Turning Corporate Burnout and a Long Commute into Art – An Interview with MARK BOUCHARD
Updated: Feb 24, 2022
Mark Bouchard is the writer of IT TOOK LUKE, which had a successful Kickstarter campaign last Fall. IT TOOK LUKE is an 80-page horror graphic novella and can now be preordered if you missed the Kickstarter. Mark was kind enough to chat with Jimmy Gaspero to discuss their influences, their experience running a Kickstarter campaign, and the importance of good collaborators.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Mark, thank you so much for joining me here in the Yeti Cave to discuss IT TOOK LUKE and your journey in comics. How have you been doing?
MARK BOUCHARD: Been doing all right, just plugging away. How about yourself?
CBY: I've been doing well. Thanks for asking.
What is your origin story as a creator? Were comics always a part of your life? And when did you know you wanted to create your own stories?
MB: I didn’t get into comics until I was in college. I’d been writing stories and songs for as long as I can remember, though. For comics, pretty much as soon as I got into it I started writing and drawing my own.
CBY: You graduated from the University of Chicago in 2017 with a BA/MA and your thesis project was titled “KILL SPIDER-MAN,” exploring the effects of Reagan-era political rhetoric on American pop culture, specifically through the character of Venom as a product of the war on drugs. How did you settle on that as your thesis and what was the research like for that project? Was it well received?
MB: The intersection of politics and media has always been of interest to me. At the time, I was really interested in superhero comics. It felt like a natural choice to see how something I enjoyed came to be, within the context of the thing I hate the most (Ronald Reagan).
CBY: IT TOOK LUKE is an 80-page graphic novella, which had a successful Kickstarter campaign this past October. I’ve read the first 26 pages and I cannot wait to read the rest. How did you develop the story for IT TOOK LUKE, and how is progress going on completing the book?
"Everything that Bayleigh puts on the page totally whips, fucks, and slaps."
MB: I reached out to Bayleigh with a separate pitch. When they turned it down, I asked what they wanted to draw— which I think, is a question more writers should be asking of the artists they work with. Sal’s big sword came from that. I used to have an insufferable commute (about 50 minutes each way) that the framework for most of what I’m working on currently was built on.
There are some book design elements being firmed up, but aside from that, the book is done! Should be heading to the printer in the next couple of weeks.
CBY: How was the experience of running a Kickstarter and do you have any advice for someone planning to self-publish their comic?
MB: In my experience, it’s hectic and anxiety-inducing. You’re pitching the world (or, just your social media following) on an idea you’ve already sunk a ton of time and potentially money into. My advice is: Overplan. Find a printer close by so that you can pick up your books instead of paying for shipping, if you’re working with a lot of volume.
CBY: What is your writing process like, when you have an idea for a story? Do you outline first or just start scripting to get that first draft done?
MB: I’ve always got to have some sort of outline. I usually outline the plot fairly heavily, but leave room to let the script breathe so that I have some space to play around/address anything that comes up during scripting.
"I think I’m drawn to horror because it lets us divorce ourselves from our fears and anxieties, project them onto something else, and experience a narrative around them."
CBY: The rest of the creative team is artist Bayleigh Underwood, letterer Micah Meyers, editor Jasmine Walls, and designer Jillian Crab. How did the creative team for IT TOOK LUKE come together?
MB: I saw Bayleigh’s work either on a portfolio day or a nonbinary day, and knew straight away that I had to work with them. I’d worked with Micah in the past both as a writer and an editor. Jasmine and I had hung out a couple of times because we had mutual friends, and I knew she edited comics — plus, she came highly recommended. Jillian came from a recommendation from one of my mutuals.
CBY: How was collaborating with Bayleigh Underwood, and what is it that you think makes that collaboration successful?
MB: Excellent. I would work with them again in a heartbeat. Everything that Bayleigh puts on the page totally whips, fucks, and slaps. One of my favorite working artists, they can do no wrong.
I saw Bayleigh tweet about wanting to go wild on a fight scene, then DM’d them about doing that for the last one in the book — me providing a full script, with benchmark panels picked out that “had to happen” with Bayleigh deciding what else made it in from me vs what was entirely from them. There was a mutual patience/understanding between us, as well. I think that’s why it worked. That and we’re both just good at what we do.
Comics is a collaborative medium, and collaboration is such a huge part of actually getting comics made. I’d like to think I’m a pretty good writer, but I know I’m a good collaborator.
