Talking With Mark Russell And Steve Pugh About Their Reunion On ‘Billionaire Island: Cult Of Dogs’
by Olly MacNamee
Mark Russell and Steve Pugh have reunited for a second, richly satirical series of Billionaire Island from AHOY Comics. Having read the first issue and thoroughly enjoyed it, I reached out to both creators for a catch-up ahead of Billionaire Island: Cult of Dogs #2 drops this Wednesday 12th December.
Olly MacNamee: Was a sequel always on the cards after the success of the first series, or was this a book born out of events in the real world become almost as preposterous as Billionaire Island’s main premises?
Mark Russell: A sequel was not in the cards. I had not planned to do anything more with Billionaire Island until I was approached to write a sequel. And then it occurred to me that the destruction of Freedom Unlimited was probably just the beginning of an even crazier story. So I wrote this series about the collapse of the billionaire economy, the unforeseen repercussions of having unleashed waves of conspiracy theories and disinformation in a vain attempt to keep the billionaire economy alive, and the consequences of a dog being the richest being on the planet.
Steve Pugh: Total surprise to me. Obviously I’ll happily draw anything Mark writes, but the body count was so high in the first series I just assumed we were done. It’s nice to face the consequences of our shenanigans though.
MacNamee: You present a believable picture of a near-future America that is still very much a divided and exploited country. And still very gullible in many parts. From the first issue alone, you are including a good deal of social commentary on any number of subjects through your black comedy. But, what major themes are you interested in exploring this series?
Pugh: Ha, yeah, the rockets. The engorged embodiments of competing space Bro’s. Every time there was a discussion about covers it was all, “we can’t, but we could, but we shouldn’t, should we?” I mean you don’t usually pass up an attention grabbing image like that, but sadly I was too cowardly and every one else involved was too high class Being a bit of a hardware nut, I actually loved the technology design, the drone planes and transports were crazy complex to keep straight and I’m delighted Barman Miranda made a brief comeback.
Russell: There’s no point in trying to outflank the absurdity of reality anymore. All satire feels like news now. So I guess the major themes in this series are how the fragility of truth is also the fragility of civilization.
MacNamee: Reporting on it all for us, once again, is reporter Shelly Bly. Our anchor in a sea of insanity. Was it important to include such a voice and keep the reader with at least one foot in reality, at least?
Russell: When I’m writing a story, especially one as laden with social commentary as this one, I like to cheat by having one character through whom I can channel my thoughts directly to the reader. And for Billionaire Island, that’s Shelly Bly. She’s the stand-in for my own voice. Also, when you’re writing satire, it helps to have at least one character who’s in the habit of being as blunt as possible. And, for this series, that’s Shelly.
MacNamee: Any real world figures you may be channelling into any of the new characters? That goes for the scripting and art both, gents.
Russell: I feel like most of the characters are composites of real-world figures, but as such, none are based too specifically on any one person. At least as far as the writing goes.
Pugh: Although there are obvious analogs, there’s no one you could point too and identify, it’s more they have a distinctive energy you might recognise. I actually dislike basing characters on real people because it holds back the character’s “performance”. Instead of a character becoming real over the page I’d be fretting if it was a good enough likeness instead of if they’re working in the frame.
MacNamee: Steve, what influences drove your fevered mind in this series? Obviously you did a great deal of world building in Billionaire Island (was that the Library of Birmingham I saw in the concluding issue, perchance?), but what about now? There are certainly some very on-the-nose designed included but what about other areas, such as the smooth lined interior to Canto-Loop? Never mind the exterior of said building.
Pugh: Ah, well I’ll always go for a curved interior, it’s easier to hide when you have to force the perspective in a drawing!
Yes! I did use the looped rings of the library to clad one of the campus buildings, it’s such a ridiculously overcomplex design, It was perfect. (I loved the old concrete inverted space pyramid they knocked down to build the new one).
The island itself had to have crazy opulent towers to kinda hammer home the money involved, but also smaller more intimate street level spaces where the characters could act. The whole island is Turtle shaped, but I don’t think you ever saw it from an angle you could see that. I had an unused promotional poster idea where it showed a turtle “hatching” from an earth shaped egg to slide into the sea. Probably a bit too on the nose 🙂
MacNamee: Having known you both for some time via social media interaction, previous interviews and in the real world for you Steve, I think it’s safe to say you both seem to share the same wicked comedic sensibilities. I take it this is a big part of you ongoing desire to work together whenever you can?
Russell: The thing I love about working with Steve is that he gets it. He knows how to read a script and know when to use the art to push the envelope on the whackiness and when to hold back and not step on a joke. Usually, the worst thing you can do to a joke is to oversell it and Steve knows where the funny is kept. So I trust him implicitly to know when to pump it up and when to let the writing land the punchline. That, and he always gives his characters such great humanity, which is also something I really value.
Pugh: Every time the opportunity comes up, I’m grateful. Mark’s scripts seem to bring out the best in my stuff, there’s a lot of character work and acting. Often it’ll be that I just want to see the book exist!
I’ll give a shout out to Ahoy too, who provide a really supportive, creative, environment to make good work!
MacNamee: Lastly then, if this again proved a success (I know, I know, it is early days) could be expect a third series? I mean, the billionaire class can only get worryingly worse in their excesses, right?
Russell: If we do a third series, I want it to be more hopeful than the first two. Maybe about the fits and starts of trying to create a new society that works from the wreckage of the old one.
Pugh: I’ll know after Mark, but before Chris!
Billionaire Island: Cult Of Dogs #1 is out now with Billionaire Island: Cult Of Dogs #2 out this Wednesday 14th December from AHOY Comics.