Marc Bernardin/Adam Freeman Bring On the Monsters

A comics interview article by: Tim O'Shea
Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman, the writing team behind Monster Attack Network (an AiT/PlanetLar graphic novel due for release in the middle of next month), approached this email interview with a really fine mix of wit and knowledge. The interviews always seem to go better when the creators can laugh at the process and themselves. The fact that I enjoyed reading an advance preview of Monster Attack Network made the interview equally enjoyable.

Before launching into the interview, though, here is background on the writers, as well as the project, from their respective sites.

Marc Bernardin: "Born and bred in New York. Gave up and moved to New Jersey (because they have grass and lower taxes and my wife). Work as a magazine editor by day {SBC SIde note: Entertainment Weekly to be exact], a screenwriter by night, and a father in between.

Adam Freeman: "By day I am a mild mannered TV Executive Producer. My credits include creating & running shows for MTV, 20th Television, Fox, Fox Sports, UPN, E!, GSN, MYSpace.com and currently A&E. By night I become a struggling screen and comic book writer with a couple of projects in different phases of 'development'...I mean it...really. I also have a wife and two daughters that totally kick ass. I am clearly over-extended."

Monster Attack Network: "MARVEL! At the Pacific island of Lapuatu, perfect in every way…except for the giant monsters. THRILL! As Nate Klinger and his daring team of first-responders at the Monster Attack Network expertly deal with the frequent rampaging-beast-related crises. WONDER! If the shady American industrialist who comes to the island bearing "gifts" and the mysterious, gorgeous Lapuatuan ex-patriate are up to no good. ENJOY! The hair-raising adventures of the noble men and the drop-dead sexy women of the Monster Attack Network!"

As fun an interview as we had, in this round we only focused on Monster Attack Network (M.A.N.). We never got around to discussing the WildStorm five-issue miniseries that launched last week, The Highwaymen. Do not fret, as we plan on doing a second interview prior to The Highwayman 2. But first, we discuss Monster Attack Network--and to quote Adam Freeman: "Just get lost in it. Enjoy the ride."

Tim O'Shea (TOS): Adam, looking in your blogger profile, I noticed we share an appreciation of the late great Spalding Gray. I was fortunate enough to see him perform (in person) twice in the 1990s. Strangely enough, despite the fact he was a monologist, I dare say the man showed an ability to write sharp dialogue in his monologues. In terms of writing dialogue would you count Gray among your influences. (Sorry for going left field here, but you are the first [comics] creator I've interviewed who has ever mentioned Spalding Gray...)

Adam Freeman (AF): I was/am a huge Spalding Grey fan, as well as Eric Bogosian. I would say their works (Monster in a Box, Talk Radio etc.) had a huge influence on me as far creating a rhythm to dialogue. It is not something I consciously think of when writing, but I think it has definitely seeped its way in there.

TOS: Adam, as an admitted pop culture junkie, can you share any particularly obscure pop culture influence on M.A.N. (Classic monster movies, of course, but I'm hoping to unearth some obscure reference here. :) )

AF: Ooooo, I think they find their way into everything Marc and I do. For us, M.A.N. is like a big mash-up. It has the obvious Toho influences but I think you can see a little Buckaroo Bonzai and Big Trouble in Little China in the way the core group interacts. I also love the simplicity of the premise. Describe 24 in a sentence, or Battlestar Galactica (no slight to either)...now pitch me Manimal. "A guy who can turn into animals.” Automan: “A cop has computer program for a partner." Genius! Point is - don't take it too seriously. Just get lost in it. Enjoy the ride.

Marc Bernardin (MB): There’s a little-known Aristotealean drama called Lost in the Eugripides that was a big influence on the theme of man vs. nature, man vs. man…. Nah, I’m just screwing with you. We wear our hearts on our sleeve.

TOS: I get the impression from reading your blog, Adam, that your workday is fairly hectic. There seems to be an inherent kineticism to most reality shows-- did your constant exposure to organized chaos find its way into the kineticism of a typical M.A.N work day?

AF: Man, Gene Simmons is kicking my ass. The show is a blast to produce but it will be the death of me. Fortunately, I have really bad ADD. I didn't learn this until recently, but apparently a positive side effect of ADD is that they are great multitaskers. If I have a free day (ha!) that cursor will just blink at me like a twitchy meth addict. If I am dealing with a Gene crisis, hopping in and out of an edit bay etc. and I have 20 minutes to sit I tend to really hyperfocus and come up with some pretty cool stuff. As a result I think me and Marc's books have a pretty good pacing to them. Our characters don't sit around too much.

TOS: Which is more challenging, repeatedly pitching a comic proposal or having to "meet with as many as three to four networks/production companies/misc. a day". Or are both equally arduous?

