‘Billionaire Island’ Writer Mark Russell: The Conskipper Interview

If you’re looking for whip-smart, satirical storytelling, you can’t go wrong with any of writer Mark Russell’s comic series. Russell has made a name for himself over the past decade by taking traditional concepts such as Hanna Barbera mainstays such as The Flintstones and Snagglepuss and Huckleberry Hound and turning them into thoughtful examinations of life and society.

Russel’s current series from Ahoy Comics are no different. His recently collected Billionaire Island is an unfortunately topical look at the outrageousness of those who have the most, and do the least and Second Coming places a Superman-esque character named Sunstar in the mentor role for the Second Coming of Jesus. Russel took some time out to speak to Conskipper about his current work as well as a number of upcoming projects in this exclusive interview.

Where did the inspiration for your upcoming graphic novel Billionaire Island come from

Mark Russell: From reading about how billionaires were preparing to save themselves from the end of the world instead of, you know, using their massive wealth to stop the end of the world.

You reunited with Steve Pugh for Billionaire Island.  What is it like working with Steve again after The Flintstones?  What is the writer/artist dynamic like with him?  

Russell: I always love working with Steve and I think his secret sauce is that he’s extremely good at drawing sadness. He’s great at conveying all the flavors of emotion, actually, which makes it a lot easier to tell a story. That, and he takes my scripts and notches up the absurdity by an additional 10%. In both Flintstones and Billionaire Island, I think Steve did a wonderful job of taking an exotic and goofy world and making it feel real and populated by actual people.

Many fans know your work from The Flintstones and The Snagglepus Chronicles.  Was there any resistance to your take on these Hanna Barbera characters?  Was it difficult to pitch your ideas to DC?  Were any other characters discussed for these stories?

Russell: The Flintstones and Snagglepuss were weirdly easy to get DC to publish. In fact, they’re the ones who approached me about the Flintstones. And Snagglepuss existed only as a Facebook joke, as me writing little snippets of dialogue between Snagglepuss and Huckleberry Hound as if they were southern gothic playwrights, until my editor Marie Javins wrote me saying, “If you want to turn this Snagglepuss stuff into a comic, it’s hereby approved.” When the Flintstones was announced, there was some pushback from the press, mostly of the “ruining childhoods” variety. I don’t blame them. Someone writing a Flintstones reboot would have sounded like a terrible idea to me, too, if I weren’t the one doing it.

The Snagglepus Chronicles in particular surprised audiences and ended up garnering great critical acclaim and a GLADD award.  How did your take on the story take shape?

Russell: I started with the two things I knew about Snagglepuss. That he is a gay icon and that (given his catchphrases) he has a background in theater. And as I mentioned, I had already sort of been toying with Snagglepuss and Huckleberry Hound as southern gothic writers, so I just sort of built the story on top of those three pillars.

You will be returning to Second Coming very soon.  What does the second season have in store for readers? 

Russell: It’s mostly about how hard it is to make up for past mistakes. In the case of Sunstar, how being sort of a bully and trying to solve every problem with violence comes back to haunt him. And for Christ, how difficult it is to set people right once they think they already know what you want from them.

What is it like working for a brand new company like Ahoy Comics?

Russell: I really enjoy it. Being a new company, they’re not as scared of controversy and negative publicity as a larger more established company would be. And this comes in handy when you’re trying to publish something like Second Coming. But more than that, they just sort of resonate on the same frequency that I do. They want to publish comics that are high concept, but also funny, which for some reason, the rest of the industry tends to view as something akin to leprosy.

Does the current state of the world/country have your satirical senses on maximum overload right now, in terms of potential story ideas?

Russell: No, not really. Most of the things I write are metaphors for problems civilization has suffered about for a long time and probably will continue to suffer from long after I’m done writing about them. But a lot of the individual settings and details I use in telling those stories are based on, or directly ripped off from, current events.

Upcoming projects?  

Russell: I’ve just finished another collaboration with Steve Pugh called Superman vs Imperious Lex. It’s about Superman confronting Lex Luthor on Lexor, a planet where Lex Luthor is idolized and Superman is the most hated man in the world. Which, again, is largely a metaphor. In this case, for the limits of propaganda and how the weight of power accumulated by dictatorships tend to be what causes them to collapse.

The Billionaire Island graphic novel is currently for sale in finer comic book shops everywhere and it will also be in your local bookstore on November 24.

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