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No HOV-Lane Riding: Highwaymen's Bernardin, Freeman

A comics interview article by: Tim O'Shea
Tomorrow marks the release of issue 2 of WildStorm's five-issue miniseries, The Highwaymen. Last month I promised that SBC would interview The Highwaymen writing team of Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman, regarding this new miniseries.

Here's the official background on The Highwaymen miniseries, from WildStorm:

"Two men. One drives, the other shoots. In their prime, they were the Highwaymen; a special breed of couriers capable of ferrying anything, anywhere, anytime. But that was long ago. Now Able 'Speed' Monroe and Alistair McQueen are a little worse for wear, almost obsolete...until they are called out of retirement and must cross the river of bad blood between them to deliver some very dangerous cargo for a dead President. If only they knew what is was — and why everyone else wants to kill them for it.

If you missed the first Bernardin/Freeman interview regarding their AiT/Planetlar graphic novel, Monster Attack Network, be sure to click here. Now on with the interview.

Tim O'Shea (TOS): In the first issue, you two craft a car chase scene involving a bus--such a scene lends itself more toward cinematic. How hard was it to structure such a scene for a comic and how much back and forth did it take between you and artist Lee Garbett?

Marc Bernardin (MB): I think the nut we had to crack, in this day and age where "decompression" is something of a comic-booky watch-word, was just figuring out how long this chase should go on for. If this was a movie, the events we put forth wouldn't be enough to sustain a real action scene...but if we stretched it out further than we did, it would start to feel fatuous. I think we found a good balance.

Adam Freeman (AF): Everyone points to that scene as belonging more in a film than a comic and I honestly don't get it. No matter what the scene, as a writer and artist, you pick the key visuals to convey the story & action. Why can't you have a car chase in a comic? As long as it is conveyed properly, as I hope we did, I don't think anything should be off limits.

TOS: Garbett's style reminds me of a mixture of Quitely and Dillon--what do you two each enjoy about his art style (and how it clearly clicks with your adventure)?

MB: I love the heft and emotion he brings to character. That was one of the things that first drew us to him: You felt like these were real men who'd led real lives. Not like 23-year-old Olympic-level athletes.

AF: Marc and I knew we needed an artist with two (among others) important talents: the ability to draw older faces with real character and the ability to do solid technical images (cars, guns etc.) Lee delivered on both fronts. We created the characters, but I still didn't feel like I truly knew them until I saw Lee's pencils.

TOS: Will each issue end with the credits page on the last page--or did you just opt for it on the first issue?

MB: Not every issue, but more often than not. 1, 3, 4 and 5, I think...

AF: Issue #2 is different just to be difficult

TOS: What's the key, the strength to the highwaymen's partnership--what fosters such loyalty between the two of them?

AF: Take Shaq and Kobe: friction between them from day one but they cannot deny that something about that pairing is magical, whether they like it or not. There are rock bands that hate each other but have come to accept the fact that when they get together they create something that is not possible with different components. I have always been intrigued by that. McQueen and Monroe are like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups - two great tastes that go great together. You might not love the guy in the foxhole next to you but if there is a choice between him and bad guys you'll choose him every time.

MB: To a certain degree, it's the backlog of shared experiences. I actually had a similar thing happen to me: I recently reconnected with an old friend, after years of estrangement. We'd grown in the years since the event that splintered our friendship, and when we decided to grab a beer, it was like the time hadn't passed at all. We could pick up almost exactly where we left off. We were still the same guys who had been friends all those years ago, we shared enough history that it was worth it.

TOS: Who had the idea to have them lapse right into the old banter when events immediately force them back together?

MB: Aw, hell if I remember. I'm going to attribute it to the Final Draft genie.

AF: I have always hated when writers say this but now I sort of understand it - it kinda wrote itself (cringe!). Honestly their banter just comes very easily to us. I don't think it was so much someone's idea or an idea that was verbalized, we just both always saw it that way.

TOS: Why set this in the WildStorm universe (as opposed to say, Vertigo)?

MB: Because they said yes. Seriously, it's just that simple. Besides, WildStorm feels like a more action-friendly place than Vertigo, The Losers notwithstanding.

AF: Exactly. WildStorm asked us to the prom first. Look, we know we're not Neil Gaiman, we're not Warren Ellis. No one was beating down our door to work with us. We go with the company that wants it. In this case it was WildStorm and we couldn't be happier. I will always thank Jim Lee and Scott Peterson for taking our (comic book) virginity.

TOS: From each of your perspective, what values does editor Scott Peterson add to the collaboration?

AF: Besides having one of the most unfortunate names in history? Poor guy. Scott has done everything a good editor is supposed to do - ask the right questions, help us stay on course, don't fix what's not broken, and feed our fragile egos when we are out on the ledge. He has been really amazing. Between him and Larry Young (AiT) our first two professional experiences have been a dream. I hope we continue the streak.

MB: He gives us our street cred. He's a hard, pipe-hittin' motherf----r.

TOS: On some level, is this a story about redemption or regaining something that they both once had? Why I ask is I was really struck by McQueen's line: "Sometimes I forget what the right thing feels like. It's...been awhile."

AF: That is alluding to the Highwaymen backstory that we really hope to tell one day. How they met, how they accidentally became pop culture icons (ala Evil Kneivel or Fonzie) and most importantly, why they stopped working together. What happened 15 years ago that made one (or both) walk away?

MB: Isn't every story, in one way or another, about the discovery or loss of one's faith? In themselves, in the world, in their opposite number?

TOS: In issue 3, "the Highwaymen roar into the resurrected city of Neo Orleans"--did Katrina inspire you to use New Orleans (rather than another city)?

MB: Absolutely. We knew we wanted The Highwaymen to be something of a travelogue, and the both of us love New Orleans--the New Orleans that was. (Haven't been to the New Orleans that is, not yet, so can't say.) We loved it for everything that's right, and wrong with it. The people, the poverty, the history, the danger, the best food you could ever ask for, and the worst strip clubs. EVER. And we thought that if the government can't get New Orleans back on its feet, maybe a corporation could. With everything else being privatized--schools, highways, prisons--why not a city? And what would you lose if a company like Disney moved in and rebuilt New Orleans so that it's just another theme park? DebaucheryLand.

AF: It inspired us in the sense that we wanted to explore how a city that fought nature and lost would evolve. Not only is it now privatized (because the government wasn't cuttin' it), but it is also very Venice like - filled with canals and gondolas.

TOS: OK, between the two writers--who's partial to writing scenes involving the speedometer, and who's partial to crafting the espionage aspects?

AF: Hmmm, I never thought of it that way. I think we both have our moments, although I think my favorite car scenes started as Marc ideas. We both rewrite each other so heavily that everything is pretty 50/50 in the end.

MB: Couldn't say. I think we both love the action and the spy stuff like they were our children. Our very destructive children.

TOS: Is there anything else folks should know about this series?

MB: A few of the reviews (and, yes, I'm reading the reviews...because I'm a glutton for everything) have said that it's a fun ride, but it's not reinventing the genre. Not for nothing, but the action-adventure genre is what it is and has been for millennia: the basics of it have been encoded since the friggin' Iliad. No one "reinvents" this genre. It ain't broke. All anyone can do is add a couple of wrinkles. And our guys are old...and naturally full of wrinkles.

AF: It contains 0% trans fat. Oh, and please buy a whole lot of copies so we can do this as a monthly.

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