Here’s the last of my interviews that I was holding off from my INFUZE days, until its new iteration would take place, which for me, I guess is this here little blog. It was conducted in January of this year, with the creators of SOME NEW KIND OF SLAUGHTER, mpMann and A. David Lewis. Slaughter was a bold four ish mini published by Archaia Studios Press, that looked at the concept of world changing floods in different lands and cultures. Arachaia put it more succinctly: If there is one constant throughout most of Earth’s historical nations, cultures, and religions, it is the threat and the destruction of the Great Flood. In the wake of the recent Indian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and alarm over global warming, the award-winning creators of The Lone and Level Sands return to plumb the depths of the world’s great myths with this four-issue, all-ages mini-series, exploring how this legendary fear may be more relevant now than ever before.
It seems like quite an intricate tale. Do you foresee this book having an appeal to a mainstream comic-book fan as well as to the independent comics audience? Was there an intentional attempt to appeal to specifically either or both types of reader?
Marvin Perry Mann: It will probably appeal more to the indie/alt cognoscenti and, for that matter, new mainstream readers than to the spandex or manga fans. But there’s no small amount of overlap. Most of the writers I’ve worked with have been quite broadly read in comics, much more so than I. The complex story structure of the book should give fans of formalist comics something to bite into, and the emotional depth of several of the tales will satisfy lovers of stories about real people, despite the mythological underpinnings.
But I think it’s fair to say that neither Dave nor I set out to target an audience. Some New Kind of Slaughter fits no well-trod genre. We wanted to produce a work that would engage us, and tell stories that might open eyes. We assumed that there were like-minded readers out there. The formal structures and challenges of telling so many stories in some coherent fashion were spice to the process.
A. David Lewis: It’s no good, from a creative standpoint, to identify an audience and then, after the fact, to write for that target. I mean, unless you’re trying to make a point about that specific audience, I can’t see it going too well. Really, that’s more a concern for the publisher and its marketers. The creators, though, have to go with what hooks them to do a story, especially when they’re operating outside a mainstream character base; I mean, the purpose for writing a Batman story might just be to write a freakin’ Batman story. But, thanks to the good graces of publishers like Archaia Studios Press, Marv and I can pursue stories that interest us, for which, in turn, ASP has found terrific readerships.
I imagine the research process must have been quite intensive and enlightening. How did you choose what absolutely had to be in the project and what you could do without?
mpMann: Well, Noah had to be in. Dave did the primary work on that story, the longest in the project, nearly 1/3 of the page count in all. And as I have said elsewhere, he knocks it out of the ballpark. This is Noah as you have never seen him before.
Lewis: Aw, Marv’s a flatterer. But, yeah, I became interested in Noah the same way I became interested in the Pharaoh for The Lone and Level Sands. I mean, it really fascinates me how much people, both secular and religious, think they remember about biblical characters that just isn’t there in the text. There’s so much wiggle room, so much gray area, and exegetes over the centuries have, with good intentions, spun out a number of character interpretations. None, as far as I could find, looked to fill Noah’s Iserian “gaps” (check out that hard-core scholarly terminology!) in terms of other cultures’ Floods. So, I had a great angle at which to approach the research.
mpMann: The second one that was almost as mandatory, at least for me, was Ziusudra/Utnapishtim, the Sumerian cum Babylonian prototype for Noah. Their stories are very similar, so it was important to find ways to distinguish them. One way was to make Ziusudra the narrator. He was after all, the earliest flood hero to come down to us. And since “doubt and certainty as an approach to faith” was one of our themes, we used Ziusudra to represent doubt, and Noah to embody certainty.
The Sharon Boatwright story was something I had concocted whole cloth for an earlier project using Utnapishtim. With a little fiddling she fit right in and gave us something to tie myth to the present day. Her flood has the most contemporary resonance, but her story is told in a manner that is the most dreamlike.
The Chinese myth of Da Yu/Nuwa is really a composite of two very different myths. But together they form a unified story that illuminates how one can be inspired by the story of another.
The Hindu myth “almost” made the cut as one of the long form stories, and does get more space than the other done-in-one myths.
