Perry Moore: On gay superheroes

Perry Moore is an author on a mission: to tell great stories that also challenge the way we think. His first novel, Hero, tells the story of a teenage gay superhero. But writing isn’t his only storytelling medium: Moore is also a film producer, best known for his work on The Chronicles of Narnia. He took some time out from his busy schedule of writing and producing to answer some questions for Nicole Haddad.

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courtesy Perry Moore (all rights reserved) 

That Other Paper Tell me about your first novel, Hero.

Perry Moore Hero is the epic coming-of-age story of the world’s first gay teen superhero who is the star of his own story, center stage and all. It’s not necessarily a gay book. The protagonist, Thom, is a teen struggling with becoming a hero, and he just happens to be gay. I wrote it with a real mission. It literally burned its way out of me.

TOP On your website you have an extensive list of characters in comics and the way that they are represented negatively. Did you feel a responsibility to tell a positive story about a gay superhero?

PM Absolutely yes, I wanted to tell a story about a gay superhero who wasn’t a victim, a back-of-the-bus third tier character, a villain, a joke. When I decided to write this, I imagined what story I would like to read that simply didn’t exist. And it became Hero. There is no other hero quite like Thom. Despite the obvious subtext about how your differences can empower you, which I think we all find in the pages of The X-Men, comic books have often been so derogatory in their depiction of gay characters. And you can get a sense by my other works and movie work that I have a passionate belief in the power of storytelling. I also believe that the lay of the land is often determined by those which we decide to call our heroes.

I grew up in a time where all my friends laughed at Eddie Murphy making AIDS jokes. Pretty ugly stuff. I always assumed I’d have to kill myself, that I was evil. There were simply no gay male role models to show me otherwise. And since so many of the treatments of gay characters in comic books were so outrageously bad, I decided I was going to show the world that a young man who happens to be gay can also overcome all his adversity to become a hero. The list of negative portrayals is pretty eye-popping.

TOP Is there an actual list?

PM Harper’s printed an edited version back in the fall. It’s not perfect, the list, but it’s ours. I welcome contributions and comments and corrections, because only when we address the often shoddy treatment of gay characters can we begin to change it. And it’s so important to change it. Hopefully that list will read totally different within even a year’s time. I’ve already seen it change a little – thank you to all the readers and fans who are writing in about the list!

There’s one example in particular you have to look up. This pathetic attempt at creating a gay superhero named Freedom Ring. His story and fate and the press brouhaha surrounding his demise is simply unbelievable. Thoroughly depressing. If you read about it, you’ll see how much the world needs Hero. I get at least one or two e-mails a day thanking me for writing the book, many from gay people, many from straight people, some from parents with teens struggling because they’re different – all thanking me for writing the book. That part of the writing process was totally unexpected, but connecting with the audience, which is my dream as a writer, has been so inspiring. Please let me know what you think at my website.

TOP You’ve said that the story was largely influenced by your father and your relationship with him. How is this influence reflected in the novel?

PM Wow, you’ve really done your research. I based Hal Creed, the father of the main character, on my own dad, Bill Moore, in Virginia Beach, VA. He is my true hero. Always has been, always will be. I always wanted to tell the story of my growing up in the extremely conservative South as a young gay kid, and the relationship between me and my father, who is a conservative Christian Southern Vietnam vet. The book is about longing, struggling to find your place in this universe. And Dad and I both struggled with that for very different reasons.

I couldn’t figure out how to tell the story until I decided to marry these characters and these themes with the world of comic books. What better allegory for a Vietnam Veteran who returned to a world that largely shunned vets than a fallen superhero who now toils in a factory to support his son? Writing the book was a deeply personal experience. In many ways it hurt. It was so raw. At the same time, it was also often a totally uplifting process. My best friend since I was ten, Bretta Zimmer Lewis, who is also in many ways the basis for the character Scarlett, told me when I gave her the first manuscript that she almost didn’t want anyone else to read it because it’s so deeply personal, so raw. And when I gave the book to Dad to read, he was the last one in my family that I gave the book to, his response was – well, you have to understand, my parents, like Thom’s dad in the book, come from a different generation. And when Dad was halfway through the book, I asked him what he thought so far, and he said, I’ll never forget this, “Perry, I wasn’t that much of a monster was I?” I told him to keep reading. Like I said, my father is my true hero, always has been, always will be.

