Friday, May 30, 2008

Interview with Writers Mark Parsons & Tom Cohen

It's a great week for comics!
Some of the highlights include the release of GIANT-SIZE ASTONISHING X-MEN #1 (featuring the long-awaited finish to the story by Joss Whedon & John Cassaday), Dave (CEREBUS) Sim's JUDENHASS, which could become this generation's must-read Holocaust comics story, DC's FINAL CRISIS #1 (by the stellar team of writer Grant Morrison and artist JG Jones), Tom Beland's TRUE STORY SWEAR TO GOD Archives (though it's more like an "essential"), Jack Kirby's OMAC: One Man Army Corps hardcover and Mark Millar's MARVEL 1985 #1...and the proverbial so much more! This list just begins to skim the surface of cool stuff hitting the racks on Thursday May 29 for New Releases Day.

But there's also a new comic book I want to give special attention to---and that's where the following interview comes in. Enjoy!
Since the opening of Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff in 1988, a select few comics' aficionados in the Contra Costa area have gone on to become staff members here. Less than 50 in 20 years, in fact.

While Mark Parsons was the first person hired to work here, he never quite left comics behind. And I'm proud to report that MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS #9, with the first story from Mark and his writing partner Tom Cohen, hits the racks Thursday May 29. I wanted to check in with Mark and Tom about their process of becoming writers for Marvel…while also continuing our celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Flying Colors by quizzing Mark about some of those early days here in the shop.

FlyCoJoe: So what exactly have you been up to in the 19 years since you left your--- *ahem*--- first job in comics?

Mark: Went off to film school in London ---and about four weeks later Stan Lee came to Flying Colors for a signing--- bad timing for me! Worked in the UK as an assistant editor for film & TV, then moved to LA, where I spent about eight years as a freelance script and book reader, mostly for James Cameron's production company Lightstorm and the William Morris Agency. The Lightstorm experience was like getting a PHD in science fiction--- I got to read great chunks of classic Sci-Fi literature from the pulp era onwards.

Imagine that! They PAID me to read Philip K Dick, Kim Robinson, Neal Stephenson et al (current hot Sci-Fi author tip: read Charles Stross). For awhile, I wrote for a pop culture website that went belly up when the dot-com boom petered out. I had a year of planned articles accepted then it all went *poof*! That company was also getting visits from US Marshals (it's a long story regarding bilking aged Floridians into "investing" in "new media"), so it was probably a good thing it all collapsed.

I then worked as an associate producer on various cable TV shows for two years and moved into ghost writing non-fiction "self-help" books--- business, fitness, therapy, etc-- which is what I do now. So if you buy a self-help book, it could be me advising you, but you will never know!

On the personal side, I got married and have a six year old daughter. It was fun taking Helena and Maya to visit you & Libby at Flying Colors early in 2008. When I met Helena back in film school, one of the things we bonded over was Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN, which I introduced her to. She is Brazilian, so she grew up on European comics like Tin Tin, Asterix and Lucky Luke as well as various Brazilian comics like Turma do PererĂª and Mafalda.

FlyCoJoe: Any memories from your time here at Flying Colors?

Mark: I remember seeing your ad in the local paper and being psyched to get an interview. I was between college and film school and working in a comic shop sounded like a great way to keep my finger on the pop culture pulse --- and stay away from desk jobs!

I also remember our first meeting, when you explained how you had designed FC as a pop culture store that offered something for everyone in the family. This was a new approach back in '89. The comics shops I had frequented in Atlanta and Nashville were classic "collectors turn hobby into small business" situations. I loved 'em, but not very welcoming to "civilians." So I felt like I was part of something new and cutting edge. Thanks for the job, btw!

FC was a great place to work: great stock, amazing design. I enjoyed approaching and helping new customers, showing them all manner of coolness they'd not been exposed to, whether it was indie comics, Spirit reprints, Marvel Masterworks or just interesting "new" writers, like Grant Morrison or Neal Gaiman. I recall enthusing about SANDMAN and DOOM PATROL to many customers.

I remember Jim Lee doing several signings. He was on Punisher War Journal and was already a star name. Those were very successful signings and twenty years later FC and Lee are still going strong.

I also remember you bringing your three young daughters to the store-- now they're all grown up. Time flies!

FlyCoJoe: I remember from your time here on staff you taught me a thing or three about indie comics since I knew almost nothing at the time if it wasn't about super-heroes. It was through you that I first developed a real appreciation for indie stars like Los Bros Hernandez and Dave Sim.

Mark:LOVE & ROCKETS and CEREBUS were my big indie faves back in the day. I guess technically Eisner's SPIRIT reprints from Kitchen Sink would also qualify. It was also neat watching people's tastes change as they expanded from DC titles to become Marvel fans, or over to CEREBUS or LOVE & ROCKETS. That was my big thing: turning people on to new, cool interesting comics. Do they call that "hand selling?" Whatever it's called, it's a hallmark of the best shops and that's what you encouraged and trained everybody to do.

FlyCoJoe: Just wondering if you have secret plans for any creator-owned projects?

Mark: While Tom and I would love to do more mainstream superhero work, I have several solo projects in various genres that I'd like to pitch to places like Boom, Dark Horse or IDW (that's aiming high, I know!).

