Jason Aaron is in a liminal state right now after 25 years in the comics buiness - his 14-year career at Marvel Comics is seemingly done (for now), and his relationship with DC is flourishing with Batman: Off-World and an upcoming run with Superman with Action Comics. Between all of this however, Aaron has kept his creator-owned career going all the while: with The Other Side to Scalped, Southern Bastards, The Goddamned, and the current Once Upon a Time at the End of the World.
This weekend at England's Thought Bubble Festival, Aaron will take part in an hour-long spotlight panel with BBC personality Kofi Smiles to talk about his career so far, and his career to come. And Popverse will be there, so follow along with our live play-by-play.
Thought Bubble's Spotlight on Jason Aaron is scheduled to begin Saturday, November 11 at 1:30 PM GMT (that's 8:30 AM ET). Come back then to experience the whole thing!
It's Saturday, it's 1:22pm in the UK, and we're in Room 1 for the Spotlight on Jason Aaron panel at Thought Bubble. Hello, world.
We're still a few minutes away from the panel starting, but as someone who just moderated the last panel in this very room, I want to say that the staff working these rooms at the cons are not only very good at their jobs, but very willing to work with moderators who have technical difficulties.
(There won't be such difficulties here; Jason and moderator Kofi Smiles are already onstage, having a quiet pre-panel conversation.)
"We only have an hour, and Mr. Jason Aaron has written SO much," says Kofi in introducing the panel.
"Any Jason Aaron fans in the room?" asks Kofi, to much cheers. "I was gonna say, if not, you're in the wrong room."
The conversation starts with what Jason read as a kid. What was the first comic that caught his attention? "That's a good question," Aaron said. "It was really DC Comics that were the first comics I plucked off the spinner rack as a kid." His first comic was a World's Finest comic where Batman was turned into a bat. "I literally read it until the cover fell off."
"New Teen Titans was the first book where it was like, 'Right, this is the book I'm hooked, I'm gonna get the back issues," he says. Right now, he has two spinner racks at home: one filled with his own collection, another with his own work as reference copies.
"I love Atari Force. Do people know about Atari Force? There's no collection, it's never been able to be collected, because it's Atari," Aaron adds. Atari Force was important "because it's the first time I saw a #1 comic on the rack," but there was also Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez art, which meant everything to him at the time; he calls it his gateway drug. "That book came at the perfect time for me."
Jumping forward to 2001, and Aaron winning a Marvel talent contest. "There's a lot of weird stories about [former Marvel president] Bill Jemas, but I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Bill Jemas." The 8-page Wolverine story he wrote for the contest was the first comic story he'd ever written.
Aaron also says that The Other Side, his Vertigo series, came from Jemas' failed Epic imprint.
The Other Side came in part from his cousin Gus, who was a Vietnam veteran. "He was quite a bit older than me. His first book was called The Short-Timers, and it's what Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket is based on." Gus was the first professional writer Aaron knew. "He died when I graduated high school. After he died, I became obsessed with tracking down a lot of his old writings and finding out more about his old life."
The Other Side was originally submitted to the Epic imprint as a reboot of Marvel's The Nam series, he reveals. "I was obsessed with telling that story."
The Other Side #1 was the first 22-page script Aaron ever wrote. "I went full Alan Moore," he jokes, adding, "To this day, it's probably the lowest-selling book I've ever done."
"The Other Side, and Scalped, I was working with artists who had done a lot of other books, and I'd done nothing," he says, calling both of those Vertigo books his education in comics. "I probably worked on [The Other Side #1] for a year. Usually I write a comic script in a week [now], depending what it is, maybe a week and a half."
"Writing that first issue, I didn't know what I was doing, but I did know what story I was telling," he says, explaining that he believed "clarity of vision" is what makes any writer successful. "If I have profound clarity in that, then I know that everything's going to be okay."
What was the vision for Scalped, asks Smiles. "Dare I say, it's the perfect story," he asks. "I'm glad you feel that way," replies Aaron, saying that he was less clear when it began. It was originally pitched as a reboot of DC's old western hero Scalphunter. (Now the title makes more sense!)
The second arc had a character-heavy focus, he says, because he felt as if no-one would stick with the book if they didn't care about the characters. "I look back and I don't really remember writing Scalped," he says, noting that the book began as his first kid was born. "It was like Burroughs emerging from a drug haze," he jokes.
