Comic Pioneers Matthew Rosenberg & Rick Remender on Fighting Editors, Breaking the Punisher and Punk’s DIY Legacy

Comics Features
Comic Pioneers Matthew Rosenberg & Rick Remender on Fighting Editors, Breaking the Punisher and Punk’s DIY Legacy

The career trajectories of Matthew Rosenberg & Rick Remender have followed uncannily similar paths, though both comic writers occupy different stages in their careers. After a stint in animation, Remender stormed indie publishing at the turn of the century with a handful of off-kilter and absurdly energetic creations before reinvigorating Marvel footnotes Venom, X-Force and Punisher. After breaking with corporate superheroes, he joined the Image Comics creator-owned renaissance, helming such touchstones as Deadly Class with Wes Craig, Black Science with Matteo Scalera, Low with Greg Tocchini and Seven to Eternity with Jerome Opeña and James Harren.

Rosenberg ignited his career in the summer of 2013 with 12 Reasons to Die, a collaboration with Wu-Tang veteran Ghostface Killah, co-writer Patrick Kindlon and a slew of artists for Black Mask Studios. He continued with We Can Never Go Home, a teen odyssey about outcast high schoolers navigating broken homes and super powers. Marvel similarly snatched Rosenberg up on the strength of his raw characterization and tight plotting, resulting in runs for Secret Warriors, Rocket Raccoon, Kingpin and the upcoming return of Jean Grey, to name a few.

At the center of their Venn diagram, Remender and Rosenberg embrace a punk DIY ethos, channeling their intimate, honest histories through a lens of fantastic genre. Remender’s Deadly Class and Rosenberg’s just-wrapped 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank may share the DNA of neon ‘80s nostalgia, but they’re both undeniably personal; the former is a grindhouse buffet that revolves around the caustic social void left under President Reagan’s reign, while the latter juxtaposes escapism with poverty and domestic strife, rendered with pop-culture verve by Tyler Boss. Appropriately, both are excellent. Both writers can also lay claim to subverting current Netflix star the Punisher: Remender’s Franken-Castle run turned the gun-porn vigilante into a sympathetic monster movie, while Rosenberg recently launched his run on the character by putting him in a borrowed suit of future-forward armor.

With that degree of creative chemistry and pure happenstance, Paste invited both creators to riff on the dichotomy of passion and commerce, commitment and health and the eternal relevancy of the Ramones—who Rosenberg appropriately penned in a crossover with Archie.

Matthew Rosenberg: Thanks for chatting, Rick. I know you’re up in Vancouver. How’s that going?

Rick Remender: It’s going fine. It’s going quite well. It’s pretty wild. We’ve got the thing [editor’s note: the Deadly Class television adaptation] cast, and we start filming on Monday. I’m not one for optimism, and I normally like to swim in pessimistic waters, but we’ve got a really great team here. I‘m feeling like this thing might be pretty great. Knocking on wood.

Rosenberg: I saw the cast announcement, and everyone looked great. Obviously, and getting [Henry] Rollins in it is a huge coup.

Remender: It’s a huge coup. Henry’s spoken-word stuff is such a huge influence on me. Him talking about Ian MacKaye and those two growing up together and working at Haagen-Dazs. Just the honest relatability and the humanity that Henry brings… When he first started doing that spoken-word stuff in the late ‘80s and it first started coming out, there wasn’t really a whole lot. I know Jello Biafra did some, too, and that stuff was a lot of fun. Henry’s was my first real experience with authentic disclosure, with somebody who I respect. There was no pose. There was no gloss. There was no bullshit or veneer. There was just a human being who was tearing open his insides and laying it out in front of you. I think that’s what art is, right? It’s that identifiable thing that we only get to when we’re really, truly honest and not trying to sell cult-of-personality or bullshit. Yeah, getting Henry involved is pretty big for me.

Deadly Class Book One Cover Art by Wes Craig

Rosenberg: I remember buying those spoken-word albums when he had a double cassette of it, and I remember listening to it.

Remender: Is that the one with the painted skeleton on the front?

Rosenberg: Exactly. And I remember I would listen to it walking to and from school and it felt crazy, because I felt like someone was telling you all the stuff that no one told you before. That touches on one of the things I wanted to ask you about, if I can make it uncomfortable for a minute…

Remender: Totally.

