Sterling Gates is a comic book creator from Tulsa, Oklahoma, the son of a comic book store owner who fulfilled his dream of creating stories for DC Comics, including a fantastic run on Supergirl as well as stories involving Superman and Green Lantern. He currently writes the new DC Comics series Vibe, but has also recently wrote the prequel comic for the Man of Steel movie as well as script work for the upcoming superhero movie The Posthuman Project.
Sterling took the time to talk with Renegade Cinema at a recent autograph signing for the prequel comic he wrote for The Posthuman Project.
I’ve been friends with [screenwriter] Matthew Price for…gosh, over a decade. Matt was my boss when I worked at his comic store in Norman (Speeding Bullet Books and Comics) during college. We’ve been close friends ever since, and he called me as he was developing Posthuman’s story. I’ve been writing comic books professionally for the last seven years, so Matt called to bounce ideas for Posthuman off me and talk through the story. Matt wrote an initial draft of the script, then sent it to me and [director] Kyle Roberts. I presented my thoughts on it to Kyle and Matt, and they asked me to rebreak the story and rewrite the script based on my notes.
A lot of that rewrite had to do with structure and punching up character beats and dialogue; Matt had delivered a 90-page superhero feature screenplay, but Kyle was interested in pursuing Posthuman as a webseries. That meant redesigning the story so that it was told in ten-to-twelve page increments, each one dealing not only with what happened in the previous chapter, but telling a great ten minute story and ending in a “dun dun dunnnn” cliffhanger to get you to come back the following week.
We spent a lot of time last year — a few months, I think — figuring out how to deliver those moments without sacrificing the character stuff or hurting the overall story. The draft I wrote became the shooting draft.
You got your break when you worked on Blade the television series. While you have been writing comics for so long now, is it very different to write a comic book script and writing a movie script like this? Or is it pretty much just stepping into the same shoes?
Well, my training in college was in film and video production. I focused a lot on screenwriting when and where I could, and I moved to Los Angeles because I wanted to write for television. Through a very, very long story that I won’t bore you with, I became a comic book writer instead. I’ve written a ton of television spec scripts over the years, but never anything feature-length. I think my draft of Posthuman was somewhere close to 115 pages.
Like I said, we designed this story to be told in increments, so the serialized-comic-book part of my brain kicked in as I looked for those exciting cliffhanger moments that would hopefully bring you back week-to-week. My training in comic book writing and screenwriting sort of merged together for this web series project. I haven’t seen anything but the trailer, so hopefully it all works. [laughs]
You also wrote the prequel comic, at about the same time as writing your Man of Steel prequel comic. How different is it to work on a smaller level with independent filmmakers, people that are trying to get their feet off the ground, compared to working on something on a grand scale like Man of Steel?
It was a lot less paperwork. The Man of Steel prequel comic was such an amazing job. I’m very, very thankful that DC Comics asked me to write that. It was a very intense process, though. [DC Comics Chief Creative Officer] Geoff Johns called me out of the blue one day and asked if I wanted to write a comic starring Supergirl, a.k.a. Kara Zor-El. Geoff really liked what I did on DC Comics’ Supergirl series, and he said that as soon as they figured out the Man of Steel prequel was going to star Kara Zor-El, he thought of me. Which is extremely humbling, to be remembered for the work you did on a certain character years ago.
I met with Geoff that week. He took me through the story that he and (Man of Steel director) Zack Snyder and (Man of Steel screenwriter) David Goyer had come up with, and then Geoff sent me over to the Warner Brothers lot. I went to Zack’s office, and they locked me in the room with the Man of Steel script and a nondisclosure agreement as thick as your forearm. [laughs]
It took me four hours to read the script twice, and they didn’t even give me the ending! So I didn’t know what happened to General Zod or how Clark saves the day! [laughs]
Which was totally fine, the prequel comic dealt with a lot of Kryptonian society stuff, so I didn’t need to know the movie’s ending, anyway. They mostly wanted me to have a feel for what this version of Krypton was like, how their society worked with all the genetic engineering, how it was different from other versions of Krypton in other Superman stories and media, etc.
I developed a page-by-page breakdown of the story with Geoff, and then we sent it up the chain through everyone’s offices for approval — Warner Brothers, [Man of Steel producer] Christopher Nolan, Goyer, and the Snyders. It took some time, but the approvals all came back and I started writing the script!
For the Posthuman book, Matt emailed me some ideas about this fortune teller and the Posthuman kids. I wrote the comic script overnight and sent it back to Matt…and that was it. There was no need for a lot of approvals — it was just as simple as coming up with a story and typing it out, then emailing it over to Matt and Kyle. The next thing I knew, it was being drawn and here we are, however many months later, signing copies of it alongside the Posthuman cast.
I was talking to Matt a little while back before you got the deal with Vibe, and he mentioned that you had some independent stuff that you were getting off the ground. Do you have something that is just your stuff outside of DC Comics that people might want to check out?
Yes and no. Yes, I am working on other things, but, no I can’t tell you.
I mean, I know that is such a vague answer, but I am developing somethings and I can’t talk about them. I’ve been very blessed to be working a lot with DC Comics right now — I’m doing three of September’s Villains Month books — but developing original projects is something that’s important to me. Unfortunately, developing that stuff is like taking on a whole other full-time job. You become the person who has to hunt down artists and inkers and colorists and letterers. It’s a staggering amount of work just to produce your own book.
I was actually very impressed with how well the Posthuman prologue book turned out. Kyle, Matt and [artist] Mario Wytch did a great job. We hired a fantastic letterer named Deron Bennett who got this book lettered overnight, and we scored a wonderful Javier Saltares cover. It’s a really nice package overall, and I’m beyond happy with how it turned out.
I think that’s a very fair assessment of the piece. The teenage superhero genre is something I really enjoy writing, and obviously Kyle is the world’s biggest John Hughes fan.
There’s a power in writing about young people whose lives are going through drastic, dramatic changes, both physically and mentally. I think the material lends itself to the power of self-discovery, of learning about who you are even as you learn about these amazing powers you’ve been given. It’s a great springboard for character work and action. If you’re familiar with my work at all, you’ll see similar themes pop up in everything from Supergirl to Posthuman to Hawk & Dove to Vibe. I’ve found that taking a teenager through some of the hardest times of their lives while they learn to come to grips with their powers is a fascinating place to start a story.
Posthuman was a natural extension of what I enjoy writing. I think we’ve put together a good story, too, and I love that so much of it is being produced in Oklahoma, starring in Oklahoma cast, and shot with an Oklahoma crew. I live in Los Angeles now, but I was born and raised in this state. “Sooner-born,” so to speak. I’ve got a lot of pride for my home state. Kyle has done a really nice job of putting together a production that comes from both the heart and the heartland, and I can’t wait where it goes.