Inside Look: Rotten #1

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The birthing process for ROTTEN would have made Octomom’s criminally overworked uterus drop out and crawl away whimpering.

I first developed it with Robert Horton a few years ago as a balls-out, finite cable series – remind me to tell you that story another time – pitting a bitter, reluctant secret agent and his partner against different species of zombies in the old West, at a time when the statements we were making about truly horrifying contemporary events seemed fairly nervy. Sadly for the country, things really haven’t changed so much since then.

Meanwhile, I developed ROTTEN as a comic book and Horton and I financed it out of our own shallow pockets so we could make it the way we wanted it. We had some near-misses until we found a publisher who’d take it as-is and creator-owned. Talk about stubborn.


We were already working on the sixth issue before the first one came out; and since we began the series, Dan Dougherty’s art evolved and improved. He was already damn good. So we redid and added some pages in the first issue, and Dougherty made this jaw-droppingly intriguing cover. (Tell Moonstone you want a trade paperback of the first few issues and we’ll include the cool original cover.)

I’m a lifelong comic geek, but also being a movie critic, I love the kind of weird, intense perspective shots you’d get from a distinctive director like Sam Fuller. Check out “Shock Corridor” if you haven’t seen it. I should have paid for Dougherty’s Netflix subscription. “You’ve GOT to see ‘The Great Silence’ before you draw one panel of issue four!’ Anyhow, the series is loaded with movie and pop culture Easter eggs. The debut issue includes nods to “Yojimbo,” “The Molly Maguires” and even “Sunset Boulevard,” and a character who looks a lot like a beloved horror genre actor. But I’ll never be the kind of writer who only recycles what he’s watched and read.

Along with reacting to the genuinely rotten events around us, another inspiration for this story is a real, ugly labor dispute I endured, where both sides acted as rotten as possible, and any rational, skeptical, independent thinker had very few allies. That’ll be a major theme of the series. Finally, that clenched fist – dripping blood and for some reason not reaching for the gun – tells you something about the son of a bitch on the cover.


I wanted ROTTEN to have a slightly idiosyncratic look and feel, even at the risk of sometimes seeming a little crowded. Why listen to my more experienced and successful friends? Ahem. Anyhow, apart from wanting to cram in more story – because I hate paying three or four bucks for a comic that takes five minutes to read – I thought departing from the five-panel page signaled that you’re reading something a little different, a little off, and worthy of a little closer attention and not auto-pilot page-skimming.

This page shows there’s also something off about the blue-eyed newcomer holding the full house in the card game. There’s some exposition about Rutherford B. Hayes, who really did take office without the popular vote, leaving plenty to assert angrily that he’s not their legit president – sound familiar? And a creepy lunatic who’s completely embraced superstition in a time of fear and uncertainty. Tell me that doesn’t sound familiar, too.


I have the poster for an old horror movie called “The Barn of the Naked Dead” in a frame above my bar at home. The problem with that movie is that you don’t get to see anyone naked and almost no one dies.

This sequence won’t rectify all of that, but before I ever got so furious about all the lies and abuses that ROTTEN parallels and comments on, I just wanted to lock a man in a barn full of (mostly clothed) dead and make him fight or figure his way out or die. Note the change in his demeanor between panels one and two.


This guy is anything but a superhero. I love The Man With No Name, but he couldn’t be further from that character. It’s a Western but this isn’t a cowboy. He gets hurt, tired and scared. He doesn’t talk in that annoying cowboy twang. He’s not a perfect super-shot. He’s not even so crazy about the outdoors. But he is the most resourceful dude you’ve ever met who doesn’t wear a utility belt. With one a grotesque, brutal move, he’s blocked the view of his captors.


He also gets tired. In the same way I wish the characters on “24” would at least eat something or go to the bathroom once in a while – hey, the clock’s ticking, so eat a Cliff bar on the toilet if you have to – I wanted a hero who gets winded. And believe me, this guy is going to endure some punishment down the line, all of it with consequences.

Panel three is one of my favorites that Dougherty’s brought to life. It’s beautifully conceived and drawn – look at those shadows! But it also sums up the character perfectly. He’s thinking. The odds are ridiculously against him. But if there were a Mt. Rushmore of Stubborn Bastards, he’d be on it. He doesn’t give up. You don’t want this man as your enemy. Facing death, his attitude is … well, look at that face and let Dougherty’s art finish the sentence.


This is one of the first nightmare scenarios that stuck in my head and wouldn’t leave: claustrophobic, hopeless, deteriorating. The camera pulls back from blackness that you realize is an eyeball, and then a pair of eyes bulging with horror.

The revelations just keep getting worse with each panel: The man is behind bars. Something hungry is lunging at him and the cell is so narrow that he can barely avoid the thing’s reach – and certainly not for long. Then the poor bastard’s splattered with blood. And we can be pretty certain it’s not a Gallagher show. Not even Gallagher II.


This is your Hero Shot, your money shot (despite what the last panel on the previous page looked like). William Wade is not a stereotypical Western hero or cowboy cliché, but by god if this right here isn’t Wade as John Wayne in “Stagecoach.” That is, if “Stagecoach” were filled with gore and the shot was spoiled by dirty words.

So much for a pin-up page on a kid’s wall. My instructions to Dougherty were to make Wade look tired, fed up, extremely pissed off – and at the same time as cool as Steve McQueen. Wade’s been through a lot, and you’ll find out just how much as the series plays out. Tall order, but I love Dougherty’s end result. Wade’s the most relentless enemy you could ever have, but he’s also the best friend you could wish for. The setting’s a fantasy, but he could be you or me.

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  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Jun 11, 2009 at 3:12am

    Thanks for this, Mark! You've sold me on it. Definitely.

  • Kris Bather

    Kris Bather Jun 11, 2009 at 8:01am

    And what a way to open an article Mark! Wannabe writers - beware!

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Jun 11, 2009 at 8:16am

    I wonder what it is about the undead that makes the whole scenario appeal on such a primal level? Definitely looks worth a check!

  • NinjaGeorgie

    NinjaGeorgie Jun 19, 2009 at 9:39am

    Ooh zombies!

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