On Thursday afternoon, Stuart Moore, head of operations for Ahoy Comics, as well as writer of several of their titles, hosted a discussion at San Diego Comic-Con with Mark Russell, writer of the new Second Coming title, being published by the upstate New York publisher.
Russell has written several stories for Ahoy, including two installments of his Cereal Monsters stories that have appeared in issues 1 and 6 of the series Edgar Alan Poe's Snifter of Terror. These stories were inspired by the Count Chocula fan fiction that Russell wrote, and released online, before he was a professional comics' writer.
Marie Javins, Russell's editor at DC Comics, was in attendance and shared that it was these stories that made her pitch him on the Prez revival which ultimately proved to be his first professional comic work. She thought he would be a good fit after being asked by DC publisher Dan DiDio to find someone who could write a political satire.
Russell described his approach to writing as "an active seduction, to make it sound even more pretentious, in that there has to be something on every page to make them read the next page and then something in each chapter that makes them read the next chapter and so on." He works to provide "as much value, in as small of a place, as possible. You have to be as direct as you can be and hit people with everything right away… Pithy and blunt, less flourish."
He described the process as "writing, reading what you wrote, noticing the themes and then rewriting to incorporate what it is that your subconscious is trying to tell you… All of this is done with the goal of creating the shortest route possible between my mind and yours."
Before writing comics Russell had two books published, both dealing with the Bible, God Is Disappointed in You and Apocrypha Now. Russell says that he has much to say on the subject of religion and that this continues with his latest series, Second Coming, and has acted as a form of therapy for him.
Having been brought up in fundamentalist, evangelical household, he developed doubts very early on. Some of his first comics were Chick Tracts many of which told him that everyone who was not exactly like him was going to Hell. Russell remembered that even at a young age he knew he could "not have been that lucky, to be part of the tiny sliver of humanity that will absolutely be saved."
Even though he abandoned that faith he rediscovered later on in his life what he calls the "the Radical Humanity of Jesus Christ." He sees Jesus as preaching one of the few actual alternatives to bribery and malice as a way of interacting with other people in a developed society. That if you are not happy with the way things are in a system then you have to fundamentally remove yourself from it, and in the time of the New Testament this would have meant not participating in the Roman economy. "The Romans would have believed that they had to crucify him at that point."
He added that he has known and worked with a Baptist Preacher for years, having had him read his religious based work. The man was in the audience of the panel as well.
Regarding the controversy surrounding Second Coming, which included calls for it to be canceled, upon its launch, by those who had not yet read it, and DC/Vertigo's subsequent decision to do so, Russell says that "asking to leave Vertigo was great. As if the captain of the Titanic offered us to go on a lifeboat full of supplies." Vertigo, whose new line of titles was announced at Comic-Con 2018, was recently closed, permanently.
Second Coming features the superhero Sunstar living and working with Jesus Christ, returned to Earth, to see if the two can learn from each other to better help the human race.
Now that the book has been released, feedback from everyone has been very positive, and Russell has been told that "you made a Christ-positive comic book." He added that though working with Vertigo was great, Ahoy added a great deal and allowed the creators to undo some of the changes that Vertigo had requested. Russell described Ahoy as "a funny Vertigo."
Moore asked about Russell's other current work including the recently concluded Lone Ranger limited series and the currently ongoing Red Sonja. Russell said that a theme in both is that "every empire is built on the original sin of genocide. This is the internal hypocrisy of empire. There have to be moral justifications for what was done, once the land is conquered and then a different set for why someone else should not do that to them."
Russell was raised in Eugene, OR a city approximately a hundred miles south of Portland. He remembers Portland as being his "big city, my New York." This was a time before Portland was known for being a home to many creatives. He recalls that it was better well known for the "number of strip clubs and book stores. They were a literate, naked people… This idea of being blue-collar but well-read allowed for artistic endeavors… You could fail gently." He still lives in Portland and mentioned that it has become a bit more mainstream. He added that "the reason a place is interesting is the reason it will eventually go extinct."
Having written such iconic supervillains such as Lex Luthor in the pages of both the Porky Pig special and the Wonder Twins, Moore asked what went into his depiction of them. Russell responded that "villains don't need to be sympathetic or nice but they do need to be loved. There has to be something about them that the audience understands and relates to in what they do."
He added that one of his favorites was Drunkula, the alcoholic vampire, who appeared as a member of the League of Annoyance (the Legion of Doom's farm team) in the pages of the Wonder Twins series, whose first arc recently completed at DC (a second volume is on the way). Drunkula only drank the blood of people who had been drinking, and had been sober for 30 days, before the events of the story which are not favorable to the man in recovery.
Russell says that he believes that speculative fiction is the best for "telling these stories that need to be told." He cited the example of the original Star Trek series using various alien races to tell stories about the evils of racism in a way that would connect with people even in the Deep South. He added that he believes "you can't make art a tool of conformity. It is about saying what hasn't been said before."
As for upcoming work, it was confirmed that a collected edition of the Cereal Monster stories would be coming, just as soon as enough had been released. They would also be collected as part of the Snifter of Terror series. He is working on Sinestro and Riddler stories for the Year of the Villain for DC.
Speaking of DC, Russell says that he would love to write Superman or Swamp Thing and that he would "like to write Green Lantern as a cross between the Twilight Zone and a RomCom."
After an audience member asked specifically, Russell agreed that he would love to write Howard the Duck for Marvel but says that Marvel has not yet asked him to do so.
An audience member asked about the fruit, on the Tree of Knowledge, in Second Coming #1, all of which is shaped like genitalia. Russell said that this was entirely the work of series artist Richard Pace and that Pace refused to budge even after everyone tried to get him to change it.
Regarding the controversy that sometimes follows his work around, Russell stated that he believed it was a case of "Conservatives are stranger averse, liberals are stranger friendly… you need both or, on a cultural level you'll ever grow stagnant and die or be immediately conquered by your neighbors."
Issue #2 of Second Coming will be out on August 14. Issue #1 has sold out at the Ahoy level and a second printing will be in stores the same day as the second issue.