About a decade ago, I went through my comic collection of twenty longboxes to catalog and then give away. I found, oddly, that I’d collected bits of every Aquaman run ever.
But I’d never collected a Green Lantern run. I never liked Hal, I wasn’t buying comics when John Stewart first appeared, I missed the reboot with Kyle, and I had zero interest in bringing back Hal as the main Lantern.
But Sam Humphries has made me love reading a Green Lantern comic. Green Lanterns, which features Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz, has been consistently one of the first comics I open to read when it shows up in my digital review files. I know exactly why: I love these two kids.
What Humphries has done is take the idea of “a hero without fear” and show that courage isn’t the absence of fear but the ability to overcome it. Readers see that in Jessica’s constant struggles with her anxiety disorder and Simon’s fears that he won’t be good enough to be a hero. Seeing them mature and triumph during this run has been joyful. You can find their stories in Green Lanterns: Volume 1: Rage Planet and Green Lanterns: Vol 2: Phantom Lantern, out this week.
I interviewed Humphries about his run, about his portrayal of anxiety, and how he sees the issue of representation, especially given there’s intersectionality between Jessica representing a neuro-atypical hero and a LatinX hero. And he gives a unique answer about his comic dream job.
GeekMom: Green Lanterns #15 is perhaps one of the best comics I’ve ever read portraying anxiety disorder. What went into that script and how much of your own stated anxiety issues made their way into Jess’s feelings?
Sam Humphries: I have my own struggles with anxiety. I’ve known it for about a decade, and before that, I struggled without even understanding why. What I tried to do with issue 15 was think about myself five, ten years ago, where I was with my anxiety, and think about what did I need to hear when I was really struggling? Could I have heard it in a comic book? A comic book that is also about punching things with magic rings? Who knows! I did know that there’s a lot of people out there who struggle like I do. Things like exercise, meditation, sleeping, hydrating, doing the dishes, helping others, petting a cat–these are things that saved my life, or at least, my quality of life. So, this issue was an encoded shout out to my brothers and sisters in anxiety, just to say… hey, you’re not alone! I feel you. Here’s some simple things that might help you. They helped me. You can do this. You got this.
The other thing I wanted to do was to show it from Simon’s side. People out there who have friends and loved ones with anxiety–they almost all WANT to help. But they don’t always understand what is happening or what to do. So I wanted to write something to help them too.
GM: There is some intersectionality with Jessica and Simon as representatives of people of color who aren’t usually main characters in comics. How much does knowing they are role models influence your storylines?
SH: Well, first, representation matters and diversity is important, but we will not have true representation or diversity in comics until we have it on the page AND behind the scenes. Secondly, we know that stories of marginalized people are successful in America–in film alone, we had Moonlight, Rogue One, Hidden Figures, Get Out… all within a year of each other. If someone is trying to say that diversity is not successful in comics, it really is a criticism of the marketplace, not of diversity itself.
Anyway–it means everything to me that a lot of marginalized people look to Simon and Jessica–women, people of color, Muslims, children of immigrants, people with mental illness, I’ve heard from them all. It’s incredibly meaningful. And one of the ways I try not to let them down is to write fully realized characters. Sometimes, that involves struggles and flaws. The comic industry needs to be committed to more inclusion and more representation so that no one character has to represent “all.” It is wrong for this industry to try to represent, say, billions of individual real-life Latinx people with a handful of Latinx characters. Or billions of individual real-life Muslim people with a handful of Muslim characters. It’s crazy to me that some people don’t understand this, or, to be mercenary about it, understand how it is hurting our industry. Anyway–I went broad with that.
GM: Onto Simon. You’ve introduced his family and touched on why he carries a gun when he has a Green Lantern ring. How do you see him and how do you think he’s evolved?
SH: When I started, Simon was a character chronically unable to admit that he was ever afraid. Now he’s beginning to feel the effects of that denial and coming to terms with the fact that he’s been afraid all along.
GM: What’s been the most fun part of writing this comic?
SH: I really enjoy writing Volthoom. I’ve put so much into fleshing him out, he feels like my own now. We’ve seen Volthoom working in the background, we’ve seen his expanded origin story in issue 18, we’re going to see his machinations in 22-24… then in issue 25, our extra size anniversary issue, we are going to see everything he’s done come to a head. It’s an end to what we’ve seen so far, but also a beginning of the next year of Green Lanterns. Simon and Jessica go on a mission, and they are not coming back. I’m not joking.
GM: How do you and the artist work together on the battle sequences? How much leeway do they have about drawing some of the cool effects we see in the pages? I’m particularly thinking of that circular splash page in Green Lanterns #15 as Jess’s anxiety circles her.
SH: I give enough direction to communicate the kind of impact I have in mind. But enough leeway that they can absorb that and get there via a different technique if they want. Because when it comes to visuals and art, you trust the experts!
GM: What would be your dream job in comics?
SH: I would like to be the Chairperson of the equivalent of the Federal Reserve System for the comic industry. We need a level-headed, big thinking individual to oversee the general health and policies of the industry. Someone who doesn’t work for a publisher, retailer, distributor, or similar. The Alan Greenspan of comics.