Shadows of Self: An Interview with Mark Bertolini, Writer of THE ARGUS
Recently listed in our most anticipated new and returning comics of 2020, THE ARGUS offers a new, trippy take on the time travel genre with an Orphan Black spin.
With that teaser, we had to learn more. So, we reached out to the series's writer, Mark Bertolini, to learn more about this fascinating new title.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Mark! Hello! Thanks for letting us ask you some questions about your upcoming book with Darryl Knickrehm, The Argus.
So, tell us about yourself: Who are you? What do you do? What did you contribute on this project?
My name is Mark Bertolini, I’m a comic book writer based just outside of Toronto, Canada. I’ve been a semi-professional creator for almost 10 years, with numerous titles to my name. I co-created and wrote The Argus alongside my co-creator and artist Darryl Knickrehm.
"It’s a cross between Looper and Red Dawn, with a little bit of Jonathan Hickman-esque weirdness."
CBY: For folks who haven’t heard about The Argus, what’s your elevator pitch?
The Argus is the story of Randall Patton, the boy genius who created time travel, which led to the creation of the temporal police force called The Argus, which is staffed by 100 versions of Randall Patton from various points in his own life. Except one of those Randalls has gone insane and is trying to kill the rest of them off…
It’s a cross between Looper and Red Dawn, with a little bit of Jonathan Hickman-esque weirdness.
CBY: As a writer myself, one of the things that weirdly terrifies me is time travel. It has this wealth of storytelling potential, but always feels like there’s an equal wealth of potential pitfalls or hang-ups. One of the things I liked about The Argus is that you have this sort of homemade logic system within it to help avoid those. Could you give us a little insight into the process of creating that for the story?
MB: Well, I’ll admit that I was thoroughly unprepared for writing a time travel story at first. You’re right, there’s so much room for error and if you’re not careful, the whole thing can become a disaster. So I created some “rules” for my time travelers to follow, certain things that would make the storytelling a little more linear. Because all of the characters are essentially the same person from different points in time, when one of them made a new memory, it would affect all of them, and they’d all be standing around pushing new memories into each other’s heads and get no work done. I had to create some science that made them all individuals in the timestream. It’s the best kind of science, it’s comic book science, so it doesn’t even have to make sense for it to work.
CBY: One of the more fascinating parts of The Argus is that your entire cast of characters is actually different versions of the same person. How did you approach that, to make sure the characters are all different, yet still the same? It seems like Darryl Knickrehm’s character designs must’ve been a key element in differentiating each!
MB: That was the initial conceit of the whole story, the 100 different versions of the same person. That was the first piece of the idea I ever had – if you’re entrusted with protecting the space-time continuum, it would make sense to trust yourself a hundred times over. Each version of Randall Patton had to be similar yet different enough to have their own personality. Darryl fully pulled it all together with the character designs, where they look different enough to be their own man, but you can very clearly see they are all the same guy.
"I’m a fan of the weird rock band Ween, and they wrote a song called The Argus back in 2003, which is the first time I ever saw/read that word. When I looked it up (in a dictionary, remember, it was 2003 and there was no Wikipedia), it said The Argus was a mythical Greek giant who had 100 eyes and was called “all-seeing.” I thought that was a very cool idea."
CBY: There’s a lot of really big ideas in this book; could you give us a clue where the inspiration for some of these came from?
MB: I’m a fan of the weird rock band Ween, and they wrote a song called The Argus back in 2003, which is the first time I ever saw/read that word. When I looked it up (in a dictionary, remember, it was 2003 and there was no Wikipedia), it said The Argus was a mythical Greek giant who had 100 eyes and was called “all-seeing.” I thought that was a very cool idea.
Fast forward 10 years, and I had the idea of a group of time travelers who were all versions of the same person. That idea ended up slamming into the idea of the “all-seeing” Argus, and boom, the core idea of the comic had come together. I was very influenced by the Rian Johnson film Looper as well – it showed me that a time travel story didn’t have to be all science and boredom, that it could have action and humor and still tell a fun story. And without giving the ending away, when I realized who the actual villain of the story was, everything fell into place with all the characters and their reasons for being.
CBY: What, to you, is the most distinctive feature of this book versus other time travel stories?
MB: I think it has to be the fact that we’re dealing with 100 versions of Randall Patton, even though the story is told through the eyes of the young teenager who invented time travel. I always loved the kind of story that dealt with a secret society (or whatever) and had a new recruit being inducted into the organization. That’s why I wanted to follow young Randall’s journey, from creating the idea of time travel to being brought into the fold of The Argus to learning just who he is. There’s some definite growth to Randall’s character from the beginning to the end of the story.
CBY: What was your favorite part of working on The Argus?
Working with Darryl, by far. His designs, his approach to the pages, and his dedication were second to none. He really went all-out with the designs. I wrote more 2-page spreads in The Argus than I ever have in the past, and Darryl nailed them all. His approach to time travel on the page is also stunning. There’s been a lot of time travel comics, but I think ours might be, to the best of my knowledge, the only book that gives you a look at the actual insides of time.
CBY: Who do you say is the audience for this book?
MB: Fans of books like Lazarus or East of West from Image, that far-out Jonathan Hickman stuff, or some of the sci-fi stuff coming out of Vault as well – we actually got a pretty great quote from Alex Paknadel, who wrote Friendo. Fans of science fiction and teenage rebellion and introverts who had a hard time being themselves and making friends, all of that is captured here. Also, fans of a certain '90s-era grunge band (no, not that one you’re thinking of) will notice the individual chapter titles.
CBY: Is there a message you want people to walk away with after reading this series?
MB: Don’t invent time travel?
No, really, I’d like people to think that they read something a little bit unique. Most stories have been done in one way or another, and if us creative types can throw a little bit of a spin on those stories and make them memorable, then we’ve done our job.
But mostly, don’t invent time travel.
CBY: When does The Argus go on sale?
MB: Our original release date was pushed back to allow more time for pre-ordering, so as of right now, the expected date is March 4th, 2020.
CBY: Thanks again for stopping in to answer our questions, Mark! Where can people find you online?
My personal blog (which gets sporadically updated) is https://markbertolini.wordpress.com/.