PF is proud to present Tim Jones’ interview with celebrated comics scribe Rick Remender, writer of Fear Agent, Uncanny X-Force, and an acclaimed recent run on Punisher, among other titles. Remender has been making headlines in the comics world for a high-profile gig coming up on the new Venom and on FOX News for his role as writer of the recently released Bulletstorm video game. Tim and Rick discuss punk rock, comics, and what the two have to do with one another.
Tim: So, I wanted to ask you about punk rock and comics, because those are the two things that I’m very heavily into that you are also, from your work, obviously very into.
Rick: You are the first person in my 11 years in comics to ask me those two questions together. That’s true, that’s real.
Tim: Wow. See, that’s one of the things, I always feel like nobody else likes those two things at the same time, but then when I found your Punisher stuff I was like “Holy shit! Look at this guy!”
Rick: Yeah, no, we, I, I, spent 3 years. Well first, is this for a podcast, or a type interview that we’re talking about? What is happening right now? What is going on? Where am I? Where are we?
Tim: I’m going to type it out, but I’m not great with formulating questions, I’m more conversational, I guess.
Rick: Oh, that’s fine. I just didn’t know, yeah, I guess the interview has begun. Yeah, speaking of that, when I first started doing comics books I did this thing called “Captain Dingleberry” with some friends of mine when we were working on Anastasia, we were animators, and we were listening to Frank Zappa and Joe’s Garage a bit and thinking that comics needed more of that, and how much fun it would be to do things that were that ridiculous. And it did fairly well, but we got tired of it pretty quick. The absurdity thing is fun, but it only took us so far.
The next thing I developed was Black Heart Billy which was going to be sort of my love letter to growing up in the 80’s hardcore scene as a skate punk. And I guess this was like 1997, 96, when I started drawing the character and coming up with ideas. I didn’t have much to go on. So when I moved to San Francisco, I teamed up with Kieron Dwyer we started making Black Heart Billy and we gave it a real go. We did a couple issues of it, and it didn’t sell very well at all, it did okay: 3000 copies, then down to 2. Not enough to make any money, so you have to do it for love, and at that point I was already destitute.
San Francisco has crazy expenses and I moved there during the “dot-com” boom, which was a crazy nightmare. So I took the stuff to Fat Mike at Fat Records, who are local in San Francisco, and he really liked it, so he started paying us to do more Black Heart Billy stories and covers for the Fat Wreck comic book catalogue they started doing and it was cool. You know, everyone can say what they want about the 90’s punk stuff but Mike’s money was always where his mouth was in terms of politics and what they were trying to do. They paid us to do our comic, and that was cool. We did some album covers for NOFX and Lagwagon, No Use For A Name and stuff like that.
But long story short, speaking of what you were saying, they did realize that there aren’t a lot of punk-minded people in comics and that’s sort of something I deal with to this day. You know, people who don’t have the same sensibilities. The people who do, you know like Steve Niles, he was a DC punker, he was in Grey Matter, on Dischord. He and I have struck up a friendship immediately based on our love of hardcore and growing up in the 80’s punk scene. So, we are out there. Just few and far between.
Tim: It’s strange thing to me because they seem very similar in terms of the climate or the fans; it’s just a small, very dedicated fan base.
Rick: Yeah, it’s an underground art form. It really is. I guess it’s more prevalent now that Hollywood has started making movies of things, but you know, for me, when I was a kid . . . I think it was like, 1987 when I was in the 8th grade, and my days were filled with punk rock and skateboarding and comic books. And that was my life, you know, those are the things I look back on, when I was 12 years old, those were the things I loved more than anything and it sort of shaped me more than anything.
