Marc Hempel interview

During his career in comics, Marc Hempel has worked on such projects as Sandman Breathtaker for DC/Vertigo, Mars for First Comics, Jonny Quest for Comico, for DC/Piranha Press, and Tug & Buster, which was self-published before moving to Image. This month he returns with Marc Hempel's Naked Brain from Insight Studios Group. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently spoke with Hempel about this new project

Westfield: What can you tell us about the Naked Brain mini-series?

Marc Hempel: It’s three comic books. They’re kind of rectangular-shaped. You want to know more than that? [laughter]

Westfield: What about the contents?

Hempel: It'll definitely have contents ... primarily a lot of the Web strips I did for the Sunny Fundays page. But there'll also be newly created strips and gag panels, plus some racy sketchbook art, painted covers, and a lot of surprises. Whatever my brain comes up with, I put into Naked Brain (as long as it has some entertainment value, that is). It’s a very honest expression of who I am and what I think is funny and interesting. It’s got a lot of wacky stuff in there having to do with relationships, sex, puns, farts, you name it. I think there will also be a few new pieces from the Suit Cases series that debuted in the IS Art book.

Westfield: For people who haven’t read any of the Naked Brain strips before, what sort of topics do you cover?

Hempel: Naked Brain is a satire of modern society ... focusing more on psychology and human nature than on politics or popular culture. It’s really pathetic people trying to live their lives, and trying to make sense of life. People having awkward moments and bad relationships. And there’s a lot of irony. I don’t know if irony goes over big with today’s comic book readers, but boy, this book is chock full of it. Irony so thick you could cut it with a knife. That’s one of the things I’m really into - the contrasts. You hold up something next to something else and you notice its unique qualities because it’s so different. For example, a strip I’m looking at now is called Misconception, which is basically a really ugly couple going at it in a sexual way and it’s really sloppy and noisy. At the end, you see a panel of a mother telling her horrified kid, “And out of that beautiful, loving union, you were created.” So, it’s the different ways we think of sex: what we tell our children as opposed to what really goes on in the actual act. Beauty contrasted with ugliness. Of course, many of the strips are just plain silly ... having fun with the comics form.

Westfield: One I recall features a trailer trash family wondering why things are so bad.

Hempel: That was one of my many responses to the 9-11 disaster ... the only one I’ve been brave enough to actually show to people. [laughter] I got ideas for a lot of jokes that day. It was a defense mechanism, I'm sure, for really strange and tragic things happening. With more water under the bridge, I may bring out more of that stuff, but I’ll wait and see. That strip was a way for me to contrast perceived danger with real danger. There are so many situations in our everyday life that are much more threatening than terrorists coming to kill us.

Westfield: You’re bringing back Tug and Buster in the book. Why did you decide to bring them back now?

Hempel: Because fans kept pestering me! Frankly, I missed the cast. I missed my dysfunctional family! In the process of creating the original series, I grew disinterested in doing the longer form comic book stories. Short form comics is something I’m stronger at and have more fun doing - probably because of my short attention span! I’m basically using Tug and Buster and the other cast members in shorter strips varying between one and a few pages in length.

Westfield: Will we be seeing more of Tug and Buster after Naked Brain?

Hempel: That’s kind of up in the air. It all depends. If I get more ideas, I’ll do more of it. That’s how it works. I haven’t done more Gregory material, frankly because I haven’t had any more Gregory ideas. I don’t like to force things, and I do get bored easily and tend to move on to other projects. That’s just me. The plus for the reader is that they end up with a lot of variety and surprises. Sometimes even I don't know what I'm going to do next!

Westfield: One of your first critical successes was Mars. Are there any plans to collect the series?

Hempel: I think Mark Wheatley and I are planning on collecting Mars, but it’s just a matter of timing. It’s one of those things that we’re almost doomed to do because it was strong material, and a lot of people have fond memories of it. Breathtaker is another project that we'd like to keep in print.

Westfield: Do you have any other upcoming projects you’d like to mention?

Hempel: Um … Do you know about Naked Brain? It’s a book I’m doing. It’s kind of rectangular. [laughter] As it turns out, I've always got projects in development, but there’s nothing I can really talk about. I’ve created a lot of new portfolio pieces that may someday find their way into Naked Brain, but we'll have to wait and see. At this point, Naked Brain is my major upcoming project; it's the best stuff I've done in years, and I'm pretty excited about it!