Rosenberg: I feel like you and me, I think we have similar backgrounds in our punk-rock youth. For me, I was a comics fan my whole life, but I never, ever thought about making comics. I can’t draw, I can’t do any of that stuff. Realizing guys like you and Steve Niles were coming from a punk background was a big thing for me. Punk rock does such a good job of telling you, You can be in a band, you can do all this stuff—you can do anything. For me, seeing punk rock guys and ladies like Becky Cloonan making comics was such a huge thing for me. I felt like, Oh, I can do that. I said that to Steve Niles once, and he said, “Oh you saw my writing and said, ‘I can do that?’” That’s not my intent… [Laughs]

Remender: But that’s great if you did. It was how many bands went and saw the Ramones and then went off and changed the world. The Ramones went out and did their thing, and from the Ramones you have Bad Brains, you have Black Flag, you have The Dead Kennedys, you have Flipper. How many bands saw the Ramones and saw that it was feasible to get together with your friends and to make powerful music, that was personal and awesome? The idea that anything that we did or that we created inspired anybody else to create…that’s as gratifying a thing as you could ever hear coming from the scene we come from, right? The idea is inclusion. The idea is DIY, the idea is you can do it. More art in the world and more people following their bliss and making their art is a good thing. It’s humbling, and it’s flattering and you don’t get into this with the idea that you’re going to have an impact on anybody else. You get into this more, chasing after your heroes in the same way; trying to follow what they did and the people who inspired you. If you have a fortunate enough career and path to inspire other people, it’s a crazy blessing.

4 Kids Walk Into a Bank Cover Art by Tyler Boss

Rosenberg: Who were the people you saw and the comics you read that made you think, I can do that?

Remender: I was a pretty troubled youth. I was into some pretty bad trouble, up to some shenanigans. I was trying to put my life back together and I got very fortunate that I got hired at a comic book store. That was around ’92, and the industry was going through a weird explosion, but it was a bad explosion. It was the wrong kind of explosion. It wasn’t what we’re seeing now, when we’re kind of in a golden age of creativity. It was more selling a lot of stuff, but the craft was disappearing and the art form was dying. The years I spent working at that comic book shop, I got introduced into the craft and love of people like Will Elder and Wally Wood and Harvey Kurtzman, and the people who poured their entire lives into it. I had always been a Robert Williams fan, from his covers of Thrasher magazine and all that stuff. That led me to Crumb, and all of his Zap Comix. It wasn’t until I found Dan Clowes and Adrian Tomine and Evan Dorkin that I realized I wasn’t bored of comics anymore. You had some good stuff at Vertigo, you had Grant Morrison and Peter Milligan, you had a crew of people at Vertigo making interesting books, but for the most part, Marvel and DC were just a terrible diarrhea factory. Just a swirling pot of hot shit, is what we were looking at.

Rosenberg: I think that was the slogan.

Remender: That was the slogan both companies used. I think Wizard magazine coined it. “Welcome to the hot, swirling diarrhea pot age,” was pretty popular back then. But it wasn’t until seeing those guys, and obviously Love and Rockets was a huge influence. But really it was Optic Nerve, it was Eightball and it was everything Dorkin was doing. [In] ’93 and ’94, I started finding all that stuff. It spoke to me and it told me that we can do stuff that’s more personal, and more honest and speaks to our generational sensibilities, I think. That was when I got reignited to take a stab at making these things. What about you? What lit your fuse?

Rosenberg: For me, I learned to read stealing my brother’s X-Men comics. I was a big Marvel kid for a long time. That sort of never went away. I’ve always been a big Marvel guy, but Love and Rockets was big for me. I really liked Optic Nerve, Eightball and all that stuff you said. But I really liked stuff that hasn’t stuck around as much. I was able to read Reid Fleming, World’s Toughest Milkman, a lot of stuff that was spun out of the success of the Turtles.

Remender: That weird black-and-white scene.