And I remember, and then that led to more the underground art scene where I think Robert Williams was introduced to me via a Thrasher magazine in 1987 that had an expose on old Robert Williams and his paintings which blew my mind, because there were such technique and such amazing energies and at the same time it was a holdover from that psychedelic era that he came from, you know, Zap comics and all that stuff. So at the same time he was speaking to me as a kid of the 80’s, as a punk rocker, he was speaking to me about something that was relevant and exciting. And it was, if you look at what Juxtapoz gave birth to, what Robert Williams gave birth to in the 90’s, I know that we’re still not at the point where we can appreciate anything from the 90’s, you know, we all have to be super fucking hip and look down our nose at everything because it hasn’t been 20 or 25 years yet and anything that wasn’t incredibly hardcore is to be shit on but, I think that scene gave birth to a lot of really talented artists and a really cool scene in general, Mark Ryden, all that sort of stuff.
Tim: I think Raymond Pettibon, his art is pretty similar to some comic type stuff.
Rick: Yeah, I think if we saw more, and I don’t wanna sound preachy, but if we saw more people in comics that were accessible, it needs a groundswell, it can’t just be one or two people or something like that or people who are trying their best to make something sort of punk minded. There is a market for that, there are people who want that. Unfortunately, the majority of the comic book fans that are left, the diehard fans, they’re mainstream comic fans. And that’s fine, I like that too, I grew up reading Marvel comics and it wasn’t till I found Dan Clowes’ A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron that I sort of made my way over into the indie stuff, it was ‘91 or ‘92 when that came out. I think that it would be great if there was a way to . . . maybe the iPad, maybe it will be the vehicle to get more comics into more hands.
Tim: I wanted to get a sense of your background with music; where did you grow up?
Rick: I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, with a governor who still called black people pick-a-ninnies and a population that stridently opposed the Martin Luther King holiday. I got beaten up for being a punker, I got bottles thrown at me, I got chased by guys in trucks. It was always really cute, by the time I moved to San Francisco in ‘98, punk had blown up again and it was more like a costume that everybody wore. It was so nice, it was so safe. If you had a pineapple or liberty spikes in Arizona in the mid ‘80s you got fucked with, pretty hard. And we did. In terms of the scene it was almost like a spillover from Los Angeles, it was a six hour drive from LA so we were like LA-lite. We got Agent Orange, Adolescents, FEAR, Suicidal Tendencies came all the time.
Tim: The late 80s is the start of the metal crossover thing.
Rick: Yeah and this is right before crossover. Circle Jerks were still touring for Wonderful, DRI was still punk, it was right before all the metal crossover stuff. So I probably found punk when I was 12 in ’85, just at the tail end of when hardcore died for the people living in the cities where it was thriving. So for a kid who was living in Arizona, and I always felt like a bit of an outcast, to hear Ian Mackaye sing about not adhering to the norm and not adhering to mindless stupidity in terms of hopping in a Camaro and slamming down a beer and being misogynistic, it was eye opening, it was liberating to hear that there were smart people out there that were young and making things.
The idea that they were making things opened me up to my entire life. I know it’s clichéd but DIY is why I succeeded. On all my own terms I’ve managed to do 90% of only what I want to in print. The rest is jobs I had to take while I was starving and had to pay bills, but the DIY concept is what I picked up and the positive mental attitude. Everything these guys were talking about and singing about, it was like modern day transcendental anti-conformity, it spoke to a 12 year old pretty well. For me it spoke to me not just at that age but stayed with me my entire life. So I share ownership on all my projects, I can go to bed soundly at night, I have been fair to the point of being stepped on by every artist I’ve ever worked with and really everybody I’ve ever worked with so that’s when you discover people who don’t have the same mindset. Those people are looking more for monetary gratification, ego gratification, to have the spotlight put on them, more than people who are into the craft and the art form. But all of that stuff came from punk rock.
Tim: When you were talking about Minor Threat, I was thinking about how I had that album when I was about that age too, but I found them through the internet, and I guess the internet has a huge effect as far as the idea of a “regional sound” or a regional anything really. And I was able to use it because I was just devouring everything I could get my hands on associated with punk, and after I read Please Kill Me I was like “Oh comic books are punk too?”
