Monday, March 28, 2011

Aquaman Shrine Interview with Laurie S. Sutton - 2011

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The above missive is from Aquaman #50, cover-dated April 1970. It was by a young lass named Laurie Sutton, who not only read comics as a kid, but eventually grew up to work in the field as both a writer and editor, not to mention pulling a stint at the Comics Code Authority!

Laurie is currently writing books for Capstone's DC Superheroes line, penning adventures starring Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Green Lantern. But as the letter indicates, Laurie is a big Aquaman fan, and even though she has yet to write the Sea King directly, I thought it would be fun to talk to her about her life in comics, why she likes Aquaman so much, and what she'd love to do if--when--she has the chance to craft one of his adventures.

The Aquaman Shrine: Did you read lots of comics growing up? What were some of your favorites?

Laurie S. Sutton: Oh, wow, I read tons of comics growing up! At about age eight, for a Christmas present, I received a big box of cast-off comics from my cousins. That box contained everything from Archie to Zorro. There were issues of Betty & Veronica, Little Lulu, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Uncle Scrooge, Zorro... I've been into comics ever since. Once I settled into the DC superhero genre, however, there I stayed. I loved Lois Lane, Batman, and especially the Wonder Woman stories with Wonder Girl and Wonder Tot. Wonder Girl had a mer-boy boyfriend, which really appealed to me!
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TAS: I read that you got your first job in comics working for the Comics Code Authority! What was that like?

LSS: It was quite remarkable. I got to read all the comics before they went on sale to the public! My job was to review the Xeroxed art for violations of the Code. There wasn't much that was in violation with Harvey and Archie comics, but Marvel gave me pause once or twice. I had to question only a few things, mostly because the copies submitted were in black and white and I wasn't sure how a costume--or apparent lack thereof--was going look once it was colored. That's how Michael Golden got away with "black blood" during my time there.

The Code prohibited the depiction of excessive blood (gore), but Golden spotted so much black in his globular blood splatters that, in the B&W Xeroxes, it didn't read as blood. I took the examples to my boss, Leonard Darvin, and asked him to approve or disapprove the blood. He said, "I don't get black blood." He approved the Xeroxes. Only later, when the issue was colored and came out in print, was the red blood recognizable for what it was. But by then the Code had approved "black blood", and it became an acceptable precedent. After that, other Marvel and DC artists started using "black blood".


TAS: You went from working at the Comics Code to writing for DC, and then editing for them. Even though this was when Jenette Khan was president, women on the editorial side of comics (heck, on any side!) were still fairly rare. Was this something that was on your mind at the time?

LSS: To tell the truth, I never really thought about it at the time. I was doing something I loved and was good at. I had a knowledge of comic books, of putting words and pictures together, and of the DC characters. I fit in with the boys. (Heck, we all played volleyball in Central Park every Sunday.)

That said, there were times when Jenette tried to do some female-centric things and found herself up against a certain amount of passive resistance. I remember when she wanted to update Lois Lane, and as part of that process she brought in a fashion designer to reboot Lois's wardrobe. There was a functional logic behind the designs, but the guys in the office rolled their eyes and shook their heads. They thought it was stupid. Even the artists who drew Lois grumbled at having to follow a style sheet. None of them saw past the "outfits".

TAS: You went from DC to Marvel and then became a freelance writer full-time. What kind of projects did you work on?

LSS: I wrote Star Trek comics. I'm very familiar with that continuity (yes...I'm a Trekkie!), and I worked well with the licensing people at Paramount. I wrote several issues of Deep Space Nine for Malibu and most of the run of Voyager for Marvel.

Now, let it be known that Aquaman has influenced me in many ways, both subtle and overt. I love undersea adventure stories, sushi, and the sea-centric novels of Clive Cussler. So don't be surprised when I say that my personal motto is: Is there any way I can put this story underwater?
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And then--oh yeah and yahoo!--I got to do an underwater Star Trek story! I wrote a 4-part Voyager mini-series titled "Splashdown" where I crashed and sank the starship on a water planet. Instead of being in the vacuum of space, Voyager had to deal with the underwater pressures of an ocean. Good thing the starship was airtight (mostly). I had the best fun writing that story! (Terry Pallot did an exceptional job illustrating the mini-series.)

TAS: How did you come to write some of the DC Super Heroes books for Capstone?

LSS: Neptune smiled upon this humble Pisces and guided my long-time friend Paul Levitz to introduce me to Ben Harper in DC's Licensed Publishing department. Ben is in charge of the Capstone/Stone Arch Super Heroes books for DC. He invited me to pitch some story ideas for one of the Wonder Woman books. There were a couple of ideas he liked, and he sent those on to the Stone Arch editor, Donnie Lemke.
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From there Donnie and I worked to bring Wonder Woman: Sword of the Dragon to fruition. The book was released in September of 2010. Since then, I've written four more DC Super Heroes books for Donnie. Green Lantern: The Light King Strikes! and Flash: Gorilla Warfare are available now, and Green Lantern: Fear The Shark! and Flash: The Mirror Monarch will be out in the Fall of this year.

TAS: How do you pitch stories for these books? Does Capstone say "We want two Supermans, two Batmans, one Green Lantern", etc.? How much do you draw on your familiarity with these characters when writing these books?

