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Though Mark Rahner is still relatively new to the comic
world, he’s been slowly making waves where ever he goes. From his zombie
western comic ROTTEN, to bringing back life to old cult favorites such as John
Carter and VAMPIRELLA, Rahner has been keeping busy at keeping us scared. On
top of writing, he can also be found podcasting, working Crypticon Seattle, and
spreading the good genre word where ever he goes. With a sharp eye for both
gore and pin-point satire, Rahner is going to be the man to watch. He recently
sat down with Fango (over some delicious tater-tots) and shared his thoughts
about his work and career.
FANGORIA: How did the idea of zombie western come about?
MARK RAHNER: I wasn’t seeing zombie stuff that looked
interesting. It was mostly the same and stale. Copies of copies. This was years
before ROTTEN’s 2009 debut. So my co-writer, Robert Horton and I threw some new
wrinkles into the zombie field, and also made it a genre mash-up. A Civil War
vet gets stop-lossed and made a reluctant agent by a president who stole
office. He investigates outbreaks of the living dead around the country, and
finds that they’re cropping up in different species everywhere. What’s causing
it is the ultimate mystery. Along the way, he and his partner don’t get a lot
of cooperation, because people are angry about the election of “Rutherfraud” B.
So it’s a zombie-spy-western. Unlike THE WALKING DEAD—whose
success is fantastic—ROTTEN is finite, with a nasty trajectory and buildup, and
an ending. We also threw in a big dose of the satire and commentary that George
A. Romero brought to the game, which has been missing lately. There was no
shortage of things pissing me off. Still, ROTTEN plays straight, serious and
FANG: Were you worried about keeping the work historically
accurate, since you set in a specific time period?
RAHNER: Everything in ROTTEN is researched and pretty
accurate, except the reanimated corpses, which are never called “zombies” in
the story. Nobody would have known what one is then. Any modern story has to
completely—and weirdly—ignore, or somehow acknowledge, four decades or so of
zombie pop culture. Horton and I are obsessive about research; freaks. I spent
a week on just food poisoning. We’ve even got those old Time Life books in the
fake “hand-tooled saddle leather.”
Setting it in the 1870s was also a chance to wipe the zombie
slate clean. No pop culture. No mass media. Not much in the way of communication—and
what they have is slow. And ROTTEN isn’t a survivalist fantasy like most zombie
stories. People are just starting to get inklings about germs and evolution,
and they’re still plenty superstitious, or religious. Same thing. The dead
rising and killing would freak ‘em the hell out. It could be the apocalypse, a
disease, an Indian curse, anything. There’s no knowledge, no context, and no
FANG: You've addressed the religious issue some of the
characters had of the dead coming back to life, something that would most
likely parallel our modern religious views as well if the zombie apocalypse
happened today. Was that done on purpose, to make us stop and think of how much
influence our religious leaders still have on us?
RAHNER: They still have a scary amount of influence. People
rejecting reason and embracing superstition in a time of fear is the obvious
main allegory. One of the running jokes of ROTTEN is Wade and Flynn looking at
something ridiculous or ignorant or otherwise awful and taking comfort in the
knowledge that, surely, a century or so in the future, such things will be
extinguished by the light of reason. But we know it hasn’t been, and in some
cases it’s gotten even worse.
The “Love the Sinner”/“Hate the Sin” arc is blunt as can be.
They’re up against a preacher in control of a town gripped with fear of its
undead crisis, with a species that’s devilishly red-skinned and strong. The
preacher’s look and rhetoric should remind you of Glenn Beck. And he’s bad
enough without the zombies. What it boils down to in an 1870s zombie outbreak
or right now is the same question: “When the shit’s hitting the fan at high
velocity and lives are at stake, who do you want running the show?” To Wade and
Flynn’s massive, constant frustration, it’s often the mouth-breathing kooks who
only make the situation nastier, and greedy corporate types with agendas of
FANG: How far would you like to see the ROTTEN grow? Would
you like to see your dead-pan lead character, Special Agent Wade, as a plushie
toy hawked at major comic conventions or children dressing up like cowboy
zombies pretending to eat the brains of their loved ones?
RAHNER: Yes, there should be a ROTTEN generation of kid,
although I’m not sure how you can make a child look that pissed. Wade’s the
angriest man alive, but if they can make plush Cthulhu toys, they can make ROTTEN
ones; Rotters! Or instead of action figures, some inaction figures. The fact
that the comic, itself, is completely inappropriate for children is another
Anyhow, it started as a TV series we were developing,
sometime before 2007. A balls-out cable type of show modeled after stuff like ROME
and THE WIRE. So it would be great if that finally happened. And movies. And video
games. And, of course, a porn spoof of it. The name lends itself to that.
