RICH INTERVIEWS: Mark Ellis Professional Novelist and Comics Creator

MARK ELLIS is a professional novelist and comics creator whose many credentials include Doc Savage, Star Rangers, The Wild Wild West, Death Hawk, The Justice Machine, Lakota, and scores of others. Writing under the pen name of James Axler, he contributed novels to the Deathlands series and created the best-selling Outlanders series for Harlequin Enterprise’s Gold Eagle imprint. Outlanders was consecutively published for over eighteen years in various editions., including full-cast audiobooks from Graphic Audio. His other books include Cryptozoic, entries in the long-running Executioner series, and The Everything Guide to Writing Graphic Novels, with Melissa Martin-Ellis

First Comics News: What was your first published work and how did it feel to see it published?

Mark: Hard to recall. I wrote occasionally for my high school and college newspapers and was a part-time “stringer” for a local paper, so I honestly don’t recall much of a reaction to the first piece of writing that carried my byline. I’m sure I was pleased.

1stWhat lessons have you learned from your long writing career?

Mark: The most basic one if you want to be published professionally is to be professional. The second most basic is to understand from the outset that publishing is a business, first and foremost. Like any other business, there are good and bad publishers, neutral ones, spurious ones, and even outright criminal ones. It’s not easy, but writers must do their due diligence to determine which category the publisher falls into.

1stWho is the man known as Lakota?

Mark: Lakota is Dr. Jason Redquill, a Native American ethnologist, engineer, warrior-shaman, and agent of the organization known as “Red Shield.” He was created back in the 1990s by veteran artist Jim Mooney and myself. Currently, two of his adventures are available as graphic novels from Markosia Enterprises and are on sale at most online booksellers, including Wal-Mart.

1stWhat is Jason Redquill’s outlook on life?

Mark: Most likely his philosophy would be: “What fresh hell do I have to face today?” He’s sworn to protect Native American archaeological sites and artifacts from threats that come from without and within. In some ways he acts as an Avenger of the Ancients, to borrow a description coined by artist Chris Nye.

1stWho helps Lakota in his mission and what kind of villains does he face?

Mark: Lakota has a group of Red Shield assets with whom he works who are specialists in different fields. There is Tall Bull, a Sioux shaman, Dr. Juli Goodenough who is a combat medic, and Menlo Park, an IT genius. They work out of a central HQ that also functions as the Native American Ethnology Institute.

So far, Lakota’s main villains are Towasi, The Owl Prophet, a seemingly immortal skinwalker, File 40, a secret department of the CIA, the Thunder Makers (cannibalistic giants) and Diamondback, chief of the Los Cascabel cartel.

1st: What is Death Hawk and Cyke’s purpose as they travel around in the Peregrine?

Mark: Death Hawk and his protoplasmic partner Cyke claim they are 24th-century salvage experts, but in reality, they’ll consider almost any job that pays well. I created them back in the 1980s working with Adam Hughes and they are still fondly remembered, as a “space western” presaging Firefly and Serenity.

1stIn “Omega Path” who is Colonel Thrush and Kane?

Mark: OMEGA PATH was the fourth published novel (1998) in my long-running OUTLANDERS novel series, written under the “James Axler” pseudonym. Kane of course is one of the four main protagonists of the series (the others are Brigid Baptiste, Grant, and Domi). Colonel Thrush is an animated AI…I call him the Malware That Walks Like A Man.

He has hundreds of cyborg bodies scattered throughout the time stream that he can download his consciousness into, when one body is destroyed, he has a spare on hand– a tip o’ the hat to NoMan of T.H.U.N.D.E.R.Agents.

His name is a homage to both the nefarious organization “Thrush” from the Man From U.N.C.L.E. TV series and a line from T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Burnt Norton”: Through the first gate, Into our first world, shall we follow the deception of the thrush?

1stWhy do you like having your work collected into graphic novel form?

Mark: For one thing, I like the opportunity to enhance and/or correct errors and such from the original comics. Also, compilations are easier to store and put on a bookshelf.

1stHow does Nosferatu compare to Dracula?

Mark: Baron Orlock, the Nosferatu, is the central character in the NOSFERATU: SOVEREIGN OF TERROR graphic novel. When I crafted the original story, I wanted to give Orlock, whose physical appearance was iconic, a backstory that had never been done, even though he was patterned after Count Dracula.

I wanted to make a vampire character quite different from Dracula, and most definitely different from the “lace” vampires popularized by Anne Rice. Orlock does NOT sparkle.

Orlock is a folkloric vampire..not a tormented, Byronic figure. He is a dirty, diseased, walking cadaver who prefers the company of plague-carrying rats.

Unlike Dracula, Orlock is more interested in feasting on souls rather than blood.

1stWhere did your pen-name “James Axler” come from?

Mark: “James Axler” is not just my pen name, per se, since other writers share it. It’s what is known as a “house pseudonym”, a practice dating back a century to the pulps. In this instance, it was created in the 1980s by Gold Eagle, an imprint of Harlequin, for the Deathlands novel series. The first book in the series had the byline “Jack Adrian” which was the pen-name of Chris Lowder, who created Deathlands.

Chris Lowder didn’t carry on past the first book and didn’t allow “Jack Adrian” to be used, so Gold Eagle came up with“James Axler” as the author byline for all further Deathlands novels. I was the second James Axler and ended up writing more novels under the pseudonym than anyone else, which includes the series I created, OUTLANDERS. However, my real name can be found in the indicia of most of the books.

1stWhat are you currently working on or have planned?

Mark: Currently, I’m writing my first novel in five years and have a couple of other projects in the works, including a graphic novel adaptation of Werewolf of Paris, collaborating with artist Steve Gordon. Since I retired to Ireland a few years ago, I’m finding it harder to get motivated to return to the day-to-day routine of creatin’ and craftin’.

1stWho has supported you the most in your writing?

Mark: That’s easy…Melissa, my wife of 44 years. She encouraged me in the tough early days and we co-wrote The Everything Guide to Writing Graphic Novels together. She is a best-selling non-fiction author and artist.

1stWhat words do you have for your many fans?

Mark: Just a humble “thank you.” It is always gratifying for any creator in any field to hear from and be supported by people who appreciate our work. I enjoy hearing from readers very much.


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