Eisner nominee Mark Russell was gracious enough to take a few minutes out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his controversial book, Second Coming, as well as his thoughts on writing satire in today’s climate. Enjoy!
Tony Farina: Mark, thanks for taking the time to do this retrospective on Second Coming. I know it was a long road for you and Richard to get that published. I have wondered, was there a Plan C? If Ahoy hadn’t stepped in, what would you have done? Did you ever consider putting it out yourself on Comixology or something like that?
Mark Russell: If it had come to it, we definitely would have published it ourselves. But, luckily, there were several publishers interested in Second Coming. So it was never an AHOY-or-bust situation. We simply went with AHOY because it felt like the best fit.
TF: Sunstar has a very Superman-like origin story and his band of super-friends are all strikingly similar to other characters we know. How did you walk that line to make sure you stayed on the satire side of things without slipping into farce?
MR: I had originally pitched the idea for Second Coming as a Superman story, but clearly that wouldn’t fly, so to speak. So I had to create a facsimile of Superman, which was actually quite liberating, because it allowed me to make Sunstar angrier, more subject to pettiness and outbursts. In retrospect, it wouldn’t have worked to have the two nicest guys on the planet sharing an apartment together.
TF: What was the process with Richard to create the look of this universe? It is very lived in. Sunstar looks like a John McClain kind of hero instead of a Rambo kind of hero. Why did you make that choice?
MR: The look is very much Richard’s choice. I had originally wanted to base Sunstar’s look on a friend of mine, but as Richard started crafting him, he started taking on this more traditional superhero appearance. He sort of looks like Jon Hamm now. A guy you could recognize both as a revered superhero and a bottoming-out advertising executive wracked by identity crises and domestic trouble.
TF: Religion comes up in a lot of your work. Your hilarious and irreverent book, God Is Disappointed In You prepared me a bit for what I was going to get with Second Coming. What is it about religion in general, and Christianity in particular, that inspires you so much?
MR: Christianity has played such a big part of my upbringing and influences so much of our culture that it’d be weird if I didn’t write about it. Religion, in general, tends to be the way the human race has chosen to self-medicate its feelings of alienation, its knowledge of its own impending mortality, both of which are predictable side-effects of being big-brained primates. So, if you want to write about those bigger themes, religion is generally a good place to start.
TF: Were many people shocked and/or surprised at how touching and, quite frankly, pro-Jesus this book was?
MR: I think so. Before the comic came out, the narrative of what Second Coming was about was pretty much controlled by the people trying to shut it down. FOX News, the online petitioners, told anyone gullible enough to listen that this was basically a Three Stooges movie starring Jesus. So when the comic came out, and people could see for themselves that it had very serious things to say about Christ and his teachings, that it’s actually a very pro-Christ comic, I believe they were pleasantly surprised. In a way, the controversy probably helped, because a lot of people probably read it who otherwise wouldn’t have, expecting their outrage to be validated.
TF: It looks like Jesus and Sunstar will be back for a second run. When can we expect that and how much of it do you have planned out?
MR: I can’t tell you yet when there will be more, but there will be more. Hopefully, in the end, there will be 18-24 more issues of this.
TF: The Lone Ranger run you did at Dynamite about barbed wire fences was so brilliant. The comparison to Trump’s border wall was all over that book. I laughed and laughed, but only because I didn’t want to cry. So, how did you decide to write satire and not more traditional humor? You don’t really write jokes, but your work is all so funny. Was there ever a draw to traditional comedy writing?
MR: One thing I like about writing comics is that you can get away with telling stories that probably wouldn’t see the light of day in other mediums. Try getting someone to produce a Lone Ranger TV show that’s mostly about barbed wire. But what I like to do, and what I think I do well, is come up with metaphors to act as commentary. Killing the Old West by sectioning it off with barbed wire as a way of talking about how the capital economy has destroyed the American working class. How our mythology of being these rugged, independent people living by our own toil was kind of a self-serving lie to keep us from questioning why we’d all been turned into mercenaries and ranch hands. And I like these metaphors to be where the humor comes from. I’m not a big fan of just throwing gags and one-liners into a generic idea just to make it funny, like putting chocolate chips into an otherwise shitty cookie. I like the humor to come out of the premise, because then it serves a purpose. Then it resonates with people. That’s what makes a good cookie.
TF: Final question. You are, for my money, one of the best satirists working today. Why did you gravitate to comics and not TV or movies? What is it about this medium that appeals to you and/or meets your sensibilities as a writer?
MR: I think the short answer is that no one has offered. I’d be happy to write for TV or movies if someone were willing to pay me to do it and I could write a project that I felt strongly about, like I can in comics. I’m not averse to other mediums, but I’m perfectly happy just writing comics, too. Whatever allows me to spend my days thinking about the things that fascinate me and pays the bills at the same time. That’s really all I aspire to.
Thanks again Mark!