LSS: Actually, yes, Donnie Lemke does say "I need one Flash and one Green Lantern book--in eight weeks." After my heart stops skipping its beats about the deadline, I come up with a couple of story ideas for each character. It's per assignment, really. I don't pitch ideas on spec.

I was a little worried about writing the first GL book because there have been so many changes made to the character over the years. I wasn't sure which one Stone Arch was going to be using. Fortunately, they were going with the classic GL--Hal Jordan. I grew up reading that character, and the Barry Allen Flash, so it wasn't difficult to draw upon my ancient knowledge!

TAS: You're an avowed Aquaman fan--and there's tangible proof you read Aquaman comics growing up! Do you have a particular run of stories that were your favorites?

LSS: I remember the Nick Cardy art from my youngest years--especially those Go-Go Checks on the covers! Later on, the Jim Aparo art was the definitive Aquaman for me. I don't have a clear memory of any particular run of stories because any reading streak was interrupted by my family and I moving overseas for a decade. Finding American comic books in Holland, Japan, and England was problematic. (This was in the days before the Direct Market and comic book shops!) A few years after graduating college, I moved back to the United States, which was when Paul Kupperberg was writing Aquaman. I enjoyed reading those stories. Who could guess that a couple of years later I would be his editor on Arion: Lord of Atlantis?

TAS: Your years at DC coincided with some of Aquaman's least visible as a character. Were you ever inspired to try and write something featuring him?

LSS: Oh yes. And it never happened. I harbored a secret desire to edit an Aquaman title, but it just never got off the seafloor as it were. I had to console myself with peripheral continuity such as Atlantis, as expressed in Warlord or Arion: Lord of Atlantis.

TAS: You mentioned to me you want to write some Aquaman-centric books for the new line from Capstone. Can you give us just a taste of the kinds of stories you have in mind?

LSS: There would be lots of underwater action, just like the stuff I grew up reading! Aquaman would face Black Manta or Ocean Master and command legions of his fishy friends. I'd try to get Mera into the mix, too. Her hard-water powers are so cool! I'd love to write an Aquaman and Dolphin team-up story. And an Aquaman and Aqualad story. Oh, the list goes on and on!

As a matter of fact, Green Lantern: Fear The Shark! is an underwater Aquaman story without Aquaman. I substituted GL for Aquaman to fight the Shark under and above the water using power-ring dolphins and other sea creatures, chasing the Shark through a submerged ship wreck, and to save beach goers from a telekinetic tsunami. It was my ode to Aquaman. (Now you know, Donnie!)


TAS: Aquaman, often as not, isn't included in many of these mass market, outside-the-world-of-comics projects, at least as a solo star, which is kind of a vicious circle: the more Aquaman isn't included, the less visible he is to non-comics-reading kids, which means he's less popular, which means he isn't included in the next big licensing project. As someone who has worked as a writer and editor, any insight as to why this is? What is it that people just don't "get" about the Sea King?

LSS: I wish I had some kind of insight about that. For me, Aquaman is the Superman of the Sea--plus telepathy! He's got super strength, invulnerability, super-keen senses, incredible reflex speed--and that's on land as well as under water. I don't know--maybe give the guy some fierce Atlantean armor, a shiny crown, and a really dangerous trident/weapon that he has no constraint in using. Oh, and make him frown a lot. Wait, isn't that happening in Blackest Night/Brightest Day? Perhaps there's hope for the Sea King yet.

But you know, the Aquaman that gets picked up for mainstream projects like the Stone Arch books is the classic Aquaman. The grim and gritty iterations don't get on TV or written as kid's books. That says more about the staying power of Aquaman than anything else.


Ever since Laurie left a comment on the Shrine a few months back, I've had the chance to talk with her a bit and its been a total pleasure; Laurie's enthusiasm for Aquaman and comics in general is infectious and she's been extraordinarily generous with her time, answering my endless geeky questions.
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(In doing research for this interview, I discovered that Laurie wrote one of my favorite single-issue comic stories, "Alanna's New York Adventure" from Green Lantern #138 which I bought off the newsstand in 1981 and still have to this day. Small world!)

With Laurie's obvious love for the Sea King, I sincerely hope she gets the chance to write an Aquaman book for the new Capstone line, I'm sure it'd be a winner! Let's hope this interview helps make that a little more of a possibility.

Thanks to Laurie for all the great work and for taking the time to talk to the Shrine!

3 comments:

JD said...

Reading that old letter from her, Laurie is an Aqua-fan after my own heart! DC editors & publishers over the year have constantly and consistently squandered or botched chances to grow Aquaman's fan base. It's very frustrating.

JD said...

Oops! I meant to type over the "years" as in plural as DC has been for the most part squandering Aquaman for at least 30 years now! Hopefully the new Geoff Johns series will change that, but it's so hard to get one's hopes up after all this time.

David J. Cutler said...

Really interesting interview--especially the part about working at the Comics Code. As a kid I'd always wonder about that, if people really worked there and what their function was--as well as always being curious about where all that black blood came from in the 80s. I found it really baffling when I first got into comics, at the tail end of the pulpy paper era.

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