Interview with Jason Aaron (Thor: God of Thunder), Part One

Interview with Jason Aaron (Thor: God of Thunder), Part One
Jason Aaron’s historic run as writer of Marvel’s Thor comics began with Thor: God of Thunder #1 in 2012 and concluded over a hundred issues later with King Thor #4 in 2019, but continued in another form through ten issues of Valkyrie: Jane Foster, four issues of Return of the Valkyries, and five issues of The Mighty Valkryies.

His seven-year tenure writing Thor is nearly twice as long as Walt Simonson’s legendary run in the 1980s and just shy of creator Jack Kirby’s record on the character. Elements from Jason’s many years of Thor stories were adapted in the 2022 Marvel Cinematic Universe film Thor: Love and Thunder.

Esad Ribić cover art for Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder

Jason’s other work for Marvel Comics has included Doctor Strange, Ghost Rider, Hulk, Punisher, Wolverine, Conan the Barbarian, and Star Wars. He currently writes writes The Avengers. Outside of these legacy series, he has written The Goddamned, Men of Wrath, The Other Side, Scalped, Sea of Stars, and Southern Bastards.

In my roles as Adjunct Professor in Humanities and Faculty Advisor for Pagan Forum at Illinois Institute of Technology, I interviewed Jason via Zoom on April 22, 2021. Students from my courses and Pagan Forum participated and were joined by others who were simply interested in Marvel comics and movies.

Jason was a wonderful interviewee – both incredibly open about himself and wonderfully thoughtful in explaining his work. The students and I are very grateful for his generosity in spending this time with us, and we hope you enjoy this two-part interview transcript.

Faith and transformation

KS – In the 2019 epitaph you wrote for your Thor run, you state that you “haven’t believed in God, in any gods, for a long time,” but also that the Marvel version of Thor – the one centered on worthiness, not really something the Norse original cares much about – is the sort of god you “would like to believe in.”

Although writers like Walt Simonson and Matt Fraction had already dug into the mythological side of Thor, you really get deeply into the religious side of the character in a way that, I think, is a first for how this character has been approached at Marvel.

Faith in oneself and faith in gods are key issues throughout your run. How did your own relationship to religion affect how you approached writing Thor?

JA – In a huge way. I think everything that you just said became the key to me figuring out the character to begin with.

I didn’t grow up a huge Thor fan. I read some of the Simonson stuff when that was coming out, but it wasn’t a character where I was going around with a briefcase full of Thor ideas, like I was really chomping at the bit to pitch Thor.

Writer Jason Aaron

I think the first time I read Matt Fraction’s Ages of Thunder one-shots – I think there were three or four one-shots he did – they were really, really good and were very much like a heavy metal kind of Thor, the kind of Thor you can see spray-painted on a van. That was the first time I thought, “Oh, yeah. I could see having some fun doing Thor.”

Then there was a point called “Marvel NOW!” – this initiative where really every book Marvel had was up for grabs. All creators were switching around on everything, so everybody was faced with a question of “what do you want to do right now?” That moment was really the first time I thought, “You know, I want to do Thor.”

Esad Ribić was really quickly attached to draw the book. Esad has a style very much in that same kind of vein as what Matt Fraction had done on those Ages of Thunder books, so I kind of knew right off that was the vibe I was going for -– this sort of dark, weird Kirby-ish vibe.

I had all that in place really before I had a story, so I went back and started reading those original Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Thor stories – which I’d never read before – which are really, really good and some of my favorite Kirby stuff from Marvel.

Thor at the time, kind of led by the movies, was being pushed in a direction of “well, this guy is not really a god. His people are these aliens who live a long time, and they were perceived by primitive humans as gods, but they’re not really gods.”

I didn’t really like that idea. I love what they’ve done in the movies, but that part of the idea didn’t appeal to me as much, especially when I went back and read those original issues.

Stan talked about when they first decided to do Thor. That was the idea of “how do we do somebody who’s different than the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man? Well, what if we did somebody who’s actually a god? What is that like?”

