Acclaimed writer Jason Aaron was honored with a spotlight “Secret Origins” panel “Secret Origins” panel moderated by CBR’s Jonah Weiland at Emerald City Comicon to talk about how everything from how he became a full-time comic writer to his latest project, the ongoing “Southern Bastards” from Image Comics. The panel kicked off with Aaron asked to give a quick pitch for “Southern Bastards,” which made the writer hesitate slightly before answering. “All I’ve been telling people is it’s a Southern crime book. The first trade is essentially the pilot episode. It’s only once you get to the end of the first trade that you know what it’s really about.” He said it has some things in common with “Scalped,” but funnier and compared it to be a Coen Brothers movie.
“I went the first several years of my career doing Wolverine, Punisher, ‘Scalped,’ a lot of grim people killing,” Aaron said. “I don’t know if I’m a very funny guy,” he admitted. “I’m sarcastic. I like trying to be funny.”
While the humor found in “Amazing X-Men” was something different for him as a reader, and wondered how intentional a choice that was for Aaron. “For me it’s a continuation. It’s the endcap on ‘Wolverine and the X-Men.’ When I got my X-Men book after ‘Schism,’ I wanted to do something that was a little more fun,” he said. “I like serious, gritty stories but sometimes — especially with superheroes — we forget they’re superhero books. We want to be taken so seriously we make them dark and I wanted to embrace them as comic books.” Aaron wanted to make something strange, but [artist] Chris Bachalo made things stranger.
“I wrote Doop in as a joke. I had him man an information booth and Chris kept putting him elsewhere and I thought, ‘well, I have to explain why Doop is here,'” Aaron said. “Then I wrote this Doop one-shot Mike Allred drew and there’s a page where Doop is fighting the League of Nazi Bowlers. Once you do that, you know what kind of series it is.
“It got wackier as it went along, but it wasn’t a joke book,” Aaron said, explaining that growing up he loved light-hearted superhero books like “Justice League of America” and “Blue Devil,” and there aren’t many books like that anymore.
Turning to his current run on “Thor: God of Thunder,” Aaron said the book he never expected to write has been a source of tremendous joy for him. “Hopefully I’m always having fun. The day it stops being fun, I’ll quit,” Aaron said of his time on the book. He also admitted he hadn’t read much “Thor,” though he was a big fan of Walter Simonson’s run.
“I was supposed to write another book and out of the blue I thought, ‘I’d like to write Thor.’ [Marvel editor-in-chief] Axel [Alonso] said, ‘okay, it’s you and Esad [Ribic].” For Aaron, the epic scope of the story was knowing he had a great artist working on the book with him. The writer began reading the original “Journey Into Mystery” issues with Thor and trying to gain an appreciation for the character.
“It was the right character at the right time,” Aaron explained. “It was dark, but I do a lot of the crazy stuff I like. I said I wanted it to be ‘dark Kirby’ where it’s imaginative, but there’s space sharks. I like that combination.”
Aaron admitted that there’s an undercurrent of faith and belief in much of his work, and that despite him being an atheist for half his life Thor is the god he would want to believe in. “It’s a book about gods and I wanted to lean into the fact from the get go that Thor is a god,” Aaron said. “I don’t like in the movies where the Asgardians are aliens.”
The epilogue of the first story features Thor returning to Earth and Asgard after his adventure and a series of small interactions with people, from visiting a prisoner about to die to drinking with veterans to visiting Jane Foster, which many people found touching. “It speaks to the idea of me writing about a god I would like to believe in.”
Turning to his years with the “X-Men,” Aaron explained how he settled on which mutants would comprise his team. “I wanted to pick characters from all eras of X-Men history,” Aaron said. “A lot of people have one era they associate with — which is usually when they first started reading the book. I was more of a DC guy so if I had a job writing ‘Teen Titans’ tomorrow, I would go with the Wolfman-Perez era ones. I didn’t get into X-Men until later. The [Grant] Morrison run is probably my favorite run on X-Men. Credit goes to Chris Claremont for many different runs.”
Asked if he ever considered giving up his dream of being a writer after winning a Marvel talent search for writers and not getting any more work for several years following his initial story, Aaron said no, but admitted the journey was a frustrating one.
“I pitched to every Marvel editor I could, he said, including a story of the Punisher in Vietnam and the death of Captain America. When he came up with the idea for “The Other Side,” he pitched it to every company he could and was rejected everywhere.
“I sent it to Will Dennis at Vertigo and he turned me down two or three times. I was politely persistent,” Aaron said. “I had written the first issue script and sent it to him and a few months later he called and said he really liked it and that was my break. After I’d written a couple issues of ‘The Other Side’ he said, ‘Pitch me something else,’ and I pitched ‘Scalped.'”
With a knowing smile, Weiland asked Aaron to talk more about the job he held prior to writing comics full-time, which made Aaron laugh. “I worked in a warehouse in Kansas City filled with adult novelty items,” the writer said. “I was literally surrounded by stacks of pornography and I would be talking to Will on the phone about ‘The Other Side.’ At some point in the midst of this I sent a box of porn to the DC offices to grease the wheels and coincidence or not, I became a professional comics writer,” he said to laughter from the audience.
Going from “Scalped” to “X-Men” may seem like a stretch for some people, but it doesn’t feel that way to Aaron. “I like that week to week I’m writing different kinds of stories. I don’t have a formula for writing a comic script. Week to week it’s a very different challenge,” he said. “I would go crazy if I was just writing ‘Scalped’ all the time. Same with ‘Wolverine and the X-Men.’ I have to be able to mix it up.”
When asked about his “Joker’s Asylum: Penguin” one-shot, Aaron credited editor Mike Marts, who at Marvel picked him as the Wolverine talent search winner. “He’s always portrayed as a goofy guy then he became a suit and tie mastermind guy and I wanted to show him as this really creepy guy,” Aaron said. “Charles Manson is a really creepy dude and you wouldn’t want to be in the same room as him, but you wouldn’t be physically threatened by him. I wanted to make the penguin creepy again,” he said explaining that he signed his Marvel exclusive deal around that same time which put an end to his time in Gotham City.
Aaron is currently telling the story of old Thor fighting old Galactus in the future, while in the present day Thor is fighting a different battle to save the Earth. It was born out of wanting to make an equally big story as the first one. “I could have written twenty pages of these two old dudes talking over soup,” he said.
The writer admitted to being very conscious of criticism of “Scalped.” “The title itself could be pretty controversial,” he pointed out. “I’d just written ‘The Other Side’ about the Vietnam War, which was a pretty controversial subject.” In the end, Aaron said he approaches all of his writing the same way. “I try to write characters that are honest,” admitting that while some of the characters in “Scalped” can be described as stereotypes, they’re also real characters.
As far as push back from Native Americans, “99.99 percent of Native Americans I heard from or talked to were positive. I mean it’s not a book for everyone. It’s a very dark crime book,” Aaron said. “A lot of people liked the fact that we did a book about Native Americans that featured a Native American cast. People, if nothing else, liked that.”