CBY: This is from the Kickstarter campaign page: [IT TOOK LUKE is a] “perfect bound graphic novella printed at 6 x 9”, on 80 lb. matte paper stock, with a cover of 130lb. matte cover stock.” What considerations went into choosing this format, and why?
MB: To me, the physical product is an important part of producing a book. I had worked with these paper/cover weights/coatings before, and the book turned out great. So I decided to stick to what I know — a good, thick book. We’re putting IT TOOK LUKE out at 6 x 9 because we wanted to make it clear that this is a graphic novella, not a collection. This is one story, meant to be read as one story, ideally in one sitting.
CBY: The interior pages, which look great, are black, white, and red, and I’m always interested in the reasons creators have for choosing black and white over color, ranging from economics to story-telling or a mix of both or something completely different.
MB: So there are two reasons: I’d seen this done similarly once before in THE RATTLER by Jason McNamara and Greg Hinkle, and loved it. Second, there were a couple of story elements that worked really well with this — blood being a big one.
CBY: IT TOOK LUKE is also a horror story and horror, as a genre, has been used to explore such a wide variety of topics. What is it about horror that draws you to it and what have been your horror influences, either books, comics, television shows, or movies?
MB: Oh man, horror’s great, love horror. Love to feel. I think I’m drawn to horror because it lets us divorce ourselves from our fears and anxieties, project them onto something else, and experience a narrative around them. Through that, you can really interrogate what makes you afraid/upsets you, or you can just enjoy the narrative, it’s up to you.
My influences — that’s a tough one. I feel like everything we take in influences our work to some degree. Some things we consume have creative choices that work for us, some things have those that don’t. That being said, works like BTTM FDRS by Ezra Claytan Daniels & Ben Passmore, The Lamb Will Devour The Lion by Margaret Killjoy, Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU by Carmen Maria Machado, I AM A HERO by Kengo Hanazawa, LONELY RECEIVER by Zac Thompson, Rye Hickman, and Simon Bowland, HELLRAISER (both 1 & 2), ONE BLOODY THING AFTER ANOTHER by Joey Comeau, and a South African eco-horror movie I saw recently called GAIA all make a lot of creative choices that really worked for me.
CBY: In reading the Kickstarter campaign page, I was not previously familiar with the term “crunch culture,” but I was immediately drawn to the concept of Sal Hernandez, Exterminator of the Year, with a seemingly exciting career in monster-killing suffering from the daily grind of it. It seems a metaphor for any career that looks exciting from the outside but in reality, has its issues, whether those are toxic conditions or mundanity, just like every other job. Do you have any particular work experiences that influenced the creation of IT TOOK LUKE?
"Creating Sal’s personality really hinged on the conditions that surround them. They hate their demanding job, and they can’t go anywhere to escape it – they literally live in their work van. With a life like that, you’re going to have to figure out a way to get yourself through the workday — for Sal that was their sardonic sense of humor. If you think of Sal’s cynicism like an eggshell, their hope is the yolk. It’s there, it’s just protected."
MB: I worked a corporate job for a while where everything was constantly shifting. During my time with the company, I worked multiple positions, none of which I was hired to do. With constantly shifting expectations and an hour-long commute each way, I burnt out real quick. This book came to be partially on that commute, often paired with the idea: what if I just left?
CBY: Sal Hernandez, like their creators, is non-binary. How do you think non-binary people have been portrayed in other media, if at all, and why was it important to you for Sal to be non-binary?
MB: So that one’s kinda tricky. I know they exist, like in Steven Universe. But I feel like the majority of the non-binary characters I see are in YA/MG comics, or in TV shows directed at those audiences. TERMINAL PUNKS by Matthew Erman, Shelby Criswell, and Micah Myers had a non-binary character, I believe. But I had to think on this one, which is to say, non-binary people really don’t get portrayed much at all.
It was important to me for Sal to be non-binary because of that. I don’t see many non-binary characters in the kinds of media to which I am drawn. When they appear, non-binary characters’ gender is often a talking point, or something to be explained to the reader. I understand why the creators do it — because this might be a new concept to their audiences. But very infrequently is this how my gender functions in my day-to-day life.
The role that Sal’s gender plays in IT TOOK LUKE is very self-indulgent, which is to say it was not my intent for it to play one at all, at least not an active one. With Sal, their gender is just something that gets dropped on the table and never discussed. Their co-workers use "their" pronouns and that’s that. It’s strange to say, considering all the things I put Sal through, but in this aspect of their life, at least, I wanted them to know peace.
