“The West Is Our National Mythology” – Interviewing Mark Russell On The Lone Ranger, The Flintstones & More
by Olly MacNamee
With yet another award nomination for the soaraway success of The Flintstones – this time a nod from the Harvey Awards for Best Book of The Year – as well as The Snagglepuss Chronicles and two upcoming titles to look forward to (The Lone Ranger from Dynamite and Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Terror #1 from AHOY Comics) Mark Russell is certainly a man in demand and on the rise. As good a time as any to track him down and snag us an interview. We discuss his recent successes, his two new books and how the West was won. Or, at least, mythologised and politicised.
Olly MacNamee: Mark, congratulations on another award nomination for The Flintstones. It seems to be something of a breakout hit with critics and fans alike. Surely, you couldn’t have known that a reimagining of this much loved animation show would go down so well, and still be making news?
Mark Russell: Well, I knew that when I took a beloved family cartoon and made it about bird slavery and modern alienation, it would either be something uniquely interesting or a total disaster. I’m just glad so many people have come down on the side of the former.
OM: A few of us, over the past Thought Bubble weekend, got speaking about the fan theory that The Flinstones is actually set in the post-apocalyptic future. Are we becoming too obsessed with trying to find an explanation behind everything? Have any fans tried to tie down your own take to this theory?
MR: I think that’s the nature of being a human being. Anthropomorphizing animals and rocks and making up gods. All our belief systems are basically fan theories designed to fill in the gaps between ourselves and the things we love, and we make sense of the gaps in our understanding of them.
OM: Arguably, you’re still a fairly new name in comics. How did you get into writing for DC, first with Prez then with The Flintstones?
MR: I’m fairly new to comics, but not to writing. I’ve been honing my craft for decades and have published a couple of books. God Is Disappointed in You, which is a modernized and truncated version of the Bible and Apocrypha Now, which is about the non-canonical writings of the Jewish and Christian religions which didn’t make it into the official Bible. Those books, along with some Count Chocula fan-fiction I’d posted on the Internet, got me noticed by Marie Javins, who is a group editor at DC.
OM: And, following The Flintstones, you had another critical hit in a similar humorous vein with The Snagglepuss Chronicles, too. With your contribution to the forthcoming Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Terror #1, you’re making a bit of a name for yourself as a humorist, would you agree? I mean, your tale, ‘Dark Chocolate’, is a wonderful mix of the horrific with the sublimely ridiculous.
MR: Thanks. ‘Dark Chocolate’ is an adaptation of some of that Count Chocula fan-fiction I was just talking about. Though, for legal reasons, in my version he is the “Marquis de Cocoa”. I’m grateful for any attention I’m getting right now, but I hope that whatever name I’m making for myself is as a writer more than just a humorist, as my work is usually as sad as it is funny, and I think of humor as just one instrument in a writer’s tool-box with which to move readers and trick them into thinking about the same sorts of things you do.
OM: Your new series for Dynamite, The Lone Ranger, I can imagine is a more serious affair? What can you tell us about this book?
MR: It is more serious, but it’s also darkly funny, too, assuming I wrote it the way I intended to. It’s sort of a parable of Manifest Destiny and how greed contains in it the seeds of its own failure, but using Texas panhandle ranchers and the advent of barbed wire as my template.
OM: The West has always been a fertile ground for American creators to mythologise and politicise over the years. Given The Flinstones was a great cover to poke fun at modern society, can we expect similar, albeit more serious take from The Lone Ranger?
MR: The West is our national mythology in the same way that Mount Olympus was the seat of mythology for the Hellenistic world. So what better place to explore the fundamental errors of the American republic? I think everything that’s errant and backwards in American politics is the result of Americans’ subconscious desire to return to the plantation model of civilization, where blacks and browns are kept in the fields, women in the kitchen, and a few rich white guys rule it all with the support of heavily armed poor whites. If this impulse to take us back to the plantation succeeds, America will become a third world country where the talents and potential of the majority of our people remain unrealized in order to make a few mediocrities at the top feel better about themselves. This is everything we should be revolting against and I have put the Lone Ranger and Tonto in a position to do just that.
OM: Finally, then, Mark, are there any characters you’d love to have a pop at writing? I’d love to see your take on such cocky characters as Deadpool and even Batman. Hell, everyone wants to write Batman at least once in their life, right?
MR: Deadpool is definitely a character on my shortlist. I wrote a couple of Superman shorts for the Action Comics specials last spring and would love to write him again sometime. Also, Swamp Thing.
The Lone Ranger #1 is released by Dynamite on October 3rd with art by Bob Q.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Terror #1 is out October 31st from Ahoy Comics with art by Peter Snjeberg