How do the pros #MakeComics? We’re here to tell you.
Comicosity is picking the brains of a pro who is killing it in the comics industry, and for this round I was lucky enough to talk to Mark Russell! Mark is the Eisner-nominated and GLAAD Award-winning writer of The Flintstones, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, Prez, Wonder Twins, Second Coming and much more! He was kind enough to give us a glimpse into his creative process here:
What does a typical day in the life of Mark Russell look like?
I get up. Read for a while. Make sure everyone has had breakfast or something approximating breakfast. Then I go to the library and write for a few hours. Come home. Go for a run. Write for a few more hours. Have dinner with the family. Answer emails while trying to watch TV. Read some more. Go to bed. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
What time of day do you do your best work?
Early afternoon usually. My brain chemistry is usually at its best about two or three in the afternoon and then it’s just a slow sad decline after that.
Comics is a collaborative medium. How do you work with your teammates on your projects?
I like to do most of my active collaboration upfront, before we even begin. Once we’re cranking issues out, things need to work like an assembly line, so I like to have my important conversations about what it is we’re trying to accomplish, about the look of the characters and the tone and themes of the work, long before we get to that point.
So it’s usually a month or two or fun, sort of breezy emails and phone calls, exchanging ideas and drawings and stuff before settling into the hard work of making a monthly title. Sometimes it’s like going from the beanbag chairs and hookah pipes of a hippie flophouse directly onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
How do you manage your to-do list?
I try to do all the tedious and non-creative stuff right away, so it isn’t hanging over me, weighing on my creative consciousness as I do the work that really means something to me.
What is your workspace like?
As I mentioned, I work a lot at the library, but I also write a lot at home. Outdoors on the deck, if I can. Here’s a pic of what my workspace looks like right now.
What tools are essential to your creative process?
The most essential tool is brain chemistry. So I try to get enough sleep and exercise, which has a huge impact. It’s also why I like to get all my emails and chores out of the way early, so my mind can be completely devoted to creative work.
What do you love most about creating comics?
I get to dump all the exposition and scene building, my least favorite aspects of writing, onto an artist. It liberates me to focus on the heart of the stories I want to tell. That, and people actually care about comics, as opposed to some other mediums I’ve worked in.
What is your favourite phase of a project?
When it’s over. Reveling in the relief that it is too late for me to screw it up.
What do you listen to or watch while you work?
I listen to music almost nonstop when I write. Mostly just whatever comes up on shuffle, though there are times when I can’t deal with a Wire song coming on and destroying my concentration, so when I need that level of focus, I’ll usually listen to some Chopin or Brian Eno. Brian Eno wrote a whole album of music for people who are dying. I listen to it a lot when I’m working.
When you aren’t creating comics, how do you like to spend your time?
With friends and family. Going to bookstores and eating ridiculous sandwiches, all of which are really easy to find in Portland. But these days, I’m mostly working.
Networking and meeting other creators is an important part of the business. What is your preferred way to network?
One thing I really love about going to cons is that you make friends with a lot of other creators and then the cons become the only times you get a chance to see these people. The longer I’m in the industry, the more I look forward to the cons because of the people.
What comics are you reading right now?
Well, like everyone else, I’m reading Die, Event Leviathan, and War of the Realms, all of which have been excellent. I’m also reading Female Furies, Invisible Kingdom, and pretty much anything that comes out of AHOY or Vault. It’s an embarrassment of riches, the number of good comics being published now.
What do you hope to see in the industry in the future?
We’ve seen some real cultural flagships sink beneath the waves recently. Vertigo is gone. MAD Magazine is shuttering. Presumably because they weren’t profitable enough.
My hope is that we don’t let profitability lobotomize comics as a medium. That publishers will continue to take risks on challenging and relevant material, even if it isn’t obvious how they’re going to move twenty thousand units a month or get it optioned into a Netflix series.
It’s like in movies where you see that corporate laboratory full of scientists working on new deodorants or toothpastes or whatever, but down the hall is one scientist in a tiny office working on time travel. Comics needs to continue to be the office of that lone quack with big ideas that may never pan out but that also may change the world.