Sterling Gates is an OU alumni and noted writer for DC Comics, where he has written some of the company’s most popular characters including Superman, Supergirl, The Justice League, and Green Lantern. Life & Arts reporter Sama Khawaja sat down with Gates for an interview about his career in comics, his time at OU and what it’s like to write some of the most iconic characters in American pop-culture.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
Gates: My name is Sterling Gates, I’m a writer. I primarily write comic books, notably for DC Comics. I’ve written a number of titles for DC including “Superman,” “Justice League,” “Supergirl” and “V.I.B.E.” Right now I’m writing a series about a group called Argus, a superspy organization in the DC Universe.
Q: How did you come to work for DC Comics?
Gates: Well, I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. My parents owned a comic store in Tulsa and so comics were always a big part of my upbringing, superhero comics particularly. I moved to California because I wanted to write for television.
I ended up working on a TV show called “Blade: The Series” which was produced by a man named Geoff Johns. I was a writer’s room production assistant, which basically meant that the writer’s room would summon me and I would run off to get coffee or buy notepads. I was an errand boy essentially. But what that did was put me in contact with people that were actively writing for television. So it was a really great learning experience.
Through that experience I became friends with Geoff Johns. He was going to write and direct a movie called “Robot Chicken” and he hired me to be his personal assistant. I worked for him for over a year and then when we were talking about comics one day he said, “It’s a shame you only write for television and you won’t write for comics.” And I said, “I’d love to write for comics.” He didn’t know that I’d done comics in college. My capstone project here at OU was a comic that I co-wrote and drew.
And so Geoff essentially took me under his wing and trained me how he writes superhero comics. At a certain point in that training process he introduced me to his editors. They said to pitch a story and so I started pitching stories. DC bought some and that’s how everything got started.
Q: When you graduated from OU, what did you expect to do with your degree?
Gates: I wanted to write for television. To put it in perspective, the quote we always use is there are more people playing professionally for the NBA than there are writers writing comics and making a living. I had better odds of perfecting a jump shot than I really did of writing comics for a living.
And so, I never really thought that was going to be something I would do. Every TV show employee is in the writer’s room so you’re looking at 10 to 12 slots depending on the size of the show. The odds of that were much greater as long as I kept at it. Honestly, through Geoff’s guidance and mentorship I started writing for DC. I owe my career to him, for all intents and purposes.
Q: How do you see yourself? Has anything changed since you started working for DC?
Gates: I think of myself as a writer first and foremost. I like the work that I do and I’m proud of the work that I do. I didn’t set out writing comics to seek fame. Fame was never part of it. I really wanted to work for DC in part because of the joy and excitement that those characters gave me when I was 16 years old. And so my goal was hopefully to tell some good stories that offered the same type of happiness and joy in people’s lives that those characters offered me.
Q: Any advice to future students who plan to go into the comic industry?
Gates: I write a lot and I read a lot and I find those the two most valuable skills to have. A lot of the time people will say that they can’t draw so I ask how often they practice drawing. And they say, “Never. I can’t draw. Why would I practice drawing?”
It frustrates me because drawing and writing both, are much like muscle-building. You go to the gym and you work out that set of muscles and over time you see a lot of improvement in those muscles. Writing and drawing are skillsets and if you exercise and continually foster those skillsets eventually they become something great. Practicing different types of writing is very, very important because everything adds in to the writing muscle. Reading is essentially the protein that feeds that writing muscle. And so the answer is, and it’s so cheesy, is to read a lot and write a lot.
Q: What’s the best part of working for DC?
Gates: Getting to work with characters that I love.
Q: Do you miss Oklahoma?
Gates: Yes. I like Oklahoma. I spent 25 years here so it’s a part of me and my upbringing. You leave Oklahoma but it doesn’t leave you.
Gates’ latest comic, “Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S.” #5, hits shelves Feb. 26 from DC Comics. He also recently contributed a story to the premiere issue of “Speeding Bullet Comics Presents,” to be published by Norman’s own Speeding Bullet Comics later this Spring.