Shooting The Breeze With Mark Russell

by Olly MacNamee

With the global pandemic we’re currently within the grip of, and many of us in self-isolation, social distancing and even lockdown, it’s been a trying time for everyone. If you’re a regular reader you’ll notice we’re trying to do our best to keep you up to date on developments within the industry, but also trying to offer you a respite from it all.
As such, we’ve reached out to comic book creators and sent them the same 10 questions to see how they’re spending their time a new column we’re calling ‘Shooting the Breeze’. 
We hope it entertains and offers up an insight into the lives of comic book creators across the globe. First up today, and every day at this time (5pm/ET) is Mark Russell, the writer of The Flintstones, The Snagglepuss Chronicles, Second Coming and his recent series, Billionaire Island from AHOY Comics.
So, let’s dive in, shall we?

Olly MacNamee: Now, for many creators a life of isolation is nothing new, but these are, I think we can all agree, unprecedented times. As such, have you noticed any changes yet to your regular daily routines, for better or for worse?
Mark Russell: Yes. For worse. I have to work from home, which violates my policy of not working anywhere where I have control over the TV or the refrigerator. So staying on task and not being distracted is a challenge. The big highlight of my day is getting the mail, or working out in the prison gym I’ve assembled on my deck. It sucks.
OM: Like so many others, have you pledged to take up any new hobbies or interests during this downtime? I imagine after one week that resolution — like New Year’s Eve resolutions — may have ebbed for some? So, do you ebb or flow? And that’s not euphemism!
MR: I’ve been working steadily, even during the shutdown, which is quite a luxury. And, for that, I am grateful. I haven’t had nearly as much time on my hands as other people who have seen their livelihoods destroyed by the necessity of social distancing. But one thing I have made time for since the shutdown is revisiting my favorite movies, some of which I haven’t seen in decades. Just this last week, I rewatched Cinema Paradiso, Raising Arizona, and Lucky. Tonight, I’m going to watch Harvey. I’ve also had more time to read, so that’s nice, too.

OM: This could very well go on for a few months, listening to the experts rather than the politicians. We’re all going to soon be clambering the walls, if we’re not distracted. What comic book gems will you have the time to go back, dig out and re-read and suggest to our readers to go order from their local comic book store to help support their business?
MR: Yes, just because the conveyor belt of comic publishing has ground to a halt doesn’t mean that there aren’t already tons of great comics you can order from your local shop and (hopefully) have delivered curbside or through the mail. I recently reread Ice Haven by Daniel Clowes because it’s one of the most brilliant comic books ever written. Also, being a pretty rainy time of year in Portland, I’ve been going back to work by Lynda Barry and Eleanor Davis, which in addition to being wonderfully written, are also colorful and vibrant. They feel like being out in the sun. 
OM: Any newer titles out there you’ve discovered or been recommended and enjoyed reading?
MR: In addition to the Jonathon Hickman’s X-Men stuff, which I think they’re just handing out at airports and bus stations now, it’s everywhere, I am also enjoying Bitter Root and Little Bird. Among other things I’m probably going to kick myself for leaving out.

OM: And, what will be playing on your turntable over the coming weeks? What albums could you not live without?
MR: I recently watched Birth of The Cool, the documentary about Miles Davis, so he’s been in heavy rotation the last few weeks. As well as a lot of Willie Nelson, which makes a sort of weird combination. Here’s just a few, but when I listen to these albums, I’m just blown away by how solid they are. How every song is a winner and how if I listened to just these albums, I’d probably never get sick of them — Village Green Preservation Society, by the Kinks; Solo Piano, by Philip Glass; Return to Cookie Mountain, by TV on the Radio; and IRM, by Charlotte Gainsbourg.
OM: Any box sets you’ll be going back to rewatching? Or any new films and TV you may now have the time to invest in?
MR: I saw a great piece of Spanish social horror on Netflix the other day. It’s called The Platform and it’s about this prison that also doubles as a social experiment. Every floor in the prison holds two prisoners. There’s a large hole in the middle of every floor and every day a table loaded with a massive feast is lowered through the prison, floor by floor. For the prisoners at the top of the building, they get this incredible banquet filled with every food imaginable. But by the time it gets about halfway down, the prisoners are dining on crumbs and by the time it gets to the bottom, it’s empty. It works on both levels, both as commentary on the nature of inequality and as a pretty tight horror movie. 
OM: I must admit, getting back to comics, it’s been really pleasing to read, see and hear the comic book communities coming together at a time like this. What have been some of the positive stories coming out of the comic book industry that have caught your eye over the past week or so?
MR: I like how creators are using this opportunity to signal boost local comic stores on social media. I know that sounds small, but things like that, and the media highlighting older comics that are still available, give me hope that we will survive this shutdown together.

OM: It would have been the start of another busy comic con season on both sides of the pond, but alas no more. Will you miss these chances to socialise and meet up with fellow colleagues and friends? 
MR: Yeah, I’ve already had three con appearances canceled in 2020, all of which I was looking forward to. But, honestly, I was never much of a social butterfly to begin with. I feel like my whole life has been preparation for social distancing. What I miss most about sheltering in place is the ability to go work in a coffee shop or a bar.
OM: What hopes do you harbour for the comic book industry once these stormy clouds have passed?
MR: That we will have a better, more resilient distribution model. And that we will realize the importance of having a wide variety of reading material available for when we’re stuck at home. It can’t all be superheroes smacking people around, because that gets old pretty quick.
OM: Finally, and to leave a smile on our readers’ faces, have you heard any good/bad jokes recently? 
MR: No. Nobody tells me anything.
Second Coming TPB is available from AHOY Comics as is Billionaire Island #1. Remember to order to from your local comic book store rather than online, if possible, and help support your local business.

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