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Ricky Mammone, Max Bertolini talk identity and angst in 'Second Chances'

Comic Books

Ricky Mammone, Max Bertolini talk identity and angst in ‘Second Chances’

This new Image Comics series explores regret, starting over, and the subconscious mind.

Regret is a part of life, like paying taxes or putting basil on pizza. It’s impossible, though, to ever fully avoid playing a game of what-if, and to ask who you’d be if you could do it all over again. That slightly heady motif is at the core of a brand-new series from Image Comics, Second Chances.

Written by Ricky Mammone, and with art from Max Bertolini, the book follows a man called Leblanc, who heads up something called the Second Chances Hotline. With “some cash, a proper referral, and a very good reason to start over,” everyday folks can get a new identity and a fresh chance at life. We meet Leblanc as he tackles a new, especially strange case involving an old friend and a “client with chemically-induced amnesia” in what promises to be a noir-tastic mystery romp.

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Ahead of the book’s debut on August 18, we spoke with both Mammone and Bertolini. In our email chat, we addressed the series’ influences and scope, the power of identity, the value of the French New Wave, and much, much more.

Ricky Mammone, Max Bertolini talk identity and angst in 'Second Chances'AIPT: What’s your elevator pitch for this series? Is it “X meets X?”

Ricky Mammone: The book is about a guy named Leblanc who gives select criminals new identities. Things get complicated when he encounters an enemy from his past who can erase someone’s identity, making them forget who they are entirely. It’s about love, guilt, and existential angst. A blend of noir and action—on some acid.

AIPT: Press for the book does reference John Wick as a possible point of inspiration. Are there any other such cinematic reference points, and how did those inform the book/story?

RM: There are a ton of cinematic inspirations here. The real backbone of this comes from Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express and Fallen Angels. But the DNA of those films stems from French New Wave cinema so there’s a lot of that spliced in here. Also, there’s inspiration from Sin City, Better Call Saul, True Romance, and Badlands.

AIPT: Why tell this story now? Is there something about the value of identity, or maybe how interconnected the world seems to be, that may have influenced this kind of tale?

RM: I’d be compelled to tell this story regardless of the time period. Humans are intelligent and we’re trying to figure out why the hell do we exist. It’s why we’re always labeling ourselves and other people — whether it be political alignment, religion, country, job, etc. We’re scrambling around trying to find purpose before we die. However, with social media, identity can become a brand quite easily. And with cyber-terrorism, identity can be treated as a commodity. So yes, I think nowadays with everything going on, identities functioning as a product, only reinforces this story being relevant to now and we’ll see some dialogue later that pertains to that topic.

Max Bertolini: The value of the identity of each individual person is a universal theme but nowadays it seems that for many people “to be” means to appear as others want you to see. Leblanc constantly tries to be himself but every time he approaches to find himself he seems to be willingly moving away from his goal. It is tremendously evocative of the life path of many people.

AIPT: It’s clear there’s some real references to or inspiration taken from French New Wave, especially in sort of the visual tone or aesthetic. What about that collective appeals to you both, and does that maybe set this series apart from similar “offerings?”

RM: Many of those characters are idiosyncratic and philosophical in nature and I really wanted to emphasize that in Second Chances. The reason why we made this grayscale is not just because many French New Wave films are black and white, but also because there’s a moral gray area here. Shoot the Piano Player is a good reference point because the movie is a crime genre film technically, but it’s so innovative because it’s just about these realistically flawed and relatable characters trying to figure their s--t out, and the crime stuff is just there as metaphor. In terms of our book being different from normal crime comics, I think we’re adding a lot of things on top of the crime genre. We’ve also layered it with little motifs, ideas and metaphors so if readers want to take a closer look, they’ll hopefully get a more meaningful experience from reading it. We’re inspired to push the boundaries of comics just like the masters Godard and Truffaut pushed cinema.

Ricky Mammone, Max Bertolini talk identity and angst in 'Second Chances'

Courtesy of Image Comics.

MB: The artistic tone I gave to the pages is directly consequent to the atmosphere that Ricky put into the pages. More than an influence of a particular literary or artistic movement, I drew in a natural way following an unconscious stimulus that seemed to guide me spontaneously. There was no artificial adjustment of my art to Ricky’s text but everything merged spontaneously. My European culture definitely helped me and conformed well to the history of Leblanc.

5) What was the collaborative process like between the two of you? This book feels indebted to titles like Criminal and/or 100 Bullets. Are those inspirations at all, and how do you hope this book will be perceived by fans of the crime genre?

RM: Max and I have a very simple process and I’m pretty sure it’s just because we can read each other’s minds from across the world. He lives in Italy and I live in LA but most of the time when we’re messaging, it’s just us being friends or chatting out some business stuff. When we first started, I had a look book of references, but Max always knew how to take my scripts and add the most brilliant ideas and bolster the visual storytelling masterfully. It couldn’t be a more ideal collaboration. Max and I definitely will continue to work on more books. Brubaker is one of my favorite comic book writers and I definitely loved 100 Bullets, but I wouldn’t say I used them as any direct inspiration, at least from a writing standpoint. I honestly have no idea about fanbase expectations, but I would hope that this book appeals to crime genre fans as well as people who vehemently hate crime genre books. But maybe that’s wishful thinking.

MB: Ricky said it all. I would just add that I appreciated the great confidence he gave me when creating graphics. He totally relied on me and so I could fully express myself.

AIPT: It’s clear from issue #1 that there’s a big mystery unfolding here, with lots of moving parts. Do you have that roadmap in place before you begin work, or do you sort of build the mystery, as it were, together based on how you feel things should unfold?

RM: It’s a combination. There definitely were some key plot points I knew right out the gates, but others I stumbled along as I was living my life and experiencing new things. This book was being developed for a pretty long time. It had always been like rearranging an amorphous puzzle.

Second Chances

Courtesy of Image Comics.

AIPT: There’s some clear metaphysical stuff here, or even things that maybe make the reader question some elements of reality (their own or that of the characters). Is that a feature of this story, and is there a deliberate sense that you’re trying to make the readers second guess characters or scenes or whatnot?

RM: Yes. That aspect will only get more important as the story continues. The subconscious mind is very important when we’re questioning who we truly are and that’s why there is a psychedelic thread woven in.

AIPT: With our “hero,” Leblanc, I get some real vibes of Batman and Wolverine—slightly gritty, homegrown hero types. Is there a reason he acts the way he does—like being anti-gun—and how much is his personality and background essential to the larger story?

RM: That’s an interesting comparison, I haven’t thought of that. Leblanc is kind of a goofball in a lot of regards and I think you’ll see he’s a bit more sloppy than those characters. He’s very introspective and self-doubting — it’s almost as if he’s trying to be a cool anti-hero like Wolverine, but is failing miserably at it. More backstory will be revealed eventually. That’s all I’ll say for now.

AIPT: If you had to take on a new identity, what would it be and why?

RM: I’m pretty satisfied with being myself at this current moment, but I’ll give you a fictional type of character I always wanted to be: a Jedi.

MB: I would avoid that. Getting rid of all useless identities is what anyone should want. I am no different from Leblanc in this regard. But being a Jedi sometimes is also good!

AIPT: Why should anyone pick up issue #1?

RM: Go pick it up because Max is an extraordinary phenom of an artist and he just kills it. But the writing sucks!

MB: I do suck but the writing is killing. That’s why you must go and pick it up!

Ricky Mammone, Max Bertolini talk identity and angst in 'Second Chances'

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