EXCLUSIVE: Talking With Mark Russell About ‘Billionaire Island’ And ‘Second Coming: Only Begotten Son’

by Olly MacNamee

With the collected socio-political satire Billionaire Island out this week as well as the highly anticipated sequel to Second Coming – both from AHOY Comics – it gave me a good enough excuse to get back in contact with writer Mark Russell and catch up. As well as discussing these two titles, how could we not talk about the recent fiasco that was the US election too? Another great chat from a personal favourite of mine, I have to admit.

Olly MacNamee: We were lucky enough to interview you before the first issue of Billionaire Island even came out, so now it’s over it’s great to be able to catch up again, Mark. On reflection, was it rather cathartic to write Billionaire Island and conjure up such imaginative and humorous fates for the billionaires of Freedom Unlimited Island?

Mark Russell: It was cathartic if only because it allowed me to say what I had to say. I don’t imagine that this will actually be how it all plays out, but it was gratifying to imagine that there is a way out of this corn maze. And I do believe there is a way out, Business Dog notwithstanding.

OM: Congrats on your new President, by the way. But, given you cast Kid Rock as the comic’s Prez and you had Kanye West running this time round in reality (whatever that is anymore), do you think something has now fundamentally changed for the worst in American politics? Celebrity politicians and a Republican Party happy to be backed by the very worst in society; and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

MR: Thanks! While the election certainly has given us cause for hope that maybe we can stop our national dirt-slide into fascism, celebration would be premature. There are still mortal dangers that loom overhead. For one thing, I think the last four years have exposed how vulnerable we are to disinformation campaigns. And the real danger, I think, isn’t from conspiracy theorist whackos and extremists, it’s from elected officials and media figures who hide behind the disinformation. Elected officials who refuse to acknowledge results or pretend to think that there’s real controversy in election results because of disinformation they themselves know is false. The real danger in lies is not that people will believe them, but that they will use them as an excuse to become the monsters they aspire to be.

OM: Given how much the billionaire class have to answer for on so many of the global plagues effecting us today – from privatising the public sector, pollution and the environment and, of course, the disparity of wealth – you certainly covered a great deal of ground, and with levity. It must still be a balancing act when it comes to scripting, I assume? 

MR: I never feel like I’m balancing anything. To me, it’s all part of the same coin, that coin being saying whatever it is I have to say in as blunt and brief a manner as possible. The laughs usually come from that bluntness, or from the craziness of the metaphors I have to come up with to say it.

OM: Were there any burning issues you’d still like to explore, maybe in a sequel? Or, at the very least, a Business Dog mini-series? 

MR: One concept I would like to explore in a sequel would be hope. The idea of what would we do if given the chance to rebuild from the ground up? And also how ideology seems to have been replaced in politics by the cult of personality. 

OM: Talking about sequels, you have the sequel to last year’s critically acclaimed (albeit, not by FOX News) Second Coming about to drop from AHOY Comics. God has reconciled with his son, who himself feels he has failed by taking a life, and then there’s the miraculous pregnancy too. It seems all the seeds are already sown, so what can we expect from Second Coming: Only Begotten?

MR: It’s largely about how hard it is to overcome the mistakes of the past. In Christ’s case, it’s about the difficulties in trying to set the world right about your teachings when they think they’ve already got you pegged. And for Sunstar, it’s about the difficulty of opting out of a life of superhero violence when every villain in the world still has a bone to pick with you. 

OM: What I found so inspiring about the first series – and this is coming from a devout atheist – is that you not only presented the teachings of Jesus in a way even I could get behind, but you were also able to explore a good deal of theological debate and with humour too, as well as the corruption of Christ’s true message by corrupt religious leaders. Will we be getting more of this exploration in the sequel? What issues are you diving into?

MR: Yes, absolutely. And a lot of what we explore in this series is how many of Christ’s teachings stand the test of time just because they’re good ideas, regardless of whether you believe in his divinity. But also how far afield they are from much of Christianity as it is actually practiced. One of the things I love about the story and words of Christ from the Bible is how much of it is from the perspective from someone without any power. He’s not trying to come up with a legal code or a blueprint for civilization. He’s simply trying to heal the world one person at a time with compassion and decency. And that’s something that seems utterly alien to those who’ve adopted Christianity as a tool for the very institutions Christ spent his life subverting.

OM: I loved your representation of God as a very relatable being. I mean, he even loves bowling, pondering whether he should have given that to humanity rather than the Ten Commandments at the end of Second Coming. With his reconciliation, will we be seeing more of God in his son’s life? He must be great character to write for?

MR: Yeah, he’s probably the most fun character to write. And one thing we get more of in the second season is a better look at Heaven and how it operates. It fleshes out a lot of the concepts we introduced in the first six issues.

OM: Any new additions to the cast? Any more of the colourful rogues you seem to have so much fun creating, even if they appear for the briefest amount of time?

MR: Some new disciples for Christ, a club kid who runs the televangelism empire he inherited from his father, a Brainiac-like super-villain who Sunstar bullied in high school, to name a few.

OM: One last one, and I’ll let you off the hamster wheel, I promise. It must be great to have a home at AHOY Comics, one of the very few places that feels genuinely independent and genuinely supportive of more satirical works. Is it as liberating as  a creator as it feels as a reader?

MR: Definitely. It’s nice to have a place that gets you. People to whom your bad ideas don’t sound that bad. It’s definitely liberating as a writer because it frees you up to pitch the comic you really want to write, rather than keeping your cards close to your chest or making your ideas 10% less funny in order to be greenlit.

OM: As ever Mark, many thanks for you time, and many thanks for putting up with my rambling questions. And again, from many of here in the UK, congratulations on the Biden/Harris win!

MR: Thanks, Olly. A pleasure as always.

Billionaire Island TPB is out now in comics stores and in bookstores Tuesday 24th November while Second Coming: Only Begotten Son #1 comes out Wednesday 16th December from AHOY Comics.

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