Nerdlocker Artist Interview – Max Bemis!

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I was a junior in high school when I first got my hands on the Say Anything record ʻ…Is A Real Boyʼ. I remember listening to it until I got sick of it, and then I listened to it a little more. It spoke to me in a way music never had before. At a time in my life when I was trying to figure out who I was, I felt like the singer, this sarcastic man, knew exactly who I was and what I was going through. That man was Max Bemis. And since that day Iʼve been a die hard Say Anything fan. Every time a new album comes out I feel like itʼs exactly what I need to hear at that time in my life. Max Bemis has such a voice and a way with words that I found myself thinking a few times “Man Iʼd love to see what this guy would do with a comic book”. Well lucky for me, I get to find out this April with the release of his debut comic Polarity. And even luckier, I got to sit down and talk to him about his first comic writing experience.

polarity

NERDLOCKER (NL):First off, what made you want to jump in to writing comic books?

Max Bemis (MB): Thereʼs a lot of reasons. But I guess the most important reason is my love
of comics. Iʼm simply obsessed with comics. And I know thatʼs a relative term in a
medium where the majority of the hardcore fans are totally obsessed, unlike music
where Justin Bieber sells a million records to people who are somewhat obsessed
while the majority are not. In comics I feel that all fans are obsessive.

NL: You kind of go all in or not at all when you read.

MB: Exactly yeah (laughs), itʼs hard to be a casual fan, and Iʼm definitely not one.
So that’s the main reason for my love of the medium. And being on the creative end of
things with Say Anything and a lot of the other stuff I work on Iʼve sort of opened my
mind to the fact that thereʼs a lot that can be done creatively if you have the right
mindset for it. For me it just extended to comics. I was like “I write lyrics, I used
to write stories when I was younger, I have a deep understanding of the medium, why
canʼt I write comics?” Thereʼs definitely this urge, this feeling of “wow, this is so
great, I feel like I could do it great too. I could compete with what I love,” which is what
made me want to start playing music. So thereʼs that drive. And Iʼve trained myself to be
open to want to do new creative stuff. My mind led me there and said, “Hey, you should try
this.”

NL: So it was a natural thing you knew you wanted to do?

MB: It was natural. But to be honest the segway in to actually scripting comics was a
little long and a little emotionally tortuous for me, because I was very tentative about not
doing anything that I couldnʼt really put passion in to and get behind. I had some
meetings with some comic companies, expressing to them that I wanted to write comics. And a
lot of them were interested, but A) it was hard to find the right company that would guide
me through the process, and B) I think itʼs more important to have a good idea than a
willing publisher. The fact that Iʼm in a band thatʼs moderately successful sort of made
me fall in to it ass backwards, and Iʼm lucky that I found BOOM. They loved my pitches,

specifically Polarity. We took if far enough that they could see that I could write. But if it
wasnʼt for them, I have to give them a lot of credit, because they were the only company
that got me going.

NL: One thing Iʼve always loved about your band, Say Anything, is the lyrics. How
different was it writing a comic book compared to writing a song?

MB: Well, it is very very very different. Thereʼs a certain guideline with writing a song. Ya
know, usually things rhyme or a song is around 3-5 minutes or thereʼs a chorus. Writing
comics, although there are guidelines, there has to be a story. You can see by the work
with some of the more out-there creators, thereʼs a lot fewer rules when youʼre creating a
story like a comic. I found myself a little liberated. It differed in that sense, in the way
that I felt there was a lot I could do on many emotional levels to express what I wanted
to get across. But I found that the commonality was the kind of things that my values of
what I had to say and how I communicated them were very similar. I really appreciate
what you said about the lyrics in Say Anything, and I think anyone who is a fan of what I
stand for in that band and how I choose to get it across will enjoy this book. Polarity is
that expression of that same commonality. So the book comes from the same idea that
our first record did. Itʼs written about a guy whoʼs basically me, with a lot of differences,
but he is based off of myself.

NL: So the character is Tim Wood. Heʼs an artist who stops taking his bipolar
medication and ends up with superpowers. Being that you have your own experience
with bipolar disorder, why was this such an important comic to write?

