Perry Moore is a modern-day superhero, though he’ll never admit to it.
In fact, he will try to convince you that he’s only human like the rest of us. But what’s a superhero without a secret identity? To the astute observer, it’s not that much of a stretch. With a square jaw, tousled blond hair, and an athletic build, the handsome Virginian resembles one of the larger-than-life characters right out of the pages of a comic book. It’s no wonder that he was voted People’s Sexiest Man of the Week.
More than that, his career has proven to be an ever-growing vitae of inhuman feats. From interning for President Bill Clinton, to working on the development team for MTV and VH1 and later on the original production team of the Rosie O’Donnell Show, before joining Walden Media where Moore’s been credited as being one of the key forces behind procuring the rights to The Chronicle of Narnia films as an executive producer. Like any hero, Moore volunteers. He regularly teaches other to read at a local community center.
But arguably his greatest accomplishment to date is inspiring a new generation of fans with the critically acclaimed, Lambda award-winning novel, Hero: the coming of age tale about a fledgling teenage superhero who happens to be gay. An important distinction, Moore notes.
“My entire identity isn’t wrapped around being gay. I don’t know anyone’s whose entire identity is based on being gay or straight or black or white.”
Moore’s imaginative, genuine and unapologetically honest style has struck a chord with a wide audience and has garnered praise from literary and celebrity peers Lloyd Alexander, Rachel Ray, James Howe, and Gail Simone.
“In any creative field, nothing worthwhile is created without passion, and Perry Moore has more passion for what he creates and believes in than anyone I know,” Simone says. “Fortunately, he has the talent to back it up.”
It’s Friday afternoon and Moore has just returned from Australia. However he’s been under the weather for the past few days as he’s recovering from a severe case of strep throat. While this would sideline most mortal men, an immensely eager and animated Moore is raring to go.
“I promise I am ready to give the most awesome and best interview ever,” he reassures. “And if you think I’m full of energy now. Imagine what I’m like when I’m completely healthy.”
Before the “official” interview even gets underway, a myriad of subjects are heavily discussed (and we’re both now convinced that we were separated at birth); music, film, literature, to growing up in the South, surfing and bodyboarding, the challenges of being a gay Christian, and of course, comic books.
“I’ve always been fascinated by these amazing looking people who had these incredible adventures. These heroes had inner and outer beauty,” Moore says. “My favorite series were Teen Titans, X-Men and I loved Jessica Drew coming back as the real Spiderwoman. I felt like I was a part of their families and it gave me hope.
“My friends and I would have sleepovers and we’d have these reading sessions before we discussed the issues. My mom used to say the entire house was completely silent for three hours and then suddenly, BOOM, there was this big discussion going about the issues we read.”
Moore’s good friend actress Rebecca Romijn (who he co-directed in the film Lake City) explicated how X-Men was primarily based on the struggles African-Americans endured during the sixties.
“Most people don’t realize that Rebecca is a true Berkeley girl at heart,” Moore says. “She explained to me how X-Men is an allegory to the Civil Rights movement and she was very passionate about that. So much so that she endured over 18 hours of makeup to play Mystique. That’s some devotion.”
But like many speculative fiction fans, Moore received his share of criticism for his love of fandom growing up.
“My Mom and I were at a soccer game one time and this woman turns to my Mom and asks ‘How can you let him read that?’ I was busy reading at the time. My Mom replies to the woman, ‘One, he’s reading. Two, he could be doing a lot worse. And three, you never underestimate the power of a child’s imagination.’ That is something that has stuck with me my entire life.”
Moore credits his mother for being a repeated source of inspiration. It was she that gave him the classic series from his favorite author; C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Little did anyone realize that the young Narnian become the executive producer of one of the most successful movie franchises to date.
But Moore’s childhood wasn’t without other challenges. Like many LGBT youth, Moore faced his share of bigotry even before he was aware he was gay. Like his primary protagonist, Thom Creed, Moore was on the basketball team in school, however he was often benched and was rarely played.
“It wasn’t that I wasn’t good, because I was,” he recalls. “I couldn’t understand why the coach wouldn’t play me. He must’ve seen something different. It was painful for me but it was also painful for my father who came to the games to see me play.”
