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Flood Lines

Exploring generations of flood myths from all walks of society, mpMann and A. David Lewis brought to life the gorgeous miniseries Some New Kind of Slaughter, or Lost in the Flood (and How We Found Home Again). That’s a heckuva title, but the art and story live up to it. Now that series has been collected in one volume from Archaia Studios Press. Here, Lewis talks about how he and mpMann (real name Marvin Perry Mann) came to meet and work together, what inspired this new book, and what brought about this particular tale of flood myths thoughout history.

Do you remember your very first comic book? If so, what was it?

I’ve revised this answer a number of times, frankly, and not because I’m being coy. For a long time, I considered it Fantastic Four #293, which my mother bought for me while I was sick and home from school. That’s definitely the first comic I paid any attention to for the characters and story and so forth. But she got that for me because the local convenience store was out of the Larry Hama G.I. Joe comics I loved and collected since, maybe, issue #34 in 1985. (Of course, I bought loads of back copies through the mail from Mile High Comics thereafter, including “the silent issue,” #21.) I was reading that and Secret Wars purely for the action figure tie-in, you see, and for the longest time, I thought that toys were my “gateway drug” to comics. However, at a recent garage sale, I found these two Book & Record Sets from Power Records! featuring Batman and Spider-Man, respectively. Wow, my entire brain defragmented to find some precious memories of these stories. Truly, these were ground zero to my comic-book reading, it seems. Unless you count this:

 
How did you get started working in comics?
Very backward. I went from reading comics to studying comics to writing comics, actually. Rather, I’m a failed short- and novel-length fiction writer; none of my stories really worked in either of those mediums. I had ideas, but their prose execution sucked. So, when a publisher or two found my comics research for school interesting, they asked if I’ve tried comics writing. For fun, I had played with a script or two—notably, one where Wolverine skydives without a parachute on a secret mission, ooh!—but I had never gone after it seriously. When I did, though, I was much more satisfied with the result of the work through a succession of a number of small-press publishers: Silent Devil, Third Eye, Red Eye Press, Reflux Comics, etc. Red Eye Press gave me the opportunity to experiment with both editing and self-publishing. And I got a taste of big-time indy comics with my small part through Alternative Comics, though it was for the sad circumstances of 9/11 relief. All this work and reception fit so nicely, I never looked back at any other expression for my creative work.
 
Who were the writers who influenced you?
In general, I think Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Don DeLillo, George Carlin, Tom Stoppard, Douglas Adams, Robert Heinlein, David Mamet, and, more recently, Chuck Palahniuk and Dave Eggers have done the most damage. The white guy canon, like Homer and Shakespeare, are definitely there, as is a lot of mid-grade sci-fi. Springsteen and more than a few classic rockers, too. In comics, it’s Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Warren Ellis, Carla Speed McNeil, and, as much as I’ve struggled, both Bryan K. Vaughn and Brian Michael Bendis. Probably Larry Hama and John Byrne deserve some blame, too. (Why aren’t there more women in this list? Jeez!)
 
Who were the business people in comics who influenced or mentored you? Since you have worked in self-publishing, were you able to do this on your own or did someone help guide you through it?
Some terrific early help came in the way of Dan Cooney, creator of Valentine. And, as I said, I got to watch all the cogs of a major small press production unfold through Jeff Mason at Alternative Comics. Longtime friend Dave Gordon (Being Gordy) was huge in helping me understand the software and design technology for prepress, and Philip Clark (Quantum) has also been a major aid there. I’ve gotten to look over the shoulders of Christian Beranek, Matt Dembicki, Steve Conley, and John Gallagher during my time living near Washington, D.C., which was excellent. I was never given a handbook nor officially made anyone’s ward, exactly, but all of these experiences have been helpful and instructive, not the least of which has been my time working with both Marv Mann and Mark Smylie at Archaia, frankly.
 
How did you and mpMann meet and start working together?
We met online! It was either Sequential Tart or Digital Webbing, I think, that we got to chatting about collaborations and started on some “test work” (which later became the prologue to The Lone and Level Sands) that proved we could mesh. He already had a lengthy track record, and I was producing my own Mortal Coils series to some success. So, we found a great match in each other.
 
What brought you guys together this time around, after working together on The Lone and Level Sands? And why flood myths?
Marv’s a really excellent guy and a top-notch professional. He brings both a ton of skill and dedication to the work, so The Lone and Level Sands was a pleasure with him. We knew we wanted to follow up on that experience with another, something familiar yet something new. So, as before, we looked at a list of concepts that were knocking around in our heads, and doing an expanded look at Noah’s Flood made a lot of sense. In fact, an early iteration of the title was High Waters (which my wife still prefers, I think), but Sands followed by Waters seemed a little hokey. At any rate, I suggested that we look at all the world’s flood myths, not just another reimagining of a biblical story, and Marv came to like the idea. In fact, he liked it so much that he took lead on scripting the series, with me doing its second pass, its smoothening here and there, particularly taking on the Noah family sections. So, we got to work in a new way through an established partnership.
 
