Mark Russell enters the Yeti Cave with Jimmy Gaspero (who has help from Katie Liggera) to discuss the "Monster Serials" in Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Death and his work on My Bad and Deadbox.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Mark, thank you so much for joining me in the Yeti Cave. I am extremely excited about this interview as I have been a big fan of your work with series such as The Flintstones, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, Second Coming, and Prez. Now the newest season of AHOY’s Poe series, called Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Death, came out October 6th.
Katie Liggera, CBY’s resident AHOY expert, has kindly passed along a few questions. How do you plot out the “Monster Serials” stories and, this may be a bit tough, but who is your favorite breakfast cereal mascot?
MARK RUSSELL: Personally, I like the Sugar Crisp Bear. He just has a cool never-sweat, never-worry demeanor to him. If I was on a plane in a storm, I’d want to be sitting next to him. Which is maybe why he never made it into the "Monster Serials."
CBY: Artist and colorist Peter Snejbjerg brings such strong emotions to the faces of the characters in the story that it’s easy to forget these characters’ origins and get lost in the story. How would you describe working with Peter and what is it that you think makes your collaboration work as well as it does?
MR: Peter does a really great job of creating humanity for these characters. They’re all still readily identifiable as cereal mascots, as two-dimensional cartoons, but cartoons with whom we can empathize, and I think the fact that he focuses as much on their interior life as he does on what’s actually happening in the panel is what makes the collaboration work so well. It’s what makes the script and artwork feel like a cohesive whole.
CBY: Has there ever been a character you wanted to use in any of the “Monster Serials” that you just haven’t been able to work in, any character that just wouldn’t work at all being updated to a more realistic form, even somewhere in the background?
MR: Well, I already mentioned the Sugar Crisp Bear. But my other regret is that I wish I could have done more with our Toucan Sam facsimile. He’s such a menacing presence. He seems to have witnessed horrors none of the other characters have, which he alludes to in these vague couplets.
CBY: Writing satirical comics on many different topics as you do, and doing it very effectively, have you ever thought that aspects of the present moment in time were beyond satire, or is there always something to satirize?
MR: I don’t know that I ever sit down and say to myself, “Today, I’m going to satirize X.” It’s more just about being open to what’s happening in the world and watching our species play dirty with itself and others. When it occurs to me that I have something to say about it, I write it down. Usually in the form of a parable, which is where the comics come from. So, in that sense, nothing is off-limits and nothing must be said. It’s just about what I’m moved to talk about from one project to the next.
CBY: Whose work, whether in comics, books, film, theatre, has influenced you the most to write and, in particular, tell the stories that you want to tell?
MR: I think the first thing I ever read that awakened something in me as a writer was The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, which I read when I was about twelve. I had no idea that I would become a writer or even that I wanted to write, but something immediately struck me about the power of parable. About using rockets and aliens to talk about humanity and the problems of life on Earth. Other influences I picked up along the way would be the novels of Kurt Vonnegut, the films of the Coen Brothers, the comic arts of Dan Clowes, Edward Gorey, and Lynda Barry. The wit and social commentary of Oscar Wilde and James Baldwin. All of them have left a mark on me in some way, if only to convince me that there’s so much to say and do.
CBY: How has it been working with AHOY Comics and have you found particular advantages to working with them as opposed to other publishers?
MR: The great thing about working with AHOY Comics is that they aren’t afraid of negative publicity. So everything that made say, Second Coming, a hot potato for other publishers made it an ideal nestling for AHOY. Plus, there are few if any publishers who actually WANT funny/satirical comics these days. It’s a flavor that, for whatever reason, has fallen out of favor in recent decades, so trying to interest someone other than AHOY in an overtly satirical series is somewhat akin to selling horehound candy on the side of the road.
CBY: You have another new series coming out with AHOY on November 3rd titled My Bad with artist Peter Krause that’s described as a superhero spoof. What can CBY readers expect from My Bad?
MR: First, I want to clarify that I’m only writing half the series. The other half will be written by my friend and Killing Red Sonja collaborator, Bryce Ingman. My Bad will tell the story of two characters, a lamp fortune heir and vigilante hero called The Chandelier, and a supervillain who’s battling with increasing irrelevance called Emperor King. Their stories are told side-by-side, with me writing the story of The Chandelier and Bryce telling the story of Emperor King, until their two lives collide when they confront each other face-to-face.
CBY: That sounds fantastic! I can't wait to read it. You also have a recent Vault comic series Deadbox. Issue #1 was released August 11th. This is a horror series centered around a cursed DVD machine. I read the first issue and loved it, but also noticed at least 3 references to Kierkegaard. Is Deadbox a horror series through an existentialist lens or is there something else to the Kierkegaard references?
MR: I feel like everything I write could be considered horror told through an existential lens, but as you have probably guessed, I’m a big fan of Kierkegaard. The town of Lost Turkey is, as Kierkegaard would say, a town of people trapped in either the aesthetic or ethical planes, struggling to break through into the religious sphere of existence.
CBY: Katie also wanted to know if writing dark comedy/horror for the Snifter series inspired you to write a purely horror comic with Deadbox?
MR: Deadbox is actually inspired by two things: my belief that writing straight-to-Redbox movies is probably the most fun job there is and growing up on the outskirts of town in a semi-rural environment. Feeling isolated by the life I was born into.
CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books would you want to make absolutely sure are included?
MR: I don’t think I could run a comics museum and look you in the eye if it didn’t contain Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints, Emil Ferris’ My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, and Will Eisner’s Dropsie Avenue.
CBY: Where can CBY readers find you online and do you have anything else that you’re working on that you can tell us about?
MR: The best place to find me is on Twitter at @manruss. I also have an Instagram account with that handle, but it’s mostly pictures of my cat. I would also like to mention that I’m working on a series with Steve Lieber about B-list DC superheroes trying to make a living in the gig economy. It’s called One-Star Squadron and Issue 1 drops in December.
CBY: Mark, thank you so much for your time. I very much appreciate it.
MR: You’re welcome.