How do the pros #MakeComics? We’re here to tell you. Comicosity is picking the brains of a pro who is killing it in the comics industry, and this week I was lucky enough to talk to Steve Orlando! Steve’s resume is vast, and growing by the month. The current writer on The Unexpected, his credits at DC also include JLA, Supergirl, Midnighter, Milk Wars, Batman/Shadow and many more. His creator-owned library includes Crude, Undertow and Virgil. Steve was kind enough to give us a look into his creative process below:
What does a typical day in the life of Steve Orlando look like?
Most days I wake up at 7:30, get up to speed on the news over breakfast, and then head to the gym or go for a run between 9 and 10, which helps me clear out any stress and get thinking straight before I dig into creative work. From there, I usually work from 11:30/12:00 until I make my work quota for the day, which these days has been to either plot or dialogue ten pages minimum. Making sure I do that every day Monday-Thursday ensures I make my weekly deadline Friday. Once I make the quota, I then work on outlines for future work, revisions of ongoing scripts or outlines, lettering drafts, and any other day-to-day comics office work. Friday – Sunday I either work ahead on plotting future deadlines, or take time for personal projects which by necessity take a back seat during the week since they have looser or hypothetical deadlines. I try to be done with writing/comics work by 8 pm if possible, and spend the rest of the night being social or reading, to put further creative calories back into my brain once I’ve spent them during the day.
What time of day do you do your best work?
For me, I tend to be the most productive in the daytime, since I structure my day relatively similar to an office job. 1 pm – 6 pm tends to be a good period of time.
Comics is a collaborative medium. How do you work with your teammates on your projects?
We’re in ongoing contact, either by Twitter DM, text, phone, or email. I make myself available as a resource to my collaborators, we bounce ideas off each other, work the story, or just keep each other sane, since comics can be a relatively unique work experience, so it’s good to have someone who knows what your daily struggle is like. And we work and open format on scripts, with no panel breakdowns to give collaborators more freedom, so we talk a lot about layouts and implementation as well.
How do you manage your to-do list?
Coming from working in wine and spirits service, I would regularly organize events and work plans for my clients and coworkers. Comics is a creative job, but still a job, so I set required amounts of work for myself each day and each week and simply don’t allow myself to do other things each day until they’re done. The more fluid aspect comes after – going out, entering the world, or catching up on reading. Putting ideas back into my head is the more ethereal process, putting them on the page is a more regimented one.
What is your workspace like?
My office is full of books, references on folklore and symbology, linguistics, painting and film art books. But it’s also full of the graphic novels that inspired me and continue to do so, along with a spinner rack I acquired from a closing pharmacy. I also keep a copy of Ivan the Terrible and his Son Ivan, a painting by Ilya Repin, nearby, as well as both my Marvel Comics rejection letter from their early 2000s Epic Comics program and my New Talent Survey from when I joined DC Entertainment in 2015. Also a massive canvas portrait of my nephew looms over me as an ongoing joke played by one of my friends from home.
What tools are essential to your creative process?
I work pretty simply, scripting and outlining and roughing on my laptop. I know some folks use notebooks and visual outlines, but I find it easiest working where I can get ideas out almost as fast as I think of them, which for me is typing. I’ve written, illustrated and produced a 100 page graphic novel myself in the past, so I have a sense of what things will look like on the page as I outline them.
The other essential tools are the new sources of inspiration, which I’ve mentioned. The books, comics and otherwise, that I make sure to consume on a daily basis to keep my mind working, moving and rethinking. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the production line aspect of comics and forgo the fact that it’s just as important to consume fiction when you’re creating it as it is to put your own on the page. Creativity is a perpetual motion machine, eating, breaking down and reassembling ideas on a daily basis.
What do you love most about creating comics?
To me it’s the collaboration. Working looser, with more communication, is a less sterile and riskier way of making books, but that’s also how the boldest and most dangerous alchemies happen. Letting a script leave you in an open format, trusting you collaborators to do what they do best, pick up the baton, and continue to add refinement and detail to the idea, is exciting and surprising in a way that tighter, more siloed approaches to fiction can, in my own opinion, never be.
What is your favourite phase of a project?
Closing out an issue is undoubtedly my favorite part of a project, as it’s the moment where all those ideas you’ve put out into the creative field and passed on to your collaborators return prodigal to you in a new, beautiful, and surprising way that is both not exactly what you expected and better than you can imagined. It’s time then just for the finishing touches, the detailing, before the work goes out into the world.
What do you listen to or watch while you work?
I actually tend to listen to old pro wrestling shows these days. My first books were written in the back of a Denny’s, and were for years, so I actually go a bit stir crazy in silence, trapped with my own thoughts. So I went through phases of having movies or TV Shows on in the background of my computer while I work, but for the past few years I’ve enjoyed having classic pro wrestling on, not because I always pay attention, but because I love the energy of it. There’s a ground level, everyman appeal to the wrestling industry that I think is spiritually similar to comics, and the excitement of the crowds, the long showbusiness history of the different feds and early PPVs, it all puts me in athemindset of renegade creation that I need.
When you aren’t creating comics, how do you like to spend your time?
I think as many creators may have mentioned, free time is a rare commodity in comics! I remember when Avengers: Age of Ultron hit theaters and it seemed the only folks that hadn’t seen it yet were people who worked in comics, because we couldn’t get out of our offices. But when I do have free time, outside of taking in more writing and fiction as much as I can, I make time to go out with my partner an explore new restaurants, take our dog new places, and carve out social space for us to have fun between my work and his as a pharmacist.
Networking and meeting other creators is an important part of the business. What is your preferred way to network?
I keep in contact with a lot of other creators through text and email, often daily in some cases. Again, there’s no central office for comics so it is often nice to have someone to talk to to replicate that office atmosphere, mostly just having someone that understands the kvetches unique to our industry. I try to keep my convention appearances limited to one a month at most, when I can, so I can devote time to my work obligations, but those in-person appearances are also some of my favorite times to see new parts of the country or world and catch up with other creators who likewise have been deep in the comics mines for some time.
What comics are you reading right now?
Right this week, I’ve just finished Wonder Woman: The Circle, Extremity Vol 1 and 2, October Girl, Birthright Vol 1, X-Force: New Beginnings, The Shadow over Innsmouth, Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein, The Flintstones Vol 2, We Are Robin Vol 1, and the Wonder Woman by Mike Deodato collection.
What do you hope to see in the industry in the future?
More and better access, both for new creators and new readers. The way I discovered comics, on a spinner rack in a supermarket, essentially doesn’t exist anymore. Readers must first be aware of comics, and then make a concerted effort to find them in order to get them. Whether it’s digital, mass market, or other delivery mediums, I hope for it to be easier to try comics for the first time and stick with them. And likewise, I hope for it to be easier to make comics. In many ways, the internet has made that so, it is easier to network and create today than even when I started breaking in in the Year 2000. On that front, I have great hope that new and bold voices can continue to enter the field, create their myths, tell their stories. What we hope we can do is make it easier for people that need those stories to find them.
Check out Steve’s work here and check back soon for a new #MakeComics interview!