Editor’s note: Despite suffering from what must be severe depression because his new book, Genius, has been delayed a week, comics writer and Entertainment Weekly editor Marc Bernardin returns with another post today.
By Marc Bernardin
My potentially controversial, totally ass-kicking one-shot, Genius, comes out a week from today. So, in honor of this story about a 17-year-old girl from South Central who declares war on the LAPD, I’m talking to the other members of the Genius team: my co-writer and longtime friend, Adam Freeman, and our artist extraordinaire, Afua Richardson.
Was there ever a moment when you thought Genius’ subject matter—essentially, it’s about a young black revolutionary who takes matters into her own teenage hands—was a little too incendiary?
ADAM: I wanted to make sure we were not glorifying her actions but rather explaining how — to her — this is the only solution left. I was more in love with the idea that a genius could be born anywhere than the socio-political point of view. Plus I didn’t know how something like this would be received coming from a white guy, to be honest. All of our comics are racially diverse but this is the first one that a character had to be a certain race. But we have always been about telling interesting stories, and this is definitely one of them.
AFUA: When I first read it over, I was a little taken back by the violence. Not by the motive but the acts themselves. I mean I’m all for a good “beat ‘em up, shoot ‘em down” body of work, but in reading it, it instantly reminded me of growing up in Harlem with kids who, for whatever reason, were either over-compensating for a broken family by being aggressive — and displacing that anger on me (which is why I stayed my ass in the house). Anyway, it made me feel like I was peeking in at the underbelly of a system of over-privilege/underprivileged, where the latter presses back in slew of bullets and beatdowns. But in reading all the way through, I understood the whys and so on. But I dunno…I understand that no revolution came peacefully, but starting the fight instead of being wiling to fight kinda rubs me the wrong way. I was wondering if I would be able to do it any justice not having that kinda of anger to work from.
Afua, should the Internet Voting Gods smile on us during this hallowed Pilot Season Adam and I know how Destiny’s story will end. And our esteemed editor, Top Cow’s Rob Levin, hasn’t shared that info with you. (Bastardo!) If ignorance is, indeed, bliss, if you had your druthers, where would you want to see her go? What should become of her quest?
AFUA: I’d have her come to an epiphany before eventually breaking the United States into a divided territory. Maybe thru the reign of D’s army she’ll realize what is and isn’t worth it. But you know a good overturn o’ the government/spy/hood style would be uber-entertaining for me. But not without a major loss.
Since, with this book, we get one shot at making an impression on readers, what was the first comic that really opened your eyes? Not necessarily the first one you remember reading, but the first one that showed you what comics were capable of doing?
AFUA: The early Swamp Thing comics of the late ’80s. They were so obscure and full of internal dialog it threw me for a loop. It felt like I was in a different area of comics I’d never been exposed to before. Then for a few years, I lost touch with comics. Until Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal. Still one of my favorite comics. With great storytelling, Hiroaki could illustrate both a battle and a subtle conversation and deliver the same entertainment value. I knew I wanted to have that same feeling in my work. (Not there yet, though….)
ADAM: X-Men: God Loves Man Kills. I remember reading it over and over, thinking, “This is just like a movie!” That is not to say that for a comic to be good it has to look, feel, or sound like something else. I think what I was reacting to was the fact that this wasn’t like any comic I had ever read. It was storytelling as complicated and mature as other mediums.
All of us have been skipping around the periphery of comics for a bit, sort of on the outside looking in. When you do look in, what’s the thing that encourages you about the comics business today? What discourages you?
AFUA: Well, I take all the things I do very seriously, whether it be art or music, voice acting, or graphic design. Comics has always seemed like an elitist media — that anyone who didn’t start as a comic artist or writer, mucking through the trenches of start ups and paying dues, is under scrutiny from the fans. Like, “What’s this ___ (whatever your non-comic book job is) doing in comics?” Luckily, I wasn’t met with that attitude. But what I did get was “You’re pretty good for a girl.” Just a patronizing pat on the back from people and never any real criticism to my face. So I adopted an art alias — Lakota Sioux — and set out in the digital world where they don’t know what I look like, with all this e-courage. What I love about comics and what I’ll always love about it is that it’s an ever-growing business. That it’s always changing. It’s no longer considered a “child’s media” and the market is opening up. It’s like watching a kid grow up to be a great adult. Makes you proud to be a part of that growth.