Rosenberg: The weird black-and-white newsprint stuff. The thing that got me back and excited about comics was a lot of [Brian Michael] Bendis’ crime stuff. I was picking up Goldfish and Torso and those books for me weren’t like anything I read before. It really struck a chord with me. I followed that stuff, and wasn’t reading Marvel books at the time and eventually followed him there. From Bendis, I was reading a lot of [Ed] Brubaker stuff and a lot of your stuff. I’d read some of the Slave Labor stuff and I really liked it. Fear Agent felt like a real sea change for me. It was a good mix of fuck-you spirit that I identified with, with some really good comedic moments. It just gets darker and crazier and more upsetting as it goes. I loved that. I wasn’t reading a lot of comics that did that. That evolved and the characters grew along with the story. You could read a lot of graphic novels that would do that, but reading a monthly book, where it really felt like you were getting somewhere with the characters felt different to me. That may be a weird statement, but I remember Fear Agent as something that knocked me on my ass a lot.

Fear Agent Cover Art by Tony Moore

Remender: That’s super nice, thank you.

Rosenberg: I wonder, though, because in getting ready for this conversation, I was Googling you like a weird stalker, and the things that I noticed most about your career is how reckless it seems. You start doing something, and you seem really good at it, and you seem like you’re going somewhere, and then you launch in a different direction. You’re drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and inking Avengers, then you’re writing stuff, and you’re coming from working in film. There’s a reference to a TV series that I can’t find anything on…[Laughs] You have a very interesting resume; where do you feel like it clicked for you? You move around a lot. Why is that?

Remender: A lot of it is because what I’m doing right now is what I always wanted to do. I started out in 1997 making creator-owned comic books with my friends, a bunch of artists and creators I’d become really close with while working at 20th Century Fox Animation, working on a movie called Anastasia. We became pals, and in order to get through the monotony of animating all day, we’d listen to Frank Zappa albums and create really weird and silly comic books. The first one was Captain Dingleberry and later Black Heart Billy and a bunch of fun, silly things that made us laugh. I fell in love with doing that at the age of 25, when I was gainfully employed as an animator and everybody told me I should be happy in the life that I have. I quit my job, I packed up my shit and I moved to San Francisco because I didn’t want my life to be small and I didn’t want to be stuck in a cubicle, being told what to do by other people.

When I got to San Francisco, I started making Black Heart Billy with Kieron Dwyer and I started making Doll & Creature with John Heebink. Besides that, I was teaching to pay the bills. And then I was animating at a studio called Wild Brain, which was looking for IP. I pitched them this thing, Swing Town, that I’d created. Then they gave us a bunch of money to create a cartoon, we started an animation studio. I could sit here and bore you with my minutiae, but long story short, all of the jobs I did were a necessity to pay bills so I could get back to making my books that made no money. I inked The Avengers so that could finish making Black Heart Billy. I drew The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles so that I could afford to live while I was developing Fear Agent and Strange Girl. I penciled Bruce Campbell’s Man with the Screaming Brain so that I could fund the time I was writing all of my various books by 2005. I can storyboard, so I spent a lot of time at Electronic Arts storyboarding. They read some of my comics and asked me to write Dead Space. That lead to me writing Bulletstorm. I never intended on building a career in videogames, but it just sort of happened.

Ultimately, I kept quitting all of those jobs because I wanted the purity of intention. I wanted to make my own books. Life is short, I’m going to be dead sometime soon? I don’t know. Who knows? Cosmically it’s going to be soon, that’s for sure. I’m 44 right now, so maybe I get another 30 years of productivity? That clock, even as a young man, was always right in front of me. It occurred to me that I just didn’t want to leave behind a trail of other people’s shit that I’d worked on. If that meant struggling and being poor, and working three times harder than anyone else and not having weekends, that that sacrifice is worth it.

Electronic Arts tried to get me to come in as one of the lead guys on The Simpsons videogame franchise, and it was a really nice paycheck. It was 2007, and instead I left San Francisco, I turned down that job and I redoubled my efforts to make creator-owned comic books, keep Fear Agent going and to launch some new books. I think that was at a point in the industry where it still seemed untenable, it still seemed like maybe that never going to be something. At that point, I had a few pals who were making a living off it. That was Steve Niles and Robert Kirkman. In terms of us being writers who were making a living off creator-owned comic books? That did not seem like a place we were going to end up in, but it was a place I wanted to end up in, so I just kept redoubling my efforts and quitting other jobs.

