Fortunately for comic fans everywhere but unluckily for residents of Edge City, Big Head is back. The green, Looney-Tunes powered psychopath that changed Dark Horse Comics forever is finally on shelves again, and he’s got his worst plan for death and destruction yet: he’s running for President. Monkeys Fighting Robots got to chat with some of the team bringing you Big Head’s efforts to “Make America Green Again,” writer Christopher Cantwell and artist Patric Reynolds. Here’s what they had to say about I Pledge Allegiance to the Mask, the history of The Mask comics, and the rumored Mask movie reboot. Read on!
Grant DeArmitt for Monkeys Fighting Robots: Alright Chris, start us off. Where does I Pledge Allegiance to the Mask pick up? Has the time that passed in our world also passed in Edge City? Where’s The Mask now?
Christopher Cantwell: Time has definitely passed. I’d say this new chapter takes place now, or enough in the future that it’s like… tomorrow. But there is reference to the Big Head events of the late 80’s through the 90’s. Detective Kellaway has retired to California. Kathy, Stanley Ipkiss’ girlfriend, is also around and in her late 50’s. The Mask has been missing for about 20 years (since the comic title truly went dormant). But it’s still out there.
MFR: Patric, this book looks unlike anything we’ve ever seen in The Mask universe before. Why is that, and what inspires the new, grittier look for Big Head & co.?
Patric Reynolds: Before I came on board, the creative team wanted a different visual approach to this series. My editor, Daniel Chabon, suggested I be considered as the artist, and the gulf between the work that I usually do and the style of the previous iterations of The Mask is pretty wide to say the least. The team was looking for a grittier, darker, almost noir-ish look for the story, and I’ve had a fair amount of experience making comics inspired by those elements. As an artist I’m focused on using light not only to describe form and establish a time, place and mood, but also to use it as a presence, like an unseen character guiding the viewer through the page. Bending the visuals towards a more realistic wavelength can make a more visceral impact with the reader (if I do it right), and hopefully it can make the characters resonate on an emotional level.
MFR: Chris, you said in a previous interview that you scared yourself writing this book. What did you mean by that? What are you scared of?
Cantwell: I imagined the most absurd and horrifically violent things I could think of for Big Head’s killings. And then Patric made them scarier. I scared myself because it’s one thing to think of something like that, but another to see it actually happen on the page. I also removed almost all hope from the story threads in this book. Usually that accompanies darkness and violence in my stories. Here, not so much. And I was surprised at how easily I could pull all sunlight out of my soul.
MFR: Patric, Big Head is famous for his massive, Liefeld-spoofing choice of guns. Does this aspect of the character change in a comic released in 2019 America?
Reynolds: Chris has intentionally distanced the story from gun violence, and even the one instance where Big Head does pull out some ridiculously massive guns before a fight it’s played more as a joke or call-back…. and frankly this story doesn’t really need the presence of guns to make the violence impactful. It leaves room for a lot of creativity in the bloodshed, from a political rival getting flushed down a toilet, to a war-focused presidential candidate getting shot out of the turret gun of an Abrams tank, and finally to a new character cutting off his ear and eating in front of people just to prove what a loose cannon he is.
MFR: Chris, we’ve seen the horrible things that can happen when a person wears The Mask. Do you think we should ever empathize with the people who put it on?
Cantwell: It depends on who wears it. If deep down the person has a good heart, yes. But those people usually realize the Mask is bad and extract themselves from it. If the person was already a bad seed, definitely not. Stanley Ipkiss? No. Kathy, Kellaway? Yes. There are a couple characters who wear it in this story. One is a good person, and one merely professes to be, but actually they’re a piece of shit. The Mask just makes that truth known.
MFR: Patric, what’s your relationship with Lee Loughridge like? You flesh out this fantastic, neo-noir vision of Edge City together, can you give us a window into that process? What makes you work together so well?
Reynolds: Thank you very much for the positive comments! I met Lee back in 2009 while I was a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design and he was invited to their annual Comic Arts Forum as a guest artist. He looked through my portfolio and said “hell yeah I’d like to color your stuff!” We had followed each other on social media since then, but we didn’t have the chance to work on something together and our schedules never lined up. Last year I posted a Venom commission that I had painted for a client, and he surprised me by digitally coloring it on a whim and posting the gorgeous results. Right about the same time Daniel was asking me to paint variant covers for other Dark Horse titles, and I suggested that Lee do the digital coloring on them. I really liked how he enhanced the black and white images that I made, and I asked him to do some sample colors on some of the Hellboy and the BPRD: 1954 pages that I had done. He really killed it, and Daniel really liked what he did, too.
Reynolds: When Daniel offered me the job as an interior artist for I Pledge Allegiance to The Mask, I didn’t hesitate to suggest Lee to come on board as colorist. Lee has a great grasp of how important light is to the inks that I do and recognizes the intensity and the directions of the light sources really well. I love the way he captures the way light diffuses throughout the panels in various ways. Sometimes I’ll give him specific notes on certain panels before he starts (like “the only light source in the panel is coming from the TV,” or “the characters in the doorway are backlit by a pink neon sign,” etc.), but for the most part I just trust him to do his job. And he’s imbued the visuals with an indelible edge.
MFR: Ok, question for the both of you: Rumors of a reboot of The Mask have been swirling around the internet for a few months now. If you were in charge of this onscreen return of The Mask, what would it look like? Would it be like I Pledge Allegiance to the Mask?
Cantwell: I would combine The Mask and The Mask Returns and make the anti-heroes Kellaway and Kathy. Ipkiss would be in it for 20 minutes.
Reynolds: Well, if I were in charge I’d get Roger Deakins to be the cinematographer (I loved the way he realized the visuals in Blade Runner: 2049 and No Country for Old Men)…. or if David Fincher is available, I’d love to see how he’d translate the chiaroscuro of the visuals of this new series to the big screen. I actually study screen shots of their film work to help inform and inspire the work that I do.
MFR: And finally, another question for you both: I’ve read that this series would see The Mask “returning to its roots.” How do you think The Mask has changed since debuting in 1989? What’s the key to bringing it back there?
Cantwell: I think Big Head isn’t such an outlier in today’s world. Violence and chaos seem to be more a way of life, and a media-accepted means of moving through the culture and society. Big Head wouldn’t have to hide in the shadows so much. He could be out in the open. That’s what he does in this story. And he might even find an American populace that isn’t so shocked by his antics anymore.
Reynolds: Big Head is actually kind of… normal against the backdrop of 2019. Hyperbole tinged with ignorance and fear is becoming more of the norm, and someone as crazy, amoral, and dangerous as Big Head can absolutely become the leader of the free world. And ultimately, that’s the real terror.
You can follow the Big Head madness with I Pledge Allegiance to the Mask Issue One, which is one sale now, and with Issue Two, which is at your local comic shop next Wednesday, November 20th. For more interviews like this one, make sure to follow us on Twitter, and for all the best comic book discussion, stay tuned to Monkeys Fighting Robots.