I had the amazing opportunity to interview indie comic creator Mark Bouchard on his upcoming project HELL, ON MY COUCH. His indie comic about a wide range of topics ranging from satanism to mental health has been created in cooperation with numerous artists. In this interview, not only did we get to talk about how the book came to be, but Mark also gave me insight into his perspective on the world of comics in general.

If the interview sparked your interest, make sure to check out the HELL, ON MY COUCH Facebook page for updates and Mark’s tumblr page!

ComicsVerse: Let’s start off by giving our readers a brief idea of what HELL, ON MY COUCH is about. How would you describe the concept in only one sentence?

Mark Bouchard: Hmm. Honestly, that’s pretty difficult. “Mental illness narrative through a superhero lens” would do okay, but it’s more than that. HELL, ON MY COUCH follows the lived reality of its protagonist, a sociologist named Casey Corrigan. Through his eyes, HOMC explores aspects of everyday life with mental illness like coping mechanisms, self-medication, and interpersonal relationships. It’s fairly dark, but it gets goofy in parts. Sorry! That’s as short as I could keep it!

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CV: Is there any specific moment you could recall right off the bat where you said to yourself: “I’m going to create my own comic book”?

MB: I’m pretty sure it was during finals week, and I was reading SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN in a coffeeshop in my university’s library really late at night. It blew me away. There was action, there was political commentary, there were characters with compelling narratives- I cared what happened to them. Above all, it didn’t feel like work, analyzing this comic as I read. It blew me away. That’s when I knew I wanted to make comics.

CV: In terms of availability, there is going to be a trade paperback containing the first 5 issues of HOMC in early 2017. How else will your audience be able to read the final product and support you, be it financially or otherwise, and how and why did you choose these methods of publication?

MB: Actually, there’ve been a ton of setbacks in the last couple of months. I thought I’d have at least three issues out by now, little did I know how unrealistic of timeline I’d set out for myself. Now that issue one will be finished in a couple of days and production is underway on the rest of the arc, I’ve been thinking more about distribution. I’m considering submitting HELL, ON MY COUCH to Comixology or maybe releasing through Gumroad (because DIYnot) or another online platform. I DID just submit to ComicsVerse, so here’s hoping this interview helps me out with that. Ideally I’ll be presenting at some cons around the midwest in late winter/early spring. Otherwise, people in the Chicagoland area will be able to pick up physical copies of #1, from me. I just submitted a consignment application to put some copies at Quimby’s, but that’s pretty much it. If it was up to me, I’d put the comic out physically and digitally for free, but I’m stretching myself pretty thin already, even with the money raised from the Kickstarter. While it’s important to make art accessible, I think it’s also important to properly compensate people who create that art, which is why the entirety of the Kickstarter went to paying artists, and I’m footing the production myself.
In terms of financial support, I’ll be putting another Kickstarter page up after Issue #3 is released, I think, so people can donate to that. I have a Patreon page where I post occasional exclusive updates on the comic, and my other art (music/visual art/poetry). Of course, that’s not the only way to support HELL, ON MY COUCH. Social media is HUGE, so definitely check us out on Facebook if you want to stay up to date on the comic. There’s a tumblr, too, but I’m not the best at keeping that updated. Honestly, exposure is more important than funding at this point in production, so please, give us a like on Facebook, share our posts, and invite people to like the page.

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CV: Did you reach out to smaller publishers? What was your experience with that like?

MB: I haven’t actually done that yet, but only because I haven’t put an issue out yet. I might reach out to a few small publishers after issue one, but I’m waiting on the TPB to contact bigger indie publishers, like Black Mask, IDW, and Top Cow.

CV: I bet a lot of indie creators, especially when it comes to comic books, struggle to realize their projects and draw the necessary amount of attention towards it. How would you describe your experience with those struggles?

MB: To be completely honest, I haven’t worried a great deal about it, since the first issue hasn’t come out. For the lack of promotion, I’d say it’s doing fairly okay! After issue one comes out, I’ll put a bit more effort into promotion. I’m working on applications to a handful of different conventions for the coming seasons. I just printed some stickers promoting the comic (designed by Stufy Summers) which has helped draw some attention. (The only people who don’t love stickers are lying about it.) But like I said, I’m not too concerned with it at the moment. I have a marketing background, so when the time comes I’ll figure something out. My only goal for HELL, ON MY COUCH commercially is that someone I’ve never met reads and gets something out of the comic. I don’t think that’s an unrealistic goal.

CV: Is there any advice you could give people like me, who have always dreamt of creating their own comic – or art in general – but are somewhat hesitant to do so?

MB: The biggest piece of advice I can give is, “Don’t be afraid to rework your ideas.” The initial outline of HELL, ON MY COUCH was WAY worse and made WAY less sense than the the finished product. I wrote the first draft of #1 of HOMC in April 2015. It was on my mind until April 2016, when I finally took the notes I’d compiled over the course of the year and turned them into issue two. As of today (Nov 16, 2016) I have six issues written and edited and two more planned out. TLDR: Think about what you write, keep it at the back of your mind. Don’t put anything out immediately, let it simmer, and edit, edit, edit.