MB: To be honest, Iʼve had other ideas for books, some of which Iʼm already kind of
working on in very preliminary stages. But this has always been the story that I knew,
whether it be a screenplay or a comic book, was one I had to tell. Writing my first record,
finding out I was bipolar and having a manic episode, it was such an incredible
adventure that I knew I would have to tell it in some form. An exaggerated
fictional way, but I knew at some point I would have to tell it. It was super meta in and of
itself. I basically came up with this story for a concept record, which was our first record ʻ…Is
A Real Boyʼ and originally it was supposed to be a full musical. It had a story running
through it with dialogue and everything. And then, when I became
manic, I sort of began to live that story. And it was a chemical thing. The craziest part of
the whole experience is that it was chemical. It would be one thing if it was brought on
through drugs or something, but this was chemical. Grant Morrison is my favorite writer,
and when you look at his whole Invisibles experience, the dude was doing tons of
psychedelics in some god-forsaken place losing his mind, but almost on purpose
because he was writing about it. But in this case, the thing that differentiates my
experience from that was that it was innately inside of me and I had no idea the entire
time. Which is freaky. And just as meta in itʼs own way. I mean this story is a fictionalized
version of my own, but everything unfolds from something that is part of Timʼs biology.

NL: With each issue of Polarity you get a digital download of a brand new song written
by you to accompany the issue. Were these songs that you already wrote or did they
come to you as you wrote the comic?

MB: Iʼm still in the process of writing them, and they are based on the comic, not the
other way around. Theyʼre not going to be too literal, but they will harken back to that
time in my life when I was 21 or 22 and the feeling Iʼm trying to capture through this
fictional story. I see them more as a soundtrack then a literal song about what you have
just read. I mean if youʼre watching The Avengers youʼre not hearing Soundgarden on
screen talking about Captain America fighting aliens. You want a soundtrack, not a literal
representation, and thatʼs what Iʼm going for with the songs.

NL: Being that Polarity is a 4 issue mini series, do you have plans for another Polarity
book coming out?

MB: No other plans for that right now. I planned on Polarity standing by itself. But like I said, I do have ideas for other books, but still all in their early stages.

NL: If you could write any one character in comics who would it be?

MB: In terms of superheroes, my dream job, and I actually thought about it the other
day, I would love to write a Punisher book. I feel like thereʼs still plenty of untouched
ground when it comes to him.

NL: He can be a pretty tough character to write.

MB: He is a tough character, but heʼs one of my favorites. I love the Garth Ennis run,
and even the (Greg) Rucka stuff now, and the (Rick) Remender run. Heʼs a vey defined
character, you know what heʼs going to do in a situation, so just thinking about doing
interesting things with that sounds very cool.

NL: Here at Nerdlocker we like to end our interviews with 3 questions. First being
favorite movie?

MB: My favorite movie is Wayneʼs World. I wish I could say it was something like
There Will Be Blood but itʼs not. Itʼs Wayneʼs World.

NL: Favorite video game?

MB: This is a hard call for me. For a while it was the FallOut games. But Red Dead
Redemption stepped in and took itʼs place. Itʼs the most involved I ever felt playing a
game. Iʼm playing Far Cry 3 right now and Iʼm pretty involved in that. Half the time
Iʼm pretty angry when Iʼm playing it (laughs), but I still have to go with Red Dead.

NL: Favorite comic book/character?

MB: My favorite comic book is the Invisibles. Character is a little harder. Iʼm not sure if I
could narrow it down to just one. Thinking about it I really canʼt name it. There are so
many good ones. I guess I could say Spider Jerusalem?

Polarity makes its debut in April from BOOM! Studios. Make sure to add it to your pull list
now. I know I sure have.

JP

http://www.nerdlocker.com

I'm a true child of the 80s from a small town near Cleveland, Ohio. My all time favorite topics are Star Wars, slasher films and Cleveland sports (despite the misery it causes). I narrowly avoided law school, instead choosing film school. I have been accused of being a walking IMDB, but I take it as a compliment!