In tackling these myths in Slaughter but also in your previous work The Lone and Level Sands, has it surprised you how the themes and story telling techniques of these ancient tales reverberate even in today’s stories? I’m thinking the work of Joseph Campbell here.
mpMann: Heh, well, if we’re thinking of Joseph Campbell then it shouldn’t be a surprise that new stories parallel the old, or that the old tales still have power to inspire us. The underlying structures and interests of these stories speak to our human longings and fears. What can be fun is making the topical connections to contemporary life, and learning to distinguish the local from the eternal.
Comics seem like the perfect avenue for you to tell this story. Is it easier for you both to work in comics than any other art form, with the kind of stories you want to tell?
mpMann: Does it? I think these stories, constructed this way, might well have been presented in prose form, or perhaps as epic poetry. Okay, epic poetry in today’s market would surely result in fewer readers, but, historically, both prose and poetry have tackled the idea of “many-stories-in-one” any number of times. Bringing an approach like this to comics is a bit different. Think of it as bringing a classic form to this relatively new medium. Comics can to do what older literary forms have long done.
Lewis: I do tend to visualize my stories, yeah, so I suppose they could be wrought for film, television, web animation, or comics. But the comic book medium has techniques and tools unique to it that tend to mesh best with the way I like to approach telling a story. I don’t mean to disparage the purely written word – prose or poetry – which has its own strengths and magic. But I am a believer that the word-image synergy of comics has a unique effect on engaging the reader’s mind. (Go see Visual Linguist Neil Cohn on all this.) Young children can read picture books more easily because they have verbal and visual information working in unison to help them to meaning. This isn’t a simplistic interaction; it’s a relatively natural one. Whether the brain is actually hardwired for this or not, I can’t say, but I do know that this whole engagement of the visual languages in comics accomplishes things that you don’t often find in words or pictures alone.
David, in April you’ll be a part of Boston University’s “Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books and Graphic Novels.” It’s an intriguing topic. Can you give us a glimpse of what you’ll be discussing?
Lewis: Well, abstracts and presentation proposals are still coming in from across the country and abroad, ahead of the January 31st deadline. So, my co-chair and I need to work thought a selection process to finalize the program slate. I can say, though, that we’ve got educator and award-winning creator James Sturm as its keynote speaker, and the Sunday Q&A will include both him and other comic creators engaged in a wide-ranging discussion: What are “religious comics?” And what impact do they have?
There’s plenty of metaphorical application of religion and faith for any narrative medium. Neo is as Christ-like in The Matrix as Superman is. Lost seems as much like Purgatory as Peter Parker resembles Job. However, this conference is about the more overt depictions of faith and the religious in comics…which is a rapidly expanding corpus. A Contract with God, MAUS, Chick tracts, Christian publishers, Testament, Cerebus, Preacher, Mark Millar’s Chosen, or even (brace for it) Spawn, just to name a few. Even in secular terms, religion plays an important part in comic book storytelling, certainly as much as politics and perhaps moreso than sexuality, to name two umbrella topics. So, “Graven Images” is an exciting first attempt by Boston University to create a bridge between academy study and this creative upswell.
Marvin, from an artist’s point of view, was the design of the narrative difficult at all? Were there any sequences that took you a while to grasp visually?
MpMann: Since I co-wrote the script with Dave, I made a point of providing myself with different kinds of writing styles and pacing to help the reader to keep track while hopping around so much. The Ziusudra material is mostly first person narrative. Dave wrote the Noah story primarily as dialogue. Much of the Sharon Boatwright story is silent. The short done-in-one myths are all captioned, and Da-Yu/Nuwa is a story within a story. Visually, some are more naturalistic, and others more cartoonish. I relied on my natural “hand’ to provide visual continuity. Color, of course was a real key to the sections.
How would you both describe the collaborative process and the way it shaped the story or the project? Was it very much a partnership with lots of big ideas going back and forth?