Eventually, I had to go get a job at Marvel and put my hat in my hand and get in line for that soup kitchen. But I learned a lot working with Axel [Alonso] and Sebastian [Girner] and Jody [LeHeup]. I had a good editorial office there for a while. I got to make shit like Franken-Castle and talk about an alcoholic addicted to an alien symbiote in Venom and talk about the morality of capital punishment in X-Force—some things that I was actually proud of. Ultimately, I didn’t fit there, and it was time for me to blow that up and get back to what I wanted to do. I wanted to make creator-owned comic books. In order to do that, I had to learn to write and draw and ink and then I had to learn to animate and storyboard and teach and do all those other things to pay the bills, while I was doing the other job. It’s been 20 years of solitary confinement as I’ve been learning all of these jobs and working myself to death. But I had a sickness and I had to chase that shit down.

Black Heart Billy Cover Art by Kieron Dwyer

Rosenberg: And you feel like now you’re where you want to be? Or now that you’ve got four or five successful creator-owned books, is it always the next thing you’re looking for?

Remender: We come from a similar background in the scene, and one of the things that you have to do and that I have to do is set a bar of what is enough. What is it you’re after? What is it you’re really after? For me, what I’m after is to make really, really dope comics with the very best artists that say something and that are honest, and that are identifiable and that are unique, and are an honest reflection of the artist and me, and what we want to do and say. I have enough. I have more than enough. I have two or three TV shows in development based on these things. Not that that’s the end goal, but it sure is gratifying that other people who are very talented and have reacted to the material want to help it find a larger audience.

I guess you have to choose in comics. If I hadn’t left Marvel, I could have kept selling hundreds of thousands of books of Wolverine, fight-fight, time-travel, fight. Or, I could have gone and sold way fewer copies of a book that was personal and that I owned and created. I’m exponentially happier. I had fun playing in the Marvel sandbox, but I was not happy making people’s characters. Audience-wise, what does it matter? It’s the difference between that old punk-rock chestnut: are you going to play a small gig for 50 people who are legitimately your brothers and sisters and get what you’re saying and dig your ideology and care? Are you going to charge $50 or $10 at the door? Are you going to do it to get rich or are you going to do it for the right reasons? What are you in it for? I make a living, I’m able to put money in the bank for my kids to go to college and I’m getting to see it translated into TV. It’s way beyond a dream come true. I’m super blessed. It’s more than I need. This is it. I somehow landed where I always dreamed I would.

Rosenberg: Talking about Kirkman, obviously Walking Dead is its own cultural phenomenon, but is that something you want to be a couple hundred issues into, with Black Science or Deadly Class? When you make these things, do you have an end point in mind or goal?

Remender: You can never really plan that far out. I always plan 15-20 issues out, that I have a general idea of where we’re heading, and then I spend a couple months reworking the outline, figuring out the major beats. Ultimately, after you inhabit those characters and start telling stories with them, that stuff changes and it’s good to let yourself drift off of that track. But it’s also important even in creator-owned, that you hire an editor, and have somebody to vet the ideas. The initial intention that you had when you wrote an outline might have been the best intention. But when you get back to that point two years later, even if you write a 20-issue outline, it’s going to take you years to get toward issue 15. And when you finally get there, you might want to change it because the old version doesn’t feel new or fresh. So I have a great editor in Sebastian Girner, who I’ve been working with for almost 10 years now. And it’s nice, because you can vet the idea, and say, “I want to change this.” Sebastian will call me and say, “Dude, no. Nonono. You don’t want to do that.” He has a good eye for pointing out when I’m getting restless, or I’m changing things just to feel like it’s fresh.

In terms of wanting something like The Walking Dead, I really love these books. If people had bought Fear Agent, I would have done another 100 issues of Fear Agent. Fear Agent didn’t find its audience until a year after it was over, which is kind of cool because it’s pretty punk rock in and of itself. You go through all your favorite bands of the ‘80s who people will cite now, they weren’t listening to it in the ‘80s. That dude in the Bad Brains shirt definitely wasn’t listening to Bad Brains in 1984 or 1985.

Archie Meets Ramones Cover Art by Francesco Francavilla

Rosenberg: I’m actually wearing a Bad Brains shirt right now, and I was not listening to Bad Brains in 1985.

Remender: You get it. Sometimes things take a little time. In terms of where they go or what I get to do with them, that’s really not up to me. I really love a lot of these characters and I really love these books. It comes down to so many different factors. You get to an issue and the artist wants to go and do something different, are you going to relaunch the book with a new artist, are you going to stick a landing and let the art be what it is? It’s really unknowable, so I’ve given up on planning that stuff.

