Traveling to Mars: We Talk to Mark Russell About His SciFi Satire
Traveling to Mars is Mark Russell's latest satire about life under Late Capitalism and his most existential story yet. The bleakly funny comedy takes place in the not-too-far-future where Earth's resources are depleted, and a nobody named Roy Livingston is sent to Mars to claim the rare minerals for a US corporate power before anyone else does. Why was Roy picked as opposed to a highly trained astronaut? Why? Because Roy is dying of cancer and has nothing else to live for, so he's not someone who will be missed in case things go south. The story follows Roy's musings about the whole situation and what happens when he actually gets to Mars as the first human to set foot there.
We had a chance to interview Mark Russell on the eve of the release of Traveling to Mars #1.
How Traveling to Mars Under Capitalism Sucks
Bleeding Cool: Okay, first question. Traveling to Mars reads like your subversion of the old school John W. Campbell Science Fiction tale where instead of competent white men sciencing their way to a brighter future for Humanity, it's the reverse: a disappointed meditation on how Capitalism and Greed have co-opted even the optimism of space travel and exploration into more resource exploitation. What inspired you to write this story?
Mark Russell: I'm not sure if it was the desire to write a science fiction story disguised as a personal diary or a personal diary that masquerades as a science fiction story, but it was one of the two. I wanted to talk about space travel and standing on the edge of the abyss here on Earth, but to do it on a very personal level. From the vantage point of someone actually standing on the ledge at the point of falling over. I wanted, more than anything, for it to feel personal.
You're the most consistent satirist in mainstream comics, using the genre to poke fun at Late Capitalism (I don't even know why it's called "late" Capitalism when it just looks like Capitalism is continuing to find new ways to make our lives miserable). How did you end up becoming That Writer and in comics? How conscious was the decision?
I think people call it "Late-Stage Capitalism" as a form of wishful thinking. As if, "surely things can't get any stupider than this!" But as you, and Jeff Goldblum, point out… life finds a way. In terms of how I ended up with this reputation, to the extent I have it, it wasn't conscious. Nothing about my career has been strategic or even modestly thought out. I just write about what it is I really want to talk about at the moment and what preoccupies me (understandably, in my opinion) is the fact that the raft we're on is heading toward a waterfall. It's this anxiety that creates the illusion of some meaningful pattern.
On Traveling to Mars and Writing Science Fiction
Traveling to Mars is your most existential story since your protagonist Roy Livingston is literally facing the end of his life as he volunteers to be exploited so his next-of-kin can be taken care of financially. Can you talk about how your main characters are often guys who become more aware of the big picture than everyone else?
As most of us spend our lives locked in the maze, forever searching for the cheese, I think I naturally gravitate toward characters who, consciously or by accident, manage to escape. So my protagonists tend to be journalists, superheroes, and terminally ill people on a one-way mission to Mars. People have the time to think about the maze itself and a unique vantage point from which to do so.
Traveling to Mars is like a Science Fiction companion piece to your AWA Studios satire "Not All Robots," which pokes at toxic masculinity and entitlement on top of Capitalism. Can you talk about writing your satire outside of the superhero genre? Do you have a genre preference?
I guess if I had to choose a genre the way a prisoner might have to join a gang for protection, I would probably choose science fiction. Science fiction is, I think, inherently satirical. It's a way of talking shit about the other people in the room but setting it in the future or another world so they don't get all defensive. It's a way of thinking about the maze from outside the maze.
Traveling to Mars #1 is published by ABLAZE and is in stores this week.