Lewis: To be honest, this is a process and an approach I would never attempt with another other than Marv. He and I already had a rapport, a solid working sense of each other, and a language on which we could rely. Moreover, it was a partnership in which I could place my trust, handing over this Flood concept to Marv and then moving back to a second banana role. Rather than feeling like Lando reluctantly giving the Millennium Falcon to Han, I got to be Chewie sitting right next to him and playing co-pilot. Perhaps I’m too domineering or controlling, but I don’t think I could have done this with anyone else.
mpMann: Dave concocted the original notion of doing “all” of the world’s flood myths. I was skeptical as first. But when it came time to put something together and Dave was consumed with his PhD program, he graciously allowed me to run with his idea and take the lead in outlining the story and doing a first draft on about 2/3 of it. But we both took a pass at the other’s work and both of us have our fingerprints all over the whole.
How do you both feel about the mainstream comics scene and how it measures up against the more independent publishers? Do you have a personal preference more for one than the other, or would you prefer the two worlds mingle more often than they currently do?
Lewis: I refuse to apologize either for having an interest Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men or for not being particularly compelled by, say, Seth. I mean, I think the independent market produces more hits-to-misses than the mainstream, but that’s because the latter generally deals in quantity. And, amongst that quantity, there are some great and entertaining stories. Both groups have their snobs, their elitists, and their obsessives – that’s what turns me off, personally. So I do like it when those two worlds meet or influence each other. They’re both needed, so long as they’re not polarizing, you know?
Independent publishing obviously gives creators like Marv and me more freedom, though there is limited exposure and machinery supporting it. (No offense whatsoever to Archaia; they know they’re not Time-Warner, nor do they wish to be, I think.) The indies let us pursue these odd, atypical stories, whereas the mainstream might not be so kind. Still, I’ve got an ache in my soul to tell this one Superman story in my noggin – really for no other reason than, heck, I’d be writing a Superman story!
mpMann: The market for comics is diversifying into many markets and I can’t help but think that’s very healthy. Hopefully more of these markets will be able to provide improved living wages for creators in the future. One thing that could help would be an outlet for more 48-90 pages stories, the graphic novella.
You’ve worked with the Exodus story in Sands and now Noah and the flood in Slaughter. What is it about the Bible that intrigues you as storytellers?
mpMann: For me these are familiar stories seen in a new light, and that is valuable. Like many non-religious people, I am nevertheless fascinated by religion and the things people are willing to believe. Undercutting the sanctimonious way that so many of these stories are presented is a service in itself. Looking at the human side of them, maybe even providing a little humor, can make them fresh and worthy of reassessment.
The project currently on my drawing board is a comedy/horror western, The Grave Doug Freshley. It is a real change of pace from The Lone and Level Sands, Inanna’s Tears and Some New Kind of Slaughter, all of which deal in ancient myths and societies. But after that, I will be working on a trio of stories under the omnibus title of Ba’al. These stories blend the Ugaritic myths of Canaan with the confrontation between Elijah and Ahab and his wife Jezebel that appears in the Book of Kings. I am anticipating dense, rich stories, and I guarantee they will have a point of view. I am writing them, so as they say, “this time it’s personal.”
Lewis: Marv said the magic word: Myths. That has proven time and again to be where my interests lay. The Lone and Level Sands drew from biblical legend as does a major chunk of Some New Kind of Slaughter, but the latter also goes into mythic stories from a global variety of cultures. I found myself moving there in my Mortal Coils series as well. And, for that matter, my next project draws from the mythic fabrics of both Native American sagas and, quite separately, Western sport lore. I suppose I see myth in all stories anyways, so why not go straight to the source?
Are you planning on working together again in the future or are you both busy with solo projects?
mpMann: No plans on the horizon, but we said that after finishing The Lone and Level Sands. Dave is a lovely collaborator, smart, humane and gracious, so as I have said before, “Never say never.”
Lewis: Hey, I often say “never!” But, like I mentioned above, Marv’s the one creator for whom I readily make exceptions. I’m looking forward to Ba’al and I hope to share peeks of my next project with him as well. After that…?
Say, Marv, want to hear my Superman story?
Go here for a preview of issue one.