This job has many rewards, so many in fact that it is hard to really call it that. A very good example of that is my interview with the smart mouthed and endearingly politically incorrect Mark Rahner (“CTHULHU TALES”, “ROTTEN”) whose zombie-western series “ROTTEN” has been given rave reviews from critics and readers alike. Beyond the break you’ll find the hilarious interview where Mark and I discuss the series in depth, e-readers, Tiger Wood’s antics, and even buttox augmentation. C’mon, you know ya wanna.
M.R: I was exposed to the toxic radiation of other comic book writers over the years as the pop culture writer at the Seattle Times. Quite a few live here. At the same time, with the newspaper industry circling the drain, I wondered, “What other completely stable and lucrative profession can I enter?”
Anyhow, I started off doing a few smaller pieces for other people — in “Cthulhu Tales,” Ed Brubaker’s “Criminal,” “Galveston” — and then decided to launch this fairly ambitious story called “Rotten” that Robert Horton and I had been working on for a while and nearly sold as a TV series.
TD: Seattle huh? I have a lot of friends that live up there in different bands (Aiden, Schoolyard Heroes). It’s a very odd mix in that city. Horror seems to have a lot of fans there. Do you find that to be the case too living there?
M.R: Absolutely. And we have more than our fair share of serial killers, too. Must be the weather.
But Seattle is also becoming the zombie capitol of the world over and above ROTTEN. Last July, Horton and I hosted a Guinness record-breaking zombie walk. I’ve just signed on for a three-day horror convention in June called Crypticon. Someone else is organizing a “Zomcon” for this year … The Northwest is filled with reprobates, the mentally ill and sheer evil.
TD: That’s very cool. I’ve never been, but I’ll have to check it out one of these days! So onto “ROTTEN”, what’s the story? How did the series start out?
M.R: The story a mash-up of genres with a current-events edge. An Army veteran gets stop-lossed back into service by a president who’s not legit. And his assignment is an awful one: investigate outbreaks of the living dead in the old West, exterminate them, and discover their cause. There’s an ongoing conspiracy mystery, and by now it’s clear that the undead arise in different species everywhere, which adds to the mystery and, we hope, adds another new wrinkle to the zombie genre.
To sum up: a secret agent hunting zombies in the old West. That’s how the series started in my head. Especially with action set-pieces I wanted to see — for instance Agent Wade trapped in a barn full of zombies, or an undead girl scratching her way across a wood floor toward him as she drags the bed she’s tied to behind her.
But it also seemed like a waste not to make the story *about* something, especially with such a glut of zombie stuff and at a time when so many infuriating things were happening in the news. There’ve been some comics that devote individual stories to controversial issues, but Horton and I wanted that to be a central, ongoing aspect of ROTTEN and of Wade’s miserably ugly odyssey. So it doesn’t just stop at a reconscripted vet and a president who stole the office. We touch on Abu Ghraib, war profiteering, even Terri Schiavi, for godsakes. But if you don’t care about any of that, you can just read it as horror, suspense, mystery and brutal action played straight and serious. Fans of “Battlestar Galactica” will totally get what we’re going for. And by the way, I think our eventual ending won’t make you swear at the TV — or in our case, the comic. Starbuck: really?
TD: I had noticed a lot of allegory going on in the story. You really did your homework on it. I think that that’s what really drew me into the story is that it tried to differentiate itself from the crowd that way. Who are you published through?
MR: What we’re doing might be too blunt to qualify as allegory, but there are lots of parallels to genuinely, seriously, unacceptably rotten current events, with plenty of commentary and wish-fulfillment. In fact, you’ll see some very familiar faces from politics and pop culture in our universe.
And yeah, we did – and continue to do – lots of homework on the old West, what was known at the time, what people said and ate and wore, what was going on elsewhere in the world. Issues 7-9 coming up involve a recent controversial book by a Mr. Darwin and the making of sausage in Chicago. Crap, we even have those old Time Life books with the fake leather covers! Our intention is to avoid the lazy Western cliches and keep it as realistic and nasty as possible – apart from, uh, carnivorous reanimated dead people.
Just that one small thing. The elevator line may be “cowboys and zombies in the West,” but we hope people see there’s a lot more than that going on when they pick up the book. Hey, these guys aren’t even cowboys. Wade is an ex-Pinkerton detective city-boy and does NOT wear assless chaps. They definitely don’t talk in comic book phonetic Cowboy-ese. Sometimes our hero misses when he shoots, and he definitely gets scared. Moonstone Books is the company kind enough to publish our filth, and we’re not sure what they did to deserve it.