I knew I wanted to lean hard into that idea of it. That’s why that book is called Thor: God of Thunder, and the first arc is the God Butcher, and the next arc is the Godbomb.

We lean hard into that idea of Thor being a god. In the first issue, he answers a prayer, which I don’t think is something we’d really seen him do much of in the past. Knowing that I wanted all that to be a key part of it, it brought those issues of faith and worthiness to the forefront.

For me, I grew up in the South. I grew up in the Southern Baptist church, so I grew up very religious. That was a big part of who I was, up until I went off to college, and – in terms of my faith – things started to kind of fall apart. Little by little, cracks started to form – “I don’t believe this part of it anymore. I don’t believe that part.”

I literally had kind of an epiphany one time, having an argument with my dad about things, and he got frustrated with me and said, “If you don’t believe any of this stuff, I don’t understand why you believe any of it,” and this light bulb went off over my head, and I was like, “You know what? I think you’re right. I think I don’t believe this anymore.”

I’ve identified as an atheist since that point, which was my early twenties.

That said, you can look at a lot of the work I’ve done, and a lot of it has been about issues of faith, questions of faith.

I broke into comics in 2001 with this Marvel Comics talent search contest, where I submitted a synopsis for a Wolverine story. That was my first published comics work. It’s a little short story inspired by Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”

[Wolverine] stumbles out of the woods and has this encounter with this woman on a dirt road winding through the woods of the South. They’re talking about faith, and she’s asking Wolverine about his faith.

So, from the very beginning of me working in comics, that was a subject I was attracted to. I think it makes sense I’d wind up doing Thor, even though I never would have seen that coming when I first got into comics.

Wrapping all that stuff up, I think you can see so much of my Thor run goes back to those original Lee and Kirby stories, probably in a bigger way once I got to the Jane Foster part of it, because that goes back to that idea of transformation, where they put an inscription on the hammer [“Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of… Thor”].

That very first story is this guy Donald Blake goes into this cave and finds this hammer, and it transforms him into Thor, though Stan and Jack later retconned their own story, and you found out that, well, that was Thor all the time, and his dad had sent him to Earth to teach him humility.

To go back and reread those stories now, like a lot of that early Marvel stuff, they’re figuring things out as they go. The X-Men, it took them a long time to figure that out.

You can see in Thor, they pretty quickly got bored of the idea of this guy who transforms into Thor. Donald Blake would just disappear for long stretches, so it made sense eventually that they threw all that away.

But that inscription was still there, and then Walt Simonson brought that back in a huge way, right out of the gate with his run.

So, with the Jane stuff, it’s very much going back to that idea of you could pick up this hammer, if you’re worthy enough, and become Thor.

The key character motivation for me writing Thor Odinson – Thor the god – was that every day, he would wake up, that hammer sitting next to his bedside. He looks at it, he doesn’t know if he’s going to be able to pick it up today. He knows he picked it up yesterday, and he flew around the universe, and he punched people in the face, and he saved the day, but when he wakes up the next day, he’s like, “Am I going to be worthy today?”

That idea that he would always question that, and that’s the lesson that he learned from that is to not wake up every day and assume “oh, yeah, I’m totally gonna be super worthy today.”

I liked that idea, and as part of that, I knew at some point I’d do a story where he wasn’t worthy, where he couldn’t pick it up.

Jane Foster wields the hammer

KS – I’ve read that the creation of Marvel’s Thor was a conscious attempt to get a Superman for Marvel, because superheroes were having a resurgence in the 1960s. The red cape and the flying but also the love triangle, where you had Lois, Clark, and Superman – and two people in the triangle were the same person. They replicated this in their Marvel romance comics way.

JA – Exact same thing, yeah.

KS – You don’t have so much of the romance thing in your run, but you have the triangle where it’s the two women and Thor, where she’s the goddess, and she’s the person. It’s again a sort of three-way relationship. Especially when you first introduce her, Thor is totally threatened by this new female Thor and doesn’t realize that she’s his nurse from the old days.

JA – Yeah, I had tremendous fun with all that part of it. By the time I’d started that Jane Foster story, I’d been writing Thor for a few years. I’d been at Marvel for ten years, at least.

