Some people believe that as humans we participate in masking behavior which is when we adopt a “mask” or appearance to hide our true personality to conform to social pressures. In other cases we may wear a magical jade mask that grants its us superpowers at the cost of our own sanity and giving us a green face. Or maybe that just happens in the new Dark Horse Comic “The Mask: I Pledge Allegiance To The Mask.”
Years after a “weird mask of unknown origin and limitless power was buried in the cement of an apartment building’s basement floor. Edge City and its residents have all but forgotten the mysterious green-faced killer.” The series picks up decades later as “the bizarre Tex Avery-style killings are happening all over again and are on a collision course with a bizarre political campaign where a homicidal maniac wants to ”Make America Green Again”!”
For more information about The Mask and the series we were able to talk to the creative team of Christopher Cantwell and Patric Reynolds who helm this new series. The team discusses where this new series fits in the lore of The Mask, mixing realism and cartoonish violence, and the deeper meaning The Mask. A huge thanks to Christopher and Patric for answering our questions and be sure to look for “The Mask: I Pledge Allegiance To The Mask” in stores and online this October 16. Now somebody stop me before I make a bad joke referencing the movie…god dammit.
What is this “The Mask: I Pledge Allegiance To The Mask?” For new readers can they jump right in and for readers of the older Dark Horse series is there any continuation of those stories?
Christopher Cantwell: I wanted to write a series where new readers could jump in right away, and one that also honors the original books, particularly “The Mask,” “The Mask Returns,” and “The Mask Strikes Back.” The continuity holds up all the way through Hunt for Green October, but none of it is in your face. The truest thing for me is that the protagonists are Kathy and Kellaway, as they’ve always been. Of course, now they’re decades older. So, they’re at once new characters to jump into, but have their shared history as well.
Patric Reynolds: This series picks up Kathy Matthews and Mitch Kellaway’s storyline a few decades after the events of “The Mask Strikes Back” and “The Mask Returns,” and I think both new readers and fans of the original series alike can jump right into “I Pledge Allegiance to The Mask.” Chris has written some flashback and dream sequences that provide some backstory and emotional anchor points for the main characters, hinting at hold that the Mask still has over them. These actually helped me out when I was doing research for the series, as it helped me approach the character design and world building with more emotional gravity.
The Mask is a series which has had a look and feel all its own in the past. As a creative team what did you set out to achieve for a look and tone of this series? Right at the jump it opens with some pretty great humor driven, but still graphic, violence.
CC: I’ll let Patric speak to this, but the violence of the original books has really stuck with me all these years. I pushed myself to an extreme with our book, using my imagination to come up with the most absurd but also terrifying violence I could think of. Patric has illustrated that in spades and taken it to a new level. I think as a whole, our story comes across looking and feeling more like a hard-boiled detective story than Mask stories of the past. I think that’s due to Patric’s incredibly grounded work and use of harsh shadows—which I love—and the mystery at the heart of the book. There are murders to be solved, and Kellaway and Kathy have to start flatfooting it again in order to get answers.
PR: When our editor for this series, Daniel Chabon, approached me about drawing this comic, I wasn’t initially sure that I would be a good fit. I thought that there was quite a gulf between my focus on light, heavy shadow, and texture and the beautifully descriptive and elaborate line work of original series artist Doug Mahnke. Daniel told me that the goal for this comic was to have a much different look and feel; darker, grittier, with a more ‘noir” approach to the visuals, and I felt a lot more comfortable after hearing that. I think that focusing on light and how it describes form can form a baseline throughout the series that can describe a mood, sense of time and place, and ground the narrative in the believability of the story—if I can do it successfully. With I Pledge Allegiance to The Mask, I think that juxtaposing the realism and that human element with all of the absurd, surreal, and outlandish moments can magnify the emotional impact on the reader.
That opening scene lets the reader know that this series isn’t going to be like anything that came before it. The best horror movies use shadow and the unknown to draw out the tension and activate the reader’s imagination (“Alien” being probably the best example I can think of) and letting the viewer actively participate in their viewing experience. I wanted to employ that concept as we get reintroduced to Big Head, rather than focus on the graphic nature of the violence. And in true Big Head fashion, it climaxes in the most ironically horrible way.
One of the most compelling aspects of the Mask is the dueling personalities of the Mask and the user. What do you envision as the dichotomy of the Mask and personality that comes out of each user? How do you approach the different personalities as storytellers both with the dialogue and visuals?
