When I first read my review copy of Dear Justice League, I fell in love with it. It’s a charming book where children get to write letters and emails to their favourite heroes and ask them for advice. Such a wonderful idea! I loved the concept so much that it came with me to America for a photoshoot when I attended the 2019 Superman Celebration in Metropolis, Illinois.
The book has now been released in and is entertaining readers of all ages around the world. I was lucky enough to recently speak with Michael Northrop, who wrote the book, and dive into a mind that has managed to bring my favourite heroes to life in such a charming way.
Luke Bugg: In the book children write questions to their heroes. Did you send fan mail to anyone when you were a child and who were your real-life heroes? Did you have any questions as a child which were always on your mind?
Michael Northrop: Those are great questions. I wish I had super memory to help me answer them! I don’t think I sent any fan mail. I lived in a very small town, and it felt very far from the big places where people were doing big things. I think my heroes just felt too far-off and inaccessible. In my defense, this was before the internet, when all our heroes are just a tweet away!
My real-life heroes were mostly sports stars and actors: Tom Selleck (Magnum!), Harrison Ford and his Blade Runner nemesis Rutger Hauer, a few different James Bonds, much of the then sad-sack New England Patriots.
As a kid, a lot of the questions on my mind were about what was going on in my Dungeons & Dragons campaign. I split my time pretty well between fantasy and reality.
LB: DJL encourages children to do the right thing and how important it is to work as a team. How was it to work with Gustavo Duarte as your writing combined with his artwork is amazing and it seems you’re both on the same page (excuse the pun!)?
MN: Oh yeah, Gustavo and I definitely see eye-to-eye on these heroes, and a lot of that comes from our childhood. He grew up in Brazil, and I grew up in the U.S., but we both grew up watching The Superfriends cartoon (especially Challenge of the Superfriends) and reading comics. I don’t know when he first saw the Richard Donner Superman movies, but they definitely made a huge early impression on me. The goofy Adam West Batman show too. Those were sunnier, more kid-friendly takes on superheroes, and even as comics kept getting darker, grittier, and more adult-focused, a part of me held onto those bright early impressions. I think for both Gustavo and I, Dear Justice League is kind of our own fan letter to these incredible characters we’ve known our entire lives.
LB: Where did you find inspiration for the wonderful questions inside the book? Did you ask any children?
MN: I did a lot of brainstorming. There were a lot of questions written down (and mostly crossed out) on a yellow pad. I spent a lot of time thinking about the different heroes and trying to come up with questions that would get at something essential about who they are. I also wanted to make sure I had a few sillier questions. I used to be a standup comedian, and writing those was a lot like my old days of writing jokes.
LB: Now, a question that often gets asked to Superhero creators is “what super powers would you have?”, and I am sure you have answered that one a lot! What I’d like to know is what would your power and name be if you were a Super-villain?
MN: Oooh, that is a fun question! To me, the best (worst!) villains are deceivers, like Scar in The Lion King or Mastermind in the Dark Phoenix saga. Just the unfairness of it all. It burns, especially for kids. To make people their own worst enemies, to turn friend against friend—now that’s villainy! So my name would be Shadow Spy, and I would have the power to create illusions in people’s minds.
LB: Talking of villains, news has been shared that DJL has already gotten a second book but this time it will focus on the bad guys and girls. Great news! Are you able to share who it will feature or is it top secret? You can be cryptic if you like!
MN: Thanks! I am so excited about Dear Super-Villains! The lineup is basically the Legion of Doom, but the Legion has varied quite a bit over the years. It was just like with the Justice League: some core members were non-negotiable, but I got to make some judgment calls too. Harley Quinn is in—she’s the perfect wild card! And then I think people will be surprised by one or two villains who aren’t there and by another one who is. (How’s that for cryptic? )
LB: Why do you think Superheroes are still relevant to people of all ages after nearly a century of comics?
MN: To me it goes back a lot longer than a century, almost to the beginning of human history. Superheroes are a common mythology for us—a familiar, iconic set of heroes, villains, and superhuman beings. They’re our Hercules and Beowulf, our Loki and Grendel. They give us something to aspire to or react against. They help us define our own values and identities through stories. A straightforward battle between good and evil offers some clarity in a complicated world. And when life feels unfair, it’s reassuring to see some justice.
LB: My Nieces Of Steel have read the book and they love it as much as I do. They have a few years between them so I think it’s fantastic that the book is targeted to readers of all abilities and ages. How did you tackle that when writing?
MN: I’m happy to hear that! (No one wants trouble with the Nieces of Steel!) I wish I could take credit, but I mostly just got out of the way and let Gustavo’s amazing art do the heavy lifting. The book is really built around intuitive, visual storytelling. The DC approach, traditionally, has been that the words are extra, and that you should be able to follow a good comic just with the pictures. I really took that to heart. For long stretches of the Dear Superman section, for example, the only words are the sound effects. And Gustavo’s art gives readers so many ways into the story: the expressions on the heroes’ faces, the action, the physical comedy. He’s the real hero here! Haha!
LB: There are many DC heroes and villains that could appear in future books and I’d love to read them all! Now, there are also animals in the DC Comics universe…If you could ask a question to any of the Super-Pets, what would you like to know?
MN: Oh, yeah, I am fascinated by the animals. I could try to come up with something really intellectual here, but I’m pretty sure I would just end up asking Krypto “Who’s a good boy?” over and over while I was petting him!
LB: What advice would you give to someone who would like to look into starting writing?
MN: That’s tricky because there’s no one right way to write. I often read writing advice from excellent writers that seems like total nonsense to me. It’s not that they’re wrong. It’s just that what works for them doesn’t work for me. I can share a few books that have really helped me, though. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud is the gold standard for comics, and The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics by Denny O’Neil is full of really straightforward and practical advice. Stephen King’s On Writing is the best book I’ve ever read on writing, in general.
LB: What are you currently working on and what are your plans for the future?
MN: Right now I am knee-deep in Dear Super-Villains. I’m very excited because I’m about to start the Gorilla Grodd section, and he is one of my all-time favorites. After that, I’ve got a bunch of ideas—for comics and also for my other life writing (prose) novels for young readers. We’ll have to wait and see what the publishers have to say about all that, though!
That was fun! Michael, thank you so much for allowing me to get into the mind of an author and I can’t wait for Dear Super-Villains, I am keeping my fingers crossed for a Bizarro appearance!
Dear Justice League is available in some book and comic shops now and will be released online on August the 6th.