Interview: Max Bemis Trades Music for Comics with POLARITY

Say Anything’s front man, Max Bemis’ two biggest passions are music and comics. Now he can finally say he has created both of them. In stores now from BOOM! Studios is Polarity, a coming of age story where the main character discovers the bi-polar medication he is taking is actually holding back super powers.
Max was able to take time out of his extremely busy schedule to talk to us about where the inspiration for the characters came from, the true origin of the story, and the joys of being a new dad.

polarityMaxwell Majernik: The main character of Polarity, Timothy Woods, discovers he has super powers that are being held back by his bipolar medication. How did this character come together.

Max Bemis: The character, in certain ways, is an encapsulation of aspects of myself, or a younger version of myself, exaggerated. He is kind of what I used to fear being. At the same time, he is a good dude to a certain extent. He’s not a horrible person, but he is really neurotic and insecure. He hates himself because he has a mental illness and feels alienated, but these are all things that I felt. It’s just that with him it’s so blatant. I was a little more subtle with these aspects. I wanted to get across what it’s like to be a 22 year-old indie dude with bipolar disorder. I created this archetype of a character and I infused with him what I think is a true character, but in many ways he represents something.

MM: Who else follows Timothy on this quest?

MB: The main characters in the book are him and his therapist, whose role becomes clear around the second issue. He becomes a lot more important to the story in certain ways that I can’t really reveal. Tim has two women in his life. One, who is basically a social leech and a useless vain girl, and one, who is actually the girl he would prefer to be with, but can’t ask her out or talk to her because he is so insecure. He has a best friend, who is the voice of reason to him. Then there is a lot of tried characters to really flesh out the environment. It’s highly exaggerated and it is a dark comedy so everything is pretty overblown. Among these peripheral background characters, I’ve peppered in caricatures of types of people you would find in this situation…and that I was to some degree. I did live in Brooklyn and I was very much involved in this kind of a world when I was younger and continue to be on a peripheral level. Once it starts to escalate into more of an adventure book, there’s people involved from outside of that world that are characters that you would only meet in an action-adventure story and they start popping up about halfway through the series.

MM: These extra characters, namely some of the women that you mentioned, do they take some of the personality traits of some of the people you had in your life?

MB: Yeah, completely. Although none are directly written to be people that I know, but they all fill a similar role in Tim’s life. Especially the main characters, I probably had one of each of these characters in my life as well, although different.

MM: What type of villains or rivals will Tim have throughout the story?

Polarity_01_preview_Page_3MB: Well I don’t want to give it away, but as Tim’s powers start to manifest, people start to get involved in his life that are outside of the realm of these waste-away hipsters that he hangs out with. They start to become the main threat. To be honest, the real antagonists, to some degree on a philosophical level, is the society that Tim lives in. The society we all live, because that is the vapid consumer-based, trendy, no morality [society]. Tim is plagued by the society that surrounds him. Especially the beginning of the book, that is the main opposing force. [The story] is what everyone else thinks of him and his own demons. How Tim judges himself and how he hates himself, that’s the inner turmoil he’s dealing with as much as Tim against any external force. As the story progresses, some actual physical antagonists come into play that are…

MM:..more of a coming to terms or coming of age style story?

MB: Exactly! It’s sort of like Spider-Man where Peter Parker is in many ways his own worst enemy. His self doubt and the guilt over his uncle in certain ways, it’s a story of how to overcome that and [Polarity] is very similar to that in certain respects.

MM: Each issue comes with a downloaded song for created for Polarity. Do the songs reflect each issue?

MB: They are going to reflect [the issue] and are basically going to be a soundtrack to each issue, rather than just “here is what’s happening.” The goal is to have a song that could be played in the background like if it were a movie.

Polarity_01_preview_Page_4MM: In your time you have written over thousands of songs, including through your website How much of an adjustment was it to go from being a song writer to a comic book script writer?

MB: Part of it has been aided by the fact that it is such a new medium for me. I feel like how I did when I first started writing music, when there was no baggage attached to it. As much as there is certain parts that can be arduous and annoying, such as formatting the script or things like that. It’s so fresh and new it is really hard to have any negative association. Music at this point is my heart and soul and what I live to do. I’ve been doing for 14 or 15 years professionally, at this point there is so much history, when you sit down and write a song versus when you write a comic. First of all I am a ridiculous comic fan, I am so in love with the medium and at this point the fact that I am getting paid to write comics blows my mind. The fact that I’m doing this interview blows my mind.

MM: (laughs) Have you always been a huge comic fan or did it go away and come back recently?

