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5 Questions, and then some, with Matt Bergin

Here’s part 2 of our 2-part interview, this time with Jeremy asking the questions. Part 1 can be found here.

JEREMY DONELSON: Who is your favorite Division 18 character? Which character is the hardest to write?

MATT BERGIN: Oh how I love them all! But without a doubt, Snake is my favorite. He is so perfectly formed in my mind and he’s such a great visual. When I write him, I think of Dennis Leary’s character in pretty much anything. Also there’s this comedian Jim Florentine who’s on Howard Stern a lot, he’s got that same persona — this nasty, miserable, wise-cracky guy who comes off like he’d smack your grandmother if it suited him (no offense Jim Florentine, if you weren’t going for that).

I’d say the hardest character to write is Seamus, the wily mad Scotsman with the haggis cart. It is hard to avoid the obvious trap of just stealing Groundskeeper Willy’s material, and that accent! Och! As you know, when I write Seamus’ dialogue, I just sound it out in my head the way I imagine a Scottish accent would look, and then you come in when it comes to lettering and break out all sorts of reference materials to create a proper, authentic accent. Thank god you have a better writerly work ethic than I do, or else I’d have Seamus dancing a jig and making Lucky Charm jokes!

JD: I think the key to Snake, at least what I keep in mind when I’m drawing his body language and such, is that he’s your typical bully – a tough guy, yeah, but he’s got a core of sadness and loneliness under his harsh exterior. I like to imagine what Snake’s home life must be like. Some dilapidated hovel, lit by a bare light bulb, with his Snake head sitting on a rickety table next to a half-empty bottle of gut-rot whiskey. Maybe late at night, after stumbling home from Mother Effer’s, he talks to the Snake head – sure, he starts out tough but soon enough he’s weeping like a baby because those implacable googly eyes just stare back wordlessly at him, boring deep into his wounded soul.

As for Seamus, I think I went overboard with his accent in the first issue. A lot of people have commented that it’s hard to read his dialogue. Of course, if you watch Trainspotting, it’s hard to understand what the characters are saying. So I was trying to walk that tightrope of making his dialogue almost incomprehensible.

And then there’s the fact that he’s little more than a ridiculous stereotype created by two people who have met a total of one Scottish person combined. But I think that will be addressed in issue 3, right?

MB: I guess Snake is a bit like Henry Chinaski (played by Mickey Rourke) in Barfly. Only instead of writing beautiful poems and engaging in tragic romances, he dresses like an 8-foot snake for kid’s birthday parties. He’s like a walking Bukowski story… but only the parts about liquor and hemorrhoids.

Seamus is a blight on his people and the black sheep of his family. This will be front and center in issue 3.

JD: Who is the audience for Division 18?

MB: You, me, and anyone who enjoys books like Scurvy Dogs or Reid Flemming: World’s Toughest Milkman, for starters. But I’d also like to point out that the tone of the book, to me, is kind of like Cheers or, as you like to say, Seinfeld, in that it’s just this oddball group of shmoes who happen to get together and have stuff happen. Or sometimes nothing happens, but it’s still funny because they’re oddball shmoes. So anyone who loves two of the greatest sitcoms ever should buy our comic! If you don’t like it, maybe Geoff Johns will buy your copy back from you.

JD: Yeah, I think we have moments of nuance alongside moments of broad slapstick. That’s what I’m thinking of when I compare it to character-driven comedies like Cheers or Seinfeld. Not that we’re necessarily going for the same tone; our concept is considerably more ridiculous than Cheers. But I think our goal is similar – for the personalities of these characters to be strong enough to carry the stories and deliver the humor.

MB: I think Cheers would have been 10-times better if Cliff and Norm were in the union, and Sam was a former costumed performer instead of a retired baseball player. Seriously. Oh, and instead of “Cheers,” the bar was called “Mother Effer’s.”

JD: It’s a well-known fact that you hate black and white comics. Why is that? Has the visual splendor of Division 18 changed your mind?

MB: It’s not that I hate black and white comics. (And I knew and loved the b+w Reid Flemming comic before I knew you!) I’m just a total fanboy raised on full-color Marvel and DC superhero action, so I prefer full-color comics instinctually. I’ll admit, I hope we do a full-color version of Division 18 down the road. But I have definitely softened my stance on b+w comics since we started working on this book. I used to call you a comic snob because of your elitist tastes as the Pickytarian, but I’ve always been willing to read a good comic, colors or no.