That Jane stuff still feels like the biggest, most “Marvel” story I’ve ever done, and it’s very much like an old school Marvel story.

Russell Dauterman cover art for Jason Aaron’s The Mighty Thor

She’s got a secret identity. She doesn’t want people to know that she’s secretly Thor. She’s dealing with very real-world problems in her life as Jane, and she’s going through breast cancer treatment, and the fact that she is Thor is making all that worse. It’s making her life worse and harder.

It’s literally killing her, because every time she transforms, it’s neutralizing the effects of the chemotherapy she just went through. Every time she comes back as Jane, she’s sicker than she was before.

All that stuff to me felt like classic, old-school Marvel Comics and, at the same time, I wanted to show this is someone who loves and relishes what she’s getting to do.

She’s been a part of this Thor universe since the very beginning. Her first appearance was the second issue of Journey into Mystery, the second Thor comic in Journey into Mystery, so she’s always been there.

Back then, she was – like you said – a love interest, and she was a damsel in distress a lot. Loki would show up and take her hostage to try to get at Thor, but she’s always been around.

Now, she’s getting to be at the center of that universe and getting to fly around and punch gods in the face for the first time, and she’s loving it. I liked writing that.

Her life really sucks in a lot of ways. It’s incredibly difficult. She’s getting closer to death, as it goes, but she’s enjoying every second of what she’s getting to do and enjoying exploring her powers and her relationship with the hammer.

Getting to write somebody who is experiencing all that stuff for the first time is really fun, and how her relationship with the hammer is different than Thor Odinson’s relationship with it had been, making the hammer more of a sentient, living being.

We see right off that even Odin can’t pick up the hammer, and he’s supposedly the one who put the enchantment on it in the first place – the worthiness enchantment. The fact that he can’t pick it up tells you this has grown beyond what was initially.

All that Jane stuff was tremendous fun.

You know, there was a backlash about her story from the moment it was announced, before it even existed. There was some backlash of “well, why is this other character coming in and taking Thor’s name? Why couldn’t you just make her a new character? Why does she have to be Thor?”

I would take all those comments and criticism and put them in the actual book. Odin many times says things people would yell at me on Twitter. We would answer those questions in the book.

I didn’t create the idea of Odin being a jerk. He has been Thor’s greatest enemy, going back to those Lee and Kirby stories. That exists. Most especially his relationship with Jane.

When you go back and Thor says, “Hey, this is my girlfriend, Jane,” Odin was not very happy about that. I didn’t make all that stuff up. I bring it to a head in a big way.

There was always that backlash of “well, why couldn’t she just be someone else?” which I think completely misses the mark of this idea of taking this character who had been a supporting character in this universe for so long and making her the center of it.

No, she’s not Thunderstrike. She’s not Thor Girl. She is Thor. It’s the difference between doing a Nightwing story and having Dick Grayson become Batman. Those are two different stories, and I didn’t want to do a Nightwing story. This was about her being Thor and being at the center of that universe.

To me, the people who would say it was a different kind of Thor story than I’d been doing or was somehow not a Thor story – to me, it was again the most Thor of any of the Thor stories I did, because it went back to his first appearance, to how things were established right out of the gate with that character and that idea of transformation and worthiness.

It brought all those things back in a big way and took all that to its next big step. I wasn’t trying to do exactly what Walt [Simonson] did with Beta Ray Bill or what had been done when other people had picked up the hammer. I think it’s the next evolution of that.

KS – In your tales of Jane Foster as Thor, you engage with the early Marvel Thor mythology in a way that writers in this century have not. The idea of having a human with a deep physical challenge who can temporarily transform into a god of old, of the dual consciousness between her human mind and her Asgardian one, even of her worry that she will turn back into her weak human form if separated too long from her hammer in battle – these all hearken back to the very beginnings of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s creation.

