Bernardin & Freeman - Creating Top Cow's "Genius"

Bernardin & Freeman on Genius

When you look to the history books, the greatest military minds stand out as generals, conquerors and kings. Names like General Patton, Hannibal, Napoleon, Alexander and Genghis Khan.

Released last week, Pilot Season: Genius asks the question: what is the greatest military mind of our generation was a 17-year old gangbanger in South Central Los Angeles? Writers Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman treat that more than a question, but as the tagline for an explosive one-shot that could turn into more if it wins Top Cow's Pilot Season this year. In this one-shot, the seventeen year-old Destiny Ajaye is rallying the community of South Central into an army to declare war on the LAPD.

Click here for a preview of the first five pages of Genius.

Newsarama: Where did the original idea from Pilot Season: Genius come from?

Marc Bernardin: It was sparked by a couple of different things. A passing fancy with military history, and the stories of Alexander, Hannibal, and Genghis Khan--people who had, at a remarkably young age, done remarkable things. A TV documentary on militias, people who claimed they were training for the "inevitable" race war, and how they thought that gangbangers were already inured to the stresses of combat, having lived their entire lives under the gun. Adam's love of all things prodigal. You know, idle thoughts about revolution.

Adam Freeman: Yeah, the whole prodigy thing fascinates me. Mozart writing his first pieces at four years old, Bobby Fischer winning the World Chess Championship at age 15 etc. The thought that a prodigy doesn't pick what they are good at and can come from any walk of life is really fascinating to me. Who says a great military mind has to be a white male from Annapolis or West Point?

NRAMA: The genius in this is Destiny, a 17-year old girl from South Central LA leading a gang to fight off the LAPD.

AF: Kids have an overwhelming desire to fit in. Destiny grew up thinking her gifts made her a freak. Watching the neighborhood kids play football or checkers she had the savant like mind to always be three or four steps ahead. As she grew and began to understand the world around her and how the system works she had an epiphany as to how she was meant to use her gift.

MB: Her parents were removed from the scene when she was just a little girl, leaving her to grow up in the bosom of a society that all too often ate its own young. So she's angry, and she's channeling that anger in the only way she knows how.

NRAMA: On the other side against the military minded Destiny is a detective Reginald Grey. Can you tell us about him?

AF: He is an analyst, really, and ironically he probably a little bit of a savant in his own right - recognizing patterns and trends. It is his belief that over the last ten years or so there has been a silent, Keyser Soze-type figure pulling the strings of the gang world.

MB: He's a little bit like the reporter on the old Incredible Hulk TV show: He believes in something that no one else does--the existence of someone who's been uniting the gangs and training them for battle--and wants desperately for someone to take him seriously.

And now they do, thanks to Destiny's declaration of war.

NRAMA: You two are working with Afua Richardson, who's showing some amazing work. What's it like working with Afua?

MB: Dreamy. And unlike our other experiences with artists. She's a graphic designer, and visualizes pages in an almost abstract way-- she constructs them in separate pieces before assembling them into a layout. Which was a little disconcerting when we first saw her rough sketches; everything came to us raw. Our editor told us to have faith, so we did. And when we started seeing the finished pages, that faith was rewarded. Hot damn, was it ever.

AF: It would have been an obvious choice to go real gritty with this type of story. I think Afua's artwork perfectly compliments it and actually takes the story to another level because of the graphic design type elements Marc mentioned. I also think a female artist drawing a female lead character is great because Afua can make Destiny sexy and strong and not gratuitous.

NRAMA: Are you guys doing anything special to "get out the vote" so to speak for your Pilot Season: Genius. Shaking hands, kissing babies, anything like that?

MB: Better than shaking babies and kissing hands, right?

Seriously, when the voting opens up in August, I'm gonna grab me a wireless laptop, camp outside a comic store, and tell everyone who comes out to vote.

AF: Word of mouth really. If you like, tell a friend. Comic fans always talk about wanting something new and different but it ends there - just talk. People need to take a chance and venture outside of their comfort zone to discover cool new things, right? So rather than just leaf through Pilot Season: Genius and saying, "Oh, looks cool..." and putting it back - take a chance. You just might be supporting and directly helping give birth to what could be the next ongoing series on your pull list.

NRAMA: One last question.. say Genius wins in the voting. What have you got planned for an ongoing series?

AF: Genius may technically be a one shot, but Marc and I have the entire arc planned out and trust us - it is not going where you think it is going. Besides getting more Destiny back story - actually seeing the events that made her who she is - we will follow the escalating "Battle of Los Angeles" and watch Destiny struggle with several demons, most importantly fighting the urge to become part of the system she is fighting.

MB: Chaos, bloodshed, and salvation.

Pilot Season: Genius is in stores now.

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