if I’m ready”, and there’s the fantasy where an editor or a publisher comes along and says, “We’d like to hire you to write this comic book.” And that is like a stamp of legitimacy, right? It does stuff for your confidence, but what it ultimately takes is the discipline to sit down and make a comic book- whether it’s a five page comic book that you’re going to self-publish or a twenty-two page comic that is shipping twice a month for DC. It really just takes that dedication. The way to become a comic book creator is to create a comic.
I, as some people on your website might know, started out self-publishing two books– Our Love is Real and Sacrifice. These are very esoteric books, but I self-published them. I just had a breaking point where I said, “I’m going to self-publish two books no matter what this year.” That was in 2011. “And if a publisher wants to be a part of this, great, but we aren’t going to wait around.” We were just going to move forward as if we were self-publishing these books. This was the right decision, because by the end of the year, I had two books out. I was a comic book creator.
And once you make a comic book, once you’re a comic book creator, no one can take that away from you. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s much better than trying to guess at what might Marvel and DC want, or trying to pitch them on some obscure character they probably don’t really want to do a book on anyways. It’s better than waiting for your phone to ring, or trying to reload your Gmail faster. That’s not a fun life.
You know what’s fun? Making a comic book, having a comic book at the end. Being able to tell your friends and family, “I am a comic book creator.” And once you have that comic book, you can show that to editors. It’s proof that you’re not just somebody who may or may not be full of hot air. You have proof that you can make a comic book. You print it out, put it online, and make it your calling card. You’re not going to get paid work until you can prove that you can demonstrate you can do all the things required- it may not be the most fair system in the world, but that’s the way it works. It’s just better life advice.
Stop sitting around waiting for permission to make comics! Just go out and make comics. It’s just a better quality of life you’ll have.
TGI: Thank you so much.
SH: My pleasure.
Sam Humphries currently writes Starlord and Weirdworld for Marvel Comics, Citizen Jack for Image Comics, and Jonesy for Boom Studios. Green Lanterns releases as a part of DC Rebirth, an event beginning in May.
You can follow Sam Humphries on Twitter under the handle @samhumphries to keep up with his projects.