AF: If every TV exec was like Larry (Young [AiT/PlanetLar], publisher of M.A.N.), Hollywood would be a much happier place! Pitching comics is much more fun because I feel a camaraderie. We are all fans. I don't get that from TV execs often. But they are similar in that you need to go in with confidence, know your story/concept in and out, be passionate but not pigheaded and convince someone else that you can execute this thing.

TOS: As a music fan, is there any music you would suggest listening to while reading M.A.N.?

AF: Wow. Now my mind is spinning. Besides Fu Manchu's excellent cover of Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla" I would have to say it has to be big, loud and not too cerebral. The Supersuckers and Zen Guerilla come to mind. And you have to blast Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" while reading the last page - simply because every comic/movie should end with that song...ever. But whatever you do, do not play Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" anywhere near this book. It will burst into flames.

MB: You gotta put on Pharaoh Monch’s “Simon Says”—it samples the “Godzilla Theme” and just thumps with attitude. And, whenever I’m writing action, I’ve got the soundtrack for “The Italian Job” on in the background. Because I roll like that.

TOS: Could you break down how you two handle writing the book--for example do you hash out dialogue together?

AF: It usually starts with some lengthy phone calls and e-mails to get the plot nailed done and a scene outline. Then we literally pass it back and forth. Marc will write 4-5 pages and send it me. I'll tweak it, add 4 more and send it back. We keep going till we hit the finish line.

MB: It probably takes longer that way, but that’s how we both feel the most comfortable, I think. We can both be equally invested in the story at every point, rather than divvy up individual scenes and Frankenstein them together when we’re all done.

TOS: M.A.N. is full of some interesting characters--I'm wondering if any characters had to be edited out for space--and might end up being used in future M.A.N. projects.

AF: Unless Marc remembers something, I think they are all in there.

MB: Well, when we were thinking about this as an animated sitcom, there was this character who was the equivalent of Godzooki, Godzilla’s son, this human-sized monster who could speak English. We named him Kevin, and he worked in the MAN office, too. And had a crush on Lana.

AF: I totally forgot about that. One day we will write a story about a monster named Kevin.

TOS: Who brought artist Nima Sorat into the collaboration? What about his style made him perfect (in your minds) for this project?

AF: I believe Larry suggested Nima to us, but I could be wrong.

MB: No, it was absolutely Larry. Nima came to Lar via an art school teacher who vouched for him.

AF: What drew me to Nima's work was his strong inking (obviously crucial in B&W book). He also has a slightly cartoony style that I think fits perfectly with the cartoony vibe of the whole book.

MB: He makes everything look like The Incredibles, but edgier. And the chicks are hotter.

TOS: Are there any particular countries that influenced the fictional Pacific island of Lapuatu, where M.A.N. is set?

MB: Well, clearly Japan, with the whole giant monster thing. And Hawaii, for that Polynesian flair. And, honestly, every Caribbean island that exists but for the grace of tourists. Lapuatu thrives because people come to see the giant monsters. It’s the ultimate tourist attraction. Like Jurassic Park without the blinkered science and the ice-cream-crazy old dude.

TOS: Earlier in the book, there is a scene where Nate saves a woman and within seconds of being safe she flirts with him. Upon first read, this scene bothered me. But than I appreciated the nuanced point that Lapuatu residents are used to monster attacks, like city dwellers are used to traffic jams. Was that your thinking when including that scene?

AF: You hit it right on the head. People often put up with some of nature's inconveniences to live in a beautiful place: California has earthquakes and mudslides, Alaska has months of darkness (and vampires), New York has New Jersey - but the people put up with it.

MB: On Lapuatu, monster attacks are a regular occurrence. They’ll put a crimp in your day—like a bad traffic jam or a snowstorm—but they don’t take over your life.

TOS: Throughout the story, you have references to the MAN manual (which apparently all Lapuatu natives have). In developing the story and the book bible, how much of the manual did you actually develop--more than what appears in the book? (Why I ask is because the uses of the manual are some of my favorite parts of the story).

AF: The manual is like any framing device - Jerry's stand-up in Seinfeld, the title cards before each scene in Frasier (stolen from Hannah and Her Sisters but don't get me started), overusing them is tempting because they are fun. Marc and I were conscious of that. I think we joked about what other chapters could be, but we didn't go much further. I would love to go back and write the whole thing though - that would be awesome.

MB: Yeah, maybe when Larry wants to reissue the book in a Deluxe Edition.

TOS: Marc, in writing fiction, do you sometimes find inspiration from the stories you write for EW? What made me think of this was your recent piece, The 25 Greatest Action Movies of All Time...

MB: Luckily, I have a job that pays me to dig the stuff I already dig. I’m already as big a fan as you’ll find of action flicks, sci-fi, comics, etc., so when it comes time to tap into that for work, it’s right at my fingertips. And when Adam and I sit down to write something, it springs from the stuff we dig the most. But does the day job affect the night job? Sure. Both of us have been trained—Adam working in live TV, me on a weekly magazine—to be deadline oriented, and we’ve learned ways to avoid sacrificing quality for speed.

