Rotten: Zombies with a Bad Smell

Lowdown - Interview

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It’s pretty obvious that Mark Rahner is a writer. If any customs officer on a power trip doubts the job title on his passport, they need to just look at his resume. It includes writing for tech mag Wired, horror mag Fangoria and at his day job at the Seattle Times as their pop culture go-to guy.

He’s also appeared on satellite radio and TV, and has dabbled in comics, such as Cthulhu Tales from BOOM! Studios, and writing essays for Ed Brubaker’s Criminal. His new venture is from Moonstone Books. Rotten, with co-writer Robert Horton, and with art chores by Dan Dougherty, focuses on William Hade, a Civil War veteran who faces a new plague sweeping across the nation – the undead.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Going on TV, being interviewed on radio, writing for the Seattle Times, and cool mags like Fangoria and Wired. It sounds like a pop culture addict’s dream job. Is it?

MARK RAHNER: Hey, I've got a low boredom threshold and an acute sense that life's short. But yeah, it's good to have work that coincides with your interests, instead of getting back to your life when you've clocked out of work every day. Especially if you're a man-child like me.

BF: And just how did you end up in this vocation?

MR: By vowing never to do an honest day's work. I kind of backed into the newspaper biz unintentionally by starting with freelance movie reviews years ago, then realized it's one of the few ways to make a living as a full-time working writer. Which is sadly changing. As far as comic books, I'm a lifelong geek, I'd had several friends who were in that business, and had begun doing little things like a Cthulhu Tales story and essays for Ed Brubaker's Criminal. I'd first developed Rotten as a no-holds-barred HBO-type TV series with my co-writer Robert Horton. Then, because I'm an impatient control freak, I thought: Hey, this should have been a comic all along! It's the kind of genre-mash-up I'd want to read but haven't seen.

BF: Does it inspire you in your own creative writing when you’re talking to other writers?

MR: Creative inspiration isn't a problem if you pay attention to what's going on in the world and react to it. Or in my case, get pissed and want to comment or try some wish-fulfillment in a fantasy setting. What benefits me most in talking to other comic writers is pragmatic advice about the industry, since I'm a relative newcomer. And, of course, drinking.

BF: BOOM!’s Galveston had a great pirate/cowboy team-up, which you were scheduled to write, but didn’t. Will you be killed if you talk about why?

MR: Ha! I fear no man! That was a really unusual situation that just didn't turn out as planned for several reasons  -- which was a bit of a heartbreak --but I'm good with Boom! now. I believe Tom Peyer and I wound up just getting credit for the plot in the first of the four issues. So don't be surprised if you see my version of the Bowie and Lafitte story elsewhere at some point. Much different, *very* much more violent, and lots of dude fun. We'll see who's interested after Rotten gets some momentum.

BF: Rotten sounds like one of those simple ideas that I’m surprised no-one has thought of it before – zombies in the Wild West. Though I’m sure it’s more complicated than that, right?

MR: I'm glad no one has. Zombies in the west, in different species, hunted by a government agent, amid a big conspiracy. The really reluctant hero is an Army vet who's stop-lossed back into service after working for years as a detective. He becomes an agent for a president who took office without the popular vote amid huge controversy. And the hero's sent into a terror crisis that the government's clearly lying about. Any of that sound familiar?

But my agent, William Wade, is a Civil War vet who worked as a Pinkerton detective. The real president Rutherford B. Hayes took office in what was called "The Corrupt Bargain." And the terror comes from the living dead - which manifest differently in each new outbreak Wade sees. Discovering the reason for that is part of Wade's grotesque odyssey. If you like the kind of take on real-world events that Battlestar Galactica did, you'll dig this. Yeah, it's a little more complicated, although anyone just looking for action and horror and guts should be plenty gratified, too.

BF: Will this be a mini, or an ongoing series?

MR: Ongoing. The first five issues are in the can already and the sixth is written. And it's plotted out to the ending of the first series, with a possible second series plotted afterward. There's definitely an ultimate destination and a climax, and we have a lot of carnage and conspiracy to get to.

BF: How did you and co-writer Robert Horton team up?

MR: Met him at Planned Parenthood. All right, Horton's a Seattle-based movie critic who I first conscripted to be in some web video Halloween-host spoofs called "Rahner's Rotten Rentals." I keep dragging him into trouble. I asked him to co-write Rotten with me after I'd gone a ways with it as a screenplay and needed a kick in the pants. Not only did he make great contributions that I wouldn't have thought of, but we sort of role-played writing the characters -- me as Wade and him as Wade's slightly older, more thoughtful partner, J.J. Flynn. Then I developed the series as a comic book. We've co-written another disturbing one called H.E.L.I.X. that I want to splatter on people as a mini-series soon.

BF: The art from the series look suitably grisly, but in a good way. How did you find working with Dan Dougherty?

MR: I think I got kind of spoiled working with him. He does his own inking and coloring, he's been reliable, and he's had a great attitude from the beginning -- and believe me, it's been a long haul. This has been a creator-owned guerilla project for years and he's part of the Rotten family. Also, Dougherty's got a clean style that's reminiscent of Eddie Campbell or Kevin O'Neill. I always get a kick out of opening an e-mail and seeing a page that he's brought to life.

Rotten #1 is out this week from Moonstone priced $5.99.

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