With Creed’s story being based loosely on Moore’s adolescence, it’s not surprising that Thom’s father, Hal, a former superhero, was inspired by the author’s father, a Vietnam veteran.
“I wanted to write about two different souls who didn’t feel like they could co-exist in the same world,” Moore explains. “When I set out to write this story, two things came to mind: one, my dad, and two, comic books. I wanted to merge the two stories together. I know my father saw things in Vietnam. We didn’t talk about it growing up. No one wanted to discuss Vietnam or what vets went through back then. I know Dad won a Bronze Star, and they award those for valor in the field, so he definitely saw things. Years later, as I became old enough to understand, he gave me a book to read that he believed captured the experience.
“He gave me Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. I had a meeting with Tim once about a possible movie, and he signed a book for my father. His inscription almost made me cry. It said, ‘Dear Bill, Peace and welcome home.—Tim.’ That signed copy meant the world to my father. I wanted to write a book that would mean that much to someone. ”
In the novel, Hal’s hardships as a disgraced crime fighter is an allegory to the hardships Moore’s father faced as a returning Vietnam vet.
“It’s not like how it is now. A lot of [the Vietnam veterans] who came back were spit upon, reviled and it was not discussed. Would you treat returning veterans like that today? Of course not. My dad did his best. He’s a good person and he overcame that. But he was certainly denied a lot of opportunities and there’s a parallel to being gay.”
Hero couldn’t have arrived at a more crucial time. From comic book artists publicly denouncing gay superheroes to heated debates throughout the blogosphere, the issue of LGBT presence in the media, and specifically comics, have heated up. Prior to Hero, Moore penned Who Cares About The Death Of A Gay Superhero Anyway? A History of Gays In Comic Books. Written in the spirit of Gail Simone’s Head In the Refrigerator, which shed light on the misogynistic inhumane treatment of female characters as plot devices, Moore wrote the essay to bring awareness to the denigrating portrayals and the disproportionate atrocities that LGBT characters faced in the medium; torture, rape, disembowelment, and gay characters being retconned to heterosexuals. Two specific incidents moved Moore to act; the deaths of Northstar and Freedom Ring.
“Northstar is credited as being the first prominent gay superhero and he’s been murdered three times,”Moore says. “Most of which was by Wolverine (the X-Men’s most popular hero) who impales him in the chest with his claws. I was disturbed by the message that was sending.”
Freedom Ring fared no better. Hailed by Marvel Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada as an example of Marvel’s open policy toward gays, the brief fledgling hero met a brutal end after he was crippled, a finger was sliced off, and impaled with 28 spikes, including one which sodomized him.
“At that point, I was almost ready to quit reading comics. I wrote the essay because I wanted to have a discussion about LGBTs in comics.”
Who Cares About The Death Of A Gay Superhero has certainly made an impact, the author states.
“There’s been a real reaction and people have realized that there is a large section of gay fans.”
Unfortunately bringing awareness to issues often gets one labeled as outspoken, which doesn’t always have a positive connotation, according to Moore. He adds that the media and society often pressures minorities to remain silent and complacent.
“They love to lump us altogether. The scariest thing in the world is to be told not to speak up. In college I took a class on Nazi Propaganda and it’s amazing to see some of the same situations going on now. Hitler was only elected by a third of the vote and he did that by shaming people to speak out.”
Moore adds that a more diverse representation of LGBTs in the media could going a long way towards enlightening the public.
“I had a discussion about this once when I spoke at a college. For example, name one gay athlete who is out and still in the sport; football, baseball, basketball. You cannot tell me that none of these guys aren’t gay. I would love to see an out gay athlete represent us. Gay people, I would like to think, can represent our differences and still be a part of the human race as well.”
Said representation was one of the key objectives of Hero.
“I wanted to tell a story about hero who happened to be gay, who is the main protagonist and not the sidekick and not a caricature,” Moore says. “Why can’t there be a young gay male superhero?”
Determined to avoid the usually trappings which befalls LGBT characters, Moore avoids the usual stereotypes and showcases that being gay is not a misfortune.