Rick: Yeah, and that goes back to the Ramones and stuff. There’s always been sort of a connection between the cultures, but it’s not as prevalent now as it might have once been. You can’t get a handful of comics at a 7/11. And that’s how I found comics, I was with some friends and we were skating in front of a 7/11 in 1984 and I went in to get a slurpee with my friends and I saw a bunch of Marvel comics on the stands and I just couldn’t not buy them. It was Secret Wars #4 with the Hulk holding up a mountain with all these dead superheroes and I was like “What the fuck, I gotta find out what that’s about.” But it’s cool that there is still connective tissue there. The culture’s changing quite a bit, but I’m glad to hear that there are still threads that lead one to the other.
Tim: Frankencastle was the first thing of yours that I read, and that someone took a really crazy idea to the Punisher after he’s been pretty much shaped entirely by Garth Ennis’ run. A lot of people did not like it at all which was shocking to me, knowing that the Punisher has had things like turning himself black happen.
Rick: You know, I think there’s a lot of people who take the stuff so seriously that, if, on the surface it doesn’t look like something that the rest of the world can see as a mature art form that they have to walk away from it. Those are people who are mired in the perception that other people have of them and not really my kind of people anyway. The people who like sitcoms. They like shit that doesn’t change, that has a beginning, a middle, and an end where everything is back to where it was when it’s over. It’s very comfortable. And there are people who love the Universal monsters and the Legion of Monsters who predate Monster Squad by like 15 years in Marvel Comics, in love with all of that, who have the idea that Marvel should be chocolate and peanut butter all the time. There should be all kinds of crazy things happening all the time because you shouldn’t be able to control what happens to you. The X-Men shouldn’t always fight X-Men villains, they should stumble into MODOK one day and be like “Oh shit it’s MODOK!” I just the like the way that the themes work and the interconnectivity of the characters. So for me, the idea of taking two things that were so dissimilar and mixing them together in the way that we did, we found a way where it was natural for it to happen and it worked really well in terms of structure. Some people were gonna respond to that and some people were gonna hate it. But those people weren’t gonna buy the regular Punisher either, they’re just gonna bitch because you changed something and they don’t like it, they don’t like change.
Tim: In Fear Agent, you manage to do something that is both very difficult and very cool by establishing that bad things are going to happen to major characters early and often.
Rick: Yeah, you gotta surprise people. You have to surprise them five times. You have to keep them guessing or its “oh I can see where this is going, I know what you’re doing here.” And it’s easier in a creator owned book where I can do anything. I don’t have to get it approved or convince anyone it’s a good idea, I just have the idea and my buddy draws it and it’s there. The downside to that is you don’t have an extra pair of eyes to talk about your structure and make sure that you know what you’re doing, but it allows you the freedom to do things that are unexpected and hopefully surprising.
Tim: The aesthetic is pretty unique too, the 50s Buck Rogers rockets.
Rick: Yeah, what got Tony and I motivated is that we’re big fans of Wally Wood, and the 1950s Science Fiction stuff from EC Comics and the Frazetta covers and stuff. In my time as an artist, Wally Wood and Will Elder were the guys I sort of emulated the most. I just had a raging hard on for all of that sci fi stuff, especially the aesthetic. So I wanted to take them and mix it with some modern storytelling sensibility and do some postmodern pulp.
Tim: I saw a 1930s Buck Rogers serial recently where a scientist looks through a telescope pointed at Mars, which is inhabited by people with tiger striped eyebrows, and he says “let’s see which way the war arrow is pointed! At Earth! The war arrow points to Earth!” Which makes perfect sense, because alien civilizations have giant arrows to remind them which way the war is. So, is that the kind of old-school crazy sensibility you’re into?