Rosenberg: You just have this rotation of these hip books that people are attached to. I look at it from a career standpoint, and it feels almost like you were caught off guard by how long some of these would last. Your workload must be staggering with everything. Do you ever sit back and enjoy the success of what you have?

Remender: No. As I sit in the hotel I’m living in… I talk about that a lot with people. About drive, and the unhealthy aspects of drive and what it is—what goblin is riding your back. Kind of like Robert Kirkman, who at this point financially is pretty well set, still works himself to death seven days a week. And you look at that and ask, What goblin is riding you? And he’s just having a lot of fun. He just loves it. But everybody’s got a different engine and everybody’s got a different goblin directing them. When is enough is enough? We do stagger the books with three/four-month breaks so we can take a breath and the schedule doesn’t kill us. If Fear Agent taught me anything, it took 10 years to do 32 issues, but I think they’re really good issues. Once they’re done and collected in a hardcover, they live forever and it didn’t matter if we were three months late.

Of course, in single issues that will murder you and you won’t be able to keep yourself afloat. So it’s a weird balancing act. I think that we found a way with the new breed over at Image and what’s being built. I think there’s enough diverse stuff that if one book disappears for three months, people don’t have the same reaction they used to have. They’d jump ship. That enables me to keep doing four books at a time, and still do my best work and still allow the artist to do the work that’s going to make them proud of the thing they’ve spent their life learning to do, as opposed to being in that puppy mill, where five artists jump in to get it done. That’s just bad for your soul.

I have moments. I did a signing yesterday in Vancouver. A lot of really nice people showed up in the rain to talk and get some comics signed. And the Deadly Class cast showed up, they’re all such enthusiastic kids. There are moments like that, where you can’t help where even you’re trying to protect yourself, you’re going to curse yourself, which I suffer from. You can’t help in those moments to feel like, this is pretty fucking cool. This is pretty good. But you also don’t want to linger on it too much, because I think that road could lead to egotism and all those other ugly things.

Rosenberg: I’m new enough in my career that I’m trying to figure out… I say yes to everything that’s offered to me at this point. I’m still at that, I don’t know if they’ll answer my emails next week, and I don’t know if anyone’s going to give a shit.

Remender: That never goes away, by the way.

Rosenberg: [Laughs] I’m excited for that, then. A year ago, I was up at my parent’s house and I was there for Thanksgiving. I was helping my mom with food, and I went off and worked till dinner. After dinner I helped clear the table and my mom asked, “What are you going to do now? Do you want to watch a movie?” And I said, “I have to get back to work.” She just looked so sad, and said, “Well sweetheart, it’s Thanksgiving.” And that hadn’t occurred to me, because I wanted to be working. I worked a dozen shitty jobs to get here. I’m happy to be working at 2 a.m. on Thanksgiving, writing scripts. Then I look at you and your success, thinking, He’s working the same hours I’m working. It’s a little alarming.

Remender: It is. We work harder than most people in most industries. And we do it longer, and we do it for a smaller audience. But we have one thing they don’t have: we have purity of intention, especially in the creator-owned landscape. You and an artist get together and what you want to make gets made. It’s how you want to make it, and you didn’t have somebody putting their thumbprints all over it. And you didn’t have somebody else forcing you to rewrite your sequence because it’s how they think it should be. They’re your boss. You don’t have any of that bullshit, and that’s addictive stuff, because where else does that exist in the world right now? Where else can you just go have purity of intention and creative control and do a thing the way you want to do it? Very addictive; it’s how creation should be. You’re going to have some imbalance. From 22 until I was about 42, I worked seven days a week. If it was drawing a page, then writing three pages, then trying to do email then inking something, or whatever it was, I packed every day, from top to bottom with work.

When I turned 42 I started going back to the gym to make sure my body doesn’t turn into a total pudding pop. And my trainer’s a smart guy, and he said, “Hey, you got to take weekends off. You’re 42. You can’t work seven days. You’re going to go crazy.” I’d already gone pretty crazy. I did start taking weekends off, and that made a huge difference. I’ve got two kids who I want to spend all my time with. So you’ll get to a point when you’ll realize you can’t give your entire life to comic books. Comic books won’t give it back. As much as you love it, and the purity of intention, and that creative energy is addictive, it’s not your life. And there’s a lot of examples of people in the industry who have fallen down into that rabbit hole, where their entire life becomes this microcosm, and going to conventions is their only outlet. Everything they do or think or breathe becomes comics. I don’t think that’s a great life. I’ve lived that life. And when you’re that myopically focused on any one thing, that can become unhealthy. I would say if I could go back 10 or 15 years, one thing I would insist is if I hadn’t created three of four of the books I did, instead of taking weekends off, I might be in a different situation right now. I’m able to find that balance a little better.