CBY: I think most people can relate to having a job that you hate. I know I can, and so I was immediately sympathetic to Sal’s situation, and then I found their attitude and dry sense of humor endearing. Is Sal based on anyone in particular? How did Sal’s personality and sense of humor come together when you were writing them?
MB: Nope, Sal is Sal. Creating Sal’s personality really hinged on the conditions that surround them. They hate their demanding job, and they can’t go anywhere to escape it– they literally live in their work van. With a life like that, you’re going to have to figure out a way to get yourself through the workday — for Sal, that was their sardonic sense of humor. If you think of Sal’s cynicism like an eggshell, their hope is the yolk. It’s there, it’s just protected.
CBY: In addition to IT TOOK LUKE, you have edited EVERYTHING IS GOING WRONG: Comics On Punk & Mental Illness and RAISE HELL #1, what was your experience like editing an anthology, and do you have a general approach to comic book editing?
MB: Editing an anthology was stressful, but rewarding. I like to confer with writers before I get a script, just to get a better feel for the characters, and to see what the creators see for their story. Other than that, it’s kind of hard to explain — I just go in.
CBY: You’ve worked as a freelance writer, copywriter, freelance editor, and recently told me you were preparing to take the LSAT. What is your current “day job” and why the pivot to law school? Or was that always something you considered?
MB: Recently, I've been studying for the LSAT and writing/editing comics. This wasn’t intentional — I wrapped a copywriting job a few weeks back without having the next one lined up. Comics full-time is not something that’s sustainable for me at this point in my career, so I’m currently on the hunt for a new full-time day job in copywriting or advertising.
Law school has always been on the table, but I came to the realization that because so few people are able to make comics full time, I needed to have a really solid backup plan in place. Hence, the pivot.
"It’s strange to say, considering all the things I put Sal through, but in this aspect of their life, at least, I wanted them to know peace."
CBY: You write for The Hard Times, and have authored several pieces including “Trump Meets with Rob Liefeld to Discuss Armor Design for High School Teachers,” “Childhood Sock Puppet About to See Some Shit,” and “Police Officer Shoots Toddler Who Got His Nose.” How did you connect with The Hard Times and what’s your approach to writing a satirical piece? And does that differ from how you write comics?
MB: My buddy Mark suggested we apply to write for The Hard Times, and eventually, we both got accepted. In the type of satire writing I do, most of the joke hinges on the headline, so coming up with different/unique takes on the situation is where success lies. For example, at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in the states, my take wasn’t about getting sick, or shutting down, it was, Opinion: I Will Take Enough Shrooms to Reason with the Coronavirus. I suppose in that, it’s a bit more like comics than I thought. The concept can be something simple, like, using that headline as an example, Coronavirus. It’s the approach to that concept that makes or breaks the comic/the headline though. I try to find a novel enough approach that I don’t get bored with my projects — considering the amount of time I spend with the characters for each of them.
CBY: Are there any comic creators working today whose work inspires you?
MB: Yeah, loads. I love comics, and there are so many people putting out amazing work right now. Marie Enger, Ezra Claytan Daniels, Son M, Caroline Cash, Ben Passmore, Rye Hickman, Emmett Nahil, Benji Nate, Inio Asano, Zac Thompson, Shelby Criswell, Zainab Akhtar, Bayleigh Underwood, Junji Ito, Val Halvorson, Danny Lore, Liana Kangas, Matt Emmons, Jasmine Walls, and Ray Nadine. I could keep going, but I’d be here all day.
CBY: Do you have a long-term comics goal?
MB: Two. To get to a point where I don’t have to distribute my work myself. And to keep making comics.
CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?
MB: BTTM FDRS by Ezra Claytan Daniels & Ben Passmore, LAURA DEAN KEEPS BREAKING UP WITH ME by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, and THE WOLVES OF SAINT AUGUST by Mike Mignola, James Sinclair, and Pat Brosseau.
CBY: I’m a dog person. I have a 14-year-old black lab/terrier mix named Mr. Guinness. How did your dog, Juicebox (great name, by the way), come into your life?
MB: Hi to Mr. Guinness! The person I was moving in with was fostering Juicebox at the time, and I had to watch him for a couple of days when she was going out of town to visit her boyfriend. We’ve been inseparable ever since.
CBY: Are you currently working on any other projects CBY readers should check out?
MB: Nothing I can talk about, as of yet. Hopefully, I’ll be able to soon!
CBY: You have a website and are active on Twitter. Anywhere else you can be found online?
MB: Nope, that’s pretty much it.
CBY: Thank you so much, Mark!