From 'Supergirl' to 'Supermen,' Oklahoma native Sterling Gates dreams up comic books for a living 

Sterling Gates and James Robinson
3-6 p.m. Saturday
Speeding Bullet Comics
614 N. Porter, Norman

Energized by the California sun, Tulsa native Sterling Gates has become a super-powered writer for DC Comics.

Gates will return to Oklahoma this weekend to take part in the opening of the Oklahoma History Center's "The Uncanny Adventures of Okie Cartoonists" exhibit, but also for a signing at Speeding Bullet Comics in Norman, where he once worked.

For the last two years, Gates has written "Supergirl" for DC, and now "War of the Supermen," which he co-writes with comics veteran James Robinson ("Starman"). Gates said working with Robinson has been a highlight of his professional career. 

"I've been a fan of James' work for years, so to work with him was pretty damn awesome. Working with Geoff Johns and Greg Rucka " the same thing," said Gates. "These are guys whose work I very much respect and love, so to be able work with them as a peer is pretty remarkable."

For Gates, being asked to sign a comic is still a surreal experience, but he enjoys the opportunity to meet with fans and get direct feedback about his work.  

"There was a moment at San Diego Comic-Con last year where a woman approached me with her 11-year-old daughter and told me that because of the work that we'd been doing on 'Supergirl,' her daughter had started reading and liking comics, and 'Supergirl' was her favorite character. That was a really rewarding moment as a creator. It makes you feel like your work is being found by an audience, and that's important," he said. "I got a little misty." 

Another highlight was getting Helen Slater, who portrayed Supergirl in the 1984 movie, to write the introduction to the first "Supergirl" trade paperback. 

"There was a time when she didn't really embrace being in that movie, and so it was really cool for her to talk about the character and her role in the world," Gates said.

One question he gets asked a lot is how people can break into comics writing.

"There's no set way to break into mainstream American superhero comics, but I think the coolest way to do it is get known for writing or drawing some really great non-superhero comics, and the work will find an audience and its way into the hands of people that are in a position to hire you," he said. "I often ask what they're working on, and if they haven't written anything yet, I ask, 'Why not?' If you're an aspiring comic writer, sit down and write something. Even if it's terrible, you're still doing it." 

The next step is get someone to illustrate the story for you and find a venue. Self-publish and take the work around to creators and publishers at comics conventions. 

"The most valuable thing you can do is have a comic to put in people's hands. If you hand me a script, legally, I can't read it. But if you hand me something that you've self-published, that's protected and I can look at it," Gates said. "I always like looking at the comics people are making, even if they're not capes-and-spandex books." 

In addition to his writing duties on "Supergirl," Gates has a number of to-be-announced projects lined up. He said that working on multiple titles has kept him excited and full of fresh ideas. 

"From February to April, every day I was writing something different " a different style or focus on a different character. Sometimes, just writing in a different voice can re-energize me," he said.

Gates noted that each day, he has at least one "pinch me" moment.

"There's something really incredible about waking up and saying, 'OK, I'm going to write "Supergirl," and that's my job,'" he said. "I make the joke that if you went back in time and told the 18-year-old me what I'm doing now, a decade later, I'd laugh at you, because there was no way to predict this would happen." "Eric Webb

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