MB: No, I was much as someone could always be one. There may be a 4 year gap where I got obsessed with music and couldn’t do anything but listen to and write. I’d say since I was very tiny, like a young child 7 or 8, I would read comics. All the way up through my teens, took a little break in high school. In my early 20’s, I got back into it and for the past 9 years have been back in it and it’s been the greatest non-music passion in my life. It really does rival music in the sense that I do like now reading comics more than I do listening to most music. I am in love with it. I could read a really bad comic and still be naively loving it. Where as bad music really rubs me wrong and even good music can rub me wrong. It takes a lot for me to dislike a comic.

MM: What are your favorite things right now?

MB: Man, what am I reading right now. I’ve been trying to catch up to the pre-Marvel Now as all of those books are wrapping up. I’m a wait-for-trader. Right now I’m getting to finish the Fraction Iron Man, the Brubaker Captain America, and the Hickman Fantastic Four. Which is really nice, because that stuff I have been following from the beginning. In terms of weirder stuff, I read this manga called ‘Bio Mega’ which was really awesome. I’ve been talking about it in interviews, I’m on a Brian Wood kick right now. He’s a writer I’ve followed since his really early indie stuff and I’m really stoked about the newer bigger properties he’s getting to handle. I just read ‘The New Deadwardians’ which is on a different kick. That was really amazing book. Every day I’m reading something else.

Polarity_01_preview_Page_5MM: The tagline “Timothy Woods is a bipolar artist struck in the world of hipsters, meaningless sex, and vain art- better known as Brooklyn” really reminded me of “Admit It!!!” from Say Anything’s Album “…Is a Real Boy.” Has your music been an influence to the story?

MB: Yeah to be honest. I’ve talked about it a little bit. It’s like one of those Grant Morrison meta type things, where basically what happened was we decided our first Say Anything album should be a musical and there was going to be a full story linking all of the songs. I wrote that [story], but we never ended up following through or using it and it ended up being more of a concept instead of a musical. It had this story about a character that could extract honesty from the society and the people around him. I was inspired by feeling alienated. I went to a liberal arts college that I found to be pretentious, and then I moved to Brooklyn and I found that to be pretentious as well. I was inspired by that. Then I first manifested being bipolar. I started living this story as I was recording the record and it became this crazy metatextual experience. We put that story away for a while, but I always flirted with the idea of writing it. Finally, when I was pitching a bunch of ideas to BOOM!, that was the one that they latched on to. Essentially, it was a 10 year old story that actually happened to me. In a sense, it’s a super hero book, but a very dark twisted one. I’m sort of hesitant to even call it that. It just involves super powers and a hero who goes through an arc of self discovery. It takes something that has happened to me that did inspire ‘…Is a real boy’. There are a lot of moments in the story that you can reference and link it to a certain song of ‘..Is a real boy’. There are going to be direct moments where someone who is familiar with the record is going to be like “A-ha, I get it.”

MM: How long was that {…Is a Real Boy} originally going to be a musical?

MB: Basically as we started recording it and things started to go haywire with my mental health, we realized there was no way we could do that at this point. We were on an indie label and the two guys producing it were giving up all of their time. Then I lost it and I had to go to the hospital and we had to break for months to do that. It was just something we had to scrap to put out the record. I don’t know if it will ever happen, unless of course Polarity becomes a musical, which would be really weird and ironic.

MM: Is writing a comic something you had to get out of your system and move on to or is this just the beginning of something bigger?

MB: I see it as a career of writing comics, but that’s just my aspiration. Like music, I think I would always write and come back to writing and I’ve forged a really good relationship with BOOM!. I know they’re interested in working with me regardless of what happens with this book, but as I’ve seen with music you can’t take it for granted like “I’m suddenly going to be able to do this for a living.” Some people have to like it. I feel confident in the book, but I’m not going to take it for granted as a comic writer. My aspirations are to be the next big (laughs)… I want to be able to compete with any of my favorite comic writers.

MM: What other types comics would you want to tackle?

MB: I already have a bunch of weird creator-owned type stories that I’m basically waiting for a chance to be able to write. My natural inclination is towards those types of “off the beaten trail” books, but I’m a huge fan of superhero comics. I know that there is a certain kind of credibility and resume to build to get hired on to a notable superhero book on one of the big 2 or an Image book. I would be stoked to take on a property that I could create myself, and especially certain characters that I have been obsessed with since I was a kid and it’s been a dream. If that ends up happening I’m totally down for it.

MM: How does it feel to be a new dad?

MB: It’s amazing. It’s completely fulfilling. It’s completely over the top. You can’t explain how it feels until you’re there and, it’s a cliché, because you hear that from everyone and it’s so annoying. Whatever, you know, it’s like I kinda get it; you have a kid it’s different. But it really is! It’s the best thing in the world. Its the most overwhelming thing. It just changes your life for the better in so many ways. Just for this past week, I’ve already felt that change in myself and I’m really excited. It’s an amazing thing I wouldn’t give up for anything.

Polarity #1 is on sale now from BOOM! Studios (@boomstudios). You can also follow Max Bemis on twitter at @maxbemis.

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