If you missed the series digital release, now you have no excuse to not get Bastard’s Waltz which is being collected in print for the first time. Written by Mark Bertolini with art by Guida Giovanni and published by Darby Pop Publishing, Bastard’s Waltz mixes a superhero story with witness protection and a bit of conspiracy thrown in.
John the Bastard is the world’s most dangerous supervillain; his name alone has struck fear into the hearts of most heroes for decades. Now John finds himself in the crosshairs of a talented upstart, and only Secret Service protection specialist Ezekiel Sweet can keep John safe from the swarm of psychopaths heading his way. With Sweet a reluctant guardian, a traitor in their midst, and John’s skills markedly slipping, who will survive the ultimate showdown?
Seriously, go get this new trade paperback. You can buy the paperback now or still buy it digitally.
We got a chance to talk to writer Mark Bertolini about it and hopefully you’ll get a sense of how awesome it is.
Graphic Policy: This feels like a series that’s a bit of a love letter to superhero comics. Where did the concept of Bastard’s Waltz come from and what are some of its influences?
Mark Bertolini: First things first: I absolutely love superhero comics. I grew up on superhero comics. Superheroes are what brought me to comics when I was very young. As I got older, into my late teens and early 20s, I sort of lost touch with superhero comics in favor of more adult, Vertigo-style books. But then when Warren Ellis and Mark Millar started to combine superheroes with adult themes, with books like The Authority and Wanted, I regained my love for superheroes, and have been making comics with superhuman characters ever since.
Bastard’s Waltz sprang from the idea of the world’s most dangerous man suddenly realizing he’s not so dangerous any more; how would he/you cope? When the world used to tremble at your feet, and now you’re being looked at as a joke, what would your response be? I wanted to explore those ideas, and I wanted to put a spin on the classic “buddy” story as well.
GP: The narrative is split in events as they transpire and a debriefing. Why’d you choose to go that route?
Mark Bertolini: The split narrative is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time in comics, to show current action but also have the main (or one of the main) characters giving the reader more information – it’s a bit of a trick to expand on the story without adding dozens of extra pages. I also like that you get to see a bit more of the personality of the character during the debriefing.
GP: When it came to all of the character designs, how much of that is you and how much was Giovanni Guida?
MB: The designs were pretty much all Giovanni – I gave him some brief thoughts, specifically John’s “Bastard” vest and the domino masks on the bad guys. But, other than that, the characters were brought to life by Giovanni. I gave him the broad strokes, and filled-in all the details.
GP: While the story is this conspiracy involving witness protection there’s also an aspect that feels a bit like levels in a video game where the bosses need to be defeated. Was that on purpose?
MB: You’re actually the first one to catch that! I did structure it like a video game, in that John the Bastard and Agent Sweet have to fight their way through levels of “lower bosses” in order to get to the “big boss” at the end – although that doesn’t go exactly as planned…
GP: Going with that style, the fights seem like they’d need to get tougher and tougher as the story progresses. How do you come up with the balance between villains that need to be fought and keeping it relatively grounded and realistic?
MB: A lot of the characters in Bastard’s Waltz are famous, or infamous, in their world. Just the reactions of the other characters can tell you a lot about whom the lead players really are. In the beginning, the police are talking about the reputation of John the Bastard, and as we go through the story, John himself even references the reputations of some of those who are gunning for him.
I think the fights between John and those coming after him do gradually get harder for John, and he also begins to display some “fatigue” which make things even more difficult for him. When John comes face- to-face with the final “boss,” it’s not whom he assumed had been pulling the strings, and it sets up a pretty definitive final confrontation.
GP: Nero’s relentlessness has a bit of a horror movie aspect to it with the unstoppable killer. Were there influences at all when it comes to that character’s pacing?
MB: We needed a villain that was so scary that the world’s scariest man would be afraid. Nero was designed to be unstoppable, relentless, and very single-minded in his pursuit of John the Bastard. I did think of him in terms of a Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees – a guy who, no matter what you do to him, no matter what damage is caused, never stops coming after you. I didn’t want to give John any breathing room.
GP: The series is digital and then print. Did it being digital impact your story at all?
MB: Not at all; I’m a fan of both digital and print, I have bookshelves stuffed with comics and graphic novels, but I also read a lot of books digitally. It’s nice to be able to pack a dozen comics onto my iPad and take them anywhere. So, I was thrilled when Darby Pop suggested making Bastard’s Waltz available digitally as single issues, and physically as a collection/trade paperback. Give the people what they want!
GP: The series winds around with lots with the characters’ history and their motives. When plotting out a story like this, what’s your method?
MB: One foot in front of the other. I like to plot things out very linearly, even when incorporating flashbacks or multiple narratives. I usually have a pretty good sense of where I need to get to by the end of each issue, and I build each page with that goal in mind. Having additional sets of eyes on my scripts also helps, so I don’t forget anything or build towards something with no payoff. Darby Pop’s Jeff Kline and Renae Geerlings were invaluable with their input.
GP: This series feels like it’s one that could have tons of spin-offs. Any chance we’ll see more of this world?
MB: I’d love to do more stories set in this world. We’ve hardly scratched the surface on some of the secondary characters. I have ideas rattling around right now about what else they’ve been up to, either leading up to the beginning of Bastard’s Waltz, or after the final page. Plus, I’d love to write more of John and Zeke; they were a lot of fun.
GP: What else is on tap for you that folks should check out?
MB: My next big thing is a 4-issue sci-fi miniseries coming out Summer 2018 from Action Lab comics. I also have a few anthology pieces coming together, as well as half-a-dozen pitches ready or nearly ready to show to publishers. And Giovanni and I have already talked about our next project together, so lots to look forward to in the next year!
GP: Thanks so much for chatting!