DAVID LISS: Can you tell us a little bit about your own relationship with the Twilight Zone? Are you a long time fan? Is this your first time writing this kind of a story?
MARK RAHNER: Lifelong fan and student. And that’s putting it mildly. Rod Serling has always been a hero and role model of mine. It’s my first time writing Twilight Zone stories, but I feel eugenically bred to be doing it. And damn pleased.
DL: Most of your comics work is in the fantasy adventure genre. Did it take any particular effort to get into the right headspace for writing a TZ story?
MR: No. I live in that headspace.
It might be easy for some people to forget – since the show debuted wayyy back in 1959 – just how angry Serling was and what gutsy and blunt social commentaries many of the episodes were. They were entertaining and fun fantasies, but they had a bite.
That approach has been my comic book inspiration since I launched my first creator-owned title, ROTTEN, five years ago. I was sick of fanboy zombie knockoffs and wanted to follow Serling’s lead by making stories that were about something. The same props to George A. Romero. And as a former newspaper reporter, I find no shortage of things going on in the world that could use a little fantasy-commentary.
DL: Were these stories you came up with after singing on to write this issue, or have versions of them been kicking around in your head for a while?
MR: After I signed on, for the most part. I could do one of these books every week! Well, every month. There’s a constant barrage of inspiration assaulting anyone who follows current events and observes human behavior.
That said, the office scenario in “Not Faire” is directly from my grad student days at Purdue, even down to some of the verbatim dialogue. One of the guys I shared a big group office with was a Renaissance Fair type who constantly creeped out his students by bragging about his fake swordfights.
And the supporting character of Brenda Jarwood in “The Secret Over-Sharer” is a rather unsubtle version of a male comic-writer buddy of mine who I’m always busting on for over-sharing on social media. This story will be a fun surprise for him! And no, I’m not naming him.
DL: Twilight Zone stories are often characterized by a kind of a kind of moralistic irony. The central figure often is forced to see some essential belief or world-view turned on its head. Why do you think this sort of story is so appealing?
MR: Well, it’s cathartic, for one. Wouldn’t you like to see every fool or tyrant or bad guy in real life get some sort of poetic comeuppance? Maybe it’s as simple as that sometimes. But remember, there were always a lot of different types of stories in The Twilight Zone.
DL: It’s hard to read “Takers” as anything but a pointedly political criticism. Would you like to discuss this story in terms of your own political beliefs?
MR: It’s very pointed. You could put me in the same Angry Liberal category as Serling. But that label makes some people tune out automatically. Serling was pissed off about stupidity and cruelty and greed and xenophobia and superficiality, among other things. So am I. When I see a real-life politician, who’s said he’s inspired by Ayn Rand, trying to slash help for the poor, I think that’s a textbook sociopath who richly deserves a trip to the Twilight Zone.
DL: On the other hand, in both “Not Faire” and “The Secret Over-Sharer” you have characters who are punished for enthusiasm that don’t strike me as particularly offensive – idealizing another time period and speaking to the excesses of social media. These stories suggest enthusiasms are dangerous and court trouble. Can you elaborate on your approach in these tales?
MR: Oh, it’s not mere enthusiasm. “Not Faire” is about someone who fantasizes and play-acts and brags about something that he winds up getting for real – good and hard. Twilight Zone often had more whimsical stories, and this is the one for my annual. Remember the “Showdown with Rance McGrew” episode, about a TV gunfighter actor who winds up meeting the real thing? There’s ample precedent.
Other Twilight Zone episodes featured protagonists who didn’t do anything bad, but found themselves in unreal situations. “The Secret Over-Sharer” is about how a woman chooses to deal with one of those situations. She realizes that nothing’s real if it isn’t posted on social media. You’ve heard people say, “Pics or it didn’t happen!” As annoying as that already is, what would you do if you realized it was literally true? And what would be the cost of opting out of it?
If you’re a comic writer promoting a book he’s proud of … well, that would be too horrifying to contemplate.
Make sure to check out the first TWILIGHT ZONE ANNUAL from Dynamite which is available right now at your local comic shop and check out the extended preview of this issue right here!