Franken-Castle Cover Art by Tony Moore

Rosenberg: I’m on that seven-days-a-week treadmill now, and I feel like I pull a lot from my life experiences before comics, because I was touring with bands and putting out records and doing stuff. And now I wonder…when do I get a chance to do new experiences?

Remender: It’s a legitimate worry.

Rosenberg: I read people’s books, where I just feel like…you’re not telling a story that comes from anything you, other than other comic books. I feel like I have a bunch of years experience of traveling the world and doing dumb shit stored up to get me through some stuff. But in 15 years, am I going to be rehashing stuff from when I was 24, and got in a bar fight, or when I get arrested?

Remender: You might be a little bit. Deadly Class is me reliving my youth. The thing is, though, the zeitgeist happened at a time when people were interested in that, and nobody had taken a look at the ‘80s underground in a big way, or an authentic snapshot of it. But you’re always going to have fantasy ideas. Low is me depressive entering therapy, and wanting to write metaphorical experiences in an adventure setting. Black Science is my fear that I’m going to workaholic myself into a place where I’m no longer connected to my family. Fortunately, I never got there, but a lot of it was writing the fear of it through Grant McKay, and the fear of seeing somebody who did just work their life away, even for an altruistic purpose—to try to create something that would save the world. You’ll find that wherever you’re at in life, there are still new wells to turn to. You never know.

You sell a TV show. You write it, the next thing you know you’re living in Vancouver for two months in a hotel, going on set. You have no clue where the road is going to take you. Those places will also give you fodder for new stories. I don’t know about you, but all of that shit you were doing in your 20s, when you were out there and doing the rock ’n’ roll, those are the years for everybody. You don’t know what the fuck is going on, you’re a young human unit out in the world. You’re drinking too much, you’re bouncing around from relationship to relationship. You’re in a band touring. You’re in adventure mode. Those years are always going to be rife with so much great fodder for story. But make sure you write it before you forget it all. Years pass by, and you start falling into your middle-age adulthood stuff. The specificity of it all begins to fade. I was lucky that I had journals I wrote during those years. I journaled every day in my sketch book. I documented 1994 through 2007 pretty extensively.

Rosenberg: I don’t do any of that shit [laughs]. I’m relying entirely on [my memory].

Remender: What works is to just start writing it. Don’t wait.

Rosenberg: Yeah, I should do that. I’m doing a bunch of stuff at Marvel, and one of the things that I’m doing is the Punisher, and in my Punisher story he gets the War Machine armor. The number one thing people are immediately saying to me is, “Did you read Franken-Castle? What’s your take on it?” Franken-Castle is interesting to me, because I really liked it at the time, and I feel like it got an unfair rap. That time has passed, and people have figured out who you are and what you do and looked at it through that lens. It’s really become a cult classic, and that’s the angle I take. The Punisher is a straightforward guy, and it’s all about putting him in new situations. What was your takeaway from that experience or stuff like X-Force? I feel like you really did you in a real way with those characters, and brought fans over to your creator work. What’s your take on navigating that?

Remender: I think that if you do good work at Marvel, and you manage to navigate it without letting editors and other people change you…that’s a tricky proposition. I’ve had good editors and bad ones. I’ve had books that were mangled to where I didn’t even recognize what they were, but I didn’t feel like I was in a position in my career to push back. Then I’ve had editors who have pushed my work and pushed me to make smart choices. It’s a very difficult vetting process. And you don’t want to be difficult. You don’t want to be the pain in the ass, but I’ve also come to terms with the fact that I am a pain in the ass, because I care. I’d rather be the guy who’s a pain in the ass and fights creatively for what’s right, than to be the guy who editors think is pretty swell, but my work is being received as a lukewarm glass of milk. It’s good to get in there and put on your duke-’em-up gloves, because you’re the one whose name is on the book. At the end of the day, you’re the one who’s going to have to live with that book. Fear Agent had hit a lull in sales and it was just untenable to keep it going, no matter how much we wanted to, so Tony [Moore], Jerome [Opeña] and I decided to carry over our instincts and what we were enjoying doing on Fear Agent on Punisher and X-Force, and then Venom.