When Marvel first went public about the new female Thor, editor Wil Moss said, “This new Thor isn’t a temporary female substitute – she’s now the one and only Thor.” At the time, you said she was “the Thor of the Marvel universe for the foreseeable future.” As a lifelong comics reader, I’ve seen so many character redesigns, reboots, transformations, and deaths that eventually snapped back to a more traditional portrayal, so I was a bit skeptical.

Now that Jane Foster is the Valkyrie and Thor is back as the god of thunder, can you tell us how this went down at Marvel? Were you, Marvel editors. and Marvel administrators committed to Jane Foster permanently being the Thor that Marvel’s own website said was designed “to speak directly to an audience that long was not the target for super hero comic books in America: women and girls”? Or was she planned from the beginning to step aside for the return of the male Thor once he’d found his worthiness?

JA – I will say, nothing is permanent in comics. None of us who are making the comics are permanent.

These characters have been in publication for sixty-plus years, at this point. They change, they shift, they come back to center. That will always be the case.

This change came about in different stages. Like I said, I always had the idea of getting to a point where Thor Odinson couldn’t pick up the hammer anymore and wasn’t worthy for a bit.

Ryan Sook cover art for Jason Aaron’s The Unworthy Thor

That was initially an arc. I was going to do an arc called “Unworthy” where he couldn’t pick up the hammer. The Mangog shows up, who’s this great old Kirby villain. He shows up to raise hell, and that was an arc.

Then I expanded a little bit. I thought, “Well, that would be cool, while he can’t pick up the hammer, to have somebody else come and pick it up.”

I initially thought that might be his mom, Freyja, that she would pick it up and wield it for a bit.

Then that grew again as things went on. I did this event called “Original Sin,” which is where something happens so that Thor Odinson becomes unworthy, and coming out of that – it wasn’t really planned to begin with that Sam Wilson was going to become the new Captain America at that same time.

So, it became a chance to relaunch both of those titles at once, and having somebody else pick up the hammer will be its own new series. It was sort of fortuitous timing that turned into an initiative.

Coming into that, to say that it’s permanent – you don’t have any idea. If sales tank and nobody buys it, then permanent becomes six issues. You’ve got to wrap up that story of move on, and maybe I’m fired from Thor at that point. Who knows?

Yes, the idea was going to be that she was the Thor of the Marvel Universe. Once she took over, she was Thor. Thankfully, sales went up. Sales were really great.

I got to tell that story the way I wanted to tell it. She was in the Avengers with Sam Wilson Cap for a while, so, for that period of time, she was Thor.

That said, from the get-go, I was always telling a very specific story with Jane, so I knew from the beginning. She came into this with cancer. She was dealing with cancer. I was never going to “magic away” her cancer.

From the beginning, from the first issue where we find out she has cancer, Thor tells her, “Let me take you to some wizards I know, and we’ll have that taken care of,” and she says, “Nope, not going to do that sort of thing. That stuff comes with a price.”

She’s a doctor. She’s gonna beat this the good old-fashioned way. I was never going to magic that away.

I didn’t want to take that lightly. If I’m going to go into this huge story, where the main character is struggling with breast cancer, that’s the story. Her getting to fly around with the hammer is the cool part, but this is Jane’s story that we’re going to play out.

I always knew, from the beginning, how that story was going to go and what that final story would be, which turns into the Mangog story. That original one arc of unworthiness and the Mangog turned into however many arcs it ended up being at the end, a few years’ worth of stories.

KS – There really is an amazing conflict in that period of the stories between this liberation as Thor, where she’s poking Thor in the chest with his hammer and just living it up and having these great adventures that comic readers all dream of having, and this very serious, grim tale of the woman who’s dying of breast cancer.

This is something I talk about in my classes – the stories that we consume are not necessarily fun or entertaining. The stuff that lasts and has meaning is not stuff that’s fun, like throwaway summer comedies. I can’t even remember some movies I saw five years ago, but these kinds of stories are the ones that stick with you, bother you, and go on to live inside of the readers for a long time.

But there’s that contrast that you had between very broad and hilarious comedy and real human tragedy. Not mystical fantasy tragedy, but real human stories.

JA – I think that’s the challenge with all this sort of stuff.

