Perry Moore - On Hero and Working with Stan Lee

SDCC 08 - Stan Lee, Perry Moore Partner

At the San Diego Comic-Con this year, Perry Moore stunned comic fans when Stan Lee himself showed up at a panel on gays in comics to announce he and Moore were working to adapt Moore’s young adult novel Hero for other media. It was a moment of triumph for Moore, who’s best-known in Hollywood for producing the blockbuster Chronicles of Narnia adaptations for Walden Media.

Moore has been an outspoken advocate of gay characters in comics, even compiling an online list called “Who Cares About a Gay Superhero, Anyway?”, a compilation of the treatment of gay characters in comics inspired by Gail Simone’s “Women in Refrigerators” and the death of Marvel’s gay character Northstar (three times in one month, no less).

With Hero, he’s sought to create a gay superhero who isn’t defined by his sexuality. The award-winning novel tells the story of Thom Creed, son of Major Might, a disgraced ex-hero. Hiding his growing powers and his sexuality from his father takes a toll on Thom, which grows into a wider rift when he’s recruited by the team that once shunned his dad. But as he gets to know his teammates, Thom finds an inner strength that may help him redeem his father’s name – and to finally accept himself.

We’ve been wanting to talk to Moore for a while, and were finally able to catch him on a break from his busy schedule. Over the course of our conversation, Moore offered his frank thoughts on what he’s accomplished with Hero, how gay characters are treated in comics – and, of course, what it’s like working with Stan “The Man.”

Newsarama: Perry, the first thing I want to ask you is – did you see they just killed Northstar for the fourth time?

Perry Moore: Yeah! I’m just waiting for some fans to write in so I can post it. That list I wrote was so that people could comment on things like this, and it was a real honor to sit on that panel at Comic-Con with Gail Simone, who was my real predecessor with “Women in Refrigerators.” And I wanted to something like that with gays, to show how gays were being treated in comics.

But yeah, the latest Ultimate X-Men…they were doing such a good job with Ultimate Colossus and Northstar, and now this!

NRAMA: Northstar’s like Kenny from South Park. He just keeps…dying.

PM: Yeah. In Wolverine, the last page of the last issue, they ripped out Colossus’ heart. It’s really weird and really retro.

What was great about San Diego was that there were like a thousand of us in that room, and when Stan Lee came in at the end, everyone was applauding as he came up and embraced me and talked about adapting Hero with me…for young gay people, to see that there is and can be a young hero who is gay, or that gay is not the singular trait that defines that character, is wonderful.

And that’s why I wrote Hero, by and large. And unfortunately, many people will read the list without reading the book and go online and comment about the list, and I say, “Well, have you read this book?” Because the list was intended as a way to turn people on to Hero. It was a way to say, “Here’s how it can be done.”

And it takes a page from C.S. Lewis – it’s an allegory for me and my dad, these two souls who feel, for very different reasons, like they don’t fit in. My dad was a Vietnam vet, and he came back to a world he didn’t understand, and I grew up gay in the very conservative Christian South, and I felt like I didn’t fit in, for obvious reasons. And I thought that the novel was the best way to tell my story, and I had this love of comic books, so it all came together.

And the message of the books is that gay, straight, black, white, young or old, the very thing that makes you different isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you embrace it, it can be the most empowering thing in your life. And I think that’s what Thom learns in Hero, and that’s why his powers evolve as the novel moves on.

It’s funny, because it proves one of my points…the first time they clawed Northstar to death, the first time I did the list, there was a version printed in Harper’s, and I printed the age range for Wolverine costumes. They went down to four years old, and sure enough there was a four-year-old running around at San Diego in a Wolverine costume. And I wrote on the list, “Northstar costume not available for impaling.” (laughs)

It’s really sad – I feel like we’ve taken giant steps backward. My parents taught me two things. One, they sacrificed a lot for my education, so they taught me the pen is mightier than the sword. And I have turned that into a career, and I owe that largely to them, and to hard work, and to wonderful authors I have read.

The other is that no one was put on this planet to ride on the back of the bus. And I can’t believe it took us this long to put a gay superhero out there – and that I was the first one to do it! And getting to adapt it with Stan Lee is just a dream come true.

NRAMA: How did you come into contact with Stan?

PM: He read the book! (laughs) He read the book and called me up. It was like the ultimate fanboy moment, you know? Just like Narnia was the ultimate moment for me as a reader – that was my favorite book since my mom gave it to me as a kid, and I tracked it throughout my career. And I ended up in the perfect place at the perfect time at Walden Media to get the rights and make the movie.

The book was different from doing a movie, obviously – I just sat down and wrote it, and it just burned a hole right out of me. And it’s been so great. Stan Lee is just a joy to work with.

NRAMA: So is the adaptation going to be for film, TV or another medium?

