Meet Aaron Gillespie, Green Lanterns Writer & DC Talent Development Workshop GraduateMain Art by Warren Louw Comics Features DC Comics
While Paste keeps its all-seeing eye on DC Comics’ big, bold superhero universe, it’s no secret that we gravitate toward the weirder stuff—see our dozens of shout-outs to the Gerard Way-curated Young Animal line—or at least the relatively standalone entries in its publishing lineup, like Supergirl: Being Super. It’s less often that we sit up and take notice of DC’s ongoing main-universe titles, especially dozens of issues in. When the solicitation for Green Lanterns #48 introduced new writer Aaron Gillespie for a two-issue arc, our curiosity was piqued.
Gillespie is a graduate of DC’s Talent Development Workshop led by Justice League writer Scott Snyder. While the class has gone through three iterations, Gillespie is one of just a handful of graduates to move on to solo writing work in the DCU—not to mention a co-writing gig on New Challengers alongside his former professor. In advance of Gillespie’s first issue on Green Lanterns, on stands today, Paste chatted with the writer to find out more about his experience in Snyder’s workshop, his pre-DC career in comics and what he has planned for Green Lantern Jessica Cruz.
Paste: Before we talk about Green Lanterns—you’re one of the few Workshop graduates to move onto multiple projects at DC. What was your experience like in the program and how does it feel to be co-writing with your former professor on New Challengers?
Aaron Gillespie: The Workshop was one of the coolest experiences—it exceeded anything I could have hoped for. I was in a class with a group of peer writers who were interested in making everyone’s work better. I didn’t really know what to expect going in. I didn’t know if it would be some kind of context where we had to push forward, be better than everybody else, people were going to get voted out of the class—I didn’t know what to expect. [Laughs]
What I found was a group of friends. I can call each one of them my friends. A group of friends who really were in it to make everyone’s work better. We had everyone’s back. We constantly were sending work back and forth to get feedback before we presented it in the class for critique. I just could not be happier with the group of peers I was in the class with, and like I said, I call them each my friend now. I appreciate them all so much.
And then on top of that, to have a group of editors that sat in on the class every session, gave feedback every session, and talked about the business of comics and how to navigate through the business side of it, was invaluable.
And then on top of all that, to have one of the most prolific, important writers in contemporary comics as a teacher was something that I couldn’t have dreamed of. What I found fascinating about Scott [Snyder] was his ability to read a script, and instantly find the strengths and the deficiencies and verbalize them in a way that made them all click, made all of his teaching make so much practical sense, because you were looking directly at a script and seeing that all of the stuff he taught you, this is what it all comes down to, and he is able to show you line by line where his teaching comes in. And he’s just the most open and honest teacher that there could have been. It was a completely safe environment; we never had to be worried about presenting anything at all, about asking anything at all. If we had a question about the business side, Scott was there to offer the creator’s opinion of it, and we had the editors there to offer the editor’s side, and I just can’t talk enough about that experience. It was invaluable for many, many reasons, and I look at those few weeks that we had in that class very, very fondly.
Paste: So it wasn’t at all like the Hunger Games?
Gillespie: No, it wasn’t. [Laughs] I didn’t expect it to be some sort of reality show where people were getting voted off the class or anything like that, but at the same time, I didn’t know what to expect when we all sat down for that first class. I didn’t know if it was going to be cutthroat, I didn’t know if we were competing in some way with each other or what, but that’s just not what I found at all and I couldn’t be happier.
Paste: You keep a pretty low profile online compared to most creators. For readers unfamiliar with you beyond the Workshop, what kind of path have you had in comics? What should fans know about your pre-DC career?
Gillespie: For many, many years, I’ve had a few credits here and there as a comic artist. And that was where my main focus was for a lot of years, and I made a lot of friends and contacts through that. A few years ago, a friend of mine and a mentor, this writer and artist named Phil Hester, he lives close to me and I would spend a lot of time in his studio working as his art assistant. One day he called me up and told me he was working on Bionic Man at Dynamite and he was going to be heading out, off the book, and he wanted a co-writer to kind of transition off. I was of course interested, but at the same time, I was nervous, because I hadn’t really considered myself a writer before. But really, the nature of comics is visual storytelling, and any artist is also a writer, to different degrees. I had been writing my own stories for quite a few years, and just hadn’t done very much with them.
So I said yes, and I got the gig, and I found that writing really came—I considered it a comfortable fit. So I did a pretty long run on Bionic Man at Dynamite, I did a couple other mini-series with them, and I was developing some creator-owned stuff when I saw that DC was asking for applications for the school and I applied and was lucky enough to get in.
Paste: Your arc of Green Lanterns finds Jessica Cruz waking up with no memory of bad night. With so many fan-favorite Earth Green Lanterns in action, what sets Jessica apart and draws you to her voice?
