In an unflinching candid interview, lead singer of Say Anything Max Bemis gives us the real story on how he ties himself down to be a creative force for the new BOOM! Studios comic book, Polarity (FEB130853). Max is not the kind of person to pull punches, and his answers in this PREVIEWSworld Exclusive give us insight as to how his imagination unchecked is a yellow brick road to something magical in the upcoming mini-series.
PREVIEWSworld: Max, you must live on alkaline batteries rather than food. In addition to being the lead singer for Say Anything, you launch Song Shop (personalizing songs for fans), and now you're the writer for the BOOM! Studios comic book, Polarity. Was this hectic life of yours the foundation for the book's tag, i.e. “What if getting super powers meant losing your mind?”
Max Bemis: In part! Being overwhelmed and stretched thin was part of what led to me having a manic episode (first of a few) and being diagnosed as bipolar. However, not sleeping and smoking endlessly are most likely the real culprit for working hard. I really have to sort of "keep it in check" at this point and not take on too much, but I've found as long as I'm doing things that are fun and creatively stimulating, it's pretty rare when I feel like pulling my hair out. I love my life, and feel privileged to have multiple outlets while some people are forced to slave away at jobs that they hate. Also, reading comics centers me a lot. True story!
PREVIEWSworld: So the premise for the book is pretty cool: an artist's medication wasn't suppressing his mental instability, but instead keeping his super powers in check. There's a lot of room in there for schizophrenic scenes of mind-blowing meltdowns. Is this something like Total Recall meets Terry Gilliam's Brazil? Give us a clue as to how you developed such a cerebral story.
Max Bemis: It's actually a bit less cerebral than it sounds! One would think it was more Gilliam and meta, but I'd compare the tone of the book more to sort of Joss Whedon on crack, or Larry David meeting The Dark Knight. The experience of being Bipolar is less like schizophrenia in the sense that at least I was not having full on hallucinations — the illusions one experiences with my strain of mental illness are more logical "delusions" than "hallucinations," so a lot of how we expressed that through a fictional lens is that Tim, our hero, is RIGHT about these delusions, making it that much more overwhelming for him. It's my way of manifesting the feeling I really had of being invincible and a messiah-esque character. Tim really is a superhuman, and his bipolar disorder is the source of his powers.
PREVIEWSworld: So how does the chemistry work between you and artist Jorge Coelho? How did you two communicate on putting this project together, in terms of working out the tone, conveying Timothy's anxiety, and other particulars? The image shown for the book's solicitation already indicates that Jorge seems to have plugged into a madness that we typically keep locked in a padded cell.
Max Bemis: Jorge literally latched onto the feel of the book with little to no prompting from me not to mention being a perfect "fit." I am more of the Alan Moore school of scripting, where I tend to ramble for paragraphs about a particular scene if need be, so I'd say that paired with the fact that the story is really accessible for an artist as talented and expressive as Jorge is the reason the creative synergy has felt so effortless.
PREVIEWSworld: Matt Gagnon, Editor-in-Chief of BOOM! Studios, has said you are "a legit comic book fan and a student of the medium." What does he know about you that would impress him enough to make such a statement? What's your story and fascination with the history of comics?
Max Bemis: Matt has been on the Say Anything tour bus and seen the massive boxes and boxes of trades and hardcovers I lug with me to every show. I'm an obsessive comics fan, and every conversation we've had with the BOOM! team has made that very apparent. I have an entire library in my house pretty much devoted to graphic novels, and I buy almost every trade of note that comes out and read most to all of them when I can. I kind of live and breathe the medium, and would be still even if I hadn't started writing the damn things.
PREVIEWSworld: Each issue of Polarity comes with a free song download written and performed by you. Such a combination of music and media is a trend we’ve been seeing over the past few years, and it seems like such a natural thing to do for bands that want to get into the comics biz. Will the songs somehow tie into the story, or will they be stand-alone tunes? And would you encourage other bands to try something similar to reach out to a new audience?
Max Bemis: To be honest, I feel like the only people that should be writing comics are people who really love the medium, whether it be casually, or as in someone like me who's a total nerd. I don't think comics should be used to reach out to a new audience unless that's a byproduct of someone who really wants to create them. In my case, that's overwhelmingly true. Once you're at that stage, I say it's all fair in love and war, and therefore combining the mediums in some way is not a bad thing, and can probably be something pretty cool, which led me to creating the "soundtrack" to the issues. That's how I'm looking at the songs. I don't want them to literally recount the events of the book, I want them to be the song that would be playing in certain scenes if it were a movie. So they will relate, but they won't be like "and then the guy punched the other guy la la la la la". By the way, thanks so much for having me.