Peter Allen David has been a writer of fiction for over twenty years. His novels and comic books have brought joy to millions, most notably of the Star Trek variety and his twelve year run on The Incredible Hulk. Mr. David has had numerous appearances on the New York Times Best Seller list, but he’s a regular guy with a family, a Mets fan and is an avid bowler.
Besides his original work, much of Mr. David’s career has encompassed writing about existing properties, characters and settings, and he’s not afraid to make other people’s creations his own. He is currently writing X-Factor, a comic book published monthly by Marvel Comics, The mutant powered private investigation team primarily serves the superhuman community, allowing a somewhat noir spin on the classic X-Men storylines of a minority group trying to protect the majority that fears and hates them. Nevertheless, Mr. David doesn’t let social issues interject into his writing; they appear naturally through the characters and their development. Wolfsbane, for example, is a devout Presbyterian who often finds her personal and work life in conflict with her Christian beliefs. Who she is dictates how she reacts to a situation rather than a preconceived narrative or agenda.
So it is with Rictor and Shatterstar. Before the revelation that these characters were gay, sexuality beyond the hetero experience was not run across much in comics, particularly in main stream books published by Marvel or DC Comics. Peter David’s story, which brings what other writers only dared to hint at to fruition, does not make light of its subject nor does it use it as a catalyst for the plot or a marketing ploy to sell books. It simply is what it is; Rictor and Shatterstar are gay because the characters are gay. The subtext about these characters has been there for years, but it took Mr. David to finally bring us the first same sex couple kiss in a mainstream comic. Mr. David’s portrayal of his characters earned him the Outstanding Comic Book prize at the 2011 GLAAD Media Awards, an honor that was richly deserved in a time when Gay Rights continue to be stifled by many.
Being the benevolent soul he is, Mr. David indulged me with answers to my queries concerning his views on comics, writing, politics and a whole lot more. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did!
Jamie Insalaco: What went through your mind when you heard that X-Factor had been nominated for Outstanding Comic Book at the 2011 GLAAD Media Awards and what was it like to win?
Peter David: What went through my mind was surprise, mostly because no one had informed me of the nomination. I found out when fans wrote me emails congratulating me and my reaction was, “I was nominated? Oh, okay. Well…that’s nice.” I checked it out and then saw the competition and thought, “Okay, well, it was an honor to be nominated, but no way do I win against this field.” I just figured I didn’t have a chance and thus it kind of dropped off my radar. So imagine my surprise when, sometime later, I got more emails congratulating me on winning. My reaction? ”Cool. Do I get a trophy?” Which I did, by the way. It’s really nice; GLAAD did a terrific job with it.
Jamie: What sort of reaction did you receive from fans after the revelation that Shatterstar and Rictor are gay? From the media? Colleagues?
Peter: I would say that it was about 95% positive from the fans. Most of them were in the “It’s about time” category because “Ricstar” had been a focus of speculation for years. The most passionate about it, I think it safe to say, were the gay fans. Some told me they were literally sobbing with happiness over the matter-of-fact presentation of two men openly in love with each other. It meant a lot to them. From the media? Well, it’s not like CNN (or, God help me, Fox) was banging at my door, which is probably a good thing, because the media turned Northstar’s coming out years ago in “Alpha Flight” into a full fledged circus, and who needs that kind of grief? But it got quite a bit of coverage, especially when Perez Hilton wrote about it. Suddenly my google news alert was bringing me links to newspapers as far away as Russia, for crying out loud. There would be these stories written in Cyrillic which I couldn’t read except for the words, “Shatterstar,” “X-Factor,” and “Peter David.” It was amazing, the way it covered the globe. My colleagues? By and large, I don’t think it was all that big a deal to them. A couple wrote to me separately with a kind of “Well done,” but other than that, they have their own stories to deal with.
Jamie: Have things changed for you at all, professionally or personally, since the revelation or the award?
Peter: The requests for my presence on gay-themed panels at conventions has gone way up. Plus gay fans occasionally try to hit on me now, which didn’t happen before. And I tell them I’m straight, which is typically greeted with astonishment. Presumably they think my wife is my beard. It didn’t occur to me that my being straight was that unthinkable but, y’know, whatever.
Jamie: I understand that hints of Shatterstar and Rictor’s true sexuality were given as early as their X-Force days back in the 1990s; did you decide that the revelation of Shatterstar and Rictor’s homosexuality in X-Factor was simply the natural evolution to their characters, a product of the times we live in or an active attempt to diversify the book’s characters?
Peter: I tend to write in a very organic fashion. I like taking characters and putting them together with only a thin framework of plot and see what happens. I honestly didn’t know that Rictor and Shatterstar were going to kiss until I got to the scene. The main reason I was bringing Shatterstar back was to develop a storyline for Rictor, but until I had them come face to face, I wasn’t entirely sure how the storyline was going to develop. And when I finally did, here were these guys with a long history and hinted at subtext, and they hadn’t seen each other in ages. Rictor was coming off a bad breakup with a girl (his relationships with women were unfulfilling; go figure) and Shatterstar had just–thanks to the machinations of the issue’s villain–tried to kill Rictor until Rictor snapped him out of it. With all this emotion, all this history, I just got to this point and said, “Why screw around? This is the 21st century. Who are we being coy for?” I just followed the emotional beats of the moment and had them kiss. It broke me up when a handful of critics asserted that I had done it purely for sensationalism, because honestly, to me, it was no big deal. This is how much emphasis I gave it: I didn’t even devote a full page to the moment. Not even a half page. It was panel 5 of a six panel page. I can’t help that the one panel was removed from the page and distributed worldwide. From a story point of view it was: Rictor and Shatterstar are finally reunited. All their old feelings come back, bubbling over, and they throw caution to the winds and kiss openly. Now on to the next thing.
