Interview: Dancing the Quick Step with Bastard’s Waltz Writer Mark Bertolini and Artist Giovanni Guida

With the ongoing story of John the Bastard gaining momentum, it’s the perfect time to catch up with the creators from Darby Pop’s latest hit comic.  Over at Geekery we caught up with writer Mark Bertolini and unique artist Giovanni Guida:

Geekery: Hey guys, I am really enjoying the book. Let’s start at the beginning how did you guys meet?

Mark Bertolini (See top left): I do some on-and-off pitch reviews for a small press publisher, and Giovanni sent his portfolio in — and his work blew me away. It was really unique, and didn’t look like everything else out there. I love collaborating with artists who have their own style and aren’t afraid to take chances. So, I sent Giovanni some early thoughts about what was then called “Protection” – soon to be BASTARD’S WALTZ — and we took it from there.

Giovanni Guida (See top right): It was pretty much kismet. I was sending my portfolio to some publishers, and one of them put me in contact with Mark. We clicked right away, and started collaborating on BASTARD’S WALTZ almost as soon as we “met.” I really liked his pitch.

Geekery: How do you guys work through the process of creating comics, and this book in particular?

MB: My scripting process changes from project to project, and with BASTARD’S WALTZ, I received a lot of input from a few additional sources (including Darby Pop), and it really elevated the material. Once the scripts were good to go, I’d send them to Giovanni, who would run through thumbs, then pencils, inks, and colors, with editorial approval at each step. It was really gratifying to see the pages come to life.

GG: It was really easy working with Mark. He was always supportive, and gave me a lot of space to try to do things my own way. I suspect that was because we had similar points-of-view in terms of storytelling, and how the comics work best.

Geekery: Who are your influences?

MB: I’m a huge fan of writers like Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman, and Brian K Vaughan — writers who like to push boundaries and have unique voices. I strive to make my work unique in that way, too. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. I just hope BASTARD’S WALTZ has a very “Bertolini-flavor” to it.

GG: I had a lot of influencers over the years. But, if I had to pinpoint just a few, I’d say Frank Quitely – because of his storytelling skills – and Gabriel Bà. In fact, reading Gabriel’s CASANOVA was a bomb that blew my brain, I was lucky enough to meet both Gabriel and Matt Fraction in person in Lucca; I’ll just say that my knees were shaking. Jason Latour, Wes Craig and Bastien Vivès/ Michael Sanlaville, too.

Geekery: I love the hints of some of the mainstream heroes that John has killed. Was that a conscious choice? How hard was it to drop the hints without facing the ire of the big two?

MB: Most of the heroes that John mentions or that we see are archetypes – the “world’s most powerful superhero” or the “vigilante detective” or the “space cop.” Obviously, we know who many of these characters are, but there have been so many iterations of them over the years that we’re not specifically targeting any one version. And they really only exist in the background to make John’s “hitlist” sound more impressive.

Geekery: Reading the books, I am really surprised at how my view of John changed, which is a credit to your writing. How hard is it to create a villain that readers should dislike, but end up rooting for?

MB: I think any good character has to have something in him or her for you to relate to. With John the Bastard, readers can maybe identify with his fear of getting older… or his fear of not being able to keep doing what he loves… and/or his fear of dying. Those are some of the very real fears that John has, and that humanizes him in some way. There were points in the story as I was writing it that I started to feel bad for John, and I had to remember that — in this story — John is the real-life boogeyman. He’s a vicious and sadistic bastard who has terrorized the planet for years and years. But, at his core, John’s also a scared old man that you, hopefully, can’t help but start to root for.

Geekery: Darby Pop’s previous books have been colorful affairs with art that, pardon the pun, pops off the page. Your art is dramastically (yep made up word) different in tone. Were you worried about how it would be compared to the other Darby publications?

GG: I think BASTARD’S WALTZ fits into Darby Pop’s line-up because it is both very high-concept and character-driven; that seems to be Darby Pop’s target. Honestly, Darby Pop never seemed concerned, so neither did I.

Geekery: For a story that is both ambiguous and similar, John is just doing what he loves as is Zeke; your work, in my opinion really fits in. How hard is it to be accepted as an artist whose work is maybe not as commercial as other artists in the industry? Are indie publishers the last safe haven for artists and writers who want to buck the trend? 

GG: I know that my “look” is not the norm, but I previously had some encouraging experiences. So, I’ve almost overcome my fear of not being commercial enough for the industry. I trust that my storytelling skills can make up for the “roughness” of my art. And I do believe that I can find all the necessary expression and emotion within my particular style. Here in Italy, indie publishers are essential to young artists who want to try to break into the comics industry. That’s how I started. And I assume it’s the same in the U.S. Indies are much more likely to take a chance or break the “rules.” And that’s been my experience with Darby Pop. I could talk about the importance of independent publishing for days. I sincerely hope both that stores and customers do everything they can to support smaller publishers in the United States.

Geekery: Which comics are currently floating your boats?

MB: My favorite comics right now include EAST OF WEST, DEADLY CLASS, LAZARUS, SEX CRIMINALS, INJECTION, and SAGA.

GG: As you might have guessed from my earlier answer: CASANOVA (by Fraction/Bà/Moon), SOUTHERN BASTARDS (by Aaron/Latour), DEADLY CLASS (by Remender/Craig), and LASTMAN (by Balak/Vivès/Sanlaville). I’m especially into LASTMAN right now. I met the three of them in Naples, some years ago; they’re great people and really talented artists.

Geekery: What’s next for you both and of course Zeke and John?

MB: I have a few anthology pieces coming-up in the next few months, as well as a 4-issue miniseries coming out via Action Lab in 2018. I also have a few longer works on the go, and Giovanni and I have already talked about tackling another project together. As for Zeke and John, well… I don’t think we’ve seen the last of either of them!

GG: I don’t know yet. I’ve written a script for an Italian publisher; it’s coming out next year. But, other than that, I’ll have to see. I’d really like to work again with Mark; we’ve been talking about something new. But, I’d sure as hell be willing to go back to Zeke, John, and all the other bastards that populate their world!

Thanks for you time guys, I certainly appreciate it.

Reviews for issues 1-3 of Bastard’s Waltz can be found in the review section, just click the “Reviews” tab at the top.  Issue 4 will be available digitally from October the 9th.  If you can’t wait that long, the trade paperback is released on September 27th.  Keep your eyes peeled for future reviews.


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