Conversing on Comics with Aubrey Sitterson

Aubrey Sitterson made a name for himself as the editor of such Marvel titles as The Irredeemable Ant-Man and Strange Tales, but he that behind for the world of professional wrestling. But after spending the past few years working for WWE and moonlighting for a time as editor of The Walking Dead and Invincible, Sitterson is looking to conquer the comics world as a writer.

Earlier this year Arcana published his graphic novel Worth, produced with the estate of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, and he's currently merging wrestling, comics, barbarians and aliens in the webcomic King Maul. Sitterson and artist Zak Kinsella just returned from a brief hiatus following the first issue, and promise a new page each Monday.

Wrestling and comics have a long history of overlapping each other, and Sitterson embodies that now as a comics writer while also keeping involved in wrestling with his talk show Straight Shoot. And he's not merely an internet pundit: He's conducted interviews with numerous wrestlers, from WWE headliners to independent heroes, even bringing in comics pros like Jason Aaron from time to time. In ROBOT 6's interview Sitterson, we discuss comics, his past as editor at Marvel and Image, the medium's intersection with wrestling.

Chris Arrant: What are you working on today? What’s on your desk, so to speak? 

Aubrey Sitterson: Today I've kind of got a lot on my plate. This evening I'm going live with my Straight Shoot Retro YouTube talk show. We're covering Starrcade 1989 this week (which is amazing, by the way), but I just finished watching the PPV at about 1:30 a,m, last night, and I still need to finish up all my research before the show. After the show, there's some work I'll need to do to get the audio version up as a podcast, and after that I'm hoping to take the dog for a walk before diving into a comics thing I'm working on with my pal Ramon Villalobos. Also, I think I'll probably need to eat lunch at some point.

You’re known in several circles for very different things – some for your work as a comics editor, some for your work with WWE, some for your time in video games, and some now just as a comics writer with Worth and King Maul. Is there a clear line of demarcation in how you see your work, or does it all bleed together?

Man, the thing about being a creative professional in 2014 is that you either need to be incredibly lucky or keep a million plates spinning at all times. I've definitely been more fortunate than some with the opportunities I've carved out for myself, but certainly not as lucky as others. That's why I push on absolutely all fronts. I want to write comics, host wrestling talk shows, pen think pieces on the internet and a bazillion other things. I'm hoping that once one thing gets traction, I can use that to promote and further all my other goals.

Let’s talk about the big project comics fans here would be most interested in – King Maul. I wrote about this webcomic briefly last month on ROBOT 6, but can you tell us about it, and where it comes from inside you to do something like this?

King Maul is a space barbarian. The whole project started with me wanting something I could chip away at by myself in the evenings when I was still working with WWE Games. At the time I was drawing it (horribly) by myself, but that was kind of the appeal: forcing myself outside of my comfort zone and also having the freedom to do absolutely whatever -- as long as I could draw it, which actually was pretty limiting. That's why it's so amazing to have Zak Kinsella collaborating with me, because that dude can draw anything, and he draws it all super-well.

The obvious touchstone for Maul -- like with any barbarian character -- is Conan. But I'm also trying to bring a lot of Elric to it. It's not so much a tonal consideration as it is my hoping to imitate and learn from the way Michael Moorcock would use these absolutely bananas fantasy trappings to explore some very real and very personal issues.

What are your ambitions for King Maul?

I recognize and appreciate the absurdity of talking about "very real and very personal issues" in regards to a comic about a space weed-smoking barbarian who punches trolls in the groin and swears a bunch, but I see it as a Trojan horse. There's a lot dumb and funny and fun in King Maul, and I hope people are digging that. But my real desire is for the subtext and meaning inside all of it to leap out in the middle of the night and burn your city down. I hope that while reading it, people hit a line or a panel and something clicks where they say "Ohhhhh, I get what they're doing here!" the same way I feel when powering through an Elric novel with Hawkwind on in the background.

I’ve noticed that your comics-writing work is very much different than the comics you were known to edit at Marvel and Image. Is that just coincidence or do you feel as if your comics writing ambitions are reactions to the subject matter and style made a living editing for a time?

Really? I don't disagree with you necessarily, but I also don't see much similarity between the books I've edited. I mean, Blade, Ant-Man, Walking Dead, Ghost Rider, Kick-Ass and Strange Tales were all pretty wildly different things, right?