Everything I do at Marvel – in particular something like Thor, where the scope of it is so grand and epic, there are other realms that Thor goes to, and they fly through space and all these things that are hard for us to relate to – to do all that and have the fun of all that but also in some way make it grounded and have a real emotional connection to it.

Jane’s story is one of the things I’m most proud of from my entire career in comics, because I think it’s where I got a good mix of that right. It is fun, it’s exciting, but there were parts of it that I cried while writing. People cry when I have comics signings for it.

To have all that wadded up in the same stories – that’s what I’m striving for, I think, with everything I do.

Relating to the god of thunder

KS – Many times, while reading your Thor run over the last decade, I got flashbacks to when I was a teenager in the late 1980s, and I found a giant box of an almost complete run of 1970s and early 1980s Heavy Metal comics. Part of it was the visual style of your artistic partners, but the other part was how you wrote this mixture of deeply intense personal interactions and amazingly enormous cosmic events with this way of storytelling that is both focused and expansive, at the same time.

It makes the gods seem both very much like like us and immensely different from us, and it plants narrative seeds that slowly grow underground and sometimes don’t explode into view until much later. The reader has to understand it retroactively, and some of it was like reading Mœbius and those guys, where you’re not quite sure what’s going on. You know it’s important, but you don’t understand it until later on.

To what extent have non-US, non-Marvel, non-DC writers and artists like those that used to be featured in Heavy Metal influenced your approach to storytelling?

JA – Not to a huge degree. I read more of that stuff these days than I ever did growing up.

When I was first getting into comics back in the 1980s, there wasn’t a whole lot of that European stuff that was available here, or Japanese manga. I remember the first time Lone Wolf and Cub started to be printed here. It was a huge deal.

I didn’t grow up with a lot of that stuff. I’ve read more Mœbius and Jodorowski stuff, but I certainly wasn’t reading it in my formative years.

Jason Aaron and Esad Ribić’s Thor: God of Thunder

With Thor, a lot of what you’re talking about speaks to the challenge of writing a character like that.

When I first started talking about doing it and pitching it, Tom Brevoort – who’s my editor on Avengers, who has been at Marvel pretty much longer than anybody, at this point, one of the best editors I’ve worked with and a guy with a library of Marvel comics in his head – he was talking about how he never got into Thor growing up, because when Thor would spend so much time in Asgard or flying around in these other realms, he would lose interest and lose connection to it.

I get that. At times, I felt like that, reading Green Lantern or Legion of Super-Heroes, where you just feel like this is so disconnected from the world I know. I don’t relate to it. I don’t connect to it.

So, how do you do that? How do you have Thor fly out there and lean into the fact that he is a god, lean into the fact that he’s got this unique setting where he’s got these other realms he goes to?

Captain America is not going to Jotunheim, and Spider-Man’s not going to Alfheim – the realm of the elves – but Thor does that all the time.

So how do you do that and make all that cool without losing any kind of emotional resonance to the story?

That was the challenge. I wanted to go big and grand and epic but to really make you feel and relate to Thor. I was always trying to get that balance right.

KS – In several of my courses, we talk about the immense tradition of Indo-European storytelling from ancient India and ancient Greece to Viking Iceland and nineteenth-century Germany and on to our own American popular culture. We work to identify what Wendy Doniger calls “Indo-European building blocks” – ancient bits of story that are continually combined in new forms.

You’ve been working at a unique historical nexus, creating original work where ancient mythology and modern commercial culture smash into each other. What is it like to sit at that particular spot and produce new stories with ancient elements on a regular deadline?

JA – It’s really cool. I mean, it sounds great, when you put it that way.

From the get-go, from when I first learned how to read, I was a huge comic fan. Loved to read. I think, like anybody who goes on to write for a living, the first step was that I was just a voracious reader.

I read everything I could get my hands on. I particularly loved comics. Loved fantasy. Loved Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories.

Once I went to college, I knew I wanted to write but didn’t really know what form that would take. I didn’t have any idea how to break into the comic business, and it was a lot harder to do back in those days, anyways.