Aaron likens Scalped to The Wire and Deadwood, saying that those were some of his favorite shows of the period. "I'm really proud of that book, I think it's how I learned to write comics," he says, and credits it with what brought him back to Marvel.
Would you ever revisit Scalped, asks Smiles. "I mean, I would never say never," Aaron says. R.M. Guera had an idea that he wanted to write and draw, but "as much as I love those character and love that world, I felt like that was the end." If he returned to the world of Scalped, it would be for a prequel or a flashback, because the story is over for him.
"I remember the day I finished [the last script], I poured myself a whiskey and sat back. I kind of felt the same when I finished Thor," Aaron says.
"I wrote a whole lot of Thor, but definitely Jane Foster, her story is one of my favorite things I've written, whether at Marvel or anywhere," Aaron says, calling it the "most Marvel" thing that he's written. "I loved having that powerful emotional undercurrent to the stories."
"It's not a morose book, she's still flying around the cosmos and punching Odin in the face," he says of the complex emotional core of the Jane Foster story.
"I'd never really been a big Thor fan as a kid, I'd read a lot of the Simonson stuff," he says. "I'd like a lot of stuff that Matt [Faction] had done, the Ages of Thunder books." Says that Esad Ribic being on the book brought clarity for him about what the series was about.
"Shitty fathers is a recurring theme. Odin is a great shitty father. Ideas of worthiness, ideas of questioning godhood," Aaron says when he says that Thor is basically a continuation of themes he pursues throughout his entire work. Says that his Thor leaned away from what Marvel Studios was doing with the character, by definitively saying that Thor is a god, but is he a good god?
Moving onto Wolverine, Aaron jokes that Wolverine is "also a shitty father" -- but only to his own kids; his stand-in kids, he's a much better father figure. "It was a fun time working in the X-Men office. It was mostly me and Kieron Gillen splitting up the X-Men."
Wolverine and the X-Men "was the first time I'd worked on a team book, and I realized, oh, team books are very difficult to deal with. Team books are a lot more challenging."
"It was the first time I was able to do something ridiculous and silly, and that goes back to a lot of runs that got me into comics," he says of Wolverine and the X-Men? Those inspirations? Justice League International, Claremont and Davis' Excalibur, and (somewhat surprisingly?) Blue Devil. Hey, DC: can we get a Blue Devil reboot from Jason Aaron? I'd buy a copy.
Wolverine and the X-Men was, in part, about Wolverine going through what all parents go through: namely, realizing that he's not cool anymore. "When you're the guy telling people to pick up their room, you're not cool."
Jason Aaron says that he loves Quentin Quire as a character, in part because he loves Grant Morrison as a writer. "But, yeah, [Quentin]'s an asshole," he admits.
"I'm surprised they let us do that," Aaron says about his Star Wars work. "I think we sort of snuck that in when Lucasfilm was dealing with a lot of stuff, and we grabbed some of those big moments."
"Within the last couple of months, I wrote Superman for the first time," Aaron says in reply to a question about whether or not he still feels awe about his own work. "Even before I sat down to write anything, I was so nervous. I felt like I was writing my first comic. I felt so nervous, I did what every nervous Superman writer should do: I called Mark Waid."
"I want to tell the story that shows what I love about these characters, but hopefully does something you haven't seen before," Aaron says, promising a "darker and scarier" version of Bizarro. "Going back and reading those '50s Bizarro stories, it makes you feel bad for Bizarro. It's all, 'look how stupid Bizarro is.'"
"I don't want to make people hate Superman!" says Aaron.
The big challenge when writing superheroes is, Aaron argues, why do readers care when they've been reading these characters for so long? With Thor, "I wanted to do something that took advantage of the setting of that character. We don't have to see him in Oklahoma." He wanted to dig into that sense of self-doubt inherent in the character. "I liked the idea that, every morning he wakes up and doesn't know if he's going to be worthy enough to pick up the hammer."
"The other thing with Thor is one of the themes I've written about a lot: Thor and Odin are a great pairing," Aaron says. "Thor's grown up idolizing his father and also hating his father." He jokes that the tension between them lasted 100 years and six years before they finally hugged each other.
"What is my home? I mean, literally, it's just full of nerd shit. You walk into my house and it's Conan books and candy. There's Thor statues. I asked my kid, do you care if we go full nerd?" One of his son's friends said that it was "like my grandmother's house, if my grandmother was cool." "I was, like, 'thanks...?'"
"When I was writing Thor, I loved to go and pick up those Jack Kirby issues and holding them in my hand," he says. "I love that shit."