ADAM: I am encouraged by the growing amount of non-superhero books and the maturity of the stories being told. Capes and tights are fine, but those stories can only go so far. When I was a kid, the idea of a book like 100 Bullets, Y: The Last Man, or A History of Violence was not even in the realm of possibility, at least to me. On the negative tip, I am greatly discouraged by the lack of flexibility in most storylines today. Everything is a huge crossover with rippling effects of continuity and multiple Earths blah blah blah. With the exception of Frank Miller’s “school kids on drugs” run on Daredevil, the comics that pop out to me are great stand-alone stories. Nowadays it seems like all the majors have our favorite heroes’ lives planned out 18 months in advance so they can figure out how the entire universe is affected, how to get the toys out in time, etc. There is no room for fresh blood like us to come along and put a really interesting 22-pager out there featuring a hero any of us care about.
Afua, I know you’ve come to comics a little circuitously — yay, me and the big words — tell us a bit about your journey.
AFUA: Circuitously…nice. I guess it was a little roundabout. I got my start at NBM. I was moving out of my then-bf’s place and had nowhere to go. No job either as my background-singing gigs ran dry and the owner of the restaurant I was bartending at decided to throw the manager through the wall of bottles…and I wasn’t about to be next. Luckily, my friend Brandon Graham said to me, while I was freaking out one evening, that I should take his apartment (he was about to move to Seattle) and his job over at NBM drawing erotica. So I had a 10-page comic in Sizzle magazine, an erotic quarterly, as my first published work. And probably my first sequential pages…ever. Thanks, Graham Crackers.
All three of us, in the process of working on Genius, have been dislocated from the other: Adam’s all the way out in L.A., and while both Afua and I are both in the New York metropolitan area, we didn’t actually meet until after the book was done. Is that sort of telecollaboration a good thing, or a necessary evil?
ADAM: No artist wants a writer or editor standing over his/her shoulder. They like to go off with their headphones, disappear into their zone, and create. For that reason I think the mileage has very little effect on the writer and the artist. On the writing front, Marc and I have known each other since fifth grade and I think we realize we get 100x more done over IM and e-mail. Us in the same room always yields the same result: a blinking cursor and me swearing that there’s something in my chemical make-up that prevents me from beating Marc at Halo.
AFUA: I’ve got to agree with Adam, no one wants someone over his or her shoulder. But at the same time I felt like there were questions about the script I wanted to ask but probably would have had an easier time asking in person. It’s not evil. I wouldn’t say that. Sometimes I think its cool that one can create something with someone having never met them — bless the internet.
Finally, if you could kill one superhero, never to return, who would it be? Me, I’d kill the Punisher. Not because I don’t like him, but because I’d like to see the vacuum his death would create. It’s like, I hate spiders, but I know that if you don’t have spiders in your house, you’ll get overrun by bugs.
ADAM: Howard the Duck, that f*cker. No, I don’t know. Maybe one of those characters that seems to hang around forever but serves no purpose, like Wonder Man. Is anyone out there specifically a Wonder Man fan? Can you not let a Wednesday pass without getting your Wonder Man fix? But, given the opportunity, I would probably pick someone that would create more of an impact like…no, screw it. I’m going with my first answer, Alex. Howard the Duck.
AFUA: I’d take out Cyclops, whiney little Boy Scout. He’s this egotistical prick I’d like to see look in a mirror and accidentally zap himself into dust. His girlfriend is more powerful than he is. It’s probably emasculating. Maybe that’s why he’s such a jackass. Maybe Wolvie would kill him. I’d pay to see that. Wait — I paid to see the movie, and I think it was my favorite part. Does that make me evil? If so, I’m not sure I care.