Part science fiction, part satire, the June-launching Prez comic is more than a little outside the usual DC wheelhouse.
Written by Mark Russell (whose indie comic God is Disappointed in You established him as a satirist), the 12-issue Prez comic revives an existing DC concept with a completely new approach. And although it centers on a young girl who becomes president, the writer emphasizes that it's more about world-building and science fiction.
Drawn by Ben Caldwell, Prez takes place in the year 2026, when the U.S. government tries to boost voter turnout by turning toward Twitter. During the election, a young worker at a corn dog restaurant becomes a viral sensation, and her write-in votes suddenly qualify her to be president.
Newsarama talked to Russell about the new comic, why it's more about world-building than anything else, and how Bruce Wayne almost makes an appearance.
Newsarama: Mark, let's start with how this came about. Was this something you pitched?
Mark Russell: No, it was actually something DC approached me about, because this is a little outside their wheelhouse. They wanted this to be a sort of a funny, satirical, political comic book, which is outside the norm of the brooding, action-oriented superhero universe.
So they approached me, because they had read my book God is Disappointed in You, which is sort of a modern, satirical retelling of the Bible.
Nrama: Tell me about Beth, the main character.
Russell: Beth is a 19-year-old community college student who works at a corn dog restaurant. And it's the first American election where people can vote by Twitter.
She throws the election into disarray because she accidentally deep-fries her pony tail while working and making corn dogs, and she becomes a viral sensation at just the right moment when the election's taking place.
She gets so many write-in votes that she goes into a three-way run-off election between her and the two main party candidates.
Nrama: That's crazy. You mentioned satire — are you poking a little fun at the instant-celebrity world we live in?
Russell: Right, and also the celebrity nature of politics.
Nrama: Is this in a world that's separate from the regular DC Universe?
Russell: Yeah, I tried to create it pretty much within my own universe and not take the rest of the DCU into consideration. Perhaps the one nod to the DC Universe is that there's an eccentric trillionaire — the richest man in the world — who shows up later. His name is Fred Wayne. He's not Bruce Wayne and he's not related to Bruce Wayne or anything. It's just a nod to that. And also, he's more of a critique of Bruce Wayne — how I would spend the multi-billions of dollars that Bruce has. Number one, it would be something more construction than building a man-cave and buying a bullet-proof car.
Nrama: It sounds like there's a cast of characters around Beth?
Russell: Oh yes. There's a whole cast of characters. And it's really more about world-building than it is just her story, I think. It's more a satire of where the world and the United States in particular will be in 20 years if current trends continue than it is a story about a teenage girl who happens to find herself president.
Like I mentioned, there's Fred Wayne, and there's also Boss Smiley, who I brought back from the original, who is the CEO of Smiley Enterprises. And in the future, because of the corporate personhood amendment, corporations don't have to name their CEOs. So all the CEOs wear masks with the logo of the corporation on the mask.
Nrama: The artwork on this gives the comic a specific flavor. How did you end up working with Ben Caldwell?
Russell: DC paired me with Ben, and I think they made a really great choice, because he really seems to get the satirical element. He brings his own sort of flourishes to my art notes — things I would have never considered.
One of my favorite moments working on this comic so far is when I got the artwork for issue #1. In my notes, I just put the employees at the corn dog restaurant are wearing ridiculous uniforms. And he came up with this hat they have to wear. The hats are basically like dachshunds sitting on their heads. And their hats look so crazy. It absolutely blew me away. I couldn't stop laughing when I saw the artwork.
Nrama: I bet you do a lot of laughing when you come up with stuff for this.
Russell: Yeah, it's been a lot of fun. So far, I haven't come up with an idea where I thought "that's too crazy." That never happens.
Nrama: I assume, however, there are some serious moment? After all, satire isn't all funny. There's drama involved?
Russell: Yeah, there really is, because in a lot of ways it addresses what I feel are fundamental problems with our nation and our democracy. But also in a way that… I try to approach it more as science fiction than political commentary.
Everybody loves science fiction and everybody hates politics. I really wanted this to be a fun, science fiction approach to politics as opposed to just an editorial essay you might read on the back page of The Boston Globe.
Nrama: So this is what you imagine the future to be, just like any science fiction story.
Russell: Right, and you see these things that probably will never be, but are just kind of absurd commentaries on celebrity culture and things. Like there's a game show in the future called Double Dare Billionaire, where the contestants have to compete in a series of really brutal challenges in order to win a billion dollars and become a billionaire. And the last one is that they have to shoot themselves with a gun somewhere on their body, and they have to do it within a certain amount of time.
It's funny, watching them doing things, but at the same time, there's this knowledge that, at some point, they're going to have to shoot themselves with a gun. There's a sense of dread that comes with watching this unfold.
Nrama: Crazy. OK, Mark, to finish up, what's your final word to potential readers?
Russell: I want readers to give it a chance. I'd like them to let themselves sort of marinate in the universe. It's as much about building the world in which Prez inhabits as it is about Prez.
So I don't want them to think of this as a story about a teenage girl. I want them to approach this with an open mind as much as possible.