Mark Rahner Talks Rotten
As the wave of zombie appreciation continues to ebb and flow, fans have already begun their search for the next phase of undead stories. The “siege” mentality (“They’re at the door trying to break in and eat us… what do we do?”) has become such a well-trodden road that many fans find themselves on a quest for the next idea. Some writers are already ahead of the curve and have been able to think outside the box, creating a new chapter in the living dead mythos. Mira Grant’s exemplary book Feed is one. Mark Rahner is another with his Moonstone comic series, Rotten. The ongoing comic takes the undead nightmare and sets it in the Old West amidst a thrilling backdrop of intrigue and adventure: think equal parts Joe R Lansdale’s Dead in The West and Deadman’s Road and the 1965 CBS television series Wild Wild West… but with zombies.
Rahner is a longtime critic, interviewer and pop culture writer whose work has been in The Seattle Times (he was on the team that won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news), Wired, Fangoria, and Stars And stripes. His media appearances include Headline News, MSNBC TV, numerous radio shows, and the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame ("Rahner's Rotten Rentals").
Rotten is the tale of an Army vet who is recalled to service so that he might investigate an unusual crisis by a President in office without the popular vote. The soldier is William Wade, Civil War vet, reluctant secret agent answering to President Rutherford B. Hayes… and zombie-hunter. Wade and his partner, J.J. Flynn, are sent out West where a mysterious plague has infected the populace. Once there, they find mysteries and intrigue… and, yes, the living dead.
Dread Central sat down and talked a bit with Mark about working in comics, where influences & inspiration come from, and Rotten.
Tell me a little about how you broke into comics and what your writing background is.
I was a newspaper pop culture writer for a long time, and comics were part of that – not because an editor assigned it but because I’d been a lifelong comic reader. I thought it was insane that there wasn’t much consistent mainstream coverage of comics. I’d also been a movie critic, written tons of features, humor, you name it – and had generally wrung everything I could out of the newspaper biz before it seriously began spiraling into extinction.
I started socializing with comic people completely by accident. By “socializing,” I mean drinking. The husband of one of my reporter colleagues was a comic writer, and a surprising number of them infest Seattle. Connections were made, friendships were formed and one filthy thing led to another.
What drew you to working in the comics medium?
I’m a man-child and a poor businessman.
It’s also a great way to tell a story. Any kind of story. Exactly the way you want. I used to grab newspapers off the rollers as they were coming off the press, and it’s even more of a thrill to see a new page of art and lettering, every single time.
But I’d been complaining that mainstream comics were getting stale and cumbersome, and in a little pipsqueak independent way, ROTTEN is an answer to that. We’re throwing some new wrinkles into the zombie genre, adding some edgy commentary with it, and – for instance – avoiding comic conventions such as exposition boxes and thought balloons like the plague.
From where do you draw your inspiration?
A couple of areas: horror that’s genuinely disturbing for adults and isn’t tongue-in-cheek. We weren’t seeing enough of that. And from things in the real world that call out for the kind of satire or commentary you don’t see in the news – and that I wasn’t able to do in a newspaper. In other words, things that piss me off.
Who are some of the comic writers who influenced you?
I think more along the lines of Serling and Romero as spiritual influences for ROTTEN. They told entertaining, well-crafted stories that were also about something – and showed real guts in doing so – sometimes subtly, other times bluntly and necessarily so.
How about artists?
Dan Dougherty has his own style that reminds me a little of Eddie Campbell sometimes. I like Sean Phillips and Steve Epting for contemporary artists whose work isn’t at all cartoony, and Rob Guillory’s exceptionally cartoony work on “CHEW” is hilarious.
But I guess those aren’t influences. Gene Colan would be on my Geek Mt. Rushmore. Steranko. Gil Kane. Frank Mazzuchelli.