Saturday, July 13, 2019

Second Coming: An Interview with Mark Russell

Welcome to the Oblivion Bar where the first round is on me and the pretzels are free! I’m your tavern barkeep Dispatch, which you can find me on Twitter @dispatchdcu as well as on the award-winning Weird Science Marvel and DC Comic sites. 

Our guest tonight at the old watering hole is Mr. Mark Russell, which you may recognize from such comics as Prez, The Flintstones, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, and currently Wonder Twins! Most recently, AHOY COMICS just released Mr. Russell’s Second Coming, which readers can find at your LCS as of Wednesday, July 10th, 2019. 
Be warned: like the pickled eggs at the bar, this interview is going to SPOIL parts of Second Coming #1 rotten. So let’s sit back, relax, and toss back a few glass sandwiches and some laughing waters as we get to know Mr. Mark Russell. Without any further ado, here’s the discussion.

Dispatch: For those new to Mark Russell, how long have you been writing and what got you into writing comics?

Russell: I've been writing, in one way or another, for as long as I could remember. I toiled in futility for decades before publishing my first book, God Is Disappointed in You, which is a truncated, stylized version of the Bible. Basically, it's the Bible as explained to somebody in a bar. And weirdly enough, it was that book that got me noticed by DC Editor Marie Javins. She asked me to write a reboot of the 1970s comic Prez, which was the first comic book I ever wrote. They haven't been able to get rid of me since.

Dispatch: After reading Second Coming, God Is Disappointed In You, and even elements of The Flintstones, where does your fascination with religion and Christianity come from?

Russell: My upbringing, mostly. I became aware, very early on, that there was something kind of weird about what they were telling me at church. Especially the Christian comics they gave me which were these sort of bizarrely smug explanations of why everyone else was going to Hell. I remember thinking it was weird that I just happened to be born to the one group of people who weren't going to Hell.  Even as a kid, I felt that cosmic luck was probably an inadequate moral explanation of right and wrong. To this day, when people talk to me of my eternal damnation, I can't help but note a tone of glee in their voice. It seems that Hell wasn't created to punish the wicked so much as to reward the smug.

Dispatch: What literature did you read in preparation for Second Coming? Additionally, what inspired you to write this comic?

Russell: I mostly read notes and research I'd done when writing God Is Disappointed in You. I was inspired to write this comic by the realization that in six thousand plus years of settled human civilization, the only tools we've ever come up with to make it work are bribery and force. You do what you do because someone is paying you to do it or will punish you if you don't. And superheroes are largely there to reinforce this by eliminating anyone who threatens to disrupt the conveyor belt of bribes and punishment the status quo relies on. So I wanted to write a comic where the status quo itself came under scrutiny vis a vis a deity who'd tried to show the world a different way and a superhero who was beginning to lose faith in his own powers.

Dispatch: What do you hope readers will take away from Second Coming #1?

Russell: That this is a serious work by someone with an actual perspective and not just a work of vandalism that has nothing to offer beyond shock value. That, and I want people who've struggled with their religious upbringing to feel like maybe they aren't alone. That it's okay not to take what you were taught in church or school at face value.

Dispatch: It was a wraparound story that hit me the most in Second Coming. I’m making reference to Shimon creating the very crucifixes that would condemn his adopted brother Jesus. This was some really great storytelling! Do you remember how you came up with this idea?

RussellJogging, I think. I come up with most of my ideas either in the shower or jogging. I wanted a story that mirrored the crucifixion but which better illustrated the power of forgiveness more than, say, a public 

Dispatch: Can you give readers a moment to look forward to as the Second Coming series continues?

RussellSure. A couple of highlights: Jesus gets arrested (again) for claiming to be the Son of God. Sunstar realizes his grandmother is suffering from dementia, against which his powers are useless.

Dispatch: What would you say to people who think your version of God was too over the top? 

Russell: I would tell them to read the Old Testament. My version of God is based squarely on the Jahwist perspective, which dominates much of the Old Testament. In this version of God, he is irascible, easily triggered, and is frequently exasperated with the human race. But, like all the characters, he undergoes changes as he begins to better understand why his son approaches the human race differently than he does and begins to understand the incredible power that comes from allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

Dispatch: What would you say to people who believe this book is blasphemous?

Russell: Nothing, really. They're entitled to their opinion. But I would remind them that reading this comic isn't mandatory. They should feel free to move on to something they would enjoy. A writer who tries to write for everybody ends up writing for nobody. All I can really do is write about the things that matter to me and hope that there's enough people who feel the same way about it. There's no point in trying to write for people who fundamentally don't like what you have to say.

Dispatch: Is there a specific character from any company/universe that you haven’t written yet that you would want to write and why?

Russell: I think I would be terrible at this, but I'd like to try anyway. If given the chance, I would totally write a Flaming Carrot comic.

Dispatch: Every writer tends to have a certain style. Many comic fans would say they notice a trend in your writing towards social, political, and/or religious issues. Are they right to make that assumption? And if so, why have you chosen social/ political/ religious satire as your style? 

RussellI don't feel like I ever really chose a style. I just write about the things that matter to me in a way that sounds as much like myself as possible. In the end, I think that's what writing is, learning to sound like yourself. And it's surprising how much work that actually takes. So I don't worry about style. I focus on substance and let that be my style.

Dispatch: What was one of your favorite comic book characters as a child? Additionally, was there a favorite issue, run, or series that stands out above the rest? 

Russell: I have always been a big fan of Superman and I think Red Son is one of the best Superman stories ever written. Also a really big fan of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing.

Dispatch: Are there any future projects you are currently working on? Any hints you can give your fans? 

RussellI'm writing a dystopian satire about an artificial island inhabited exclusively by billionaires (well, they do have servants, but they have to wear shock-collars). I've also written a book about the first human to set foot on Mars which I think I'm going to try to adapt into a graphic novel, maybe even doing the artwork myself, which should be its own unique adventure in humility.

Dispatch: Who are some of your role models and/or people you admire most who helped inspire you on your journey to date? These can be anyone and they don’t have to be comic book related.

Russell: I think my favorite comic book writer, despite the fact that my work doesn't really resemble his, is Dan Clowes. If I do draw an influence from him, it's in how much I focus on the interiority of my characters and how the plot is often incongruous with what they're telling the reader about themselves. In the end, every drama is about what weird fickle animals we are.

Mr. Russell, thank you for your time and I hope we can chat again in the future. To everyone else, it’s the last call and the bar is closing. Finish up your hooch, other libations, and head on your way. See ya next time!

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