CV: What’s your stance on the current state of the comic book industry, in general? In a time where the “big two” are trying to create bigger and bigger events, but smaller, innovative titles like SEX CRIMINALS and VISION end up being fan-favorites, do you think the industry – and the readers – are open to new ideas?

MB: I love a good dimension-hopping space epic as much as the next person, but after a while, it gets stale. Don’t get me wrong, CIVIL WAR II has been alright, and I’m completely losing my shit over the new Spider-Man event, DEAD NO MORE. Launch titles sell well and amass these huge followings, but like you said, these slept on books, like VISION, end up becoming fan favorites. And rightfully so, it’s one of the best books out there right now, the art is fantastic, the writing is impeccable, and the story is DIFFERENT. I think that’s one of the best parts of HOMC, it’s different. To get back to your question, absolutely, I think that readers are open to new ideas, that’s why books like SAGA, SEX CRIMINALS, BITCH PLANET, and VISION have sold so well. We’re just waiting on the comics industry to catch on. They’re making efforts, for sure, Marvel’s hired its first black female creator, (though it’s completely ridiculous that it took until 2016), and have started to diversify their writing and art teams, as well as their roster of heroes. The competition between the big two is ideally going to drive DC to do the same. Changes like that happen not because the companies realize that change is necessary, but because fans DEMAND it. The industry is open to whatever is going to sell. If you as a fan want to see more diversity in terms of ideas (as well as in the race, gender identity, and sexuality of creators), support different books. Take SUPERMAN off of your pull list, and add a book like KIM & KIM. Read VISION. Read MOON GIRL & DEVIL DINOSAUR. Support indie publishers. If DC and Marvel see themselves losing sales to innovative indie publishers like Black Mask Studios, they’re going to change, and they’re going to adapt. We live in a capitalist society, meaning we as consumers have a power. Use that power.

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CV: For the first volume of HOMC, you’ve cooperated with a lot of different artists, amongst others, ComicsVerse’s very own Kay Honda. What was the creative process and the exchange like?

MB: One thing I’ve learned over the course of this project is that being in charge of people is hard. Issue #1 was difficult because Kay wasn’t the only artist, she just did the characters. Almost everyone working on volume one of this book is either in school or works a separate job, so it’s been quite hard co-ordinating everything. I spent the majority of the summer writing, and editing scripts. Now that I’ve fallen into a groove in terms of coordinating production, I can get back to working on the script. It was difficult finding artists whose work fit the tone of each issue. I feel like inkers and colorists are the bassists and drummers of the comics industry. Everyone wants to play guitar, but because of that, finding solid bassists and drummers is incredibly difficult. In my opinion, they don’t get the credit they deserve. The last couple of months have been characterized by a lot of phone/facebook/e-mail/slack tag, but it’s all coming together. You can find other work by the artists here:

Kay Honda (character pencils: issue 1)

Barry Hall (colors: parts of issue 1)

Luc Boyce (pencils/inks: Issues 4,5, and parts of issue 1)

Caroline Cash (issue 3)

Jeremy Kahn (colors: issue two)

Stufy Summers (pencils inks: parts of issue 2)

CV: How do these different art styles affect the finished product?

MB: My only concern is that all of the different styles will make it difficult for readers to get attached to the characters because of all of the different styles in which they’re portrayed. Artists were chosen to work on certain parts of the project based on their art styles in order to best fit the tone of different parts of the narrative and to best reflect Casey’s different states of mind. At the beginning of the story, he’s very anxious. His grip on things is shaky, to say the least, and the artwork reflects this, as well as the gradual stabilization that begins towards the end of the first issue. One artist’s work is used to reflect a sense of calmness, another’s reflects intense depression, yet another’s is reflective of a state of panic, and so on. Because of this, some issues have multiple pencilers and multiple inkers or colorists. I think issue one had six artists doing inks, colors, and pencils. Alternatively, issue three is being penciled, inked, and colored all by the same person. I don’t how it’s going to be received, but regardless, it’s going to be a trip.

CV: One of the things I, as a passionate fan of comic books and music alike, have always been fascinated by, is the possibility of connecting both mediums. Surprisingly, I haven’t see too many creators incorporate this idea into their books. In what way did you do this with HOMC? As followers of your Facebook page will know, for instance, you created playlists for your main characters.

MB: The first time I saw this done in a book was in WE CAN NEVER GO HOME. It’s set in the 80s, so the writers, Matthew Rosenberg and Pat Kindlon, made a spotify playlist to reflect the 70s/80s punk that one of the protagonists gave the other, which resulted in short mixtapes in the form of spotify playlists for each issue of the comic. I spend the majority of my waking life listening to music. I think it’s one of the most evocative and important forms of art that we have, so I allowed the music that impacts my life to spill over into the lives of my characters. In HOMC, the playlists that accompany each issue don’t just serve to force what I’ve been listening to onto the reader, but they show the songs that are used in the comic. Lyrics from at least a couple of songs show up in each issue of HOMC, except for the first. The playlists reflect, through tone and lyrical content, what readers should expect from the corresponding issue. Initially, I made them to help myself during the editing process, but I think they’ll give the reader a glimpse into the head-space I was in during the writing process.