One of the smart things I did when I went to college is I took a lot of literature courses that were outside things I’d been interested in before.

I took a Mark Twain class that I really, really loved, and I’d never really been much of a Twain fan. I’d read Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, and that was about it. But going past that, I became a huge Twain fan. I became a huge William Faulkner fan, when I took a class about him.

I read Beowulf in college and really loved it. A thing I’d read before, and it didn’t stick with me, didn’t touch me or affect me, and read it in college and really loved it.

I think breaking outside my limited sphere of reading influence was a big deal for me, to open me up to other stuff. I still try to do that. It’s harder, these days, just being busy.

I don’t know about everybody else, but a year ago, I felt like “we’re not going anywhere [because of coronavirus lockdowns], so at least there’ll be more time for reading.”

It didn’t really work out that way. It was harder to work, harder to read, at times last year. Kind of getting back to that now.

I still try to read things that are not for work, because I think my work has always been the best when it’s pulling from a lot of different sources.

My cousin Gus [Hasford] was a writer. He was a Vietnam vet and wrote the book The Short-Timers, which is what Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket was based on. He was a big influence on me, the first guy I ever knew who wrote for a living. I’ve got a bunch of his old letters and stuff.

He died back in the 1990s, but I’ve got a letter he wrote to the customs department at one point, when he was living somewhere overseas and was having a shitload of books shipped to him. He wrote, “You know I need all these books, because I’m a writer, and the secret to a good writer is stealing your ideas from as wide a variety of sources as possible.”

I think it’s true, in some sense, that it helps to just read a lot of different stuff and pull things from a lot of different sources, especially when you’re talking about what I do for a living.

On the one hand, I get to stand on the shoulders of giants like Jack Kirby and all these creators who have worked on these characters for many years, and you get to pick and choose the cool stuff from what they’ve done in the past, but it also makes it more challenging to bring something new to the table.

How do you tell a Thor story that hasn’t been told before, a hundred times? How do you tell a new Spider-Man story?

I think the challenge is always to bring something from somewhere else, bring something that isn’t already there and bring something of yourself. What can you say with Thor that hasn’t been said before?

I think that’s the challenge I face every day, when I sit down to write whatever it is I have to write for the day.

“The kind of god I would like to believe in”

KS – Thor and the Norse gods are, of course, fundamentally not creations of Marvel – but there are now nearly sixty years of history and mythology of Marvel’s own Asgardians that so many writers and artists have built, and this mythology often diverges widely from the original Norse mythology. When writing Marvel’s Thor, how much was the Norse Thor on your mind, if at all?

JA – Not a whole lot. I didn’t have much of a background in Norse mythology.

I hadn’t read a whole lot, so once started working on it, I bought a bunch of books and read more and thought to maybe use some of it but pretty quickly realized – like you said – this is not the same.

I think Walt Simonson did a great job injecting more Norse mythology into the book, but I wouldn’t say it was a huge driving force in what I was doing.

Russell Dauterman cover art for Jason Aaron and Torunn Grønbekk’s The Mighty Valkyries

You can see more of it in the Valkyrie book that I co-write right now, because my co-writer Torunn Grønbekk is Norwegian, and literally her entire family’s named after Thor.

She shows me pictures of her childhood, where they’re straight up dressing like Vikings and running around the fjords, so she has a very intimate relationship with all that stuff. She injects more of it into the Valkyrie stuff she and I have been doing together.

KS – Long before that series, you were notably doing what Walt Simonson had done by not only creating original characters of your own around Thor but also bringing in several figures from Norse mythology – such as Bor and the Disir – even while radically changing them from their portrayal in the myths. What was the process you went through for transforming characters, objects, and concepts from the mythology into the Marvel universe?

JA – I’d have to know specifically which ones we’re talking about. I don’t know that I’ve got a process for that, beyond just whatever seems right.

KS – For example, the Dísir. In your version, they’re like undead Valkyries of ancient times. I wonder if you have a character, then you go looking for a name to fit it – or do you read something and say, “Oh, wow. I can use that and transform it”?

JA – To me, it’s all of those.