Gillespie: I think that Jess is one of the most interesting characters in all of the DCU, not just in the Green Lantern books. And I think it’s because she’s so relatable. I was just at a convention this weekend, and I can’t tell you how many people came up to me, and when they found out I was working on Green Lanterns, they said Jessica Cruz is my favorite DC character. And I get it. I think she’s an excellent character, and it’s because she’s so relatable. She’s a character who has general anxiety and I think that’s something that I know I definitely identify with, and I struggle with, so it’s a voice that I was interested in exploring because in a way it’s my own voice. I think that’s what a lot of the comic fans gravitate to with her, is her incredible relatability. Sure, she’s a space-cop, she’s a badass Green Lantern, but at the end of the day, she’s got these struggles that she overcomes and I think that makes her extremely heroic, that she is able to, every day, overcome these struggles that plague her because of some pretty nasty stuff in her background. So I think that makes her relatable and extremely heroic and the combination of those two things really speaks to people.
Paste: Your first issue opens with Jessica discussing her sobriety. How does that trait inform who Jessica is as a person and as a Lantern? How is she going to handle the loss of control she experiences here?
Gillespie: That’s something that I really wanted to explore, and I wanted to set up the book with some voiceovers that explain how diligent Jessica is in maintaining her own mental health, and working on that. I thought this idea that she understands what alcohol can do to someone with anxiety, and how alcohol is used by people with anxiety, I thought that laying that out and talking about how she sees that danger that alcohol represents and that she’s able to stay away from it—I thought that was a great way to show her control and her willpower at the very beginning. Because at the end of the day, that’s what Green Lanterns are all about. Their rings function on willpower.
So I thought it was important to show that side of her, and to show the polar opposite by the end of this issue. To show what these ordeals and this struggle that she’s going through is doing to her own mental health, to her own anxiety. So I thought that was important to show how far she has come, because at the end of the issue, without giving too much away, she’s saying something very different than at the beginning of the issue. And I thought that was a good way of showing how big these stakes are for her, with what she’s involved in and what she’s trying to run from and what she’s doing, to show that it’s completely frayed her edges. She’s alone and she’s cut off by the end and really looking at doing some harmful things just to be able to get through the day.
Paste: The Green Lantern side of the DCU has been a pretty complex color-coded space opera for a while now. What do potential new readers need to know about Jessica and her predicament to dive into this storyline?
Gillespie: I made a conscious effort with this two-issue arc to bring it down to a really human, street-level story. And I think that new readers are going to find these issues very accessible, because the plot and the themes are something that I think readers can pick up on very quickly. You’ve got the Green Lanterns, a space police force, and you’ve got a member who has gone rogue for whatever reason. And I don’t think you need to know much beyond that. I tried to write this in a way that pays tribute to Green Lanterns and this huge intergalactic space environment that these books have always represented, but that’s in the background. That stuff is mentioned but not important. What’s important is this one woman and her struggle to clear her name. To find out what’s going on, and to deal with it. I think that new readers are going to find it extremely easy to pick this up, even if they’ve never read an issue of Green Lanterns before, and understand that this character represents the rogue cop, this character represents the dogged detective who’s going after her, that sort of thing.
Paste: What does Ronan Cliqeut bring to the table for this arc? Since you’re an artist yourself, how does it feel seeing someone else bring your words to life?
Gillespie: One of my favorite things as a writer is to get the artist’s pages back, and to see how the artist interpreted your words. And with Ronan, I wrote this book plot-style. I would describe in a page what would happen over a two- or three-page scene. This is the situation, this is the scene, these are the important beats. But then the artist has a lot of free reign to represent that scene as they see fit. And that can be kind of scary, but it’s also pretty exciting to give that over to an artist to do what they do best. Pretty immediately after turning in the plot, I started getting layouts back and I was immediately struck by how exciting they were. Not only was his storytelling very clear, but the pages and the figures on the pages were really dramatic and exaggerated and just all-around exciting. I was really intrigued by those layouts and couldn’t wait to get the pages back and he didn’t disappoint. I think he did a spectacular job. Like I said, the action is exciting, the storytelling is clear, but he was also able to bring the quieter human moments to life in a way that is really touching. I appreciate that so much and I think he’s a fantastic artist.
Paste: After Green Lanterns, where can readers find you next? Anything else you can tease at the moment?
Gillespie: Well, I’m still on New Challengers, and that’s got quite a few issues left on it. Other than that, I’m talking about a few things with DC, nothing’s concrete yet. I do short stories for the WWE specials by BOOM! Studios, and there will be a Stone Cold Steve Austin story in August in a New Attitude-era special that I wrote. But other than that, I’m in talks for a few things but nothing concrete yet.