Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Meet Two Local Cartoonists: Mike Isenberg and Oliver Mertz, writers of "First Law Of Mad Science"

101_1981 1st Law of Mad Science Isenberg and Mertz

Mike Isenberg and Oliver Mertz, co-writers of "First Law Of Mad Science" were at the fall Intervention con and answered my usual questions. I took the liberty of merging their separate e-mail responses into one since this comic is the first for both of them, and their answers overlapped as a result.

Mike Rhode: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

Mike Isenberg & Oliver Mertz: I am the co-writer of the comic series "First Law Of Mad Science." It is a print comic that we are self publishing, and it will be available in comic shops nationwide this November.*

MI: In addition to the writing, I'm also responsible for lettering the book.

MR: How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

MI: Oliver and I write together using Skype and GoogleDocs, which allows us to see what the other is typing in real time, from hundreds of miles away. He lives in DC, and I'm in NYC, so being able to collaborate so directly over the internet is really essential for us. Once we finish a script for one of the issues, we send it to our artist Daniel Lapham, who draws using traditional pencils and inks, which he then scans and sends back to us. At that point we send the inked pages along to another artist, Jeff McComsey, who adds the grayscales digitally. And finally, I use Photoshop to digitally letter the comic, and then InDesign to put everything together for the printer.

OM: I live in DC and Mike lives in NY, so face to face writing isn't possible. We then work with several other artists, who bring our scripts to life. Daniel Lapham does our pencils and inks. Jeff McComsey does our grayscale. Jamie Noguchi, who is also from the DC area, does our cover art. All three of them are incredible artists.

MR: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

MI: I was born in DC in 1982.

OM: I was born in 1982 in Silver Spring.

MR: Why are or aren't you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?

MI: Right now I live in New York City, in a neighborhood of West Harlem known as "Hamilton Heights." I grew up just outside DC, though, in Bethesda, and then later spent a year living with some friends in College Park.

OM: Washington is a great city. I live in Cleveland Park, right by the Uptown. By the way, living by the Uptown was kind of a childhood dream of mine. It was always an event going to the Uptown. Movies always seemed better.

MR: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

MI: I studied Creative Writing in college, and took a couple of comic-book history classes while I was there as well. As a writer I often wish I had cartooning talent; it'd make things a lot easier if I could draw our story on my own. There's something to be said for collaboration, though; a good collaboration can become much more than the sum of its parts, and it's been really exciting seeing all the amazing talent that other people are bringing to our story.

OM: I studied film at American University. This may be why most of our early comic scripts resembled film scripts. It's not that I didn't love comics. I always have. It's just that I learned to write in film script form. That took some time to adapt. After months and months of reading any and every comic script I could get my hands on, I felt confident writing in that form.

MR: Who are your influences?

MI: Yukito Kishiro, Alan Moore, Jeff Smith, Warren Ellis, Will Eisner, and Jason are all comics storytellers that I really admire. And of course H.P. Lovecraft gets a few direct homages in our book.

OM: I don't think you can approach one art form and expect to create something without being influenced by other art forms. I grew up devouring stories in any form I could get them; I read tons of comics, watched every movie ever made, and read any book I could get my hands on. I love early Ridley Scott films, I'm somewhat of a Hemingway nerd, and owe my life to Rob Schrab's Scud: The Disposable Assassin.

Also, if I can ever find a way to work Robert Altman-style overlapping dialogue into a comic, I will.

MR: If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

MI: It's still a bit early for that, I think; we've only really just gotten started in comics. I'm sure we've made plenty of mistakes, but thankfully they all seem to be small ones so far.

OM: Being that "First Law of Mad Science" is our first comic, I'm looking forward to making mistakes that we will one day look back on and lament.

MR: What work are you best-known for?

MI & OM: First Law Of Mad Science.

MR: What work are you most proud of?

MI & OM: First Law Of Mad Science.

MR: What would you like to do or work on in the future?

MI: "First Law" is really only just getting started, and we've got a lot planned for it, so I'd love to be able to keep that going for a while. We had a side project recently, writing two short comic scripts for the upcoming WWII zombie anthology "FUBAR 2", and that was a lot of fun, so we may look into doing some other side projects while we're working on "First Law."

OM: I would love to continue writing "First Law" and to continue to tell (hopefully) satisfying stories.

MR: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

MI: The great thing about working as a team is that usually if one of us has writer's block, the other will still have some fun ideas to kick around, which tends to clear up the writers' block pretty quickly. In the off chance that we're both in a rut at the same time, we'll just shoot the shit over Skype or maybe play some video-games together online. Taking a small break like that seems to help a lot; usually by the next time we meet we'll be ready to get back to work without any trouble.

OM: There are points when either Mike or I have writer's block. Working as a team allows for one teammate to snap the other out of it. If one of us is excited by an idea, it's usually not long before the other is rejuvenated.

MR: What do you think will be the future of your field?

MI: Well of course right now everyone's buzzing about digital comics, and I think we're clearly heading somewhere in that direction, but I think it's much to early to really say where we'll end up. Will the "e-book" model that DC and Comixology are using really hold up for comics in the long run? Or are we going to see more and more creators swing towards a webcomics-style model? I really don't know, but I'm excited to see how things progress.

OM: The way I look at it, stories are stories. I don't write to make money. I write to tell stories that I want to read. Hopefully, others will also want to read them too. People will be reading comics for a long time. It may be that one delivery method for stories and art will be no more. That's fine. It just means that people will get their comics in another format. It doesn't mean that the demand for high quality content has changed.

MR: What local cons do you attend ? The Small Press Expo, Intervention, or others? Any comments about attending them?

MI: This year in the DC area, we attended Intervention and Baltimore Comics Con. We would have loved to exhibit at SPX, but we were wait-listed for a table and didn't get one this year. SPX has always been a big deal for me; back in high school I used to bike down to the show in Bethesda every year. It would have been great to come back to my home town and attend my home convention again, but on the other side of the table and with a comic to show. Next year I'm going to be watching the SPX website like a hawk so I can submit our exhibitor application the minute they start taking them.

OM: Mike and I exhibited at Intervention and the Baltimore Comic Con this year. Both were great shows. I did really enjoy getting to Intervention by Metro. Big points for that.

MR: What's your favorite thing about DC?

MI: All the great friends I still have in the area.

OM: Big Planet Comics. I love comics and they are nice enough to sell them to me.

MR: Least favorite?

MI: Probably a tie between the humidity and the traffic.

OM: The lack of hover-cars. This is probably due to the fact that hover-cars don't exist. But come DC! Get some hover-cars!

MR: What monument or museum do like to take visitors to?

MI: Air & Space! Maybe I'm just a giant nerd, but I still geek out over touching moon rocks and hanging out under the Spirit Of St. Louis.

OM: I love the third floor of the National Portrait Gallery. I suppose, that or the Hirshhorn.

MR: How about a favorite local restaurant?

MI: Uncle Julio's Rio Grande Cafe, in Bethesda. When I was a kid, they were located across the street from Big Planet Comics. As soon as we'd place our dinner orders, my folks would give me a couple of bucks and I'd run out to Big Planet to check out the new comics. I think a few of my older comics still have salsa stains on them from trying to read them at the table when I'd get back.

OM: Filomena in Georgetown is really great. I've had the privilege of sitting the kitchen table in the back of the restaurant. It was the best meal I've ever had.

MR: Do you have a website or blog?

MI & OM: http://FirstLawOfMadScience.com

*November 2011, shortly after this interview was conducted.

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