As for the playlists for each character, I feel like knowing the music that someone likes gives you a bit of insight into how they tick. Knowing what someone relates to and thrives on makes me feel more connected to them. Even though I created the characters, I didn’t feel like I knew them. Making playlists that showcased each character’s taste in music helped me to give them some depth.

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CV: One of the things you’re extremely interested in, on an academic level even, is the representation of (and metaphors for) mental health issues in comic books. And this is certainly a central element to HOMC. Where does this passion come from, and in what way did it influence the development of HOMC?

MB: In all honesty, I can’t remember when exactly I became interested in it. The most concrete answer I can give you would be in the first academic class I took on comics, ‘Breakdowns: Representations of Illness in Comics’ with Oscar Chavez. Initially, I hadn’t gotten into the class, so I sent the professor an e-mail that spun my interest in comics and the books I’d read recently into an interest in the course. During the class, I developed into a genuine interest in illness as metaphor in media, after reading an essay by Susan Sontag of the same name. This class and my own experiences with mental illness were both huge influences on HELL, ON MY COUCH. Though I can’t speak to anything outside the realms of depression and anxiety disorders, living with mental illness, particularly during their lows, informs your entire worldview. It was rewarding to explore this in a graphic narrative because of the visual component, which when combined with the Casey’s thought process and dialogue with others, allowed me to essentially recreate an individual’s perceived reality in its entirety. For example, there are a handful of panels scattered across the series in which Casey’s anxieties and insecurities manifest in the environment, such as crowds of people whose faces have been replaced by walls of text, or wallpaper where the patterns shift into an antagonizing defeatist tirade directed at him. It allowed me to develop Casey’s individual reality as a sort of passive antagonist. Reality isn’t working against him, exactly, but his perception of it certainly adds a lot of stress and difficulty to his life.

CV: Correct me if I’m wrong, but Venom has always been one of, if not your favorite comic book character, and I believe you’ve written a paper exploring the character as a metaphor for mental illnesses. Would you say that the investment in this character, or others, has been an inspiration for what you did in HOMC?

MB: Yeah, Venom’s had me on the hook since I was like eight or nine years old. My BA thesis is on the representation of mental illness in superhero comics, specifically on Venom through the years and through its various hosts. HOMC was actually inspired by a twelve page short comic I wrote for the class I mentioned before. I’d just finished reading VENOM: DARK ORIGINS and a bunch of IRON MAN comics dealing with alcoholism, and I was excited to dissect them. Venom has always interested me because of the way other characters perceive him in comics. Initially, the symbiote has total control, and Eddie Brock is hell-bent on destroying, even consuming Spider-Man. But over time, the reader sees that the host has some say in the actions taken by the symbiote, seen first in VENOM: LETHAL PROTECTOR. Despite Venom’s role as the protector of the innocent, heroes still react extremely violently and without hesitation upon encountering him, specifically Spider-Man. There really couldn’t be a more perfect allegory for the treatment of the other, specifically the treatment of mentally ill individuals. To a lesser extent, the same narrative could be considered metaphor for the treatment of people of color by the police.

hell on my couch indie comic police

CV: Your book contains monologues that criticize the police as an institution, and in general, you don’t seem to be afraid of choosing sides, politically. Which is something that can’t be said about many, especially the more commercial comic book projects. Was that intentional, do you want to convey a certain message in a political way with the project? Are you afraid of backlash from the other end of the spectrum?

MB: Initially, the police weren’t really going to come up in HELL, ON MY COUCH all that much. But after a few rewrites, it made a lot more sense for them to play a larger role, and it made sense for the majority of the characters to take a stance against them. HELL, ON MY COUCH isn’t really meant to be a political comic. I’m not doing anything new, per se, I’m just doing it a bit differently. Spider-Man was always at odds with the police, as were a number of superheroes. Certain superhero comics have been subtly taking on the police in small ways for a while now. I’m just being overt, which I’m sure they would’ve done if they didn’t have to answer to large publishers about the content of their work.

In regards to backlash, if someone is upset enough by the way the police are portrayed in HELL, ON MY COUCH to lash out at me, or put the book down, that’s their problem. Being a police officer is a choice- it’s a job. If I were to say, “These lawyers aren’t doing their job properly, they need to be better,” no one would bat an eye. Police brutality, specifically that directed at black bodies is a very real problem, and the blind defense of police is one of the reasons that progressing towards a solution is occurring at such a glacial pace.

CV: Are there any potential future projects you’re planning?

MB: To be honest, not really. Right now I’m pretty swamped with this. It’s looking like HELL, ON MY COUCH is going to be ten issues long. I’ve got a couple of things on the back burner, but nothing developed enough for me to say that I’m actively planning a project.

One Comment

  1. Kathleen

    December 30, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    Terrific interview, Marius. Your thoughtful questions and Mark’s responses provide us with an understanding of what is involved in the creation of a comic book.


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