A chat with writer Pat Shand about his upcoming Black Mask series “Breathless.”
In March of this year, comic book publisher Black Mask will be releasing a new miniseries from writer Pat Shand and artist Renzo Rodriguez. This five-part series will tie together big pharma and monsters in what looks to be a supernatural good time. We caught up with Pat Shand to talk about the series, his work on Marvel novels and more!
AiPT!: Hey Pat, we keep doing these interviews throughout the years and last we talked you were excited for an Iron Man novel. Since then, you’ve written more! Is it hard to go from writing a creator-owned book like Breathless to prose with characters that have been around for 50 years?
Pat Shand: Starting a new novel is always super hard. Even though the Marvel novels I wrote focused on characters from the comics, writing prose and writing comics is, to me at least, flexing an entirely different muscle. It’s less about living up to years of legacy and more about the sense of completion. With Breathless, for example, these are 22-page scripts. I think about the book when I’m not writing all of the time, but when I sit down to write, I crank an issue out in a day or two. The feeling of having finished something, that rush of dopamine, that is powerful. With a novel, you don’t really feel that until it’s off to the printers, because of the length and scope. So it’s hard to switch, yeah, but it’s necessary for me. I need to be doing both now, at this point in my career.
AiPT!: If you had your pick of another character from comics (or maybe TV) to write the next prose novel about, who would it be?
Shand: I already wrote Angel in comics, but any of the Buffy characters would be great. Or Veronica Mars. Hi, Rob Thomas… any chance you Google yourself? If you do, then hi, Rob Thomas.
AiPT!: If a reader needed to know three things about Breathless to “get it,” what would they be?
Shand: I think anyone can come in 100 percent blind and get it. This isn’t a comic that spends a lot of time explaining a world or dealing with backstory. I’ve noticed that a lot these days, where the first issue is basically a long “Previously On…” for what happened before the story began. Nah. We’re starting at the beginning of our story and blazing through. Strap in!
Three things I’d say to sell the series to readers are:
– It’s Buffy, if the villains were Big Pharma. That’s our tagline, which–I mean, it’s a lot MORE than that, of course, but that’s the easy sell.
– Sometimes, for some people, myself included, breathing normally feels like there’s a pillow smothering us. This is a horror story about that.
– It costs money in our country, often more than we have, to not die. This is a horror story about that.
AiPT!: What got you interested in comics?
Shand: When I was a kid, Stephen King’s Creepshow. As an adult, what got me reading again was licensed TV tie-ins and Brian K. Vaughan books. I never really considered reading comics as an adult until those. I was working on novels and producing off-off-(off-off?) Broadway in New York City, so I was very focused on all that stuff… so to discover what great storytelling in comics can do in my early 20s, that changed the game for me.
AiPT!: There appears to be a bit of gore and monster madness in this title, what inspired this story and do you have any monster tales that you hold dear?
Shand: Certainly Buffy, who we’re borrowing for that tagline. Guillermo Del Toro’s work, Stranger Things, Evil Dead 2–a lot of classic horror type s--t. Really, though, to be honest, Renzo Rodriguez, who is drawing Breathless, he’s the big inspiration. He’s a horror master. I’m telling you, he’s next to blow.
That said, I do want to say that even though Breathless is about Scout, an asthmatic cryptozoologist who dissects monsters for a living, it’s also a very human story about sickness and healing and empathy and money. The monsters just make it fun.
AiPT!: Is there a message within this story and to just nip this in the bud, should readers expect it to get preachy?
Shand: Nah, not at all. I like stories that are about something, but leave the reader with questions and things to ponder rather than acting as a litmus test to see who already agrees with my opinion. First and foremost, Breathless is a story. Take away from it whatever you do.
AiPT!: I love that you’re going after health care and it seems more present than ever with folks on capitol hill crying out to end Obamacare every other minute. How long has this idea been percolating?
Shand: About a year. Breathless and Scout grew from anger. Anger at my previous job for their roundabout way of denying me health insurance because of my living situation. Anger at the system because I pay between 8-10 times more in New York for medication I was able to purchase easily in California. Anger that the people in control probably don’t give a f--k.
Beyond that, it was Charlamagne tha God whose words made me think up this idea.
Do you remember Martin Shkreli? The Pharma bro who famously jacked up the prices of his medications by an astronomical amount? (And then, later, purchased the only copy ever made of the also infamous Wu-Tang album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, only to never share it all with the public?) I saw this interview with Shkreli on The Breakfast Club, and Charlamagne opened with a question that blew my mind. Charlamagne refuses to shake Shkreli’s hand and asked, “Are you a privileged, entitled prick?” That was the opening question. There was something about that question, seeing Charlamagne look in the face of this devil and treat him as such, that stuck with me.
AiPT!: I love your characters and how well thought-out they are, but the female protagonist in Breathless had me wondering, why are all (or most anyway) of your protagonists female?
Shand: That is true of my writing, but it isn’t something I think about. I form the story into exactly the story I want to tell and exactly what it needs to be, and the characters take shape and begin to feel real to me before I even put words on paper. I never think about that. It’s just what I want to write.
AiPT!: I’ve seen a few of the unlettered pages and they’re gorgeous. The art reminds me of Frank Cho’s work and the layouts are exceptional. What writing style are you working on with Renzo Rodriguez (Marvel style?) and who works out the layouts? They’re gorgeous!
Shand: I do full script on all of my titles but I always encourage artists to do their own thing. Renzo and I have worked together a lot, so he has a great sense of what I’m going for visually. I love to give him things to have fun with on our books, especially now that we’re doing our own thing on Breathless. Renzo is great at keeping comics character-focused, so I love throwing out weird ideas so he can have fun. The artwork, the layouts, that’s all him, though. He’s a beast.
AiPT!: How long will the Breathless run go for and when can we expect to see the first issue?
Shand: We’re starting off with four issues, but there’s always the chance that we can come back for more. The first issue drops in March… which means that it’s in Previews right now. These indie titles live off of pre-orders, so let your local comics retailer know if you’d like to read this book!