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(Foot) Pedaling Flintstones’ Social Commentary & Importance of Bowling

by  in Comic News Comment
(Foot) Pedaling Flintstones’ Social Commentary & Importance of Bowling

Mark Russell is no stranger to writing funny stories with a moral compass as readers discovered with the 2013 release of his satirical OGN “God is Disappointed in You,” which was illustrated by “New Yorker” cartoonist Shannon Wheeler. His follow-up was the critically acclaimed, albeit quickly cancelled, six-issue run on “Prez” for DC Comics.

Now, Russell is delivering his trademark social commentary via a most unexpected source, a reimagining of “The Flintstones,” again for DC Comics. Along with veteran Vertigo artist Steve Pugh, Russell is bringing the first family of the Stone Age to life on the paneled page.

RELATED: DC’s “The Flintstones” Is a Surprisingly Dark — and Honest — Satire

With the release of “The Flintstones” #6, the first arc of the series is complete, so CBR connected with Russell to discuss the early success of the title. The writer explained why he feels Fred, Wilma and the Great Gazoo (yes, the Great Gazoo!) are appropriate foot-powered vehicles for his thoughts on everything from same sex marriage and women’s rights to genocide and electoral reform. Russell also shared his disdain for the original “Flintstones,” which debuted in 1960 as the first-ever animated primetime TV series in the United States. (It should be noted that “TV Guide” ranked “The Flintstones” the second Greatest TV Cartoon of All Time in 2013 just after “The Simpsons.”)

CBR: In the opening of “The Flintstones” #6, anchor Rock Stone opines on the nightly news: “Thanks to civilization, things have never been better! Human beings have never before lived in such peace and prosperity!” Wilma isn’t sure she agrees but Fred is basically on board because at least there’s bowling. Do you side more with Wilma, or Fred?

Mark Russell: I think Fred basically sums up my opinion. Human beings didn’t evolve to work at desks and stare at screens all day, so I’m deeply dubious about civilization and its effects on our humanity — but at the same time, there’s barbecue chicken and HBO, so I’m pretty well addicted to its creature comforts. For better or worse, I think we’re all strapped into this roller coaster called civilization, and will just have to ride it out ’til the end.

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Were you a fan of the original TV series?

No, I didn’t really care for the TV series. Although the cruelty of keeping an animal under the sink and forcing it to eat your garbage really struck me, even at a young age. In a way, it’s the most subversive social critique offered by “The Flintstones,” and the major theme I’ve organized the comic around. How once we’ve closed the cupboard door so they’re out of sight, we don’t really care about what happens to the other living beings that make the ease of our existence possible.

You’ve tackled some major issues in your first six issues – everything from same sex marriage and women’s rights to genocide and electoral reform. While “The Flintstones” was often times a satirical look at our everyday lives (albeit set in the stone age), I don’t know if the life lessons were as prevalent as these heavy – and heady – topics. When you were tapped to reinvent “The Flintstones” for DC Comics, why was it important to make it a series more about lives lived than just plain laughs?

I don’t think I ever really thought about reinventing “The Flintstones” or trying to write about something “important.” I’m not that smart or calculating; I just write about the things that go through my head. “The Flintstones” just happens to be the platform that they’ve given me to communicate my thoughts to others. 

I love your interpretation of these characters, especially Fred. I read him as though Jon Hamm plays him because to me, he has a very Don Draper feel to him – all tall, dark and handsome. Can you please talk about your version of the character and how he compares to the iconic version, created by the legendary William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.

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I just knew I didn’t want Fred to be a buffoon with anger management problems. I never really found that very interesting. Most people I know, whether they work in academia or as a janitor, think about the world around them. They have opinions about big subjects, and genuinely care about the people around them. That’s how I wanted to present Fred, because that feels like a real person to me. This is another thing that troubles me, and a theme that repeatedly rears its head in the comic. How people can be noble and thoughtful when you get to know them individually, and yet, so stupid and violent in large numbers.

What are your thoughts on Wilma? Because she is equally strong, if not stronger than Fred as a character. And while we’re on the subject, I don’t remember — was she an artist on the TV series?

No, she wasn’t an artist in the series. I wanted to give her something to do other than just vacuuming the floor and scolding Fred, which is what she spent most of her time doing in the TV series. Like the other characters, I drafted Wilma into service in being my mouthpiece when I feel like I have something to say. In her case, she’s the portal through which I express my opinions on art.

Wilma was a reporter in the later years of the TV series. Any plans to take her out of the home and into the workforce?

Maybe. At some point, Fred loses his job at Slate Quarry, so Wilma has to make some money somehow. Spoiler alert. I’m supposed to say that now, aren’t I? [Laughs]

While we’re discussing the possibility of the Daily Granite, I have to ask, because he is one of my all-time favorites — are we going to see Captain Caveman in this series?

No.

Another one of my favorites is the Great Gazoo, and he does have a role. Based on the cover and solicitation copy for “The Flintstones” #7, it looks as though we are about to get some more action with him. Are we finally going to get to see him return to his home world, because that storyline was never fulfilled in the original TV series and I’ve always felt bad for him.

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The Great Gazoo has an important job to do on Earth. I haven’t written any scenes where he returns home, but we do get a few glimpses of his home world. Does that warrant another spoiler alert?    

Again, based on the solicitations, we now know that Clod the Destroyer is the new mayor of Bedrock. Will the election win of this military man lead to Fred and Barney re-upping with the Loyal Order of the Water Buffalo?

Fred and Barney’s days of military service are over. They’ve done their bit. Clod, however, is just getting started as Mayor. You will definitely see more of him as he tries to put his anti-Lizard People platform into practice.

Yikes! Finally, Steve Pugh is killing it on this series. Known primarily for his work on classic Vertigo titles like “Animal Man” and “Doom Patrol,” why do you think he’s found a home in Bedrock?

I think Steve is indispensable as an artist on “The Flintstones” for two main reasons. First of all, he has a great talent for nailing facial expressions and body language. He always gets the emotional state of the characters just right and, strangely, that’s very important for a comic about the Flintstones.

And secondly, he gets the humor and has a great sense of humor of his own. I try to write sight gags and puns into the script as much as possible, but it’s hard! So the fact that Steve comes up with his own and injects them in the artwork makes the world feel much more fully realized and allows us to pack way more gags into an issue than we could if we relied solely on my paltry efforts. The best day of my month is when I get the next issue’s artwork from Steve.

“The Flintstones” #6 is available now.

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