Max Bemis might be known primarily as the lead singer for the band Say Anything, but having released the indie hit Polarity last year, Bemis is back with BOOM! with his latest work, Evil Empire. Bemis takes the concept of what a government is supposed to do and flips the notion on its head with a government that encourages malevolence and crime.
Newsarama sat down with Bemis recently and while he was secretive with some of the characters, he did talk at large about his inspiriations for Evil Empire and the notion of the real-world consequences of having such a faction in place.
Newsarama: So Max this is your second title over at BOOM! the first being Polarity; what is it about BOOM! that appeals to you as a creator?
Max Bemis: I mean there's so many levels as to why. I feel confident to and somewhat cool to work with them and we've had a bunch of additional conversations going into Polarity, they were very clear they were going to let me hold the reins creatively and still push me to be a better writer. That's a delicate balance in any artform and it was a sure-fire success for that reason. Even before the book was doing well, we pretty much just wanted to keep making comics with each other.
Nrama: Now you have Evil Empire coming out, so I guess the question is without giving too much away, what is the Evil Empire?
Bemis: The reference is basically that by the end of the book, it doesn't give much away to say that the government has slickly been co-opted by this regime. It's totally different than facism, different than anything else we've demonized, it's just pure evil mandated. They've just flipped the Ten Comandments on its ass, and basically that the Empire is holding and enforcing with their own police force and kind of similar to the Empire in "Star Wars", but much darker. Though in Star Wars, there's an air of righteousness that the Empire possesses, but the story I'm writing is that they're not even attempting to make an argument for morality. And that's what runs this world.
Nrama: The main character here is an underground rapper named Reese, why did you feel like making her a rapper?
Bemis: She's actually not that underground. I'd compare her to the career status of Lauren Hill at her peak. I felt like I wanted the hero of the story not only someone who wouldn't be afraid to speak their mind when everything goes to shit, but also someone who is already mad at society and that's basically what she is by the time we meet her. She's upset at the way the world works so by the time this evil organization takes over the entire world, she's the one to fight against it.
Nrama: Now is she rebelling solo or is there some sort of antithesis of the Evil Empire?
Bemis: Well I don't want to get into that too much because it's kinda at the end of the book. The whole Idea was that our book ends where most post-apocalyptic stories begin. Evil Empire is the beginning and formation and how it got to get that way and the personal relationships that caused it to come about. That's what I found more interesting. Instead of writing a post-apocalyptic story, I wanted to examine how we get there from where we are right now.
Nrama: How would you describe the learning curve since making Polarity to now? Do you feel like you learned anything as a creator?
Bemis: Oh, of course! I mean, from the beginning of Polarity to the end of Polarity, there was a growth spurt in what I was able to do as a comic writer. Thankfully, BOOM! was really patient and I did my best to step up as quickly as I could. I could tell that when I sat down to write the first issue of Evil Empire I actually felt like I had some experience and it translated into more of a confidence that's actually palatable when you when you read the book. I think that was part of Polarity's charm: that it was sort of rough around the edges, but with this one I hope that everyone can tell I have gotten a little better.
Nrama: Can you tell us a little bit about the collaboration between you and series artist Ransom Getty?
Bemis: You know it's one of those things where there's not actually a lot to say because it's so awesome. I don't tend to interface with the artists that much aside from saying "good job". The interaction is very brief because I rarely not like his art and a great example of that is taking a look at the first few pages and it's just "yep, that's it"! It's all been positive whenever there are real interactions , like when I met Jorge [Coelho, artist of Polarity] at a con we were just so happy to meet eachother, and while it's a collaboration it's moreso of… there's less give and take as I'm really excited by what I see off the bat.
Nrama: Now do you have a particular writing process? Perhaps a musical playlist you listen to while you create?
Bemis: I actually tend to only write when I feel really inspired, and that goes for music or comics or anything of the sort. It feels good to get excited in the general direction of the way things go when it starts pouring out of me and when I'm writing comics. I'll get a deadline and within reason, I'll almost wait til the day of because I'm just excited and I'll just pump it out really quick at first. It's just me and a computer and I don't put anything in the background, I just sort of disappear into it for a few hours. Later, I'll let BOOM! look at it to make sure it's perfect.
Nrama: When coming up with the promotional images, it almost looks like propaganda art. Who came up with the imagery here?
Bemis: His name is Jay Shaw. He's the guy who is doing all of our main covers for the series. He's just amazing. Most of his work consists of more pure graphic design and does a lot of movie posters and fine art. My dad actually made movie posters his whole life, so I have a great appreciation for what he does. I think it's fitting for the series because it has those elements of propaganda.
Nrama: Will Evil Empire be a mini-series or an ongoing?
Bemis: Evil Empire will be a 16-issue maxi-series, sort of like in the vein of Watchmen, where we have an ending planned to it and it's in three arcs. So yeah, monthly for 16-issues.
Nrama: So what were some of your inspirations when you were creating this?
Bemis: I think of a lot of my inspirations for this story was my fear with human nature. I've been obsessed by the dark side of human nature all my life and what we're capable as a species, as a country, capable of doing to each other and if we ignore that little voice in our heads that told us to do the right thing. That's something I think about, get angry, about get worked up about, but the idea came to me about what if the government enforced wrath instead of trying to be this mighty hero and savoir of democracy. What if they were like "I don't give a f--- and do whatever you want and we prefer you kill and maim and do drugs and rape".
As much as that's hard to imagine that there's enough messed up people in the world as is, they'd end up embracing the idea that you could do anything legally. Take what you want for yourself, you don't really have to work at making a living for yourself because you could necessarily kill someone and take everything. There's more people that would pick that way of life than they care to admit. The bad guys in dystopian movies, and even if you look at the history of these facist empires, even the most evil ones, they still have some sort of ideology that claims they're doing the right thing. It would be interesting to have a government or movement that claims they're doing the wrong thing but they don't care. So that's where the idea came from.
Nrama: When desiging some of the characters, did you have a vague outline for Ransom to go with or was it more collaborative?
Bemis: Yeah were some a few reference photos I used for each of the characters, but I think a lot of their physical appearance that people will latch onto very much so because of their personalities. The main characters in the book have very strong personas. Reese is a total character right off the bat and I don't want to talk too much about the other characters because they have such important parts, but it was very as the character designs came really quick.
Nrama: After Evil Empire lauches, do you have anything else in the works from BOOM! in the works?
Bemis: Yeah, I can say openly we have other stuff and I'm really excited to work on, but for now, I'm mainly concentrated on Evil Empire.