Rick: Oh that’s so great. We need more and more of that stuff. I just wish there was a bigger audience for it. I think you have to find a way to make things that crazy. A lot of people give Marvel shit because they don’t try new things, but Marvel let me turn the Punisher into fucking Frankenstein. Not all the mainstream fans really dig the craziness of pulp, which I don’t understand it at all. What you just said? I wish I was writing that story right now. There’s something about the purity of the Saturday morning set up that gets me more excited than anything else but there’s just not a giant market for it. But that’s not why you do that kind of stuff, you do it because it’s what you like.
Tim: Does Old Heath Huston look like Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid 4 on purpose?
Rick: No, I’ve never played those, Tony knows nothing about them, it’s just a coincidence. I have seen the character, but I’ve never played the games. Once you batter up a guy and flash forward him into the future, a mustache and an eyepatch happen naturally in the story, especially since the body he’s in had its eye gouged out by…Heath. It’s ridiculous to explain that to anyone who hasn’t read the story. But it was definitely not an homage, it was beaten up old Heath. If look at the design for his dad it’s more Sam Elliot, and the idea is that he looks like his dad, he has the mustache.
Tim: Grizzled old guy with an eyepatch is a look that has a long storied history as well, Nick Fury, Snake Plissken, countless Westerns.
Rick: Yeah, and so much of it is leaning into men’s magazine cover pulp ideas. There’s a lot of art types and tropes. It comes down to the character sensibility, the aesthetics are all somewhat classic.
Tim: X-Force has been selling really well, congratulations. Why do think it sells so much?
Rick: Thanks, you’re always gonna sell a ton of comic books when the Wolverine is running around.
Tim: And the Deadpool, people like the Deadpool. Did you get to pick the team?
Rick: No, I didn’t. They had already put the team together when I was in talks to do the book. The team was obviously why I wanted to do the book, more than anything because of my connection to Fantomex and my love for Betsy/Psylocke. Obviously Wolverine and Deadpool are a ton of fun to write and great characters. But the big juice came from what I saw in the potential for these other characters and how they would interact with the popular ones like Deadpool and Wolverine. I had some ideas that I’m getting to now to develop Deadpool into a three dimensional person where we see his motives a little more, and you start to see more of what’s going on behind the curtains. He’s the guy whose schizophrenic, he’s always wacky and making jokes, but there’s always some kind of personality issue at the core of that. For him, I imagined that he’s this guy who is refuse. He’s a failed product of Weapon X and he’s never been accepted anywhere and always sort of been the pariah. So the humor is a protective wall to shield himself and I like trying to tear that down and show the gooey human core in the middle. So there’s a lot of great character stuff with those five together. Someone told me that those were the five they were thinking, I got to work on connecting them with interpersonal dynamics.
Tim: That’s kind of surprising to me, especially with Fantomex because he doesn’t really seem to have the same historical pedigree as the rest of them.
Rick: I think he’s a great character who just needed to be handled correctly. He’s over in the regular X-Men book right now as well as this one, and I think everybody writing him has a lot of love for him. You get a lot of love for a character, you can build it into something pretty great I think. There’s big things coming up for him and I think he’s getting really popular. And that’s what you want, to be a part of taking an underutilized character that was created by somebody as wonderful as Grant Morrison and to help more people appreciate him.
Tim: In telling people about X-Force, I realized that if I can’t sell people on the concept of your books: “They have to kill Apocalypse who has been reincarnated as a child,” I can sell them on a moment like, “Deadpool talks to his butthole for three pages.”
Rick: Does Deadpool talk to his butthole? I didn’t know I wrote that. Oh, he is talking to his butthole, I did write that. I’m sorry, I’m questioning you and you’re like “no dude, you did write that.” I do enjoy with the Deadpool doing things that are comic relief, but I want him to be clinically crazy, I want him to feel like you’re reading a crazy person. I think he works great in limited doses, especially in a team like X-Force where they missions are serious. It lends itself to having a nice bit of comic relief, and that’s one of the aspects of the team that works perfectly.
—Tim Jones, 20, is from Ocean Springs, Mississippi. His interests include punk rock, comic books, comic books about punk rock, and punk rock about comic books.