If anything writer Mark Russell has proven in his career is he is not afraid to shake up the status quo. He proved this with his first work in 2013 “God is Disappointed in You” which was a modern re-telling of the Bible (with cartoons by New Yorker cartoonist Shannon Wheeler).

From there, Russell had writing success with The Flintstones comic book series for DC Comics. During its run, The Flintstones were nominated for two Eisner Awards, including Best Limited Series and Best Humor Publication. This was in addition to being nominated for a Harvey Award for Book of the Year. Despite his early success, Mark wasn’t done perfecting his craft.

In 2018, DC Comics published Russell’s comic Exit, Stage Left!: The Snagglepuss Chronicles.  This was Russell’s reinvention of the titular Hanna Barbera character as a gay southern gothic playwright living in 1950s New York. Much like his success with the Flintstones, his work on Exit Stage Left!: The Snagglepuss Chronicles was well received. It won the 2019 GLAAD Award for Outstanding Comic. As well as being nominated for the Eisner Award for Best Limited Series. In addition, Russell was nominated for the Eisner Award for Best Writer.

Thus it comes as no surprise that his recent contributions for Ahoy Comics also touches upon the satirical bent. This includes his recent series Second Coming (coming soon for its second season) and his series Billionaire Island which was just released in trade Paperback format.  So with that all in mind, we welcome talented writer Mark Russell to Geek Vibes Interview.

In His Youth

GVL: Thank you for giving a bit of your time, MarkSo let’s start at the prologue. When did young Mark Russell from Springfield, Oregon take an interest in writing and what kind of literature most intrigued you in your youth?

MR: Not knowing much about literature, or anything else, early on I was drawn to books that had really interesting titles or cover art. But, growing up in a college town, this meant I had access to pretty goodbooks. I could go down to the used paperback shop and get ten books for a dollar. So I’d read Lord of the Flies, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451 by the age of twelve. The novel that really influenced me, though, that made me want to write, was The Martian Chronicles. Every chapter was so succinct, and contained such a good metaphor for human failings. It still influences me today. Also read a lot of garbage, as you might imagine.

Comic Book Influences

GVL: Were you interested in comics during your youth and which titles or creators were your favorites?

MR: The comics I read when I was a kid were the things you got off the spinner rack, or from the grocery store to keep you quiet on long trips.  So it was always stuff like Mighty Mouse, Richie Rich, or the occasional Batman. It wasn’t until I got into college that a friend introduced me to things like V for Vendetta and Sandman. After that, it occurred to me that the medium held much more than that. I guess my first true love in comics, though, was MAD Magazine. I remember reading their movie parodies and then going to see the movie and realizing I liked the parody better. Plus, my mom would always throw out my MAD magazines, which was incontrovertible proof that they were onto something.

First Job and What He Learned

GVL: I loved Mad Magazine. Sometimes the movie parodies were my first and only indoctrination to certain films, i.e. Chinatown. So as far as comics went, what was your first job as a writer and what did that first indoctrination into the business teach you that has remained with you now?

MR: The first comic I ever wrote was Prez and the biggest thing I learned from the experience was that a comic can be canceled. I had only published books before then and nobody had ever tried to only publish half my book. So naturally I was kind of surprised when Prez got canceled six issues into a twelve issue run. I think that’s why I write pretty much exclusively in six issue arcs now. So nobody can surprise me.

The other lesson I learned was to let the artwork breathe. Not to try to cram so many panels onto a page that there’s no room for anything but what the script calls for. To leave room for background details that can really add a dimension to your storytelling.

A talent for Satire

GVL: You have shown a talent for the satirical perhaps starting with your re-invention of SnagglePuss in Exit, Stage Left!: The SnagglePussChroniclesWhat is it the appeals to you about satire?

MR: I think what appeals to me is the ability to talk about the world as opposed to merely telling a story. The satirical bend of that commentary is probably just a symptom of the way I’ve always approached to the world. Growing up, to me, always kind of seemed like the process of learning to pretend that the absurdities of the world made sense.

GVL:  Speaking of satire, you recently finished your six issue series Billionaire Island, which is coming to TPB later this month. It is a brilliantly done work on the difference in social classes and the have’s and the have nots. What was your inspiration for this story?

MR: We’ve been conditioned by comics to think that billionaires would naturally want to spend their fortunes saving the world. That, without billionaires, we wouldn’t have Batman or Iron Man. But I started reading more articles about how billionaires were buying private islands and bug-out bunkers in New Zealand in which to survive the end of the world. After that I thought, “Well, this is actually way more cost effective for them.” That this is what a Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne would be doing in real life.

Developing the Hamster Wheel

GVL: Some of the scenes in this story are so relevant that they are most as sad as they are funny. Scenes like the occupants in the hamster wheel and their willingness to stay there, despite the fact they are prisoners. Another highlight for me was the “Chairman.” The love of people for their pets shown in a ridiculous, yet not unbelievable concept.Were these elements as you originally saw them or did they come as you fleshed out the story?

MR: The hamster cage thing was the earliest element of the story I’d come up with. In fact, it was originally going to be a plot element in Prez before that comic got canceled. But it actually works better in Billionaire Island. As a metaphor for the middle class and why we go along with a system built entirely to serve those above us. Because, even though we’re prisoners, it can actually be quite comfortable inside the cage. All most people want is regular food delivery and an occasional change of the sawdust.

Season 2 of ‘Second Coming: Only Begotten Son.’

GVL: Well with the release of Billionaire Island’s TPB, I hope you and Steve (Artist and Co-Creator Steve Pugh) have some ideas for Season 2 in mind. And speaking of 2nd Season’s, I know that the second season of Second Coming is quickly approaching. What can fans of the first season expect from this next series?

MR: Second Coming: Only Begotten Son (which is what we’re calling the second series) begins with backstory about Sunstar. We explore his origins on the planet Zirconia and how he ended up on Earth. The second series also tells the story of Christ’s mixed attempts to get some new disciples and more about the underwhelming pleasures that await us all in Heaven.

Closing Hypothetical

GVL: Thank you so much for giving us your time. I close with one final question in the Hypothetical realm. It is my writing milieu. (I seldom get a chance to use that word.😏) Your satirical brilliance has been highly praised. So much so that you are given an opportunity to do a limited series using one of the main characters from either Marvel or DC. You get to pick the character and the story as long as it has your proven satirical filter applied. Which character, either Marvel or DC would you apply your talent to?

MR: There’s so many. But if it had to be a satirical series, I would probably pick Lex Luthor, Howard the Duck, or Iron Man.

GVL: We appreciate talking to you and look forward to the TPB version of Billionaire Island and Season 2 of Second Coming. We will continue to follow your work with interest.

MR: Thank you.

Be sure to check out Mark Russell’s work for Ahoy Comics in both Billionaire Island and Second Coming, available where great comics are sold. Also be on the lookout for Second Coming: Begotten Son, coming soon from Ahoy.

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