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Cosmic Treadmill: FOG! Chats With Comic Writer MARK BERTOLINI

Independent comic writer Mark Bertolini shared his recent ComiXology Submit graphic novel Long Gone and its take on superheroes gone bad.

Not only is that a favorite topic around here at The Cosmic Treadmill and Triple Shot, but we also talk about the comic market and some very cool upcoming projects coming our way from his lair in Ontario.

Mark, thanks for joining us today here at Forces of Geek!  We first heard of you while flipping the virtual spinner rack at ComiXology for your creator owned, Broken through ComiXology Submit.  You have a few books up on the store—how has it been actually submitting your comics from a creator’s perspective? What is your relationship with 215 Ink?

I have a great relationship with 215 Ink. They’re an incredibly supportive publisher, and always have an ear open for me. I’m very happy with how things work, because I don’t have to do the behind-the-scenes work. I get to create, and 215 does the business work. I haven’t submitted any of my own work to Comixology, the publisher handles all of that for me, which I appreciate immensely. All the books on the site are courtesy of 215 Ink’s hard work.

We loved the story in Broken, a twist on the Batman origin in a way, plus playing with some other tropes in comics. How did fans react to the book?

There has been some pretty great feedback about Broken.

Now, most of that feedback was about how brutal and depressing the story was, but I consider that good. People who read Broken really picked up on the Batman theme, and how I was able to adapt it into something new-ish.

Also, there was a ton of praise about Allen Byrns’ work. Allen’s a genius, and this first issue really demonstrates that.

I recently finished another project of yours, Long Gone, also available on the ComiXology store.  The 97 pager is broken up into four issues, but collected on ComiXology as one volume. Again, you’ve taken some familiar comic book tropes and flipped them on their head. Care to tell the readers what to expect?

Long Gone is an original graphic novel about the end of the world as brought about by superhumans, who have decided to erase humanity from the face of the Earth. The book is published by AAM-Markosia.

You really struck a nerve with me, some of my favorite stories recently have been in Paul Jenkin’s Deathmatch, Mark Waid’s Irredeemable, and Peter Tomasi’s The Mighty. Your book takes similar elements of those stories, with hero gone bad and combines that with a post-apocalyptic almost (but not quite) similar to the world in The Walking Dead. What made you want to turn the superhumans into destructive bad guys?

Oh man, you hit it on the head with The Mighty. I thought I was the only one who read that! The idea to make the superhumans the bad guys was pretty much the first piece of the story that came about. Why would super-powered individuals want to protect and serve the regular people? What benefit is there in that? Why wouldn’t they want to do whatever they wanted, up to and including taking the planet for themselves. It’s kind of a depressing state of affairs, but also one that I think is pretty realistic. Not every superhuman is going to have a Ma and Pa Kent or an Uncle Ben to set them on the right path.

Our man Abraham is a Vietnam vet about to take on the dominant superhumans. How was he to spend some time with? He’s a pretty badass dude!

Abe was a great character to write.

I loved his world-view. Things for Abe were black and white. He didn’t accept any middle ground. I think that’s the kind of view a lot of people in that age group would have.

I also loved that he was such a sappy family man, how much he loved his wife and his kids and his grandkids. He just felt like a hard, rigid, unwavering old man.

I picture him as Clint Eastwood, minus the crazy chair babbling.

When I started writing this story, I knew what the ending was going to be right away, and it was rough on me to get to that point.

Were the heroes that showed up later in the story direct pastiche to Marvel heroes, in a specific way, or more generalized in your script. Were their designs up to you or your fantastic artist Ted Pogorzelski?

I gave Ted some generic guidelines for the characters, so each of them were based on an existing Marvel or DC character.

It was just a chance to have some fun and take some good-natured pokes at them.

But the designs were all Ted.

I’d say “make a guy look like Captain America”, and Ted would nail the design, staying well within the realm of parody. The only one we had any trouble with was the Batman-based character.

Ted got really specific, and we had to change a few things in the colors to make sure we wouldn’t get sued.

When you started writing this, did you have a sense this one would take four issues? How do you pace yourself?

It’s interesting, I started to write this as a 100-page graphic novel. When the deal was signed with Markosia to publish it, they asked me to break it into four individual issues, as the original plan was to release the single issues digitally. That never happened, and the book was released as an OGN. I’m a huge fan of graphic novels and trades and I loved that Long Gone got a release that way.

In terms of the pacing, I actually borrowed a trick from Frank Miller and wrote each page as three page-wide panels. Not many people have commented on it, but that was very specific and intended. The only time we broke out of the three-panel model was to tell some specific story beats. I really like how it worked out, and how much room it gave Ted to work his magic.

It is funny how things work, I was talking to a friend just last night and he was asking what kind of comic story I would like to write. I described that these are my favorite kinds of comics lately and my story would go in this direction, with previously nice super-powered guy going sort of nutty. Were you using telepathy last night to get me to read your book and get this interview done? Were you?

That little itch in your hypothalamus?

That’s me. Don’t fight it. I know what you’re thinking…

But in all seriousness, I feel the same way about those kind of stories. I love the idea of the superhuman turning bad, or turning these common themes in superhero comics on their heads.

My favorite books all do this, stuff like the original Authority run by Warren Ellis and Mark Millar. Or Millar’s Wanted. Or even Planetary, which proved you can take existing ideas and turn them into whatever you want.

I explore this concept a lot more in my ongoing supervillain series Breakneck from 215 Ink.

Mark, we so appreciate what you are doing in comics as an independent creator. Please let us know what else you are working on, where we can find you online and come back soon please! Just don’t come back as a superpowered bad guy, please.

My next big project is a three-issue miniseries called Scum of the Earth, which is going to be published by Action Lab’s Danger Zone imprint. It’ll be part of the second wave of Danger Zone books, and I can’t wait for it to be out! Rob Croonenborghs is my partner-in-crime on that book, and just wait until you see his work. It’s a Southern-fried sci-fi grindhouse kind of story.

I also have a 6-issue miniseries coming out from Markosia called Knowledge, that should start seeing digital releases by the end of the year/early next year.

I’m all over the net – you can follow me on Twitter @mark_bertolini. Or find me on my Facebook page, and you can follow my blog (where I talk about comics and music and comics, and occasionally other comics). If anyone wants to know where to find my books, hit me up and I’ll point you in the right direction.

Once Scum of the Earth hits, I’d be more than happy to come back to chat! But I can’t guarantee what my superpowered status might be…

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