Max Bemis is a sweetheart of a guy who’s polite, articulate and simply a pleasure to talk to. We had a chance to talk to the front man for the band Say Anything and writer of EVIL EMPIRE published by BOOM! Studios about his latest creation.
Not familiar with EVIL EMPIRE? The story is told through the perspective of an underground rapper named Reese, which explores a scenario in which we watch modern society gradually evolve (or is it devolve?) into an evil empire. The book is sharp, poignant and as you’ll see by reading the interview below, very different than anything else currently on the market. You can buy the book at your local comic retailer or digitally through Comixology. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
SeagateCreative: What was the inspiration behind creating EVIL EMPIRE?
Max Bemis: There were a few reasons that steered me into the direction to write this book. I knew the kind of book I wanted to write after my last comic, POLARITY, and I wanted to do something that was longer form.
What happened is that I tend to think in terms of “large scale” ideas and the one I had was: what if you made a realistic film that was essentially the prequel to every apocalyptic or sci-fi movie you’ve ever seen?
Most movies and comics start off where the world is already screwed up, so how can we see how it actually got screwed up while keeping it grounded in reality as opposed to concepts like “The Force” or films like “The Matrix.”
Subconsciously where I think this idea comes from is that I have the fear of this actually happening and I’ve always had that fear. My grandparents are holocaust survivors so I was really aware at a young age how horrible human beings can be to one another.
As much as that seems to be hushed away at our point in evolution as a species, I think it’s still going on in the form of mass genocide or on the political scale where civil rights are being denied to certain sects of humanity. Even in pop culture there are examples of society as a sick machine. It may provoke a reaction that’s even worse than what’s going on right now. That was the idea behind the movement that Kenneth Laramy (Editor’s Note – Laramy is the Senator and a key character in EVIL EMPIRE) kick starts and that lends itself to an epic story.
SeagateCreative: What do you think sets EVIL EMPIRE apart from other books on the market?
Max Bemis: I have a hard time patting myself on the back and there are so many good books out there right now, so that’s a good question. One thing is that I think it’s brutal and socio-political that as a comic reader, you sometimes have to choose a book based on the mood your in. It’s rare when you can get something that covers multiple platforms. The way the book came out is that it’s funny at times, dark at others, or dense at times and even sparse at other times. My favorite books and comics of all time have that quality. It’s not something I’d do for every comic, but I feel that all those facets are useful in telling the story.
SeagateCreative: Let’s talk about the storytelling process. What’s the creative process like for you and artist Ransom Getty working on the book?
Max Bemis: Very similar to my last comic POLARITY, I can be very detailed in my instruction and other times I can be pretty loose and leave things up to the artist for interpretation. It really ranges depending on what I have in mind. But to be honest, I don’t really interface much with Ransom even though he’s an awesome guy. He just does it so well. It’s partially a product of the BOOM! Studios editorial team being so great at what they do. We’ve also had really good luck in that Ransom nails it right off the bat in terms of how I write it, he outlines it, I approve the outline and then he goes back and pencils and inks it. The creative collaboration has been very intuitive in that he takes what I’ve created and makes it a million times better by simply being awesome.
It doesn’t have to be endless talks about what we do or how we approach something. I’d be interested in that kind of relationship eventually but as of now, this process really works for me.
SeagateCreative: When it comes to actually writing, do you write it as a full script or do you use the well-known “Marvel Method” of writing?
Max Bemis: Oh, no, I do a full script. I would love to make a book using the Marvel Method one day, but I have much more specifics in mind when doing creator owned work.
In comics, the writer is also the director in a certain way. So if this were a film, you wouldn’t tell the cinematographer to make a good fight scene while you go and get a cup of coffee.
I think for the type of book EVIL EMPIRE is that might not work so well. You risk getting into the realm of having people redrawing things if it wasn’t what you wanted. That’s not a path I want to go down.
SeagateCreative: How do you feel writing comics is similar or different than writing music for Say Anything?
Max Bemis: It’s totally different. It’s the same difference as painting or drawing and singing. Every creative pursuit has a completely different feel. The whole linear quality of telling a story and writing dialogue is completely different than what’s required to write a song.
However it does require a creative mind and requires having bigger ideas to express. The similarities are in that I always have something I want to say with my music and that’s the case too with my writing.
SeagateCreative: How do you think you’ve grown as a writer since the release of POLARITY last year to present day with EVIL EMPIRE?
Max Bemis: Oh so much, it’s crazy. Even from the first issue with EVIL EMPIRE to now with the fourth and fifth issues, I feel like I’ve grown quite a bit. Initially I took things in as a fan of the medium only and I started reading comics differently once I started writing them. Thankfully, that hasn’t been a negative thing; it’s helped me enjoy them more. Yet I am more conscious of learning from others who are better than me.
With POLARITY, I was kind of winging it, and seeing if I could express my love of the medium in my own terms. Now I feel like I’m actually trying to compete as a professional in the medium and trying to do that with each issue that I write.
SeagateCreative: As a writer, what role does storage play in your work –do you use local backups or do you save your work to the cloud?
Max Bemis: Unfortunately, I don’t back anything up. It’s horrible. For writing, I send everything immediately to my editors so they have every draft of everything. (Editor’s Note — Hey Max, don’t worry, that really is a form of backup if you do it as a regular thing. You have a copy in your outbox and your editor has a copy too! Good job!). If I need to take notes, I do it on my iPhone, which has access to iCloud. But as I start doing this more, I may get smarter about this and start keeping work on the cloud.
SeagateCreative: What does the Max Bemis dream project look like?
Max Bemis: That’s hard to say because I feel like I’m still very early in my career. One thing I’ve given a lot of thought to is that I really love the (Marvel) MAX line like the Garth Ennis Punisher or Alias. I think that if I could do anything huge it’d be to do books for that imprint but steer it away from being about hyper-violence but more about “adult” comics just featuring Marvel characters. That’s something that if I get the opportunity I’d love to do.
But as for a real “dream” project, ultimately, I think it’ll form once I have more experience. For all I know, EVIL EMPIRE is my dream project. But as a fanboy, I could list hundreds of things I’d love to work on like the Hellboy universe or a Vertigo book that has to do with the old-school characters like John Constantine or Swamp Thing.
Who knows if that will ever happen, but I’m a big fanboy so you can’t quantify the number of books I’d love to work on.
SeagateCreative: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to an aspiring writer looking to break into comics or even songwriting?
Max Bemis: It’s hard. It’s both the hardest and easiest thing to get into. Half of it is just luck, but the other half is talent and persistence. There’s that element of right place/right time, knowing certain people, etc. Someone who’s the best writer in the world may never be published because some editor doesn’t read their submission or maybe their hard drive crashes and they forgot to backup!
Don’t decide that you’re going to be a writer or musician and just expect it to happen because it’s a big gamble and a lot less predictable than a conventional job. But you do increase the likelihood of success by working as hard as you can and holding yourself to the highest standard you can muster.
If I have had any measure of success, it’s because of that. You have to compensate for the luck thing by working as hard as you can and doing the very best you can do.