In the coming days and weeks, AIPT is rolling out a series of all-new features. These are our chance to engage with fans and creators alike through stories and interviews that celebrate comics and offer an essential respite from the madness of the world right now.
First up, we’re happy to debut a regular feature called Post-Game. As the title suggests, we’re aping a little NFL-inspired post-game coverage for the realm of comics, allowing a slew of creators to come in and examine their work after the fact. Through this rare instance of hindsight, we can all gain a better appreciation for our favorite stories and series and better grasp the truly nuanced creative process. And unlike with football, we promise no (excessively) wacky graphics or needlessly bulky suits.
Title: Lone Ranger
Creative Team: Written by Mark Russell and art by Bob Q
Story Arc: The Devil’s Rope (#1-5)
Original Release Date: October 2018 to February 2019 (Vol. 3)
Synopsis: When corrupt politicians change cattle-ranching laws to hurt native tribes, the Lone Ranger rides into town to set things right.
AIPT’s Thoughts: Russell, perhaps best known for his work on DC’s Flinstones, applies a similar level of dedication, nuance, and passion to this Dynamite property. The end result is a profound update, pushing the rugged Ranger in new directions while maintaining the earnest core that makes this character a genuine archetype.
AIPT: How do you feel now that this story’s been told? Is there a sense of relief, or are there any uneasy feelings? Was its creation/development a “good” experience overall?
Mark Russell: There’s always a sense of relief when I finish a series, especially when it turns out well. Because it’s too late to screw it up. Although, I don’t really know how it went until I get the trade in the mail months after the comic series ended and I’ve moved on to other projects. When my relationship to the work changes from writer to reader, that’s the moment when I can honestly judge the success of a series. And now, over a year later, I still think of The Lone Ranger as among my very best work. And a great experience as well. Dynamite gave me the freedom to craft the story I wanted to tell, allowing me to approach the Old West as our national mythology and to discuss the bigger themes of how the west and the American dream have been co-opted by power brokers. Things you would not normally find in a Lone Ranger story. And it introduced me to the genius of Bob Q, who’s become one of my go-to artists.
AIPT: Are you the type of artist/writer to go back and think about what worked or didn’t with a story or the overall volume? Is that process helpful at all?
MR: Yes. If you take yourself seriously as a writer, then you need to be honest about your work as a reader. To think about what worked and what didn’t and to ask yourself if what didn’t work failed in execution, or if it simply wasn’t a good idea to begin with. That’s how you grow.
AIPT: How do you think the overall storyline or larger aesthetic/visual identity played out now that you’re looking at it as a wholly completed project? Has that shifted at all?
MR: At the time, I was worried about the five-issue format. I was afraid that the story I was trying to tell was too expansive to be told in five short issues. But what it accomplished was making the story feel more urgent. It kept me from navel-gazing as much as I might have otherwise, and kept the larger commentary within the context of the plot and character development. So, in reading the Lone Ranger now, it’s probably better than it would have been if I had been able to take as many pages as I wanted. It looks and feels like a serial western, even though it’s built on top of these larger themes and commentaries.
AIPT: What kind of feedback have you received? Has any of that helped shape some of your thoughts on the larger series/story?
MR: The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, if only because those who didn’t like it probably dropped out after an issue or two and moved on with their lives, which is the smart thing to do when you’re not enjoying a work of pop culture. But nothing worthwhile is ever written with a focus group in mind. You write the sorts of things you’d want to read, for readers who might be interested in the same ideas and questions that fascinate you. And, to me, that’s how I judge a story’s effectiveness. Not on how many units it moved or how broadly accessible it was, but how much it meant to those who liked it. It’s better to write something that a thousand people loved and will reread from time to time, than it is to write something that is read by a million people and instantly forgotten by all of them. And the fact that I’m still being asked about the Lone Ranger series almost two years after it ended means that it reached some people in a meaningful way, which I find gratifying.
AIPT: What, if anything, surprised you about how the story or visual narrative plays out in hindsight? Is there some reaction or emotion now associated with the series that you might not have felt during the actual creative process?
MR: One thing I hadn’t really planned on when we started working on the series was how much of the story, how much of the spirit, of the story would be conveyed just through Bob’s beautiful western landscapes. He really underscores, visually, the sense that the west can be quite a beautiful place when it’s not being undermined by the plantation mentality, that sees everyone as a commodity belonging to one feudal lord or another.
AIPT: Now that it’s finished, how would you describe the series/story to someone (what’s your best elevator pitch)? Did that change at all from before publication?
MR: I don’t know how I got through a whole series without ever forming an elevator pitch, but here it goes: The Lone Ranger: Devil’s Rope tells the story of how barbed wire destroyed the Old West. Of how the American Dream continues to be threatened by those who would try to claim our land and our future as their private fiefdom.
AIPT: Did you have any goals going into the project? Did you “complete” those in some way?
MR: I try not to be too goal-oriented when I’m working on a series. I always start out with these grand ideas about the story I want to tell and what I want to accomplish, but when the writing starts, I quickly realize that most of them were garbage. The smart thing to do is to let the story go where it wants to, to sacrifice your original plans for what emerges from your subconscious as you’re writing.
AIPT: Is there anything you might do differently in writing/illustrating/coloring/etc.? Some things you wish had played out differently?
MR: No, not really. I’ve heard strategy described as the art of sacrificing what you had for something better. I don’t regret the things I had to sacrifice to tell the story it became, because I think what we ended up with was better.
AIPT: Inversely, what do you think are the highlights of the story? What are the points in which you excelled as you’re looking at the whole project from a distance?
MR: The parts I really loved writing, and still love, and which I think give the story that added dimension of depth, are all the backstories we were able to include. The backstory of Tonto’s education at the Carlisle Indian School, Connor’s background as a prisoner of war during the Civil War, even the background of the servants who were formerly slaves at the Double Goat ranch… to me, these became the soul of the story.
AIPT: Do you have any final thoughts or observations on the story/series?
MR: I’m just really glad you’re still interested in talking about it, because career-wise, it kind of landed in an odd place, between the Hanna-Barbera stuff, i.e. The Flintstones and Snagglepuss, which got a lot of critical attention, and Second Coming, which generated a lot of controversy, so I feel like The Lone Ranger kind of got lost in the middle, but I’m just as proud of it as any of those things, so I’m glad readers are still finding it and that it didn’t totally get lost in the shuffle.
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