Comics writer, Christopher Cantwell, is having a great summer. Back in June, it was announced he would have a new ongoing series, Everything, with I.N.J. Culbard on the Berger Books imprint. In addition, it was revealed during San Diego Comic Con that he would be writing Doctor Doom for Marvel and his comic, She Could Fly was optioned to be developed by AMC. Another news drop that occurred right before the show was that he would be bringing The Mask back for Dark Horse. Cantwell would be the scribe with Patric Reynolds on art, Lee Loughridge on colors and Nate Piekos on lettering. At SDCC the talented comic creator spoke with Comicon.com about the upcoming limited series, The Mask: I Pledge Allegiance to the Mask!
Gary Catig: Last week, it was announced that you are working on a limited series based off of The Mask. What drew you to this character initially?
Christopher Cantwell: Well, I think like everybody, when I was a kid, I saw the movie. Right? The movie was fun when I was a kid but I was also going to the comic book store heavily at that time. I saw Arcudi and Mahnke’s and Mike’s original books, The Mask and The Mask Returns on the shelf. I convinced my mom to get them and she didn’t open them, which was good.
GC: And she didn’t know it wasn’t appropriate.
CC: She didn’t know. She didn’t open them. Oh great, she knew the movie. I took them on a road trip to St. Louis. We had family that lived in southern Illinois so we were always driving from north Texas to St. Louis, which is about twelve hours. I would just sit in the back seat with comics and a Gameboy. I had The Mask and The Mask Returns. I was pretty young and it kind of blew me away. It took comics to a different level for me. It had such an edge. It was so raw. It was so violent. Violent in a way that I don’t mean this in a message way, but it was saying something. The violence was there to exemplify the chaos of the Mask. People always think they can control the Mask but the Mask just ends up controlling them.
That story of Stanley and Kellaway and then Kathy wearing it. That to me was the triumvirate story of The Mask to set up such an incredible, dark, kind of tragic and very human world. It was the first time I ever saw abuse in a comic book. Obviously, I was very young and that kind of thing affected me. It was the first time I saw a cop lose control. It was the first time I saw a kind of loser guy with nothing to really live for in his life, rather than become a hero, which you see in a lot of comic books, right? Become a monster. Become a serial killer. That’s why The Mask has a bad reputation is because of Stanley Ipkiss for most of the rest of the run even through the later books into the 2000’s. Very different from the movie obviously. That kind of troubling, anarchical, chaotic almost nihilistic tone of the book, this kind of punk underground tone, I thought was amazing.
When I started working with Karen [Berger] through her imprint, I met Mike [Richardson]. Mike was like, “What else do you want to do? You want to do something else with us?” We were talking actually here at the Dark Horse booth last year and he had The Mask just sitting there as a property. I was like, “What are you guys doing with The Mask?” Then we started talking and I ended up pitching him a take and he dug it. I started working on it and it was a dream come true. Everything I’ve done with Patric [Reynolds], the artist, and Daniel [Chabon], our editor, and Mike, who is also editing it, has tried to remain true to those original books. The continuity is true all the way through to Hunt for Green October. I’m making tiny references to Hunt for Green October. Kellaway is in it. Kathy is in it. They’re older. It’s all as it should be in terms of the time line. Ghosts of Stanley. Edge City. Really fleshing out Edge City. All that stuff has been really fun.
GC: You have mentioned how the property has been sitting away for a while and Big Head hasn’t had a series. What are you doing to update this character for now, or is the idea to play off how this character fits into today’s society even though he’s from before?
CC: When we announced the book, I said that the world is on fire in a way that we only had hints of in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The Mask in our story, is the exact Mask that we saw at the very beginning when this story started. We wanted to go back to the roots of that story and really hit that chord hard. This is The Mask; this is Big Head as you knew him when he first showed up on the comic scene. And yet the world has changed in a way that maybe is much more accepting or even numb to the kind of chaos and violence and attitude that The Mask brought to the scene almost thirty years ago.
How someone like Big Head can appear and cause havoc and maybe be more accepted by a polarized, technology infused, over stimulated populace where they’re just like, “Oh, I like this guy because he’s hitting my beta wave stimulation in my brain more than anything else that I’m looking at right now. I touch upon this just a little bit in my first book, She Likes to Fly, with Karen, which was a woman is appearing over the city of Chicago, flying and by the eleventh time, people don’t really give a shit anymore. Big Head, I think is able to step into the social scene a little bit more easily than he was thirty years ago when he was a little bit more in the darker edges at night. A rumor. I kind of myth or legend of this green face killer who was on the loose.
GC: You have mentioned previously how the series was an outlet for you to express your anger, fear and cynicism at our current political state and you were scared of yourself in that process. Was it because you realized how outraged you were over today or is it also seeing that there weren’t too many differences between the real world and that fictional world that you’re creating?