“I wanted to do a story that’s not about the tragedy but being true to yourself and believing in yourself like Thom learns to do. I think one important thing the book accomplishes is that Thom knows who he is.
Believing in yourself is a good thing. There was a reason why his power was to heal. There was a meaning behind that.”
In addition to being a coming of age tale of the hero’s journey, the novel is also intended to serve as a tool to aid parents and young LGBTs.
“I think parents have a great tool for a discussion. And there are parents who have children who know who they are.”
So why aren’t there more gay heroes?
“I think as long as you have an industry that’s predominantly run by heterosexual, caucasian males, you’re not going to see much representation for gays or for that matter, other minorities in general.”
And why aren’t there more gay authors venturing into the superhero genre?
“That’s a good question,” Moore responds. “I honestly couldn’t tell you. To be honest, I would love to have another writer one-up me and take it to the next level.”
One medium that is getting it right?
“I believe that young adult literature is the greatest. They’re at the frontlines. The teachers, the librarians, the editors and the publishers, they’re the real heroes. They were so welcoming and so supportive of Hero. They’re so far ahead of the curve and not afraid of the subject matter. They weren’t afraid of young gay heroes or the themes within the story.”
Orientation isn’t the only topic discussed in the book. From healthcare, to racism, war, poverty and adolescence, Moore effectively handles the heavy subject matter without coming across as preachy through the juxtaposed lighthearted prose. The novel’s social commentary is akin to Octavia Butler’s style, who Moore credits as another literary influence. He adds it wasn’t a conscious decision but one that simply manifested as the characters developed.
“You’re just telling their story and it becomes easy. You’re just not getting in the way of the truth.”
Hero wouldn’t have been a reality if it weren’t for the executive producer’s time on Narnia.
“I learned everything I could possibly take in from my two story-telling mentors: C.S. Lewis, and Andrew Adamson, the director of the Narnia movies. Andrew taught me how to think cinematically. What he and Jack, known as C.S. Lewis to most of us, both understood so well, is the limitless power of imagination.”
His Narnian experiences taught him another lesson that served him while he worked to get Hero published.
“When you believe in something so wholeheartedly so much, it’s like having an angel on your shoulders. You can do anything.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, the novelist/executive producer/director/Lamdba Literary Award winner isn’t slowing down anytime soon. In fact, he’s just getting started.
“You never feel like you’ve made it,” Moore explains. “Which is a good thing. You don’t feel complacent. It keeps you hungry.”
When he isn’t writing, Moore works with partner Hunter Hill and actress-producer Allison Sarofim in 66 Productions. He co-directed with filmmaker Spike Jonze a documentary on legendary children’s author
and illustrator Maurice Sendak which recently premiered on HBO.
“It started off as just a passion of love. I was a little bit despondent about being gay and here is an older man who was gay in an older time. It was filmed in the course of five to six years. I don’t think we ever expected the documentary to be this well. I think we really captured the essence of a legend.”
So what else lies ahead?
“I’m also writing the first in the fantasy series about a young group of werewolves, a sister and two brothers,” Moore excitedly explicates. “This is the book I talked about in which I’ve been particularly inspired by all I learned in Narnia. After that I’m going to be writing a sequel to Hero. There’s so much more to tell: What Thom’s mother was really up to. Where Goran really came from and what he had to do for he and his brother to escape their upbringing.
“And of course, we’re already working on making the third Narnia movie, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Being the rabid Narnia fan that I am, I’d be thrilled to see all seven of the books made into movies.”
In addition, Moore has also teamed up with comic book legend Stan Lee and a live-action adaptation of Hero is in the works.
“He embraced it. And if you’ve told me that if you’d told me that one day I would be working with the man whose work I read as a kid, I would’ve just laughed.”
While all of this would be overwhelming for many, it’s all in a day’s work for this super man.
As someone who was inspired as a young child by the works of Stan Lee, C.S. Lewis, and Octavia Butler, Moore hopes his work can have the same profound effect.
“I chose to write a book that would be a powerful, positive force for good, because I truly believe that literature can change the world.”