FANG: You’ve had the chance to write some very classic comic
characters, such as Vampirella and the classic JOHN CARTER OF MARS series based
off the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ work. How did you come about working on these
behemoths of the industry and how does it feel to add to their mythos?
RAHNER: That’s all work for Dynamite, and I’m sure that ROTTEN,
which is independent and creator-owned, helped open that door. Joe Rybandt at
Dynamite has given me a lot of rope—he’s probably a degenerate—and he’s great.
It’s lump-in-the-throat-caliber fun to write characters I read as a kid, and
then add a layer of unsettling violence and horror to them as a maladjusted
For instance: WARLORD OF MARS ANNUAL #1 is a brutal prequel
that fits in seamlessly for anyone who’s read A PRINCESS OF MARS, the Dynamite
series, or seen the JOHN CARTER movie. It’s how Tars Tarkas became even more of
a badass than the other giant, vicious Tharks. For the LORD OF THE JUNGLE ANNUAL,
I tried something I hadn’t seen and based Tarzan strictly on the way Burroughs
depicted him: as a brilliant grownup feral child with Christlike tendencies,
who’s also a pure, savage killer. None of the “Me Tarzan, you Jane” crap.
THE GREEN HORNET ANNUAL draws from my journalism career to
put Britt Reid on edge and make him go a little berserk. He’s a newspaper
publisher in his secret identity. Is he going to tank his dad’s Hornet legacy
and his newspaper at the same time? It’s also got some legit views on the
extinction of papers amid all the Hornet violence.
VAMPIRELLA is especially fun because I’ve been putting her
in the other pop culture vampire settings to tear the hell out of ‘em. First
TWILIGHT—well, I call it “Gloaming”—as a lawsuit-proof satire in her Annual No.
2. Then VAMPIRELLA VS. FLUFFY THE VAMPIRE KILLER, with an ending I guarantee
you’ve never seen in any comic book, ever.
FANG: You have been writing successfully for years, but just
within the past five years have dipped your pen into comics. Why did you decide
to break into the comic industry?
RAHNER: Because I thought I’d trade the newspaper life for
something even more stable and lucrative. Cough.
I was laboring hard on ROTTEN while I was still a full-time
hack at The Seattle Times, and wasn’t really looking for other comic work.
Shepherding an indie comic involves a lot more than writing scripts for a
company does. So, after I left the paper, 2012 was really the first year I went
full-tilt doing work for a big comic company.
Why, though? We all have sick compulsions, and it’s hard to
say exactly why we act on certain ones. If we’re lucky, we get the right
enablers at the right times. I’m a lifelong comic reader. The transition seemed
natural. The work is satisfying. I try hard to bring something just a little different
to every comic I write, and make it discomfiting enough to make you do a
FANG: You are very much involved in the horror community,
making notable contributions to Seattle's horror convention, Crypticon and
hosting WALKING DEAD parties around the city. What is it about the genre?
RAHNER: I’ve been into horror since I could lie about being
asleep. I’ve got the first issue of Fango, for godsakes! Having one foot in the
comic world and the other in horror couldn’t please me more.
When I was a newspaper critic, I was one of the few who
didn’t look down my nose at horror, whether it was a movie or a Stephen King
book, and treated it as legit as any other art. Seattle has a nice, huge
horror-geek population. I’ve hosted the first giant zombie walk here, played a
role in the now-defunct ZomBcon, made some cheesy horror-host spoof videos.
Once it’s in your blood, you want to infect people.
FANG: Anything new for us to look forward too?
RAHNER: Plenty! The DEJAH THORIS AND THE WHITE APES OF MARS trade
paperback is out in January. It’s essentially a big-budget survival-horror epic
set on Mars. In a comic book, where budget is no object.
DEJAH THORIS AND THE GREEN MEN OF MARS starts in February,
and that’s an especially grotesque miniseries. No swashbuckling. Think I SPIT
ON YOUR GRAVE, THE DESCENT and HOSTEL on Mars, with some abuse PTSD in the mix.
The Princess of Helium is kidnapped by a rogue Thark who caters to a group of
his kind who never lost their taste for red Helium meat after John Carter
brought peace. And in March is VAMPIRELLA: NEW BLOOD. You’ll find it cathartic
if you’re into popular shows about southern white-trash bloodsuckers. It mixes
funny satire with the shockingly violent, sad and grim. In other words, more
fun family reading from yours truly.
FANG: Fun fact!
RAHNER: I do a weekly podcast about geek culture at a
Seattle radio station with fellow comic writer Brandon Jerwa called “BJ Shea’s
Geek Nation: Special Ops.” It’s online and on iTunes. We talk about movies,
comics, Bond, poop, zombies, bicker a little bit, you name it.
Fun fact 2: After a hiatus following ROTTEN #11 and the Vol.
2 TPB from Moonstone, we’ll be relaunching it at Image Comics. Please stand by
for further details!
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