CC: Yeah, I think I tried to push this as far as I could and then you see things hit the headlines and you go, “Holy shit!” Mike and I talked about this. It’s not an indictment and I don’t try to write stories that are messages. I try to write stories that are mirrors. At least my mirror which is like, I’m seeing the world like this right now. Is anyone else responding to this? People will look at what story I’ve told and they’re going to take away something else for them to think about or enjoy a little bit. Then be troubled by or find difficult or something to discuss with somebody else. Or just hit them on a visceral level and they can walk away with that emotion even if it’s fear or disturbance. Things I felt reading the original The Mask comic books where it wasn’t what I was reading at other places. It wasn’t on my pull list with my mom. It was The Mask. I was greatly troubled by the stuff I saw but it felt very realistic even though it was so crazy.
That’s today. It’s so crazy and yet it’s reality. That’s not just politics. That’s global warming. That’s international things that are happening. That’s social unrest. That’s inequality on every level. That’s the shocking nature of actual violence that happens today. I’m bowled over man. You look at the news and you wish you didn’t. And then you feel guilty for not looking at the news. I feel happier today. Why is that? Oh, because I’m not aware of the larger picture of what’s going on. You walk around the con and you have a great time. Then you go over to the Starbucks and on television you see whatever is happening and you’re like, “Holy shit!”
I’ve lived in California for almost 20 years and the 7.0 earthquake hit and I had to pull my boys underneath the dining room table. I’ve never had to do that in California. That was very real to have to hold my son and be on top of him as our house is shaking and my baby son whimpering, who is two years old. It’s just the way things are and probably me just getting older. I’m in my late thirties at this point. My thirties have been way less fun then my twenties, which were way less fun then my teens. I think that happens to everybody.
I just think we live in a shocking, crazy, overly stimulated time and a Big Head story set in that time. A character who is supposed to be so audacious kind of meets its match when it gets put into 2019. We are all wearing the Mask at a certain point. The collective populace, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on, what side of the ocean you’re on, people are out of fucking control in my opinion and it scares me. When you have kids, it scares you too. I remain hopeful. Michael Chabon, who is Daniel’s brother, I quote this all the time, “There will be no future if you don’t believe in one.” And that’s true for your kids. I’m paraphrasing him but that comes from his book, Manhood for Beginners. It sticks with me all the time because my wife is a high school teacher and she talks to her students and they’re like, “Yeah, humanity is going to be extinct in ten years.” When you’re 28? Maybe you can do something about it? Right? That kind of stuff is what I want to tap into with this book. At least a little bit.
GC: You mentioned him before but you’re working with a talented artist, Patric Reynolds, on this project. Can you describe your collaborative process together and what he brings to the storytelling?
CC: Patric has really brought an amazing, hard boiled kind of noir style to this that I think people will really respond to in the book. You know, all the shit just I said aside, it’s a great detective story. We got Kellaway who is one of the great detectives who has also been under the control of the Mask. You’ve got Kathy who is this great, hard as nails character as well. Then you got Edge City, which is so gritty and you can really lean into that. Patric, just his work in the shadows, his work in expression, his portrayal of the violence, it’s just so grounded. And yet, he just brings so much grit and realism to it that it’s awesome.
Most people who put on the Mask, and even in this, it’s Tex Avery cartoons. That’s where Mike drew some inspiration from. That’s where Kellaway brings to the Mask when he puts it on. To contrast the cartoonish nature of the Mask, which is happening. Big Head is crazy. Then put him in this very realistic world that Patric is drawing is so much fun. Basically, Patric and I just play a game of chicken of how far we can go. He’ll draw some thing and I’ll be, “That’s so intense.” Then he’ll read something that I have on the page and he’ll be, “This is absolutely insane.” So, we go back and forth. Then Daniel is kind of in the middle mediating being like, “Uhh, I don’t know. That may be too far and might get us in trouble or I think we can go a little further with this. He’s been a great ref for the two of us. It’s been awesome.
GC: Finally, in addition to a good and entertaining story, because of the political themes in it, what are you hoping your readers take away from the series or what do you want them to think about afterwards?
CC: Again, it’s not a message. I think when the press release came out, I think I got some clickbaity headlines and some Comicsgaters on my ass, which is fine. I want them to, one, enjoy the story. This is everything The Mask should be. I love this character. This character fucked me up when I was a kid and I want to fuck people with this thing. I want them to enjoy it. I want new readers to find something in it that they enjoy. It was kind of funny at the signing yesterday. We were giving out these really great prints and people would come up to me that didn’t know the comics and were like, “Is this like the movie?” I really thought about being like, “Yeah, you should check it out,” because I feel like it would mess them up for life.
I had to take the moral stance and be like, “No, it is not like the movie at all. It’s very dark. Just prepare yourself.” I want people to enjoy the story. I’m not out to preach and say this is what’s right and this is what’s wrong. I’m really out to say, “Hey, America is a crazy place right now. I don’t know what the fuck is going to happen.” That’s as far as I get. I don’t know if Mike and I and Patric really conclude anything. It’s just like this is a wild time to be alive and there’s some serious wild shit that we’re just kind of rolling with. We portray that as a Big Head story, which is watch Big Head go nuts and watch people like maybe love it and not react like maybe they should. That’s probably as far as we go with it.
We would like to thank Christopher for speaking with us and you can find him on twitter here. We also want to thank Dark Horse for coordinating the interview and The Mask: I Pledge Allegiance to the Mask! will come out October 16, 2019. You can currently pre-order the comic from your LCS.