Mark A. Lester talks about FIVE STAR COMICS

mark-a-lesterMark A. Lester’s artwork and writing has appeared professionally in various newspapers, books, magazines and comics around the world over the past few decades including, but not limited to; Ripp Off Press, Calibre Press, Big Bang Comics, Day One Comics, After Dark, Liquid Magazine, Manga Quake, Dime Store Press, as well as work published through his own company, Five Star Comics. In addition to print, Mark’s work as appeared on dozens of different web sites as artist, writer and / or designer. Mark has done cartooning, comic strips and comic books, book illustrations, designed merchandise as well as story boarding, advertising and programming. Back in 1993 Mark did a comic call Knight Wolf and I discovered his work.

five-star-ash-can-blueFirst Comics News: Your first project was Five Star Comics Info Comic Ashcan Edition. What was in that comic?

Mark A. Lester: We printed two black and white books early on. The first was a complete, black and white, issue number one of Knight Wolf. We printed about fifty, I believe. These were sent originally to the distributors to show them what we were doing. Others were given away and a few were bought by collectors. The ashcan you’re speaking of was a half-sized book created for conventions as a giveaway. I believe it had sample pages from the books and maybe a description of Five Star Comics and the titles. The first place I recall handing them out was In Charlotte, NC at the Heroes Con. We gave them out to the people standing in line waiting to get in. Standing there for hours, bored out of their minds, it turned out to be the perfect advertising tool and lead to me having a fantastic show.

knight-wolf-1-bw1st: Knight Wolf was your first traditional format comic, what made you decide to self-publish Knight Wolf?

Mark: Honestly, it never occurred to me to do anything else. Even as a kid my dream was to create Five Star Comics. I’d never really thought about wanting to do characters other than my own. Taking Five Star Comics from pencil books done by eight and nine year old boys to being a real, live comic on the stands, sitting next to Marvel and DC; That was always the fantasy.

knight-wolf-21st: This was 1993 how did you distribute the comic?

Mark: Knight Wolf, and all the books we were publishing at that time, were distributed through all the comic distributors of the period. We were quite fortunate to find them all very supportive of our books, giving us spotlights and putting us in their small publishers sampler program. I could never complain about the way we were treated by any of the distributors. They were all very kind and helpful.

1st: What was the print run?

Mark: As I recall the original orders came in around 4,000. Although I’d kill for those numbers today, I remember that it was quite disappointing at the time. This was right after the black and white implosion and the bottom fell out of the independent comic market. I’ve always had a talent for being too late for whatever party I was attending.

knight-wolf-3-unused-cover1st: Knight Wolf focuses on Morgan Stone. Who is Morgan Stone?
Mark: The character was created during my youthful stage of innocence and ignorance. I wanted to create a character I could literally do forever. A character, and a book, that I, personally, would love to read. Morgan Stone is basically me asking myself how I would have done Spider-Man if the character had been filtered through my eyes and my sensibilities. Morgan Stone, not unlike a certain wall-crawler, is a young guy living in a rundown apartment in a big city and attending college while struggling to find his way through the normal life’s lessons of any young person. Morgan grew up in a world of superheroes and when he found himself with powers of his own, he couldn’t not help others. It didn’t take long for Morgan to discover that being a superhero is a lot different than he’d thought.
the-amazing-night-wolf1st: Why did he go from being Knight Wolf to Night Wolf?

Mark: I’d always known that I’d get back to doing the character again. I just loved the character too much to let it go. I just didn’t know how much time would pass. Once I started gearing up to create new stories I knew that I had to alter a few things. Nothing core but important none the less. Morgan Stone wasn’t a twenty year old in 1990 anymore. He was a twenty year old in 2016. What was once cool and different has over the years become cliches; A young hero without a costume; long, messy hair, an earring, wearing a hockey mask with a trench-coat acting visually like a cape. If I were to do new stories, taking place in current times, I needed to change a few things. Losing the “K” was one of the changes. It felt to me too much like a left-over from the 90s. The character was never supposed to have a “K” in the title anyway. Of course he wasn’t also originally supposed to be called Night Wolf but that’s another story altogether.

bulldog-11st: You worked on Bulldog with your brothers Ken Jr. and Richard, are they both still active in Five Star Comics?

Mark: They both are still very much a part of what I do. My younger brother Rich is a computer programmer and still does all of the computer stuff for me while throwing in his two cents at every opportunity. My older brother Ken is still playing the same roll he always has. While he’s been doing more computer graphics and designs he has always assisted me on whatever harebrained scheme I’ve come up with. I hope to one day see Ken drawing a few new comics himself again. Maybe some new Bulldog? Both Ken and Rich have always been my connection to the more standard, superhero world of comics. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I do without both of them.

altered-ego1st: Switching over to Altered Ego, who is Mark?

Mark: Mark is a caffeine-addicted short-order cook desperate to become a professional cartoonist. The reality Mark lives in is extremely fluid and what’s real and what’s Mark’s imagination tend to become one in the same. Mark is moody, often depressed with an out-sized ego and zero self-esteem. He’s a dreamer and this is what tends to drives the stories.

