Jason Aaron: between Norse deity and comic legacy

Jason Aaron, a US comic writer made famous by  Scalped (DC Vertigo series), is one of the greatest authors of the contemporary US comic book scene. For the Marvel Comics, he has written Wolverine, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Ghost Rider, Punisher, Thor and Doctor Strange for the last decade, while dedicating himself at the Star Wars comic series. At the same time, Aaron has not stopped writing  personal and creator-owned works such as Southern Bastards, an Image Comics series created with Jason Latour (for this comic book, Aaron won the Eisner Prize as Best Writer in 2016) and Man of Wrath, with Ron Garney, for the Marvel Icon line.

After having met Aaron at LuccaComics 2017, we interviewed him to deal topics such as his relationship with the divine, the freedom of an author in a mainstream comic context, and the need to introduce a personal component in his stories.

Your version of the God of thunder is different from the spirit of the character, originally devoid of irony. The same can be said about Dr. Strange, a character pervaded by a certain seriousness that you have revitalized by giving it a sense of humor. Are these changes wanted by the editors or are freedoms that were granted to you?
I’d say those were freedoms granted to me. I definitely wanted to get across that Thor and Dr. Strange are both characters who enjoy what they do. It’s certainly not always easy for them to be who they are, and there’s a fair amount of suffering involved at times, but there’s a good deal of fun to be had as well. I’ve always wanted Thor to delight in being a god, and Dr. Strange to delight in everything that’s bizarre and weird. But I don’t see those as changes that go against the spirit of the characters. If anything I feel like I tried to embrace everything that makes those characters who they are, that makes them different from the rest of the heroes of the Marvel Universe.

The whole management of Thor series moves from religious doubt, telling the deeds of fickle gods and unworthy of the love of mortals. This overthrow seems to reflect personal convictions: to what extent does your relationship with the divine influence your Thor writing?
I think my relationship with the divine, or lack thereof, has very much influenced my Thor run. I’m an atheist writing the adventures of a super god. So I think from the very beginning, I’ve basically been writing about the sort of god I’d like to believe in. And the idea of worthiness is right at the center of that. What does it mean to be worthy? To be a good god? Those are questions Thor continues to struggle with, and those will continue to be themes for as long as I’m on the book.

What trouble you had in carrying your long-range run on a series like Thor, sometimes even keeping a secret and then revealing it three years later (like that of the famous “whisper” that made Odin’s son unworthy) in a mainstream market that foresees continuous overturning of fronts and maxievents ready to put everything in question?
Yeah, it certainly isn’t easy these days to do a long run on a character. I’ve been doing Thor for about 5 years now, I guess, and it’s all basically been one long story, yet that story has stretched across multiple series. I think it really helped me that when I started on Thor I had been at Marvel long enough to have developed a bit of confidence. Confidence in my position within the company and my relationship with editorial. Enough confidence that I was basically just able to put down roots on the character. To feel like going in that I was going to be able to stay on Thor for as long as I needed to. That freed me up to start laying tracks for some big stories that I knew wouldn’t pay off for years. And thankfully I’m still here, still writing Thor, still moving toward the ultimate conclusion that I’ve been building toward all along. I’ve kinda just refused to leave until I’m done. And thankfully nobody has tried to kick me out.

You are currently one of the deus ex machina writers in the Marvel Universe. In Legacy # 1, the legacy that young superheroes Marvel collect from “historical” characters reflects the passage of witnesses among generations of authors. How do you deal with the weight of this legacy?
I feel like my job has always been to respect that legacy, to honor the history of these characters and all the amazing stories that have come before, crafted by a cavalcade of talented creators. But at the same time, I think the best way to honor the legacy of Marvel is to tell new stories with these characters and not just pick the bones of the legendary stories of the past. So I’m always trying to move things forwards, to give these characters new challenges. The Jane Foster Thor story is a good example of that, and one I’m really proud of.

How complex and challenging was to write Marvel Legacy # 1 and to link together so many stories and stories of affairs by giving them narrative consistency?
It was quite the challenge. I’ve certainly never written anything quite that big and sprawling and overflowing with characters. But I’m happy with how it turned out. And I was really blown away by the amazing group of artists that were able to work on it.

In Men of Wrath you have given free vent to your darkest part, you could say. There is always your touch of irony, but here it turns into fierce sarcasm as well as violence, both shown and not. You say that it is your “darkest” job in the preface of the volume. What kind of America did you want to show us with this work, together with Ron Garney who really supported you?
Men of Wrath is very much about the darkest parts of where I’m from, the American South. And the darkest parts of my own family history. And the darkest parts of myself too, I suppose. But ultimately it’s a story about family. About being a father. Or better yet, how NOT to be a father.

Remaining on Men of Wrath, you have said that the tale has a very personal component: how complex was to bring back episodes related to your family history?
No matter what I’m working on, I’m always looking to bring something of myself to the page. Even if I’m writing about aliens or mutants or Asgardian gods, there still has to be some sort of real emotional connection, you know. If I’m not connecting to it on some personal level, then readers won’t either. So I think there’s a personal component to everything I write, even if you don’t always know it’s there.

You are becoming increasingly prominent in Marvel Comics. How much freedom you may ask for in decision making? How much of your will there be in post-Legacy?
Like I said, I have a great relationship with Marvel and with my editors. And I feel like I’ve earned their confidence over the years. It seems like just a short while ago that I was the new kid at Marvel. Now when I go to our Editorial Retreats in New York, I’ve been there longer than almost all the other writers in the room. So yeah, I feel like I have a fair amount of freedom. And yeah, you’ll be seeing me doing a big new project post-Legacy. The Marvel Legacy one-shot was very much the beginning of the next big phase of my Marvel career.

We thank the author and editorial staff of Panini Comics for their availability.
A thank you to David Padovani, Emilio Cirri, Federico Beghin, Paolo Garrone and Andrea Gagliardi for the collaboration.
(Italian version online here).

Signed by: Giuseppe Lamola & the True Believers

Interview by email in 2017, November

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