Mark Russell is the author of two highly acclaimed books, God is Disappointed in You and Apocrypha Now. Last year he helmed the reboot of Prez for DC Comics. This year he teamed up with artist Steve Pugh on the brilliant re-imagining of Hanna-Barbera”s The Flintstones. Mark agreed to answer some questions from myself and the rest of the DC Comics News staff.
DCN: How do you come up with your puns? Panda Excess is brilliant.
Mark Russell: Thanks! Originally, I wanted to call it Panda Xpress, but Marie (my editor) said that was too close to Panda Express and that I would get us all sued. So legal frustration was the source of inspiration for that one. Usually, I just write lists of names of fast food restaurants and other brand names and pick the ones for which I can come up with the best stone age puns.
DCN: How much of what Bedrock looks like come from you and how much comes from Steve?
MR: What it looks like comes pretty much entirely from Steve. For Issue #1, I gave him a list of about a dozen businesses I wanted to be in Bedrock: a restaurant called Whammoth, Bammoth, Thank You Mammoth, an art gallery called The Pleisto-Scene, a gay bar called Homo Erectus. He came up with the physical layout and design of the city.
DCN: In the issue featuring Fred and Wilma’s marriage retreat, the issue was briefly raised of same sex marriage. What made you decide to include that aspect while telling a story of people who didn’t want any marriages at all?
MR: I think a lot of prejudice in the world is based on the fact that people have a really short term understanding of history. People who think that same-sex marriage is modern and unnatural don’t seem to understand that marriage itself is pretty new to the human species. It’s only been around for about 10,000 years, meaning that it didn’t exist for over 90% of human history. The Flintstones allows us to go back to a point in history when traditional marriage was as new and scary to people as same-sex marriage is to people today.
DCN: You have a lot going on with Fred, Barney and the Water Buffalos. They committed a genocide and they are all pretty messed up about it. How much of that is based on American history and how much of that is based on American present and the way that veterans are treated? You named the middle school mascot after the Tree People too. It is hard not to think that there are some not so subtle jabs at the NFL team in Washington. Does DC put limits on topics you can cover?
MR: So far, DC has only stopped me when I’ve written something too obscene to be considered Rated Teen (have the people who made these ratings ever met an actual teenager?) or was likely to get them sued for copyright infringement. When it comes to themes and content, they’ve pretty much given me run of the farm.
The genocide and subsequent caricature of the Tree People is definitely based on what happened to the Native Americans here in the United States, but as the world’s first civilization, I wanted to show the real costs of creating a civilization from scratch, which usually involves the extinction of nomadic or other indigenous peoples whose way of life doesn’t fit with the demands of the civilization muscling into their territory.
DCN: With Prez you tapped into something with the idea of someone winning the election that a lot people didn’t take seriously- and that’s what actually happened. Something similar also happens in the “Democracy Sucks” Issue of The Flintstones. How does you feel about that and was that part of your intent all along?
MR: I wasn’t trying to predict the outcome of this election and the prospect of someone coming out of left field to win the presidency doesn’t bother me, per se. What I find deeply troubling is how easy people are to manipulate and turn against their own interests. As I write this, there is a proposal in the House to raise the retirement age to 69 while gutting Social Security benefits. For those voters who were riled up enough to vote Republican and put Donald Trump in the White House, their quality of life probably isn’t going to be affected by illegal aliens or Muslims nearly as much as it will be, say… having to eat dog food for the last thirty years of their life. The problem is that the fear of terrorism or drug cartels captures people’s imaginations in a way that the boring issues that actually impact their lives do not. This is the great danger of democracy. Policymakers just need to find a way to discuss Social Security in a way that involves explosions, I guess.
DCN: The appliances seem to be having some emotional crisis; do we see a revolt in the future?
MR: I can’t reveal that, but you do see a lot more of the animal appliances and their developing relationships.
DCN: The kids are older than they were on the show. What was the reason for that?
MR: Babies are just sort of cute and boring. I wanted Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm to have personalities and opinions. A character doesn’t really become interesting until they can interact with their world on their own terms. It was Dan Didio’s idea for them to be middle-school aged, as he felt it was a really under-explored age range. And he was right.
DCN: Bamm-Bamm’s backstory is touching. It finally explains his crazy strength. How did that come about?
MR: Of all the characters in The Flintstones, he just feels like such an outlier. He’s got this superpower that just seems to spring from nowhere, so it just made sense to incorporate that into his backstory. Plus, I think he was a foundling in the original Flintstones cartoon, if I recall.
DCN: Why did you decide to make Pebbles the voice of reason? She always seems to be the calming influence.
MR: I feel like I’m the voice of reason (doesn’t everyone feel that way about themselves?), so I simply use Pebbles as my mouthpiece when people get out of control at Bedrock Middle School or on field trips.
DCN: What is your favorite issue so far? How long is the run going to be?
MR: I think my favorite so far was Issue #3. The story of the alien invasion of Bedrock was so much fun to write and it culminated in such a dark and tidy ending. Plus, it allowed me to introduce the Great Gazoo to the cast, which I was dying to do.
I’m planning for #12 to be my last issue of writing The Flintstones. David Mamet once described writing plays as running a marathon and writing for TV as running until you die. I don’t want to run until I die. I want to end the series while it’s still good. Not to say I wouldn’t come back to The Flintstones at some later point, though.
Thanks to Mark Russell for taking the time to answer a few questions about this incredible retelling of our favorite Modern Stone Age Family.
Be on the lookout for Issue 7 on January 4th! The first six issues are available now, so if you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for? Read it! Gerald commands you!