Jamie: I’ve read that Shatterstar’s co-creator, Rob Liefeld, was not especially pleased with this revelation about Shatterstar’s character. Is this something that might impact how you write the character in the future?
Peter: No, not really. I respect Rob’s position, but it’s not as if I pulled this out of thin air. Previous writers had laid the track work for this. I just drove the train down it. And I’m sure not going to let a previous creator’s feelings impede what I think is the right way to go with the character, any more than I expect other writers who take over characters I’ve created or worked on extensively to impede their own creative impulses.
Jamie: All of the Republican Presidential Candidates have signed the pledge sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage which promises to support a federal constitutional amendment that defines “marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” Do you plan to address this particular issue or a similar political issue in X-Factor?
Peter: No. Ultimately my goal is to entertain, and although I have addressed social issues, I think this one would be a little too on the nose. If I start addressing political hot button issues like gay marriage, it’ll play directly to the people who declared that the only reason I decided to have them pursue their relationship openly was to push the supposed “gay agenda” of such topics as marriage rights. Which isn’t the case; I developed this storyline in order to write about a relationship, to chart the ups and downs, the emotional highs and lows. I think it would wind up cheapening it if I turn it into a political soap box in that regard. To my mind, there’s no more reason to have Rictor and Shatterstar addressing NOM’s pledge than there is to have heterosexual characters addressing it, even though they presumably are enlightened enough not to care who marries who. If I ever did address it, it would be in an oblique way such as a casual conversation, with someone like the Catholic character Banshee saying, “Letting more people get married threatens marriage? No, it doesn’t. DIVORCE threatens marriage. Fifty percent of marriages don’t end in couples turning gay; they end in divorce. If people are serious about saving the institution of marriage, let ‘em try an amendment that makes divorce illegal. No one’ll vote for it, but at least it’s a rational argument.”
Jamie: There don’t seem to be many gay characters in comics. Why do you think this is and do you think this will change in the future?
Peter: Who says there’s not many gay characters in comics? There’s probably plenty of them. There’s just not a lot of OPENLY gay characters. There’s a metric ton of characters who have never been shown as being in any particular relationship one way or the other. Why assume that they’re all straight? As far as I’m concerned, as future writers come up with stories, and as having characters be gay becomes less and less newsworthy and more just a matter of course, then gay relationships will simply be another tool in the writer’s toolbox that they’ll be able to use.
Jamie: Can the portrayal of gay characters in comics have an influence beyond the medium?
Peter: I suppose it can, particularly since more and more comics are being adapted to movies. I guess we’ll have to see who plays Rictor and Shatterstar in an X-Factor feature film.
Jamie: Would you consider yourself to be especially active in Gay Rights or politically active in general?
Peter: Active in Gay rights? No, not especially, unless you count that my wife and I attended George Takei’s wedding. My writing about gay characters doesn’t make me any more inclined to lobby for gay rights than my writing about devoutly Christian characters prompts me to start attending mass (which I doubt my rabbi would approve of). My major political activism consists of working with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a free speech advocacy group that defends the field against the kinds of people who–for instance–might feel that comic books are no place for kids to be reading about gay characters. Plus I have my website, www.peterdavid.net, where every so often I say things that come naturally to my left wing, liberal thinking which inevitably sets off right wingers who rant at me for the next week.
Jamie: Any thoughts on Occupy Wall Street?
Peter:I think it’s an impressive example of democracy in action. There’s plenty of places in the world where protestors would be machine gunned for doing what these people are doing. I just wish that the people involved had some sort of end game in mind. I mean, I understand protest with a concrete goal. I marched with my brothers and sisters in the WGA some years back, nearly getting frostbite in Times Square to try and get proper equity for writers on video release. I understand protests for gay rights, for civil rights. I get all that. But if Obama and the heads of every major bank showed up at Wall Street tomorrow and said, “Okay, who do we talk to and what do you want?” I doubt they would get any sort of coherent answer.
I suppose it comes down to Sean Connery in “The Untouchables” saying, “What are you prepared to do?” I mean, are they planning to set up shanty towns, modern Hoovervilles called Georgetowns or Barackbergs (depending on whether you blame Bush or Obama for the situation) and just live there permanently? Are they intending to storm the Bastille? Overthrow the government, arrest all the richest people and redistribute the wealth? Or are they just gonna bitch for a really long time? Personally I’m guessing it’s the latter, which is good because I don’t think anyone wants this thing to turn violent. Protest for accomplishing a goal is useful. Protest for the sake of protests, and eventually you’re just spinning your wheels. Sooner or later you wear out your welcome and the public goes, “Okay, I get it, time to move on,” and they do, and then you’re just irritating. To me, it highlights the difference between the Tea Party and the Democratic party. The Tea Party is very focused: They want Obama out of the White House, and they want government to stay out of people’s lives…except, of course, for Medicaid and Medicare and Social Security and making sure the roads are drivable and the food is edible and the water is potable and the police arrest criminals and fires get put out and deciding who can marry whom. I said they’re focused; I didn’t say they made any sense. Meanwhile the Wall Street thing is the modern day epitome of Will Rogers’ line: ”I do not belong to any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”
Big thanks to Peter David for his work and time!
More on X-Factor @ acomicbookblog.com/tag/x-factor