PM: I can’t say! I don’t think they’ve announced the medium yet. That’s really for Stan to say. But we have a deal to work on it together with…actually, I don’t think I can tell you that either! (laughs)

NRAMA: Well, what’s the process of working with Stan like, and what do you feel he’s added to your original story?

PM: Oh, he’s fantastic! He would ask these questions….he got me to think visually in a lot of ways, which is funny as I try to write cinematically, seeing as that’s my background. But Stan would ask things like…in the first section of the book, when Thom first uses his powers, he would ask some very specific questions like, “What does that look like? Does it manifest itself as heat? Do his hands glow? Do they glow in color? Is he trying to hide it from other people? Can other people see it? Is he conscious of it?” They were very specific questions that only Stan Lee would ask. (laughs) They only made it better. The pitch we worked on when we took it out in Hollywood – we had it down to a T, and we got a couple offers, which was nice, as we got to pick the channel we wanted to go with.

NRAMA: It’s got to be a hell of a thing, getting Stan Lee as a mentor…

PM: (laughs) It’s so cool! First of all, he’s so full of energy and life – age is not an issue. But there’s something really cool about someone who’s still doing his thing – he’s still as committed to it as he ever was. There’s so many people who just have their moment in whatever field and have their glory days, and Stan is always looking for new ways to approach different angles of the superhero, and this was an approach he hadn’t seen before.

He was just so great, and made me feel like a million bucks when we went to some of these meetings – saying I had done the heavy lifting by writing this book and creating these characters, and finding the way to tell the story of characters who, as he said (imitates Lee), “They’d be interesting even if they didn’t have superpowers!”

That’s what I tried to do with Hero – it really is about what’s behind the mask, and what makes you a hero inside. The older generation of heroes in my book is very familiar, and the ones you follow more closely are more original and lead more realistic lives and face more realistic challenges. I had my own story to tell, and no one had told it yet, and it’s been so great to get emails from people who’ve read the book – everyone gets something different out of it, it’s not just young gay people. There have been people who have gay friends and relatives, and now they have the opportunity to understand their experience – and parents who have kids who are gay. And schools, because they just don’t have tools for that experience! It’s shocking that there’s nothing else like this out there, but there isn’t.

NRAMA: Aside from Stan, obviously, what individual response to Hero has meant the most to you?

PM: There have been some young people like me who grew up gay, and felt like they didn’t have a choice, that they had to kill themselves because they had everyone around them telling them they were going to Hell, they had very few role models – or the ones who are out there and are very different than they are maybe very stereotypical to a degree. And I’ve literally gotten letters saying, “Thank you for saving my life. Thank you for inspiring me.” When you write young adult literature, that’s the best news you can get. That’ll make you fly high. I mean, talk about a superhero! (laughs) Anyone who can do that, that’s the be-all end-all. Connecting with a story like that…no one could ask for anything more than that.

NRAMA: What made you want to tell Thom’s story as a novel, as opposed to a screenplay?

PM: It would never get made! (laughs) My last name isn’t Coppola. I’m not some hot video director. No one’s going to put the amount of money you’d need to make a movie of that – they’d be too afraid of it. You’d need a huge star, maybe, but there’s no young star that’s big enough, box-office wise.

I like pure stories – this was a book first for me. There’s a pure freedom when you write. A book is a book – it doesn’t have to go on and become something else. The finished product –well not always – it’s usually fine as it is. It’s a tremendous responsibility, because the success and the blame of the book’s quality falls on you. You can’t blame it on anyone else. It can be a lonely affair – well, once you invent the characters, they’re there with you, leading you along the way.

Movies are done by committee – the directors, the studios, the stars – there’s a lot of places where they can get you. I was lucky to have a great publisher and editor and agent, but you have to write a great book! That’s it. Books are a business, like Hollywood, but I guess they’re a little less of a business – you have the freedom to tell the story you want. And I knew this might be a little groundbreaking in what it was, and I might have trouble getting away with it, but I wanted to tell the full, complete story that I wanted to tell.

NRAMA: You’ve got your Hollywood work, obviously, but are there any plans to continue Thom’s story in prose?

PM: Ohhhhhh yes. I’m gonna tell plenty of stories. I think one of the first things I did when I finished the book was to map out the first sequel, and I’ve started mapping out the second sequel. But I have another book I’ve just finished, which will probably come out before the first sequel to Hero. That one is a bit of a younger fantasy. It’s about these triplets – this girl and her two brothers – who find they’ve inherited a gift and a curse, and it completely rewrites the werewolf mythology. I’m a big fan of mythologies, and rewriting them when I can. I drew a little more from Narnia in this one. I’m very excited about it, it’s going to be great, and then another Hero book. And we’re going to be doing another Narnia movie in between.

NRAMA: So you’re going to be busy for roughly the next decade.

PM: (big laugh) I got a little bit on my plate, yeah.

Next: Moore discusses the superhero books that influenced him growing up, his thoughts on his most and least favorite gay characters in comics, and more.

Hero is in stores now.

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