TOP Your book is geared toward the young adult reader, and overzealous parents and teachers are quick to “ban” books they deem inappropriate for children. Did you worry at all about any controversy that your book might cause?

PM I believe as a writer you have a responsibility to tell the truth. That may sound strange when it comes to writing fiction, but it’s true. I learned when I came out to my family, something that had always terrified me until I did it, that the truth will set you free. And it’s absolutely true. Now the truth may be scary for some people, but you have to honor the truth when telling a story. Plain and simple. Having grown up in the South, I have a particular belief. Old bigots don’t scare me. They die. It’s the young bigots that terrify me. But, like I said, I believe in the power of good storytelling, and young people think for themselves.

Don’t believe everything you see on MTV. Young people are anything but stupid. They deserve our respect, and if you pander to them, they’ll see right through it. It’s something I’ve learned from working with the C.S. Lewis books, from working with Maurice Sendak, who generously gave me a quote for my book. We’re making a documentary on him with Spike Jonze. Never talk down to people, young, old or in between. So I guess I’ll leave the book-banning to the people who want to do that, and the reading to the people who want to want to do that. So far, I’ve only heard of the book being banned at a school in Hawaii, which according to the teacher, made all twenty copies of Hero fly off the shelves in the library and into the hands of students who wanted to read it now more than ever before.

TOP You are an avid fan of comic books. Who are your favorite superheroes?

PM What a question to answer – there are so many to choose from! I’d have to say off the top of my head Colossus of the X-Men. Here’s this big galoot of a hero, his body made of super-strong organic steel, and a true heart of pure gold inside. And he has trouble communicating the depth of his feelings which makes him all that more endearing. I fell for that character the minute I picked up my first X-Men comic when I was young, and I’ve loved him ever since. One of the all-time greats. There are so many others I love. Visiting Midtown Comics every week for the new books is a true pleasure for me.

Let’s see, what are my favorites? I’m always looking forward to the next issue of Fables. Black Hole was extraordinary – it captured teen angst so beautifully. James Sturm’s Unstable Molecules will take your breath away. I’ve always been a giant fan of the Teen Titans and the Justice League and the Legion of Superheroes since I was a kid. Apollo and Midnighter are two other characters whom I adore, just can’t get enough of them. Anything written by Alan Moore and Allen Heinberg, Lucifer was a great book, I’m sorry to see it go. Probably the best new book out there is The Umbrella Academy. If you haven’t checked it out yet, make sure you take a look. I may be very choosy about my film projects, but that’s one I believe in and would love to produce for the big screen. I’m sure there are so many more I’m leaving out. There are so many comic book characters I love. I do hope I get a chance to write some of them one day, and I’ve already been approached about perhaps doing so. Let’s see what happens.

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courtesy Perry Moore (all rights reserved) 

TOP Has there been any talk of creating a comic based on Thom?

PM There has been some talk of it. A book as revolutionary as Hero doesn’t come out without some attention. We reserved comic book/graphic novel rights, and I’d like to see that happen. But due to the nature of the book – the whole reason I wrote it is because it’s a story that simply didn’t exist in comics – I believe there’s going to be some roadblocks along the way. I’ve said it before, when it comes to LGBT characters, young adult literature is light years ahead of comic books. Light years. I think Hero, the first novel at least, would make a great twelve issue series, to be compiled as a graphic novel. I’m so curious as to what the art would look like, how the characters would be rendered.

TOP In addition to writing, you are also a producer on the Chronicles of Narnia movies. How does the mostly solo process of writing a novel compare to the much more collaborative process of making a movie?

PM They’re entirely separate endeavors, and yet doing both helps each other out a lot. Essentially it’s all storytelling. With Narnia, I am simply the luckiest fanboy in the world. I am so proud to play a modest role as part of the team that makes those movies. The lion’s share of credit, pun intended, goes to the director, the studios, C.S. Lewis’s stepson and producer Doug Gresham, the cast, and the crew – and the amazing fans – that make it all possible. It was my childhood dream to see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on the big screen. I don’t think I was alone.

As far as differences, writing a novel is certainly much more of a solitary pursuit. You don’t have a team of people helping you out with your vision. It’s all you. Well, actually, now that I think about it, that’s not entirely true. You have the characters you create, they are always there to show you the way, even when you think you’re stuck. When you do your job well as a writer, and the characters come to life, they tell you what to do. As a writer, the trick is not to get in the way. Believe me, once you breathe life into them, they have a mind of their own! I remember the first time the characters took over in Hero. It was hard to keep up, very early in the novel. From there, I tried to listen as best I could. They’re very strong-willed individuals, these characters, it’s hard not to hear them out.

