Mark Haven Britt: Mixing Revenge with Morality in Full Color

A comics interview article by: Tim O'Shea
Growing up in the South, there were cities that always fascinated me as a child. New York is one of those cities. And as an adult, New York still fascinates me. So when I read that New York City was essential to the story Mark Haven Britt tells in his new Image Comics-published graphic novel, Full Color, I became interested in finding out more. A few emails later, and a little longer than a New York minute--we have this interview. Before launching into it, here's the official word on Britt's 176-page story (set to go on sale on July 18):

"A lifetime marked with Napoleonic bosses has generated a rage in Boom that she can't contain anymore - only aim. Her target? Her boss.

The same day she decides to go after her boss, Boom comes home to find an old friend standing on her fire escape. David's double-crossed a drug dealer and he's looking for help. Boom tells him, 'I can't. I've given myself one day to make it all right or I'm just going to kill myself. What do you think of that?' David smiles, 'Chaos it is then. We'll need coffee.'

Full Color is an action-packed odyssey through New York. Fast-paced and thoughtful, compelling and funny, Full Color is a revenge-fueled morality tale."

Tim O'Shea (TOS): In the recent Image announcement, Full Color (which I know was partially inspired by your 9/11 NYC experience) is described as "an odyssey through New York City featuring dog fights, hot tubs, rainy alleyways and even a breakfast with Bill Clinton." Please tell me the Bill Clinton breakfast is not in a hot tub...

Mark Haven Britt (MHB): Ha! Bill's appearance is even more awesome than that. Really.

TOS: Seriously though how important was it to set the story in NYC (versus a city like Boston or Chicago [given that many major US cities were impacted by 9/11--obviously none more than DC or NYC, of course])?

MHB: I was living in New York when I wrote Full Color. It's about my living experience there. My intent when I started this project was to write a revenge story, the Sept 11th undercurrents sort of appeared.

While a lot of comics are set in New York, none of them captured the kaleidoscopic energy as I experienced it. New York operates not as a generic center point of American culture or historical military target but as the place I was living. I really wanted to capture my personal take of the vibe of New York. Not based on the movies or comics but how it felt to actually live there. That subway in the opening sequence? I walked through that every day. Boom's apartment is my apartment in Brooklyn. Most of the locations are spots I hung out at.

TOS: I think 9/11-inspired fiction has understandably become a genre in and of itself--would you agree that we'll still be reading relevant 9/11-inspired books and seeing movies in that vein 10 and 20 years from now?

MHB: I think so. The title of Don DeLillo's new book Falling Man is taken from a photo that appeared in the New York Times of one of the people who jumped from the towers. That photo haunts Full Color, and frankly haunts me. I hope we'll see some better stories.

TOS: While 9/11 is a springboard inspiration for the tale, I must be quick to add, folks should not define the work solely by its 9/11 origins--correct?

MHB: Correct. The characters' Sept 11th hangover colors their behavior but it isn't an overt Sept 11th political book. It's a book about work. It's about how hating your boss can infect your life. When I started Full Color I thought it was going to be this mass appeal revenge thriller. I didn't realize until I was writing the ending that it was clearly about some other things. I also though it was going to be 48 pages! 176 pages later, oopsie!

TOS: Which storytellers have helped shape the sense of humor you utilize in Full Color?

MHB: I gravitate towards comedy contrasted with tragedy. Humor for humor's sake is fine. There's nothing wrong with going straight for the funny. It's just not my thing. I dig the gallows humor of Homicide: Life on the Street. Kurt Vonnegut. Kyle Baker. Bendis. Chris Rock, specifically his Bring the Pain (BTP) DVD.

A- That performance is amazing.

B- I read this great interview in Rolling Stone that had a big affect on me. BTP was written just after his stint on Saturday Night Live. He said that he was famous but no one knew why. He felt like he never did anything classic or amazing. He felt folks underestimated him. He felt he was better than what people had seen. So he holed up for a few months and just poured his heart into his next show. BTP transformed him in the cultural conversation from token black guy on SNL into Chris Rock. And it's fucking hilarious. After getting rejected a million times from comics publishers, I just decided: fuck it. I'm going to make an amazing book whether you want me to or not. Once I was done Image saw it and dug it. I got lucky. It felt good just to get it out there. I felt good to just do the best possible book I could. I have no regrets about this book. I have that Chris Rock interview taped into my sketch book.

TOS: In terms of layout and design, your word balloons seem intentionally larger in some scenes. What were you trying to convey with this design choice?

MHB: I like to make every element resonate and contribute to the story. Typography and word balloon composition can be an incredibly effective dramatic tools. Sometimes the balloons are razor sharp and dominate. Other times fluffy framing elements. Other times nearly non-existent.

TOS: Was there any particular "Napoleonic boss" in your career that you used for inspiration in writing your tale?

MHB: I've had a few but I had a couple specifically in mind for this story. My bosses in New York really treated me bad. Although the more time goes on, the more I forgive them. I was pretty out of my fucking mind when I was in New York. So what's worse being an asshole or being a lunatic malcontent?

TOS: Over the nearly half-decade that you were developing this story, in what way did you see your storytelling skills improve. Can you point to certain scenes that you know you could not have pulled off five years ago?

MHB: Boom's flashback sequence, hands down. It's dense, kinetic and not overworked. The acting is balanced and evocative. I'm very happy with that sequence.

However, the biggest thing I can point to is my method and discipline. I can produce pages regularly. Illustration and painting is like cooking for your friends. Comics is like cooking in a diner. You gotta be prepared to make yummy food really fast. After five years of Full Color I feel like I am.

TOS: Some storytellers attempt to send a particular subtextual (or more direct) message with their work, while others seek to merely entertain, and not necessarily solve any great mystery. Do you hope to challenge readers with Full Color or opt for sheer entertainment or a little of a both?

MHB: I hope to entertain folks. It's meant to move along and engage people. The end however calls everything into question. Was Boom right? Was her boss really that much of a dick? While moments of the book are very cinematic and novelistic, the end operates like a painting. It's very much designed to be open to interpretation. Some think the ending is optimistic, others pessimistic. Some folks see exactly what I see, others something else entirely. My goal was to make the ending challenging.

I want it to be pulpy and fun. There are fights and comedy to keep things moving. I'm a Wednesday Guy, I like my comics to have things happen in them. I created Boom because I like characters that do something about their problems. Even if it is the worst possible solution executed while drunk.

TOS: I know Boom is the star of the book, but what can you tell folks about her old friend, David?

MHB: Ah, David. The jester. In all of the notes, I refer to David as "Mister Nonsense".

Boom is Steve McQueen cool and David is the devil on her shoulder. A beautiful coward next to this tank. I think Boom sees a-lot of her old self in David. David is what Chris Rock calls "old guy at the club". It's not that he's old, just a little too old to be at the club. Five years ago he was cool. Now, still doing the same shit, he's kinda lame. If David appeared two weeks before the story began, Boom probably would have blown him off. He's a catalyst for bad decisions returning at the worst possible time for Boom.

Boom is a take charge person I was wish I was and David is the fuck up I think I very easily could be.

TOS: In terms of Boom's boss, were you hesitant to try doing some character development there for fear of compromising the thriller pace of the tale?

MHB: A little. I didn't want him to be very specific. It isn't a story about "the worst boss ever". I wanted the audience to associate their own bosses with him. The story about the long-term effects of the American working experience. Patriarchal bosses are everywhere. The story is the perfect storm of job frustration. Worst possible people involved in the worst possible city under the worst possible circumstances.

Community Discussion