I wish I could draw, as I'd love to do a comic about my days in boarding school in Liverpool back in the punk era of 1977-1979. Alas, I only doodle in margins, so I don't see that happening unless I totally luck out and find a young Eddie Campbell or something like that! I've been circling the idea of starting a Young Adult (YA) novel about those experiences, but at the moment ghost writing is crowding that out.

FlyCoJoe: Let's now bring in your writing collaborator Tom Cohen to the discussion. How long have you two worked together on your writing?

: Mark & I met when he was a script reader for Lightstorm --- I was a development exec there and we became fast friends over our mutual enthusiasms for all things comics and movies. Regular pow-wows to talk the latest in such things led to "wouldn't it be cool if…" conversations and eventually, hatching our own story ideas.

Mark: We've been working on ideas for four years now. We started with an INVADERS pitch that morphed into a cool WWII espionage tale that touched on almost every corner of the Marvel universe. That pitch got us in the door, so to speak, at Marvel and we pitched a few things to Andy Schmidt. We worked up loads of short story ideas for Spider Man Unlimited--- then the book got cancelled. But Andy liked what we'd been sending enough to ask us if we'd like to pitch for MCP…

FlyCoJoe: Any particular writers that have influenced your work?

Mark: Kirby, Lee, Alan Moore, Claremont and Miller were formative influences. All of them blew me away when I first read their work. After I recently reread some Essential DEFENDERS volumes, I can also see how Steve Gerber warped by elementary school mind in a massive way. I have also been a huge fan of Grant Morrison's work ever since I pulled ANIMAL MAN #1 off the shelves at FC. In terms of non-comics genre writers, Stephen King looms large, as does Clive Barker.

Tom: Pretty much any of the classic era 1960s & 70s Marvel writers and creators – guys like Lee, Kirby, Doug Moench, Steve Gerber, Roy Thomas, Bill Mantlo, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman and Len Wein all made huge impressions on me as a kid. Outside of comics I'm a big hard-boiled crime fiction and noir fan – James Ellroy is a fave (natch!) but also cats like Mickey Spillane and Wade Miller (which was actually a pseudonym for a writing duo).

FlyCoJoe: How did the writing gig for Marvel Comics Presents come about?

Mark: Picking up from earlier…Tom and I went to San Diego Comic-Con with the idea of getting to know some Marvel editors and asking them if they'd be interested in our formerINVADERS mini series pitch. This idea horrified me, as I am terrible at selling myself and networking. If I have nothing to "sell" or ask of anybody, I'm fine, but if I feel like I have an agenda, then I get slightly uncomfortable.

Luckily, Tom had been working as a development executive for years and was used to the whole networking dynamic. Still, we got lucky. Fabian Nicieza, who had pitched movie projects to Tom a few times, was unexpectedly at Comic-Con San Diego and we met up with him. As soon as he heard we had a pitch he offered to send it to executive editor Tom Brevoort, with the caveat that Brevoort would probably never get back to us because he's super busy. And indeed nothing seemed to happen.

But Fabian had also intro'd us to editor C.B. Cebulski who in turn intro'd us to editor Andy Schmidt. By the next year's San Diego Con, we had another mini series idea and Tom Cohen had made email contact with Andy, who recalled the WWII pitch we'd sent in. So we went to see him and as luck would have it, he had been on the con floor for hours, right next to this huge, booming video game booth. He hadn't eaten, so we got that proverbial chance to buy an editor lunch. Andy agreed to check out our new project, which turned out not to be his cup of tea, but he kept looking at short story pitches we'd send in and that lead to Marvel Comics Presents.

Andy helped us out a great deal, gave us excellent feedback and it's no wonder his Comics Experience comic book school is such a success. This is the guy who managed to bring back MADROX, X-FORCE and kicked off the ANNIHILATION boom for Marvel's entire cosmic/Sci-Fi line.

FlyCoJoe: Did you go with the classic Marvel writing style of giving the artist plot only?

Mark: Plot first, then full script ---about five drafts--- all edited by Andy. Once he signed off on the script, it was off to artists.

FlyCoJoe: It's quite a coup for a pair of new writers to get an artist of Ed McGuinness's caliber---on a HULK story, no less--- for your first published story. How did that happen?

Mark: Again, that's was all down to Andy Schmidt. Marvel Comics Presents was designed to be a mix of established and new talent and we just drew the lucky superstar straw.

Tom: Andy Schmidt didn't utter a peep about who he was approaching. We had this fantasy list of names starting with flashback classics like Trimpe, Severin, Sal Buscema and so forth. I can't remember who the newer artists we were hoping for or thinking about, but they weren't a marquee name like Ed McGuinness. And you can imagine how we felt when we got that email!

We're pretty darn proud of our MCP story. It was initially due out in issue #3, but got bumped, so we've been waiting --- as has family and friends all over the globe--- for want seems an eternity. The tale stands alone, but it does open up the possibility of a whole new avenue for gamma-powered chicanery, so who knows, if we get lucky, maybe we can go back there and tell more tales…

FlyCoJoe: And I know family, friends and Flying Colors' Faithful hope that happens, too!

(Check out MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS #9, on sale Thursday May 29 at Flying Colors and better comic book stores everywhere!)

Peace 'n' Hulkin' Out---

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