TOS: Was it important for your development of Nate that he have the little scenes and asides (admonishing a MAN tech support person not to refer to him as "sir"; in the midst of a stressful situation, yelling at a kid and just as quickly apologizing).

AF: Very important. Nate is the humble, reluctant hero. We wanted him to be the strong silent type who has a low tolerance for b.s. But above all, he is just a "good guy."

MB: You needed to like him, and yet still realize that he takes his job incredibly seriously. As wry as he may be, and as familiar as he gets with his employees, you totally need to buy him as a real hero.

TOS: On page 22 in that page's final panel, you have some pretty intense dialogue between Lana and Nate, so intense that you opted not to use word balloons, but rather broke it down with dense back and forth dialogue among several text boxes and quotation marks. Was this an attempt (which worked for me) decided upon after trying different approaches in earlier drafts?

AF: To be honest, what you are seeing are two guys learning to write comics. Marc writes for a living, we have written screenplays and teleplays before so as a beginner you THINK you can write a comic book. "We've read them since we were zygotes, what's the big deal?" Wrong. What you are seeing there is us experimenting with ways to tell the story. Like a musician learning a new scale, "Wait, you can do that? Cool!" It also gave us a chance to open up the book a little bit.

MB: It was also a way to convey a ton of information in a condensed space. We could’ve taken up a page or two with that dialogue, just cutting back and forth between heads, but this emerged as a very organic, efficient way to have a conversation.

TOS: You and Adam are childhood friends--over the years have both of you been fairly funny-or is one of you funnier than the other. Why I ask is I need to thank whomever made the hybrid car tossaway line. It cracked me up.

AF: I sense a Battle Royale coming on. You can't ask two guys who consider themselves funny which is funnier! I think we play off each other very well. Nothing makes us happier than when we can crack the other one up. The problem is, having known each other for so long we have our own language of jokes and references. We have to constantly remind ourselves that we are not JUST writing for us.

MB: Though, there are times when I’m lying in bed drifting off to sleep, and I think to myself, “Boy, I hope Adam finds that funny.” And then I hug my blankie and dream of unicorns.

AF: …and Care Bears.

TOS: Adam, you exec-produce the A&E show Family Jewels (about Gene Simmons' family). Given Simmons' love of comics (and recent work in them), did you show him the book while you two were developing it?

AF: Working with Gene is very surreal. I mean, when I was little my parents would have to come in and cover up my KISS poster so I could go to sleep ‘cause the guy just plain freaked me out. When we started working together I was very conscious to keep it business and professional. I needed him to respect me as his producer, not see me as a fan. A couple of months in we were at a photo shoot and I was directing him from behind the camera and I yelled, "Gimme some of those Ditko poses!" His face lit up and he said, "There is a man that speaks my language." Since then, rarely does a day go by that we DON'T speak about comics. He is a true fan. This is a hugely long answer to a simple question: I didn't share M.A.N. with him because I wasn't comfortable at the time. But we spoke often about The Highwaymen. I was in the midst of that while he was putting KISS4K and House of Horrors together so we shared notes, ideas etc. He signed a copy of 4K for me and made me sign a copy of The Highwaymen for him. Now, Marc and I have a story in issue #2 of Gene Simmons House of Horrors so it kind of came full circle.

TOS: Are you afraid that some folks might be overly critical of your work because of Marc's position with EW?

AF: It is a blessing and a curse, and as far as I see it the blessings far out weigh the curses. It was his hard work getting comics into EW that ended up being invaluable to us down the line. At the same time, I imagine he is feeling a whole different kind of pressure than me. How many people throw Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in Roger Ebert's face? If people are overly critical it just means we have to really be on our sh*t. I am up to the challenge.

MB: I’m wearing a cup, these days. Because I know the shots are gonna come and they’ll be aiming right for the soft spot. But I think people have been fair with us, especially when the reviews started coming in for The Highwaymen. There are plenty of reasons not to like what we do, but so far my track record as a journalist hasn’t been one of them.

TOS: What's been the best benefit of having the book published by AiT and working with Larry Young?

AF: (cue violin) "Because he cares..." Larry and Mimi (Rosenheim [AiT/PlanetLar's other principal executive]) have been amazing. Just good people and those are the kind of people I want to do business with. I work in Hollywood. I deal with drama and egos and politics all day. If I would have had that kind of experience doing my first book I think I would have quit half way through. Early on we had some frustrations, some stops and starts with another artist, and Larry talked us off the ledge quite a few times. They do this because they love it and they are passionate. Like mom's apple pie, its good because (cue violin) "It's made with love..."

MB: Larry’s like the host of a great party. He introduces the right people, makes sure you’ve got stuff in common, sees to it that you’re not wanting for anything, and then gets out of the way so you can have a good time. Oh, and he pays for all the booze.

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