I have some experience writing and directing movies, too. I just completed Lake City, an independent film I wrote and directed with my partner Hunter Hill, starring Sissy Spacek, Dave Matthews, Rebecca Romijn, Drea De Matteo, and Troy Garity. It was such an inspiring experience – I can’t wait to do it again! To be honest, good storytelling is good storytelling, regardless of format. I believe they both feed each other, in my own experience at least. I have a sincere passion and belief in the power of storytelling, so I just keep going. Good stories saved me when I was young, and largely shaped me. I can only pray my stories will have a similarly positive effect on people.

TOP Prince Caspian will be released next summer. How many more Chronicles of Narnia films are being planned?

PM We’re planning on shooting The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in the fall. From there it’s onto The Silver Chair. After that, nothing official yet. I’d love for us to do The Magician’s Nephew after that, the prequel to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. How great would it be to work with Tilda Swinton again as the White Witch!

As for Prince Caspian, director Andrew Adamson is truly a genius. He gets the heart and soul of those stories so well it’s just unbelievable. Seeing the original cast back together is magnificent – you really feel you’re part of the family. And working with those young actors has been one of the most special experiences of my life. Each one is so impressive in their own way: William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, and Georgie Henley. If you liked the first one at all, this one will brighten your day in so many unexpected ways. Wait until you meet Prince Caspian himself, Ben Barnes. He will dazzle you! And of course there’s Aslan again. There’s always Aslan. Even in the darkest of times.

TOP If there were going to be a movie version of Hero, who would you cast?

PM What a dream question. If Stan Lee gets us going in the right direction, hopefully we’ll be considering people very soon. Honestly, I have no idea. I’m relying on the fans, budding talent, and casting directors for this one. Who is young and bold enough to play the part? Maybe there are some young unknowns out there who would be perfect. I wouldn’t mind at least one of them being gay, maybe even both. I learned with Narnia that it was always best to cast the young actors who were truly the closest in real life to the characters they were playing. And I know Thom and Goran are out there.

TOP Besides comics and the Chronicles of Narnia books, what are your favorite things to read?

PM My favorite author is Margaret Atwood. I am in awe of her storytelling. I love anything that has to do with mythology, and last year there was this mythology series – which unfortunately I believe never went further than the first two books – and the series was based on modern-day authors writing about their takes on some of the classics in mythology. The first one I read was The Penelopiad, by Atwood, where she did her take on Penelope waiting for Odysseus to get home after the long-ass Trojan War. I loved it. Every page. So when I got the next book, I thought it would be a letdown. Man, was I surprised. Jeanette Winterson wrote this book about the myth of Atlas and Herakles. It’s part of Herakles’ labors, but really it’s just a blip in the mythology books that she turned into something transcendent. It was by far the best thing I read all year, no question. I hope I can achieve that something-transcendent with my stories, too. In the summer I also read the surf reports religiously every morning. I follow anything written about tennis as well. Had to add those last two so I don’t sound like a pretentious writer-type. While I love it, writing isn’t all I do or enjoy. You have to live in order to have something to say.

TOP Your next novel is hinted at on your website. What can you tell me about it?

PM I’ve actually got three books in my head and heart vying for space at the moment to get out on the page. There’s the sequel to Hero, and a new, third book I’ve just got cooking that is so out-there that I can’t even begin to describe it yet. I like writing stories that haven’t been told yet. And my next book: a reinvention of the earth and werewolf mythology and three triplets and their destiny. That’s all I’m saying. You’ll have to read the rest. I’m almost finished with it, and it’s calling me back to it all the time.

TOP Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

PM Turn off your TV. Sit back, relax, and imagine. Think about what makes you unique, and think about what story you’d most desperately like to read. Then write it!

Comments

Matthew's picture

As soon as I started read hero I imediatly liked the series. There are not many books out there that i feel like i can really relate too, and besides the whole super power thing it was very realistic. I write storys all the time and your advice is really good. I would love to write a book one day that gets as many readers as yours and also touches on the subject of being a gay teen. Im fifteen and I live with my mom and dad who happen to hate gay people. Its pretty stressful, but your book actually helped a little. thanks for writing it.

Matthew