Yes, you have edited a diverse array of comics -- but a staggering majority of them could be classified as costumed superhero comics, given your time at Marvel, as well as editing Kick-Ass, Invincible and Astounding Wolf-ManKing Maul has costumes and action but it's not in the superhero genre, and Worth is sci-fi action a la The Six Million Dollar Man. I know there's more to comics than superheroes, but is there any part of you that's consciously avoiding doing creator-owned superhero stories?

Ah! Fair enough. Definitely heavy on the superhero stuff as an editor. I absolutely love superhero stories, but it's definitely not the only thing I want to write. Plus, with the heavy, heavy market saturation of superhero stuff, unless you have a super-unique take on the genre -- like Invincible and Kick-Ass do -- then I think it can be pretty hard to pull ahead of the pack, so it hasn't necessarily been at the top of my list. Yet, at least.

Since you’ve worked for both WWE and Marvel, I dub thee a comics/wrestling hybrid expert. Both are pigeonholed as juvenile mediums, but have intense fanbases and are directly or indirectly inspiring mainstream entertainment these days. What do you think about the overlap?

I think a lot about the overlap between the two, and I think it goes way beyond the whole "adolescent power fantasy soap opera for boys!" thing (which is super-tired and reductive to the point where it's almost useless). Given enough beers I could yammer about the similarities forever, but one of the things I find most interesting, and a bit frustrating at times, is this tendency from fans of both comics and wrestling to see them both evolve into something else instead of becoming the perfect, platonic version of what they can and should be.

Let me get you to talk more about that. You're a fan in these industries and also a professional, and you also worked on the frontlines between that doing social media for WWE Games. This may be a bit anthropological, but what do you see in comics and wrestling fandom that tweaks some people to go down what could be considered these errant, reductive paths?

Let's! Get! Anthropological! I think it's a multitude of things, man, but a lot of it comes down to where this line of conversation started. In the past, both comics and wrestling have -- despite both having begun as mainstream entertainment for everyone -- evolved into more niche products, both of which carry a heavy stigma regarding who actually is partaking in the hobby. People being aware of that stigma has bred a couple contradictory impulses ...

One is what I mentioned before: Folks' urge to somehow legitimize their favorite medium by making it more like another more widely acceptable medium. It's like they're still trying to justify to the mean kids at school why they like Spider-Man or Hulk Hogan.

That past stigma also manifests itself in the us vs. them, victim mentality of the outrage industrial complex. When you get bullied or marginalized, there are a few lessons you could possibly take away from it. The first, and best option, is to realize that being shoved around sucks, and then resolve not to become one of those people. The second is to realize that being shoved around sucks and that it's much better to do the shoving. That's obviously a dick move - no one could argue with that - but the third option is more insidious.

Some folks in comics, wrestling and a bunch of other mediums as well learn firsthand that bullying sucks, but then also figure out that if there are enough of them, they can band together to start doing the shoving around themselves, but under the guise of morality. This is how you get Internet mobs with pitchforks out over every perceived slight.

A bully isn't someone who shoves; it's someone who shoves and doesn't expect to get shoved back. Bringing us back to King Maul, this is a lot of what I was walking around, poking at and ruminating over in the story's first chapter.

Who would be the best comic book character to become a wrestler, and what wrestler would be the most ideal comic book character?

So much of modern wrestling has its roots in carnivals and side shows - even the lingo grows out of old carny speak. Assuming we'd want someone who was ready to go tomorrow without a bunch of training ... I'm thinking we recruit the Goon. He's got a unique look, bodybuilder physique and was raised in a carnival sideshow, so he knows exactly how to pull in and work a mark.

As for what wrestler would make a good comic book character ... The only answer is Bray Wyatt. An apocalyptic, hulking, backwoods cult leader in a Hawaiian shirt? Someone get my fellow wrestling geek Ed McGuinness on the phone and make it happen, dammit!

What do you want to create in the future? Do you see yourself doing a little bit of everything as you do now?

I really love everything I'm working on now, and I'm kind of a really greedy, hungry guy. So just doing comics, or just doing wrestling talk shows isn't ever going to be enough for me I don't think. I'm having a blast working on all of it right now, so in a perfect world, everything keeps growing and feeding in on itself.

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