Interview: Mark Russell and Steve Pugh Meet THE FLINTSTONES

For the fourth and final new title in its relaunch of classic Hanna Barbera characters, DC Comics has gone back — all the waaaaay back — to the prehistoric, to dig up The Flintstones, the quintessential modern (stone age) family. And determined to bring them back to life are writer Mark Russell (Prez) and artist Steve Pugh (Animal Man, Justice League United). Russell and Pugh sat down with Comicosity to give a little insight into the relaunch and how this version of Fred and Wilma may differ a little from what you remember as a kid.

FLINT_Cv1_dsMatt Santori: I’m sure all the Hanna Barbera teams are getting tired of answering this, but what’s your history with the Flintstones? Something you watched as a kid or are you coming to it fresh?

Mark Russell: I probably had the same experience as everyone else did with the Flintstones, in that I watched it on TV as a kid. But beyond that, it was offered to me by DC Comics, I think based upon the strength of the writing I did for Prez. I think they were trying to go for more of a social commentary angle for The Flintstones. And that dovetails nicely with what I did with Prez.

Steve Pugh: I was very familiar with it from the cartoon in the 1970s, although the later stuff where Pebbles is a teenager didn’t really come over to Britain. That’s all kind of lumped in with Scrappy-Doo in my mind. [laughs]

I’m very much a fan of the core, original series. And I am a very big fan of the design aesthetic. For the time in which it was made, it was a pretty cool show.

This was around the time color TV was taking hold, and American shows were so bright and entertaining — a lot less dour than the British shows. Everybody watched them.

MSG: One of my biggest questions relates to the quality of humor in the book. The television series was very much a comedy relying on visual gags, puns, and jokes, but this book feels like a much more melancholy satire. Can you talk a little about the humor and how you’re approaching the title?

MR: Yeah, I do want it first to be funny and an entertaining read. But I do think there’s a lot of darkness when you’re talking about civilization forming at the start of the human race. There’s a lot of Faustian bargains we had to make to come up with cities and appliances and workplaces. So, I wanted The Flintstones to include the more troubling elements that go into creating a civilization, while still making it funny and engaging.

SP: I take my lead from Mark, obviously, because he’s in the process of world-building. Sometimes I’m in danger of jumping the gun by bringing in elements that he’s actually going to introduce later.

I had to be pretty careful with the first issue in terms of gadgets, because they’re not as advanced as what will be introduced in the second issue.

And artistically, there was a challenge in bridging the gap between the really cartoony elements and the realism that we wanted to bring to the characters and the story. I wanted to complement Mark’s satire and commentary, so I couldn’t make it too extreme in the slapstick.

Flintstones-1_6But at the same time, I wanted to make it alienating to the readers who remember what the Flintstones were. It’s sort of a case of, here’s the Flintstones, and they’ve grown up with you. They now aren’t as naive as they used to be when you were a kid.

MSG: Tell me a little about your set-up with the Cro-Magnons, Neanderthals, and Fred’s status as a veteran of war.

MR: You know, Bedrock is a town, and like the creation of any town, you need to clear out some “aliens” to secure its borders. This was a new concept for the human race, drawing lines in the sand and saying, “This belongs to us.”

For most of the human race’s existence, there was no such concept as borders. We wandered to wherever we were going, maybe squabbled a little over who got to hunt which caribou. But mostly, we just sort of wandered around aimlessly, surviving.

But as soon as you build a town or a country, you have to draw lines to keep people out. This was kind of the original sin of Bedrock — having to clear out the tree people to make room for the human race.

MSG: And Steve, what went into building the world for you?

SP: Visually, I did a lot of research on the structure of faces and the differences in body types. And then try to exaggerate in look and posture. But apparently the Neanderthal didn’t hunch. That was a prejudice from the historians that’s been built into the legend over the years. They stood tall.

But I, unfortunately, have gone for a slightly hunched look. [laughs] Just to differentiate body types in the first story. But I think Mark’s dialogue keeps them on the right side of caricature.

Flintstones-1_10MSG: Fred’s quite a bit, um, beefier than we’re used to seeing him, though. How did you decide on the character design for him?

SP: Well, again, I took the lead from Mark. He didn’t want Fred to be the overweight buffoon type that he could have gone toward. He wanted him to be a big guy. He was in the army, and yeah, he’s gone a little bit to seed. But he’s a construction worker. He’s going to be built. He’s going to be large.

He’s sort of a slab of a guy who’s a good dad and a good husband. He’s just a good, solid bloke. He had to physically imposing. Fred’s a big guy, whose size doesn’t necessarily reflect his influence on the world he lives in. That’s a nice dichotomy.

He’s a physically imposing guy, but has very little control over the world around him.

MR: Yeah, actually, it was important to me that he would embody that regular, working class guy. But I didn’t want his physical appearance to be such that he would be the butt of jokes.

I wanted Fred, first and foremost, to be a sympathetic character who is funny because of the things he does and says, not because of his physical appearance. I don’t want people laughing at him. I want them laughing at the situations he’s in.

MSG: Tell me about your thoughts on Wilma, too. She’s the other character with a lot of prominence in the first issue.

MR: I wanted to give her a richer interior life. On the television show, she always seemed to be like a moral accessory to Fred. She’s the one who comes to scold him or bail him out when he does something stupid. But she’s always sort of there as sort of a Fred-whisperer.

I wanted her to be her own character and have her own life outside of Fred’s. I think that making her an artist, as you see in issue #1, gives us a whole new avenue of commentary to talk about art and the Flintstones. I don’t think that facet of human existence — the art world — was ever really addressed in the original cartoon.

Flintstones-1_15SP: Basically, she has her own wants and dreams, and as long as we show that, we’re not going to fall into any traps. She doesn’t need to be reinvented. As long as she’s her own person, that will do the job.

MSG: Whenever you’re doing political satire — as you might have seen with Prez, Mark — things in the real world can end up dovetailing more than you intended with things you’ve already written. Are you finding that to be the case with The Flintstones at all?

MR: With Prez, a lot of the things I was writing were very topical — or became topical after it was published — because it became increasingly difficult to out-exaggerate the reality of our political situation.

The Flintstones is not so much political as social commentary. It’s more about what it means to be human, or to be part of a society or civilization, rather than the granularity of political struggle. So, there’s not much of that. I’m just trying to make something that’s resonant for people, no matter what political or social structure they’re in.

I think this book is going to be different from the cartoon series, but I hope people will give it a read before judging it one way or the other.

SP: We’re working really hard on it, and doing our very best to make it entertaining. I’m enjoying it!

You will get your chance to meet The Flintstones next Wednesday, as issue #1 drops from DC Comics on July 6!



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