Smiles is asking about Southern Bastards. "How much of that book have you lived? It's intense, I was like, 'I hope Jason's okay." "I don't know, I mean, I've lived the barbecue part of it," Aaron jokes.
Southern Bastards is "my love/hate letter to where I'm from," Aaron says. Would there ever be an adaptation of Southern Bastards? "I've had conversations about such things. There's stuff in the works, now that stuff is in the works again," he teases, although he adds, "You never know if things are going to work out, if they're going to turn into things."
"I think Gorr the God-Butcher is a character who's very close to my heart," Aaron says about writing terrible people. "There were times with Gorr where he's saying things that I believe. He's speaking closer to my heart. When you see his origin story, you think, this guy had a shitty go of it, but then he's taken it to extremes."
"For better or worse, I try to not care about that regardless," Aaron says about thinking about other people's response to his work. "I can't write a story for anyone else in this room, I don't know how to do this." He's built his career writing stories that mean something to him and hoping it has emotional resonance with other people.
The online response to Jane Foster as Thor is the only time he's taken the audience's response to a story he's written and put it into the work, he says.
The Goddamned has been popular with religious readers, Aaron says, but he jokes, "I'm not recommending that people go back and read The Bible!"
On The Avengers, "it had been so long since Wolverine and the X-Men that I think I'd forgotten how hard it is to write a team book," he jokes. "I wanted every arc to be an event and set up things: I didn't just want to bring in a villain and beat him and move on."
"It's challenging to write a book that comes out that often and has that many characters and that many artists. But I kind of doubled down, and brought in more characters."
"I knew that [Avengers] was lining up with the end of my Marvel exclusive, and I thought of it as being my swan song not just at Marvel but writing ongoing books," Aaron says, saying that his killing the Orb "should have been a sign that I wasn't fucking around."
"It's fun to write big event stories where you can pull characters from all across the universe," Aaron says, saying that's what his Avengers book was meant to be: an event that didn't have tie-ins. "I think we've kind of trained readers to think it only matters if it has tie-ins, but I like to do it in the books themselves. War of The Realms was never meant to be an event book; I think it was Tom Brevoort who suggested we make it an event, but it was going to happen regardless."
War of the Realms started as problem solving. "We needed to define what the realms were, because they're important to the character. Like I write the character, but I don't even know."
Fan Qs: how does it feel when other writers continue with your characters? "It always feels a little weird. Like, I was writing Thor for seven years, and then you realize, oh, there wil always be Thor comics. But that's the job, right?"
"There's nothing anyone can do that will make my stories be different. My stories are still there, you can still read them," Aaron says. "I don't judge my stories based on whether those versions of the characters are still there."
Another fan Q: Aaron likes to identify the source of power of a character, and then take it away, what's that about? "I guess I haven't thought of it like that," he says. "Some of it, I think, is just, how do you take the knees out under these characters? How do you really kick this character in the balls?"
Q: What is his scripting bone structure? What is his process? "There's different things: there's notebooks scribbled full of notes, there's notes on my phone, notes on my computer. But when I sit down at my computer, it's numbers 1 through 20 or however many pages there are, and I write a sentence about what each is about and work from there. It doesn't make sense to anyone else. If I died today, no-one would be able to make sense of it."
Q: Are there additional limitation for licensed characters, as opposed to creator owned characters. "It's part of the job; I don't own any of these characters and these characters will be around long after I'm dead. I don't really look at it as a limitation," he says. At Marvel, "I know all those people, I think I get a certain amount of trust. I don't get notes from Bob Iger." Working on Star Wars, he adds, "I did get notes saying 'no, you can't do that.'" Working on Conan, however, "there was nothing they said I couldn't do."
Q: Who's Aaron's favorite character to write? "Overall, I'd say Thor. My favorite character I haven't written much of is Ben Grimm, the Thing. I'd love to do more with him in the future."
Q: Does Aaron follow the comic books of characters he's written. "Maybe I don't read it write away; it does feel like someone sending me pictures of people going out with my ex-girlfriend," he jokes. He does, however, read Star Wars and Conan comics right now and he loves both.
We are somehow out of time already! That was a fast hour; Aaron gets a round of applause for writing Superman and Batman at DC, and then he gets another round of applause for being Jason Aaron. Well-deserved! And with that, we're wrapping up. Thanks for reading along; we have another liveblog tomorrow for the 2000 AD panel here at Thought Bubble.