CC: Mike Richardson’s motto on the character is “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That’s 100% true. Stanley Ipkiss was this pathetic pipsqueak who got shit on by everybody. So his Big Head became a revenge killer of bullies. Kellaway is deep down a good cop, so his Big Head became a vigilante. Kathy went after the entirely male hierarchy of the Edge City mob. But the Mask got the better of them all, eventually. Ipkiss was the only one of those three who was a real piece of shit person from the start, so his Big Head—in my opinion—did the most damage. He was in effect a serial murderer. Kellaway and Kathy have pure hearts and were able to walk away, even if on the surface they’re embittered and cynical noir-ish characters. Our new person that puts on the Mask has deep-seated ambitions that have been hidden by so-called altruistic goals. Once the Mask is on, that “fellow man” bullshit goes right out the window. This Big Head wants to be in charge, end of story. The person underneath for us harkens back to Ipkiss in a way, because they’re ultimately pathetic and selfish. What’s different this time is we’re going to actually see Big Head reach limitations, and get frustrated. Eventually that frustration will get turned back on the person wearing it, so the dichotomy will come out more than it ever has, as conflict between the one with the Mask on and the Mask itself.
PR: The Mask itself is the ultimate manipulator, it knows what makes its host feel the most powerless and its grants incredible powers for each character to attack that with impunity. It holds up a mirror to desires already lurking deep down inside of the character’s id, and it helps unleash them in the most twisted and corrupt way possible. As the artist, my task is make that physical manifestation unique to each character. One of our new characters, Javier, puts on the Mask and exacts horrible revenge on his abusive foster parents, intent on being some kind of righteous avenging angel. But having him cloaked in shadow (save for a few glints of teeth in Big Head’s iconic grin) while wearing filthy street clothes and topped off by a black hoodie transforms him into a hyperactive grim reaper who’s interested into turning carnage into entertainment. Ultimately, Javier finds that having that power costs his soul far too much, and he’s able to tear himself away from it.
Another new character, Abner, is a well-meaning progressive presidential candidate who is failing miserably at his campaign and quickly losing his connection to his wife and kids. When he puts in the Mask, that earnestness curdles into thirst for power and control at all costs. His character is visually signified by these perverted symbols of American patriotism and exceptionalism; turning the skin of one of his political opponents into a gruesome American “flag,” appearing to another victim as a murderous version of Uncle Sam, and wielding a giant, nail-studded American flag as a weapon (against a character called “The Canadian,” no less!). Chris wrote this great scene in the second issue where Abner, while wearing the Mask, is greeted by his wife and sons after giving his first bat-shit crazy public address. He immediately transforms into a pipe-smoking, red flannel jacket-wearing 1950s Dad archetype, and asks his son for a hug. When his son is taken back by his monstrous visage, Big Head viciously slaps him across the face for his “insolence,” calling him a bastard. It’s a great way for us to see how Big Head has corrupted Abner’s idea of successful fatherhood, which is an abusive, commercially-conceived fantasy… And it only gets worse from there.Continued below
This series seems to really merge a more realistic styled world with the more mystical absurdist elements of the Mask. How do you bring to life the over the top elements of the Masks abilities into a realistic work both visually and from a storytelling aspect?
CC: All I’ll say is Patric does a tremendous job at this. I also think we now live in a contemporary society where batshit crazy things happen on a daily basis. Big Head doesn’t seem so out of the ordinary anymore.
PR: Trying to merge the a more realistic approach with the violent absurdity and other surreal elements has been the most challenging thing for me while working on this series. I’m always trying to find the right spot along the wave length of photo realism and cartoonishness, and that’s especially true for this series. I can’t exactly shoot photos of a person exploding after being pumped full of gallons of chocolate syrup, but I want to make experiences like that plausible for the readers. I want it to seem believable enough so that they can buy into it the possibility of the reality I’m trying to build. So, when I seek out photo reference to use, I’m looking for “departure points,” something that I can nudge my imagination in the right direction.
I usually start with asking actors to pose for me, while setting up a basic light source, and after that I start digging around for inspiration to help me realize the rest of the elements in the shot. For the chocolate syrup explosion shot, I know that there’s a very specific way that blood sprays and when organic forms explode from the inside, so I try to think about scenes in films and other media that invoked something along those lines. I know that there’s scene in the first “Blade” movie where the hero pumps some evil vampire badasses with garlic and silver, and they explode into a fountain of gore, so I’ll take screen shots of certain frames to give me the right idea. As another option, I could look the “head exploding” scene in “Scanners” to help me get a sense of what that kind of explosion might look like. After that, it’s up to me fill in the rest and to build off those anchor points. Sometimes I have a tendency to follow the reference to closely, which can result in the figures looking a bit too stiff. But I’ve found that the more I can trust myself to make up those gaps in my head, the more expressive and lively the imagery can become.
For a character like the Mask who is unleashed in a somewhat grounded world with a very large array of powers how does this series set out to challenge the Mask?