TD: It is very blunt, and very straight forward at times I will give you that. So what other projects, if any do you have on the horizon?
MR:I was thinking about some minor plastic surgery — maybe buttox augmentation. Apart from that, the first ROTTEN trade paperback comes out in July, and we’re relaunching the monthly comic with a disgusting story called “Revival of the Fittest” that takes things to a new level of action, violence and intrigue. And as soon as I have time, I want to give birth to a couple of things that have been crowning for a while: a modern-day, breakneck, disgusting sci-fi action story called “H.E.L.I.X.” with Horton, and my own brutal version of the Bowie and Lafitte story that wound up as “Galveston” in 2008. I’m looking at artists for the latter now. And after that, I’m checking into that place where Tiger went.
TD: You’ll have to say hi to Tiger for me, tell him to keep his chin up. Haha. So since it seems to be the talk of the world right now, how do you feel about the “e-reader revolution”? With Apple’s announcement of the “IPad” where do you see the future of literature heading?
MR:Yes, his chin only.
Look, nobody enjoys sitting surrounded by his bigass iMac, MacBook Pro and iPhone without pants more than I do. But I haven’t seen any compelling reason to rush out and buy an iPad yet. On the other hand, it does look like it’ll be a lot better looking at comic books on one of those than on an iPhone or a Kindle.
The future of literature? You mean apart from “Twilight”? I also work in the newspaper industry, which has been circling the drain for some time. And the rest of the publishing business isn’t exactly thriving, either. So who knows: maybe more devices that cut down costs — paper, shipping — and make it quick and easy to get reading material might provide some life support. That’s the short answer. You don’t have time for the long one.
TD: Yea, I’m not a huge fan of them, but i could possibly be swayed. It just seems to me that there is something more to comics for the readers. It’s a collectors thing, and I don’t think any device can replicate that for most readers. So can you tell readers anything about “Revival of the Fittest”?
MR: I agree. It just won’t be the same tucking an iPad under your arm as you head to the bathroom, either.
We’ve changed up the vibe and the action with each story arc of ROTTEN, so that no one could ever say it’s either the same as anything else out there or just the same thing all the time. And “Revival of the Fittest” takes things to yet another level. It’s the first time you’ll see Agent Wade fully on his feet, fully healed and ready to kick ass. But nobody could be prepared for what he has to face. It’s easily the most action-oriented –and disgusting — issue yet. Meanwhile, Flynn heads in a different direction, to learn about this controversial new idea called “evolution” at a Chicago university where a familiar-looking hate-monger is whipping up the 18th century version of our moronic “tea-baggers” into a violent frenzy. The making of sausages also figures prominently. Is your mouth watering yet? Or just your eyes?
TD: I think it might be a combination of both. That or its the onion I’m eating. So can readers expect any new (reoccurring or not) characters to be added to the mix?
MR: I’m not telling if any of the people you’ll meet will become recurring ones, because that would take the sport out of it. But I can say that among the treats in store is someone very familiar-looking — who’s known for assertive ignorance and shameless dishonesty — gets a big dose of wish-fulfillment that wouldn’t be legal in real life. You’ll be exhausted, satisfied and wanting more by the end. Which is every bit as dirty as I intended it to sound.
TD: Now I’M getting a little excited. So is there anything that you would like to say to the readers in closing? Or is there anything else you would like to touch on? Oh, the innuendo.
MR: ROTTEN is the nasty little comic that could — out of nowhere, by nobodies, and from a smaller publisher. Critics and fans have been so kind that we feel like Make-a-Wish kids. But we still need all the
help we can get spreading the filth — I mean the word. Threaten your dealers if they don’t carry it. Preorder the ROTTEN Vol. 1 trade paperback on Amazon. Become a fan of Rotten Comics on Facebook and then suggest the same to your degenerate friends. Follow @rottencomics
on Twitter. And visit our official site, www.rottencomics.com, where you’ll find some kickass bonus reading: the lost secret diary of J.J. Flynn. Make news by rolling up a copy and assaulting someone with it. Also, you could get a ROTTEN tattoo on your junk.
I would like to thank Mark for the 1000th time for being such a great sport and being such a pleasure to talk to. For those that haven’t yet you can check out Mark’s series “ROTTEN” at his website www.markrahner.com, and be sure to stick around for the review of the first 4 issues of the series in the coming weeks!