1st: Are there any similarities between yourself and Altered Ego’s Mark?

Mark: Yes and no. We share the same name simply because I thought it would be easier to steal the names of people I know than having to make them up, and because for some reason I thought it was funny. I rather regret that decision now. The character of Mark and I share a lot of similarities but Altered Ego is not biographical. I do understand him though and a lot of the failures and frustration and confusion he feels, I feel. I think most people can relate, in some way, to the character of Mark.

118_by_markalester-d7ka73a1st: What is the world of Altered Ego like?

Mark: The world of Altered Ego is not set. It’s fluid and constantly changing. There is no real separation between fantasy and reality in the AE universe. When I started creating Altered Ego I specifically gave myself permission to have fun and experiment. To change art styles, to try out ideas, and to have fun. I’d grown tired of drawing so much darkness. A person can only draw so many dirty alleyways and crumbling cemeteries without losing their mind. I wanted to have some fun and created AE in response. In the Altered Ego universe nothing is really real because everything is. Anything can happen in the AE universe and often does.

chaos-grimm1st: How does Mark become Chaos Grimm?

Mark: Chaos Grimm is a persona Mark tends to take on in the Dreaming. Chaos is that unbridled, hidden part of Mark that acts on desire and impulse with no thought given to propriety or how he is perceived. Chaos is the Id of Mark’s ego. He may be more the “real” Mark than Mark is comfortable admitting.

1st:  There is a Graphic Novels about Chaos Grimm the Homicidal Clown, what is the relationship that version of Grimm and the one in Altered Ego?

white-haired-girl-mark-a-lesterMark: The Chaos Grimm graphic novels can be read, and enjoyed, separately as they are; A homicidal clown. Chaos Grimm is fast, violent, politically incorrect and rather filthy. Then again the stories can also be seen as occasional peeks in to the Dreaming and Mark’s activities while there. If you put them all together they can be read as one, huge, Altered Ego story. Characters, concepts, situations and sets from Chaos Grimm will all play a continuing part in the Altered Ego story. Of course, this is not to say I won’t also be doing occasionally stand-alone Chaos Grimm stories as well. I tend to surprise myself. Altered Ego, Chaos Grimm and pretty much everything I do, no matter how wildly different they are from one another, all exist in the same multiverse of realities. Coffee shops and characters show up in Night Wolf and reappear in Altered Ego. Somehow, in my own mind, it all works together, imperfectly or not.

shade_of_grey_2_by_markalester-d7h1pig1st: Who is Grey?

Mark: Grey is a dead guy. I purposely left Grey’s backstory murky and mysterious. Even Grey’s face is wrapped in bandages and hidden from us. I’ve found that certain characters are simply more interesting the less you know. I wanted Grey to drive the stories, not necessarily star in them. A little like the Phantom Stranger from DC Comics. I like the mystery of it all and while I have a few ideas, and have hinted at them a bit, Grey is as mysterious to me as he is to the reader. Personally, I’ve love the chance to learn more of his story as well as what the afterlife is like according to Grey.

1st: Why does he care after his dead?

morrissey__rise_of_the_tin_man_by_markalester-d90e29bMark: Caring for others seems to just be what he does. This possibly hints at what he did while he was alive. Or perhaps that he’s performing these good deeds as some sort of attempt at his own personal redemption or penance. Maybe a bit of both. There’s also the fact that he’s proven himself quite capable around the dead-world and the newly dead tend to be quite needy.

1st: Who is Morrissey?

Mark: Morrissey is an artificial life-form created by a young, brilliant and lonely girl named Cassie Watson. Cassie created Morrissey to be the perfect boyfriend. I created Morrissey to be the antithesis to the often used scifi trope of the brilliant male scientist and his beautiful female robot. I wanted to turn that concept on its head and make the woman the the lead and the male the objective of admiration and lust.

1st: Is he capable of feeling human emotions?

i_heart_robots_working_cover_design_by_markalester-d5jzjwoMark: Because Cassie created Morrissey to be her perfect partner he was given the ability to feel emotions, so yes, Morrissey experiences emotions but it is in the way that he experiences them that drives the story and brings about much of the humor and action. Everything is new, interesting and exciting to Morrissey. Cassie and Morrissey are characters I would love to continue to explore. There’s a lot there and a lot of interesting questions to explore. Their relationship, views on what it means to be human, technology and how it is changing ever facet our lives. It’s all terribly fascinating.

As odd as it may seem after doing this for so long, I feel invigorated. Re-generated. Even optimistic. This electronic age we are living in has opened the floodgate of possibilities and ever-expanding, new ways to tell graphic-stories. Creators are able to create like never before imagined and anything feels possible. Old rules don’t apply and new rules are still being created. Who knows what the future holds? After all, we’re all still here. Still kicking. Still dreaming. Still telling each other stories. I honestly believe that one day we will look back at all of this and see it as a new Golden Age of comics and personally, I’d like to be around to see that.

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