Artist Richard Pace – a/k/a the “Viceroy of Canadian Comics” – teams with writer Mark Russell to create the controversial SECOND COMING series, to be published by AHOY in July. From his home in Toronto, Pace recently spoke with AHOY publisher/janitor Hart Seely. (NOTE: If you’re not a Game of Thrones fan—or if you haven’t seen it all and don’t want to be exposed to spoilers (good luck!)—skip the opening questions.)
You’re a Canadian, right? To me, that means you’re like the Wildlings, living beyond the wall.
Or we could be the Starks, and the wall could be the Arctic, where no one really lives. It you want to draw a real parallel, Canadians take care of their people better than Americans do, and the Starks take care of their people better than the Targaryens, Lannisters and Baratheons. So, if we’re going for the GAME OF THRONES thing, we’re the Starks.
Americans can’t be the Lannisters, because we don’t always pay our debts. Still, in Syracuse, we think of Canadians as denizens of the cold north. You’re the only folks who consider us “southerners.”
Actually, people don’t always look at the map properly. They see how maps are presented in grade school, with Canada squarely atop the United States. But the border is tilted. Northern California is further north than Toronto.
I did not know this.
The Pacific current is why the West Coast is warmer all the way up to Vancouver. Actually, Toronto sits at the top of where California would be. But we’re not as far north as everyone thinks. Seattle, for example, is farther north than Toronto.
We view Toronto residents as Buffalonians with manners.
I like that.
Getting back to Game of Thrones, a lot of hipster parents must be glad they didn’t name their daughter Daenerys.
I’m feeling bad for the ones who did.
Okay, so my first real question: What the f--k is going on in this world?
Well, things go in cycles. I think in our culture, we have moments of extremism and of insanity, and then we somehow hit re-set and move forward. I was recently watching a documentary about the sixties, and what we forget is that there was as much hysteria and hatred around the left in Europe and North America as there is today. People forget how the hippie movement and the peace movement were hated, viciously, by the right. The Democratic Party was rife with internal strife between those who wanted progressive politics, and those who wanted to be corporate Democrats. That’s going on right now. As far as I’m concerned, Trump is basically Nixon, without the IQ, or wanting to give the appearance of being ethical. That is the only difference: Trump doesn’t care how he looks.
We have people who are terrified of change, who are hanging onto anything that looks like it will let them be right about the world, facing off against those who say, “The world is changing, and we have to do something.” You have people who are as zealous and dogmatic about what they see needing to be changed – as those who want no change. Something is going to tip it.
The last time around, it was Watergate. The collapse of the right-wing structure came because people were clearly committing criminal acts to maintain power. We have that undercurrent now. I think we’re just waiting for a long-enough stick. The Mueller Report obviously wasn’t enough. Then there is the vast history of Trump’s racism and corruption—before coming into the Oval Office—and the continuing nepotism…
Yes, but everything seems to wash over Trump.
I think that’s because he has no shame.
On Game of Thrones, a dagger of Valyrian steel does in the Night King. I keep thinking Trump will be caught doing something no one can forgive, and poof, the whole Army of the Dead—the GOP, Fox News, talk radio, everything—crumbles. But I don’t know how this ends.
I think it will be the way it happened with Watergate. Arya Stark’s dagger moment will come about when the Republican Party finally realizes it will lose with Trump in power. The Republicans stuck by Nixon until it became obvious that the American people were going to turn away from them in droves, and their only way to save the party was to dump its leader.
Right now, they’re looking at the next election and thinking everything is so gerrymandered and divided that it can’t be too bad. I don’t think they’re even worried if Trump loses the White House. They could still control the Senate. Mitch McConnell doesn’t care.
If Americans finally realize they cannot support a corrupt leader and remain a force of good, if the deep red states put country over team, that’s when the Republicans will change. Right now, there is no real reason to change. Congressional Republicans can come out against the President, but they don’t matter. Unless an alliance forms, giving control of both houses, the President cannot be stopped.
The Democrats—the “corporate Democrats”—they don’t care about the middle class, but they like the money they get. There’s no reason for them to change either, because most are sitting in safe seats.
My theory is America has become pro wrestling. Our leaders, our movie stars, our superheroes: all pro wrestlers. Thus we solve problems with our fists which, by the way, transitions us into your new book with Mark Russell, SECOND COMING, because that’s a difference between Jesus Christ and the superhero he lives with.
It’s the comparison of what we think our superheroes are supposed to be with an immortal philosopher. I mean, can you really solve world hunger by punching a guy through a building?
It’s a simplistic way to approach story-telling. I mean, as a planet, we can solve world hunger. Easily. All we need is the will to do it.
Yes it would cost money, but if we simply make sure everyone is fed, money would merely be the cost we pay. It’s just the decision to do it, that’s all. We have people who rationalize that it’s okay to have starving people, because of the bottom line.
The good answers are always complex, the easy ones are usually simplistic and violent. But I can’t think of anything more violent in a civilized country than starving children.
What Mark does here is put the most powerful man in the world with the one is supposed to be the most powerful man in the universe, who is worshipped, have them live together and mostly be ineffective in this world. It is one of the smartest things about SECOND COMING.
When you first saw the book, did you think it would be controversial?
The then-editor, Molly Mahan from Vertigo, asked if I would be interested in doing a satirical religious book, kind of like PREACHER. That pitch told me immediately that they had every expectation of the book being controversial.
I think this needs to be said: There is no way in hell that any mainstream publisher would publish PREACHER right now. Especially Vertigo. Warner Brothers has too tight a leash on it. That’s ultimately why we the book was given back to us. As much as Dan Didio at DC Comics and everyone at Vertigo believed in the book, Warner Brothers was scared of the controversy. So, they gave us back the book. Honestly, I think the book is better for it.