How much research did you have to do to make this kind of story work?
A lot of research went into this, but that’s how I always operate. Much of my writing comes from hitting a critical mass of data in my head that has to take a narrative shape—or else, I don’t know, I’d lapse into an overload-coma. It’s a funny way of working, I admit, but I love it, even if it’s, say, a story about Superman’s mother that I know would never see print. Research! The fortunate thing about this research was that it was so accessible once we went looking for it. Get the right keywords, the right geographies, and the right search tools, and these stories fly out at you from all over the world: Australia, Africa, the Arctic, and so forth. The research was there, just uncollected and unconnected.
 
How do those different flood stories relate to modern times? You’ve paralleled them with the modern sensibility toward climate change. How do the old tales inform our approach to climate change now?
Well, when people asked about The Lone and Level Sands, I always had this reflex to say it wasn’t a religious story; we weren’t proselytizing or trying to convince readers of anything. It was an exploration of a well-known story’s nuances and alternate interpretations, particularly of the Pharaoh who’s such an evil figure in much of Jewish lore. The best way I could answer people who were perusing the book was to say that we made every character human and fallible, including heroic Moses and “evil” Pharaoh. “Pharaoh is less an evil or wicked character and more like George Bush—a leader faced with a situation that may be beyond him, yet he has to make some difficult, erroneous decisions.”
I mention the Bush thing here because his administration was such a major backdrop at the time The Lone and Level Sands was being created and published that it couldn’t be ignored. In addition, the Indian Tsunami, Hurricane Andrew, and, of course, New Orleans with Katrina were all, forgive the pun, flooding my mind as Marv and I were moving to our next project that The Lone and Level Sands wasn’t enough of a response. That book looked at alternate perspectives of a social catastrophe or crisis, but I was growing interested in something that responded to this recurring, worldwide calamity that’s haunted humankind about as long as we could tell stories. This wasn’t about minimizing these disasters at all but, rather, suggesting that there’s a universality to this terror and this survival. Marv and I have grown fond of calling this an “eco-epic”—not telling people to change their lives or recycle more or cut carbon emissions, per se, but to recognize all this as a shared, worldwide human concern.
 
Which of the different flood myths was your favorite?
While I really like the “new” myth we created with the modern Sharon Boatwirght character, I have two favorites, both of which show up in issue #2 of Some New Kind of Slaughter’s original publication. The first is the Hindu myth of Manu and Matsya the talking fish. There’s a certain whimsy to it along with its dead-serious conflict. Then, something I love about a number of Hindu stories like the Mahabharata, Matsya is also revealed to be an avatar of Vishnu at the end, taking the story’s significance to another level of metaphor and importance. It works so well and for so many, all at once.
The other I love, and this is because of Marv, is the one-page piece from Africa’s Great Rift Valley that opened the issue. In short, there’s a magic pot that never lacked water, but a family’s youngest daughter mishandled it, broke it, and it flooded their land. There’s something of an Eve-element to it, tossing blame on women for disaster, so I can see it not appealing to everybody. But the way Marv illustrated it was sensational. In one panel, it all comes across, including young woman’s paralyzed dread over what she has done. It’s the best snippet of the whole series, I think.
 
How was this miniseries originally received?
Really incredibly. Because of my academic stuff, I was at Boston University as we had digital previews available, so a number of big-time Religion and Comics Studies professors said some very nice things about it, including Susan Mizrucchi, Douglas Rushkoff, M. Thomas Inge, and so forth. Also, a number of comics sites gave it a lot of love, like Karyn Pinter at ComicsBulletin.com, Joseph Mastantuono at Funnybook Babylon, and a number of others. Best yet, Entertainment Weekly’s Jeff Jensen (best known to Lost aficionados as “Doc” Jensen) gave us an A- the same week he gave Grant Morrison’s Batman a B+. What company to be in!
 
What are you working on next?
Currently, I’m prepping a collection of essays that came out of last year’s “Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books & Graphic Novels” conference here at Boston University for the Continuum Publishing Company. I’m coediting that with Christine Hoff Kraemer, my conference coorganizer, and, in addition to its terrific scholars, the book will also featuring writing from creators G. Willow Wilson, Saurav Mohapatra, Mark Smylie, and Douglas Rushkoff. That should be out toward the fall of 2010 (though people should go buy The Power of Comics, out this month from Continuum, as well). I’m also looking into bringing Empty Chamber, the espionage miniseries that I did with Jason Copland (Perhapanauts), to new media, such as PDAs or iPhones.
Creatively, I’m working with Matt Roscetti of the terrifically fun Growing Up Comics on a much darker story set in late ’40s America. He’s already started generating pages for what should become a 108-page graphic novel, and, right now, we’re calling it the secretive Project Brave Play.

-- John Hogan