Like so many Oklahomans before him, Sterling Gates moved west in search of success. His journey has been a colorful one, with more than a few unexpected twists, but his hard work and perseverance has paid off. After working as a production assistant in television and film, and doing a year and a half of sporadic scripting gigs at Superman and Batman's home of DC Comics, Gates recently took over full-time writing duties on "Supergirl."
His premiere issue, No. 34, will touch down on retail shelves and racks across the nation on Oct. 1.
Comics have been a part of the native Tulsan's life since he was 4.
"The first comic I remember reading was a "Fantastic Four" issue," he said. "Doctor Doom had sent the Baxter Building into space and blown it up with the Fantastic Four inside. That was the coolest, craziest thing of all time! Three years later, my parents opened a comic book store, so instantly, my garage became a library of comic books. I just ate and breathed comics for a long time."
His leap from comic book fan to creator began in 2005. Six months after graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a film degree, Gates moved to Los Angeles with a goal of working in television, but the transition was difficult.
"The first five weeks, I kind of went through this big culture shock/homesickness phase," he said.
During this time, he chose to attend a comic convention in San Francisco with a friend. That decision would change his life forever.
That weekend, Gates and his friend spotted comic book and television writer Geoff Johns and DC Comics editor Steve Wacker. Gates' pal, who had been drinking, flipped out.
"He was saying, 'Oh, my God! You're the greatest writer in history!' It was super-embarrassing," Gates recalled. "They were really nice and understanding. Everyone's had the embarrassing drunk friend."
Later that night, upon entering an all-night diner, they saw Johns and Wacker waiting in line for a table. Gates struck up a conversation with Johns, and they ended up being seated at adjoining tables.
As an apology for the earlier incident, Gates told Johns and Wacker he was paying for their bill.
"Geoff is eating and without missing a beat, he looks up and says, 'Do you want a job?' I respond with, 'What?' and Steve Wacker says, 'What?' and my friend says, 'What?' Geoff says, 'Give me your card and e-mail Steve your résumé this week.'"
'BLADE' OF GLORY
He sent it, but when he didn't hear back immediately, Gates feared that the opportunity had passed. Then, one Tuesday morning, as he ate Froot Loops and watched "Gilmore Girls," his phone rang. The "very scary, very deep voice" on the other end identified himself as being with the Spike TV show "Blade: The Series," on which Johns served as writer and consulting producer. The man said Johns had forwarded Gates' résumé to the staff, and they wanted to interview him for a writer's production assistant gig in precisely 30 minutes.
"L.A. is jammed with cars, so getting anywhere in 30 minutes is completely absurd," Gates said. "Not to mention, I hadn't shaved in a week. I looked horrible."
With little time to spare, he rushed through a shower and shave, slicing his neck in the process. Holding a roll of paper towels against his wound, he raced down the highway.
"I get to the office building," Gates recalled. "I run into the lobby covered in blood and scream, 'Where's your bathroom?' I think the receptionist thought I had been attacked."
After quickly cleaning up, he headed upstairs for his interview. Gates feared he blew the interview, but got the job, which he started in February 2006.
Unfortunately, "Blade: The Series" didn't last long " a single-season victim to poor ratings. Fortunately, its demise allowed him to assist Johns with comic work. Over lunch one day, Johns told Gates he thought he'd do some "really cool stuff" and prompted Gates to pitch to DC editors.
His ideas were well-received and led to his first published story, a Green Lantern Corps tale. His next project was a Green Lantern "who's who" co-written with Johns; it took six months to research. That task resulted in Gates' first full-issue writing job, tackling two issues of "Green Lantern Corps."
Bolstered by these first successful forays, Gates decided to try for something bigger. He had heard rumors that DC was looking for a writer for "Supergirl"; he had been a fan of Superman's cousin since childhood.
After reading a lot of unsuccessful takes on Supergirl in recent years, Gates was excited at the prospect of bringing his vision to life, so he wrote a plan and a spec script, which he pitched.
Said Gates, "(They) called me a few days later and asked, 'Can you tweak that script you wrote to be your first issue?' I said, 'Absolutely.' 'Great. We're going to give you notes on it. Welcome to 'Supergirl.'"
For the uninitiated, Gates explained that Supergirl was sent from Krypton to protect baby Superman on Earth.
"Due to an accident, her ship arrived 30 years late. When she pops out, she's a teenager and he's 35 years old and has already established a legacy," he said. "She is instantly in his shadow. She's got a lot of issues with always being compared to Superman."
Gates also offered a peak into his plans for the character.
"In the first issue, The Daily Planet's gossip columnist writes this article, 'Why the World Doesn't Need Supergirl,'" he said. "It's a scathing commentary and lists all the things that she has done wrong since she's been on Earth. I think a lot of fans have that same reaction: If we have Superman, why do we need Supergirl? I want to show why this character is important and why she matters. And I'm not sure that's been clear for a lot of people."
While certainly proud of his achievements, Gates said he doesn't want to be made into some kind of celebrity, explaining that his West Coast success story isn't a rare one at all.
"There are so many Oklahomans out here, but you don't necessarily always hear about them. Oklahomans are some of the hardest-working people in the world, and they're also some of the nicest people in the world. That combination serves us really well," he said.
In the three years since he left Oklahoma in pursuit of one dream, only to find another, Gates' future only looks brighter. "Eric Webb