During the petition drive to ban the book, did you ever get nasty emails or threats, the kind that made you nervous?
I got a few emails that pretty much counted as death threats. I don’t take death threats seriously. I really don’t. I know, everyone is like—DEATH THREATS!—and they panic. But I’ve been on the Internet since aol.com was starting, and I know people say stupid shit, because they can do it anonymously.
One person—I actually contemplated a reply, but the address was a combination of letters and numbers, one of those fire-and-forget email accounts—said basically that, for what I’m doing to Christ, I will be crucified soon, and I should always watch my back.
Yeah. And there’s one—I refer to them as the two-and-a-half death threats; actually, I haven’t had any for a while, since the religious right succeeded in forcing DC to let the book go—just said I’m going to hell soon. The “soon” part sort of made it feel like a threat. But it could also just be an amateur prognosticator. They assume I’m an old guy and will die soon, or that I’ll get hit by a bus, or something—soon. Therefore, I’m going to hell.
He didn’t do specifics.
There’s nothing like people who claim to believe in Christ and then wish ill will on others. They don’t seem to know about the “turn the other cheek” part. A lot of people tweeted and asked, Would Jesus be upset about this book? No, I don’t think he would. He wouldn’t care… not when there are starving kids out there. When there are so many things in the world to get upset about, would he be angry about this comic book? So, why are people so upset? Well, it’s because some guy in a right-wing website told them to.
I try to make four points: One, it’s a comic book. Two, it’s a story with a great heart. Three, it’s funny. And four, did I mention that it’s a comic book?
I think it’s a form of entertainment that hopefully makes a salient point or two about the culture we live in. I believe that’s the highest level that satire can aspire to.
How did you get into comic books?
I read comics as a kid, mostly during the summer, when I went on family car trips from Winnipeg to Calgary—a long car trip, by the way. I would read and reread bags of comics that my mom would buy at K-Mart. I liked them, but I wasn’t really manic or obsessed with them like some of my friends. But I always loved drawing. I always, always, loved drawing.
Fast forward a few years, and I stumbled across one of the first Frank Frazetta art books. It had a short little biography. After he took some art lessons, he did comics, and he became Frank Frazetta! So, if I wanted to be Frank Frazetta, I had to do comic books.
This was shortly after Alan Moore was taking over SWAMP THING. I couldn’t believe the jump I’d seen from what comics were when I was a kid. When I read SWAMP THING, I was like, Oh my god! I could barely wrap my head around the fact that comics had made this meteoric jump in quality, to stories as good as the short fiction and novels that I’d been reading. It was a spectacular leap, and it changed my way of thinking.
At that point, my long-term goals didn’t just become the painting of fantasy covers for books. It was to draw the stories I wanted to tell.
A question I ask everyone: Of all the superheroes out there, if you had to work for one, who would be the biggest asshole, up close?
You mean, if I had to be Alfred to somebody?
Yeah, biggest asshole.
It would have to be Batman.
Well, it’s kind of baked in. He’s obsessive. He’s mentally ill. He’s not seeking treatment. He can’t have a stable relationship with anyone. With all his power and resources, he still thinks the solution to Gotham’s problems is beating the shit out of poor people.
Yeah, and he’s rich.
It’s the implication, with all the technology and everything else he has at his disposal, that he can solve Gotham’s crime problem. I mean, studies show most crime is the direct result of poverty. Get rid of poverty, and you could eliminate 80 to 90 percent of crime. There would still be the people who do bad things. But a lot of economic crime, especially at poverty levels, will be solved.
Second question: Of all the supervillains, who would be the best one to work for?
Probably Lex Luthor.
I hear those answers a lot – Batman would be the asshole, and Luthor the good boss. Why Luthor?
Actually, it depends on the variation, because there have been many Lex Luthors over the years. The current corporate model is a little more sane – though, I haven’t followed Superman lately. His argument would be that humanity should be ascendant and not relying on superheroes. And I agree with that.
I have a feeling that LexCorp, just to piss off everyone, would probably take better care of its employees than other corporations do. If I were doing Superman, I’d have LexCorp go out of its way to be the most progressive company on the planet.
Was Lex really evil, or did he just hate Superman?
He hated Superman to a comically bad degree.
Because Superman made him lose his hair, right?
When I was a kid, that was the reason given. He was doing a dangerous experiment, Superboy saved him, Lex lost all his hair, and that’s why he went manic about Superman. If I was doing Lex Luthor, he’d be a “Humans First” guy. He would see the mere presence of an alien with superpowers as a threat to humanity. Everything would stem from that.
Okay, we need an uplifting thought here. Game of Thrones ended with war atrocities. As we talk, war might be looming in the Middle East. Tell me what gives you hope.
My goal as a parent was to make a better human than I was, and I think I did. He’s 21. I just hope that enough parents out there did the same.
With this new generation of politicians, I think we’re seeing a stark similarity between old guard politicians and religious fundamentalists in the Middle East. They’re becoming more strident about what they believe in, and more destructive in their defense of it. Even within the Democratic Party, look how badly they are reacting to AOC and Ilhan Omar. They’re attacking their own person, because she’s making the argument that Muslim Americans are still Americans, and they have a different perspective on things. The fact that they’re shaking things up, forcing people to look at them differently, that gives me hope.
We’re out of time and space. Final thoughts?
I’m just happy to be working on a book that matters. That’s a rare thing in comics these days. So many books are all about, “How can we make the X-Men interesting this week?” Or, “How can we write a story that will become a blockbuster movie?” This is an important book.
So, will we end up in heaven or hell?
I’ve been an atheist for over 40 years. I think heaven and hell exist in the lives we’re living now, and the only way we achieve eternity is by making the world a little better than the way you found it. How’s that?