Literally, I’ve got my Thor notebook there that’s a few hundred pages of ideas jotted down – thoughts I had, words from stuff as I was reading, going back and reading old Thor comics, as I was doing research. Just jot this down, jot that down.

Some of it never turned into anything. Some of it, you can see the first kernels of what became five or six years worth of stories. So, it depends.

Sometimes, you’re looking for something to serve a function within the stories. Sometimes, it’s just about “I like this cool thing, and where do I work it in?” Sometimes you might have to hold on to that for issues and issues before it’s the right time.

One secret to writing, I think you have to learn pretty quickly, is just because you have a cool idea at the time doesn’t mean it needs to go into what you’re working on, which sucks.

There are times you’re like, “Man, this is a really good page” or “This is a really good three lines of dialogue,” but it doesn’t belong here, so it doesn’t need to be here, so you hang on to it until the time is right.

Again, I think it helps that I love to read comics. I always have. I never had that period where I stopped reading, got out of comics.

I’ve always been reading, so in some sense I’ve always been doing work-related research. It helps to give you inspiration and things to pull stuff from.

KS – The Norse gods you write about are not only part of Marvel myth and Norse myth but also part of Ásatrú and Heathenry, modern iterations of Norse and Germanic religion. Back in 2013, the months-long Worldwide Heathen Census I ran estimated that there were nearly 40,000 practitioners around the world at that time, with the largest number living in the United States. Anecdotally, the population seems to have greatly grown since then, possibly driven by the popularity of the Vikings TV series, the Thor movies, and your own run on the comics.

You several times show Thor directly interacting with his worshipers – even responding to prayers. Did the fact that these Marvel characters are alternate versions of deities actively venerated today play into your work?

JA – No, not really. As someone who grew up with faith and lost that faith along the way and became an atheist but still remained fascinated by the ideas of faith and of all different religions, I looked at all of it as story fodder.

I do a book called The Goddamned which is a really dark and brutal version of the pre-flood Biblical world. The first story arc was the story of Noah, where it turns out Noah was not a very nice guy. He’s the guy who’d come to town and chop down all the trees and steal a bunch of people as slave labor to go build this giant boat he was building.

I’m very indiscriminate in terms of the religions I choose to make stories from. So, no, I never really thought of it that way.

To me, with Thor, I was trying to write as an atheist, to write the kind of god I would like to believe in.

The first issue I did after that first big arc about the God Butcher, the serial killer of gods, and building this Godbomb to kill all the gods. Right after that, it’s eleven issues of big, cosmic craziness.

Right after that, I did a standalone issue where Thor came back to Midgard – came back to Earth – for the first time in almost a year, at that point. It was about what does Thor do when he when he comes back to Midgard? Who does he go see? Who does he hang out with?

We see him do things like show up to spend time with this guy who’s on death row and is about to go be executed, and he brings him some rare fruit from some faraway planet. We see him hanging out with nuns and old vets. We see him make it rain on the Westboro Baptist Church protesters. We just see how does Thor interact with real people.

I was very interested in that. That’s another one of my favorite issues of the stories I’ve done – just a day in the life of Thor on Midgard.

He also goes and gets drunk on mead at some point, but a lot of it is to show the very real human interactions between this god and the people he connects with – people of different faiths and religions, not all people who are worshiping Thor.

So again, that was very much me saying I’d like to believe in this kind of guy, and I hope that if one exists, I hope he’s like this guy.

KS – There was a story that I loved where Thor’s in love with a human woman – I think it’s in Viking times – and he goes on some space adventure. By the time he comes back, for him it’s just a moment, but she’s already dead and gone after waiting for him for her entire life.

JA – That was in the last Thor series I did.

Through my whole ride, I’d flash back and do young Thor stories, stories of Thor before he could lift the hammer. That was one of them. I don’t remember exactly what issue it was.

He references her. She’s brought up a few times. That was a first lesson to him of “oh, these [human] lives are really fleeting.”

It’s the first time he has that godly perspective when it comes to interacting with life on Midgard.

To be continued in Part Two.

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