JD: Well, if I had the time and the know-how to color Division 18, I would be inclined to do it because color comics sell better. While I don’t have a preference either way, I simply don’t see very many colored comics that look very good. I’d rather see black and white than poorly-colored any day of the week.

MB: Well, we can test it out when you color issues 1-3 for the TPB. :)

JD: Let’s say I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow and you were to inherit my vast Scrooge McDuck-like fortune. This would enable you to hire any living comic artist in the world to draw the next issue of Division 18. Who would that be, and why?

MB: I had that very thought when I saw the preview pages for the upcoming All Flash #1. So definitely Karl Kerschl. He’s got such a great mix of cartooniness and cinematic appeal in his work, and it’s something I hope we can achieve with D18. I think Leinil Yu draws Mac Gargan (former Scorpion, current Venom in the Marvel Universe) exactly like Snake… so I’d at least ask him for a pin-up. But ask me this same question in a week and I’ll probably give you a different answer.

JD: Did I tell you that I completely changed the ending of Issue #2?

MB: Actually, that doesn’t surprise me. Remember my original script for issue #1? You know, the one you threw in the garbage while penciling, and then you asked me to redo half the dialogue to match your new art?! Anyway, I just hope you made it funnier.

JD: Ha ha – I didn’t actually change anything. I brought that up because I wanted to talk about the difference between the way we wrote the two issues. If you would remember events the way they actually happened, you’d recall that we tried to do issue #1 “Marvel style,” where I did the art after we only had an outline. The problem was that it was really hard to do that for a comedy book. The jokes and the timing and everything else kind of have to be planned out in advance. Once we learned that lesson the hard way, we went to an actual tight script for issue #2.

MB: I see your “actual events” and raise you a “but do you remember” — because I wrote the original full script for issue #1 when our Marvel-style experiment got hung up in the pencils for pages 1-10. And by the time we figured out what we were doing, those first 10 pages became the last 10 pages of the book, the plot about a presumed-dead Snake trying to solve his own murder was totally dumped, and we spent about a year going back and forth to make heads or tails of our patchwork story. Somewhere in there, we’d also lost my sketches for the abandoned subplot about the guy dressed in pots and pans and garbage can, who called himself “Mr. Roboto.”

Issue #2 went so much more smoothly. I did my usual page-to-page story-beat outline, and then we sequestered ourselves over two weekends to crank out a full script AND thumbnail layouts for the entire issue. Working side by side like that allowed you to help me punch up my dialogue and gave me the opportunity to help you figure out how to bring the words to life on the page. Working like that — in real time and with total synchronicity — is, for me, what true collaboration is all about.

JD: Let’s just agree to disagree on the convoluted order of events that led to issue #1. Or better yet… let’s agree that you’re completely wrong. The “Mr. Roboto/Snake getting shot” script PRECEDED the outline. I know because I actually drew the first 10 pages of that script. And that artwork was even worse than the art in the jam comic.

MB: It’s all a blur to me… which is ironic, because you draw in bullet time. It’s ok though, since you’ll be on to much bigger and better things, while I’m stewing in some dive bar in the Bronx telling anyone who’ll listen about my halcyon days of writing fat jokes about a guy in Zubaz and a pig mask. Onwards and upwards!

^ 5 Comments...

  1. Peat

    This was more of a conversation than an interview, but that’s okay; Matt’s not very interesting. Some things to note:

    Seamus is a ridiculous stereotype created by TWO people? Och, I think ye’re fergettin’ that Seamus was one of moine, laddie.

    Although admittedly, he was just thrown into the comic in order to give me an excuse to draw a Scottish Highland coo. The coo looks better than Seamus in that intro panel.

    I don’t get half of Matt’s reference in this (what the heck is a Bukowski story?), and Jeremy is still a comics snob, Pickytarian or no.

  2. Jeremy

    C’mon, Peat – even Matt has heard of Charles Bukowski.

  3. Peat

    Matt has a lot more free time than I do.

  4. Matt

    Peat may have drawn a Scotsman, and maybe he even named him… but it was Jeremy and I who stuck some personality under that kilt.

  5. Peat

    The only thing I ever stuck under Seamus’ kilt was a CENSORED! sign.

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