At the time, Punisher, X-Force and Venom were C-level, ‘90s relic bullshit to an extent, which was wonderful because we got to go in there and go crazy with a ball-peen hammer. I’d rather leave behind a legacy like Franken-Castle and the story that leads up to Franken-Castle and the story that comes out of Franken-Castle; they’re some of the very peak highlights of what I got to do at Marvel. It’s Jerome Opeña and Tony Moore and Roland Boschi and Dan Brereton. It’s a slew of highly scientific artists and a story that’s…crazy, like fun comics should be. It’s one of those silly ideas. That’s how I tried to build my career; taking something that makes me smile or that seems pulpy or doesn’t take itself too seriously. And then to go in and write and create it with such passion and hopefully craft, that you devise something. My goal with Franken-Castle was to make people even cry for some of those monsters, or to have an emotional connection to the plight of these monsters living underneath New York. It’s taking that pulpy Saturday morning cartoon fun, and then telling it in a responsible adult way where you can actually get emotion out of it. If I had just done the straight Punisher where he was running around and that entire arc was him killing drug dealers, would we be talking about it?

Punisher Cover Art by Clayton Crain

Rosenberg: That’s my thought as well, but I’m also wondering how much you can push these characters till they break, and how bad for you that is in the long run.

Remender: How much that’s bad for me as a creator or bad for the character?

Rosenberg: Bad for your career. Not that you broke the Punisher, obviously, but…

Remender: No, I broke the Punisher. I for sure broke the Punisher, and I loved every minute of it. It was a joy, and the kinds of people who didn’t like it? They’re the kinds of people I don’t want as fans anyway. If you take the Punisher that seriously, I don’t give a shit about your opinion. Sorry if that sounds dickish, I just don’t. It’s the Punisher. If you’re some guy masturbating to Guns & Ammo, and listening to Disturbed or Linkin Park doing barbell curls, and you take the Punisher so seriously that you can’t have some fun with this Marvel Comics character… We got death threats. I dealt with those people. They came up to me at conventions and gave me shit.

I put out a dog whistle: I’m going to put out big, fun weird comics, and you’re clearly not going to want to buy those. At the same time Jason Aaron was doing Punisher MAX. You want the straight Punisher, Jason’s really good at it. Go read that and leave me alone. But any time you consider your career or where that next step is going to take you, that’s when you start going backwards. At the time I was doing Punisher, Venom and X-Force, it was swing for the fences or why fucking bother. It was figuring out what you want to say, figure out how you want to say it, get together with some dope artists who are going to bring high science to the pages. And go fucking nuts, or why did you bother doing this? There are a lot of easier ways to make a living than safely concern yourself with 12 noisy Punisher fans screaming at you online. Follow your bliss. You’re the one who got here; your instincts led you to that job. We put Frank Castle in a bit of Iron Man armor with Ant-Man’s helmet. We went crazy. And it was beautiful. Jerome Opeña illustrated insanity. I am so proud of it, and if I had pulled myself from any of those choices in order to be safe or in order to not upset some people…you don’t want to piss off those fans. Fuck ‘em. Do your thing. Ultimately, it will be more passionate and it will be better art.

Rosenberg: That’s what I wanted to hear exactly, so I appreciate that.

Remender: It’s super fun talking to you, Matt. It’s fun watching your career. I want to see you going crazy.

Rosenberg: Yeah, it’s a weird time.

Remender: Don’t let fear fuck with you. Let your freak flag fly and do your thing, man, because it’s a good thing. It got you where you’re at, and it will get you a lot further. Don’t let them get you down and don’t let them distort what you want, because you know what, you’re right. I promise you your instincts are the ones that are right. Hire an editor to vet your ideas and get your foundations there, but that instinct that got you here? That’s the instinct that will keep you going. There are a lot of people where you’re at, and a lot of people on the road you’re on that are going to fuck that up. They’re going to try very hard, and you’ve got to put on your boxing gloves. Believe in yourself and do it, because you’ve got the goods.

Rosenberg: I appreciate that, seriously.

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