CC: Like I mentioned earlier, Big Head is going to come up against two new problems: societal apathy, and his inability to change certain aspects of the world that have basically gone beyond him in terms of chaos-level. Big Head can kill people, and do nutso stuff, but can he really change people’s minds?
PR: The Mask always has had an abusive symbiosis with its host, and in this series, we see how that human side of that relationship, that frailty and that vulnerability, can limit some places Big Head is willing to go and some things he’s willing to do. It’s really the only internal check on his power. This time, Big Head is being confronted by antagonists who want to obtain what he has, but these characters also have very little sense of self-preservation. He’s actually knocked for a loop when he has to go up against some force that’s just as brazen and unpredictably violent as he is. Big Head won’t be the only one what doesn’t mind if the world burns to the ground, and that will make him vulnerable.
The Mask can be very much a mouthpiece for the user and in the case of actual comics creators? Given the topic of this Mask series what makes comics and stories like the Mask an effective use of the medium for social and political commentary? What was your goal with this series and having a meaningful look at topics?Continued below
CC: I always try to write stories that are mirrors and not messages. I think we’re only a hop, skip, and a jump from someone like Big Head being an acceptable public figure in society, or even a presidential candidate. We live in a splintered, hyperactive, and angry culture right now. Big Head isn’t going to disrupt that system—he just seems like a natural ingredient of the stew. He’s just a particularly “spicy meatball,” if you’ll pardon the reference. Remember when a certain someone said they could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and get away with it? Well…
PR: One of the ideas that appears throughout The Mask comics and even in the film, is “what happens when the absolute worst person puts on the Mask, and what would they do with all of that power?” I think our reality is saturated with evidence of what happens when the most dangerous people have the most power. All anyone has to do is watch the news or spend any amount of time on social media to see how absurdity and extremism is becoming more commonplace, and how much value is place on hyperbole and outlandishness. Full volume ridiculousness is about what takes to be heard at all these days. This series is satire, but It’s not really too far becoming a straight up documentary. Big Head’s promises as a presidential candidate are… a little too familiar sounding. Many times, I laughed at some of the dialogue that Chris wrote for Big Head as he is reciting his manifesto, only to halt mid-chuckle and say “Oh. Goddamn. That might actually happen TOMORROW. YIKES.” I think our institutions have let so many people down for so long, and now they’re feeling marginalized, aggrieved, and scared, and when the right uncompromising a character with no moral compass comes along and figures out how to weaponize it all…
Probably both a curse and a blessing for all Mask comics has to be people familiarity with the 90s movie. Where do you see the comics and this series especially breaking from that movie? Is there an attempt visually to differentiate it from previous versions?
CC: We will be breaking from the movie the entire time. But the mythos of the Mask will actually blend the backstory of the Mask from the comic book with the backstory from the movie in what I think is a cool amalgamation. But again, that’s more an Easter egg and not central to the plot. This comic is dark, dark, dark. It’s the darkest thing I ever written. Big Head is not choosing between Cameron Diaz and Amy Yasbeck in this story. Remember, Stanley Ipkiss in the comic book grew so violent that he hit Kathy and became abusive. Remember, Kellaway’s Big Head stuffed dynamite in his best friend and partner’s mouth. Those are our roots here. You’re not going to see Doyle or Cuban Pete or Dorian or Milo. Although if we ever got to keep going it would be fun to include those references and completely dismantle the movie. It would be fun to see Big Head meet Jamie Kennedy and the two of them could drive off the PCH in a Porsche at 200 mph or something.
PR: Admittedly, I am the most familiar with The Mask film than any other part of the whole Mask franchise. I wore out my VHS copy of the film when I was a teenager. I am also not ashamed to admit that I had constructed my own Big Head costume, painted my face green, and performed a live action version of “Cuban Pete” for my high school spirit week talent show on more than one occasion. The film was entertaining and escapist to be sure, but there really wasn’t a sustained sense of danger in the film. Jim Carrey got to make a Tommy Gun out of balloon animal, his adorable dog put the mask on and peed on some mobsters, and then he got to go home with Cameron Diaz. It was a hell of a lot of fun, and as a gawky 16-year-old who loved to wear Looney Toons t-shirts, watching it was also empowering for me. Our story may have few Easter eggs from the film planted here and there, but for the most part the only relation to it is the fact that it’s rendered in a realistic drawing style. The stakes of I Pledge Allegiance to The Mask are much different, literally life and death and the fate of the free world hangs in the balance.Continued below
Following finishing the first issue and continuing into the series as a whole, what do you hope readers are able to take away from The Mask?
CC: We hope people have a blast reading it and then realize modern America is completely fucked.
PR: That it is an unforgettable experience. I hope it haunts the corners of their minds long after the last page has been turned.