Mark Bertolini is a comic book writer originally from Ontario. You can check out his blog at markbertolini.wordpress.com.
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Black Ship Books: Vital stats time! Just who is this Mark Bertolini guy, anyway?
Mark Bertolini: I’m from just outside Toronto, Canada. My girlfriend and I have four boys between us, ranging in age from 5 to 9, who are all huge superhero fans. I’ve been writing comics for about seven years, and have started having more success with it recently. I love superhero comics and Vertigo-esque comics, and if you mash the two of them up, you’ll get a fan for life out of me.
BSB: First thing’s first, Mark — What was your first published comic, and how do you think it stacks up with what you’ve done since?
MB: My first published book was Breakneck #1, from 215 Ink. It wasn’t the first publishing deal I signed, that was for Long Gone, but Breakneck was the first thing to come out with my name on it. I re-read it from time to time, and it still hits all the points I wanted it to hit, and serves as a great introduction to the rest of the Breakneck series. (The first Breakneck trade is available now, digitally through Comixology and in print through Amazon.)
BSB: What’s the collaborative process like for you? I think a lot of creators come to the table with a certain attitude on what the “correct” roles for writers and artists are. What’s yours?
MB: I love the collaborative process. I used to be more of a stickler for “Just draw what I write”, but that kind of attitude won’t get you far, and you have to show some respect to your collaborators – you’re bringing them onto a project for a reason, let them show you why. I recently started a new project with my El Diablo Rojo collaborator, Valentin Ramon, and he came back with a huge piece of story that he wanted to incorporate, and it was genius, and made the overall story much more interesting. I love when things like that happen. Valentin and I are working Marvel style on this new project, so I basically set the scene and let Valentin do his thing, and then I add the dialogue after. It’s a departure for me for sure, as I usually like to work full script and get my dialogue in there to influence the “acting” of the characters, but it’s been a lot of fun letting go and being a little looser with the creation of this new comic.
BSB: What published (or unpublished!) work of yours are you most proud of?
MB: I’m most proud of Long Gone, in terms of published work. It was one of the first really complete stories I had, and it feels solid all the way through. I tend to go off on tangents in some of my work, but I kept to the plot on Long Gone and it felt like it just hummed along nicely. I always said that Long Gone was the book I’d like to be remembered for, and that hasn’t changed. I think that book sums up all my feelings about superheroes and comics geared towards an adult audience.
BSB: Are there any underlying themes that run throughout your work? Do you have a general perspective on life (the universe, everything?) that undergirds the stories you tell?
MB: I don’t know that there are underlying themes that happen intentionally, but after reading my work over, there are some things that have become apparent to me. I was heavily influenced by the wave of adult-oriented superhero comics that came out from Wildstorm’s Eye of the Storm imprint several years ago. I like telling stories about superheroes from a more mature direction. When you read stuff like Breakneck or Long Gone, you might get the sense that I hate superhero comics, but nothing could be further from the truth. I just like to pick on things and point certain things out. If there was a book of mine that had a definite theme, it would be Broken. Broken looks at what horrible childhood trauma would really do to a person.
BSB: What creators (small- or big-name) are a big influence on your work?
MB: I have a lot of influences. The biggest would be Warren Ellis. His work on books like The Authority, No Hero, and Black Summer has been a major influence on my work. Ellis is also easily my favorite comic book writer ever. Brian K. Vaughn is another big influence – the man is the master of the cliffhanger! I also love Garth Ennis and Jonathan Hickman (more for Hickman’s creator-owned work though.) But I’m also influenced by a lot of my peers, when I see what they’re doing and how they’re pounding the pavement and creating their own opportunities. Guys like Jeremy Holt, Ed Brisson, Jason Copland, the FUBAR guys – every new thing these guys do makes me want to work harder. They’re putting in the work and getting the exposure due them, and I respect the absolute hell out of them. I think we’re on the cusp of a major shift in the industry, where all the hard-working indie creators are going to be getting more high-profile work, and not necessarily by working at the Big Two. It’s a great time to be making comic books.
BSB: Here’s a question I think you’ll like: What projects do you have coming out soon that you can talk about?
MB: I have lots of stuff in the works and coming out. My most recent book is called Scum of the Earth, published by Action Lab’s Danger Zone imprint. Right now, the first three parts are available on Comixology. Scum of the Earth is a sci-fi/grindhouse movie mashup, with some outstanding art by one-man-art-gang Rob Croonenborghs. Rob and I poured a lot of love into Scum, and Action Lab has been incredibly supportive of it. We like to think we created a new genre: southern-fried sci-fi. The first print issue should be hitting shelves in June or July this year.
More recently, the first two issues of my 6-issue miniseries Knowledge came out through AAM Markosia (who published my Long Gone graphic novel). This one needs to be seen to be believed – artist Jerome Eyquem has done some remarkable work on the pages of this book. A real Ben Templesmith vibe permeates it. Knowledge is available on Comixology too.
Also, my long-suffering project Ghost Lines finally came out on Comixology, through publisher 215 Ink. My co-creator Carl Yonder and I created this book a few years ago, and it struggled to find proper publication for a long time, but 215 Ink has finally released it in all its glory. This was the first collaboration that Carl and I worked on, and we’ve since become legit New York Times bestsellers.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Broken, published by 215 Ink and available on Comixology as well – my twisted take on the origin of Batman. The first issue by Allen Byrns is available now. And new artist James Giar has started work on the second issue of Broken. Crime noir at it’s finest!
The other book I want to touch on is Instinct, which I created with Sami Kivelä, artist on Zenescope’s Hit List book. Instinct is another example of my love of the mature readers story mixed with superheroes. The film option has been picked up for Instinct, and Sami is busy with his Zenescope work, but I’m just dedicated to getting this book picked up by a publisher so we can tell the story. You can check out Instinct at its dedicated site, instinctcomic.com.
I also had the opportunity to contribute a story to Michael McDermott‘s Imaginary Drugs anthology, which just ran a successful Kickstarter campaign. I’m excited for that one.
BSB: What long-term “dream” projects do you have in the works?
MB: I like to think I’m lucky enough that any dream project I have, I can work on it and actually create the project. That said, there are a few projects sitting in files that I would love to work on in the future, including my potential 60-issue magnum opus…but I know that I need to put in the work and pay my dues before I can even think about trying to pitch a series that long. It might never happen, and that’s okay as well, because every project that comes out is a dream project. I know how hard it can be to break into this industry (I’ve barely done it), so the amount of work I’ve had published already far exceeds what I ever thought I would get. That said, here are a few story titles of upcoming comics: The Devil’s Hitman. Funhouse. Fisticuffs. Prime Mover. Secret Aces. Red Rover. And look for Old Ghost, coming from 215 Ink later this year!
BSB: Will do, Mark! Thanks for spending some time with us.