Mayday is a five-part Cold War thriller set in 1971 about two Soviet operatives sent to California to kill a defector and recover top-secret information. Things go sideways and the operatives Felix and Rose need to rely on each other to escape America.
Word of the Nerd interviewed writer Alex de Campi and artist Tony Parker about the mini-series Mayday published by Image Comics. The first issue is scheduled for release November 2, 2016.
Alex you are no stranger to political thrillers having written Smoke published by IDW in 2005. I understand A LOT of research went into Mayday. How did you prepare yourself for writing this series? What sources did you tap? How many notebooks did you fill-up?
Alex: Oh, wow. If I were at home right now, I’d snap a photo of my bookshelf. I’ve probably read… a dozen Cold War defector and case officer autobiographies? Maybe more. About half my old notebook is filled with scrawl about Mayday and (hopefully) its following, related minis… Like, I know how it all ends, about eight minis down the line. I have one of the two Soviet-Afghan war books almost totally mapped out. The Baader-Meinhof book. I’m now reading Romanian secret service autobios for the third mini in the book that takes place on the Dacia Express. I didn’t necessarily need to do all this research (I’m told just making it all up *is* an option), but frankly the material was so interesting I couldn’t stop. I could write entire thriller series just on CIA internal politics in the 70s.
Tony as the artist of Mayday, did you undertake any research in preparation for the series, such as location and photo references from the period?
Tony: I did as much as I could find. I avoided movies and TV, and stuck to new photos and stock photographs as much as I could. I wanted a feel of how it actually was, not an idealized version. There are references or homages to pop culture of the time, but only ones that would organically show up in real life.
Mayday should open the eyes of readers who didn’t grow up in the 1970s and might think the seventies were all about white polyester suits and glittery disco balls. I can appreciate the attention to detail you paid to language and technology of early 1970s. It should open up an under-explored pocket of history for many readers.
What is it that fascinates you about this period of history, which has been tapped into less by comic book writers until more recently?
Alex: 1971 was one of the last great years of Vietnam protest, but by then the hippie movement had soured into bro-ish selfishness. The FBI were busy trying to destroy the Black Panthers. All the rock stars were dying. Lieutenant Calley was being tried for My Lai. And we were on the brink of some really exciting / terrifying times: the Munich Olympics were summer 1972, Nixon visited the USSR in May 1972… And heavy metal and punk rock had really properly gotten a toehold in the music scene. It was a strange, transitional time, the end of so much, but also the beginning of fascinating and terrifying events in Cold War history.
Tony, did Alex provide a detailed script or suggested layout of the art for the series? Or did she let you cut-lose more, leaving the majority of the story’s illustration up to your vivid imagination?
Tony: Thank you for the compliment! There were a few places where she had a specific look or layout in mind, but otherwise she was great about allowing me the freedom to play with it. For me, it’s not about my ego. It’s about what tells the story best. If she has a great idea, or if mine isn’t working, either she or Editor Brendan Wright will help out or keep me honest. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutia of the concept on a single page, and forget the thematic feel of the issue or series. They helped keep me on track.
Some of the art in Mayday #1, colored by Blond, is really groovy man! Readers should prepare to have their minds blown! Tony, what were some of the sources you referenced for some of the trippy pages of the book? Do you have an extensive collection of black light posters in your pad?
Tony: HA! Blond did an amazing job with the series. I tried to keep with the script, as well as be influenced by some of the trippy artists of the time. The only black light posters I have are the ones I made for This Damned Band.
How much and how often do you need to collaborate with Blond on Mayday? His coloring is integral to telling this story. When did you first meet and begin working with him?
Alex: Blond was a friend of Tony’s and had worked with him on other things. He brings a very highly polished, sophisticated look to the book.
Tony: Blond has been great to work with. I’ll have an idea of how to color pages, but only give him the loosest of notes. He always comes up with something better than I imagined. I first started working with him on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and have been happy every other time that I have had the opportunity to work with him.
Mayday is just the beginning; you have miles to go before you sleep! Alex, you have more Cold War mini-series plotted that will progress throughout the decade of 1970s; much like each season of the AMC series Madmen told the story of characters’ trials and tribulation throughout the 1960s. What can you tell us about future mini-series also set in the 1970s that will spring from Mayday?
Alex: The books all star the same small group of CIA and KGB/GRU characters, although some die and get replaced. The next one is The Brandenburg School for Boys (a joking reference to Berlin Base — and folks, it’s Berlin Base, not Berlin Station, do your research, &c). It’s the Baader-Meinhof Group being set up for terrorist activities ahead of Nixon’s visit to the USSR. It’s an analogue of toxic fandom / toxic subcultures, because the dynamic between Baader, Ensslin and Meinhof was so incredibly unhealthy. And it’s an important book in terms of one of our operative’s long-term character arc, because one of the Red Army Faction shows him that he can be something more than he is, and that he can control his own intellectual development, in a way. That he can have that. And another operative falls in love. Berlin in 1972 was a fascinating place. Anyone over the age of 50 was probably a Nazi collaborator. The liberal resistance, who fought against the Nazis, mostly ended up in East Germany. A very large portion of the West German government were former Nazis. You can understand why students weren’t really cool with the re-arming and placement of US missiles in Germany. The way they went about protesting it (acts of terrorism)? Not acceptable. But the underlying fears and frustrations? Understandable.
Then there’s a story about a defector that’s all set on the night express from Bucharest to Vienna, which will probably be called Vienna Station. It was originally called Red Arrow as I was going to put it on the Moscow-Leningrad sleeper but for a variety of Warsaw Pact factional reasons, much more interesting to have our two operatives battling it out across Romania and Hungary because Romania was basically the Schrodinger’s Cat of the Warsaw pact. Was Ceaușescu really your ally or not? Open the box and find out! (I mean, like, other than the Romanian people. Ceaușescu was definitely not their ally.)
I have a lot more mapped out, ending more or less with Able Archer in 1983 and then the Year of the Spy in 1985. I know how every arc will end. I know the last words every character will say. Ugh, please buy this book so I can keep writing it. Also pay attention in history class because this shit is fascinating.
Throughout Mayday #1 songs are referenced from 1971 that set the tone for a particular scene. In fact Alex, you have created a companion playlists readers can check out on Spotify. It’s a very ear-opening experience to listen to both well-known and not so well known songs from 1971. Some I heard for the first time are now new favorites. For that, I am in your debt.
Is this the first time you created a playlist for a comic book? How did you decide on this very eclectic mix of songs? Did you listen to this music while you wrote, or did it bubble up from your subconscious while you are writing Mayday #1?
Alex: I almost always have a playlist for my stories, or at least songs I associate with them. Mayday I went a bit further and specifically tied songs into scenes: sometimes diegetically, sometimes not. The Codename: Felix stories were conceived as always having a thematic tie to specific movements and eras in music, and for Mayday it’s the birth of metal and punk. But saying that, some of our strongest moments musically are Steve Reich cut-up pieces, or disgustingly sappy top-10 pop. (I always joke that Kieron Gillen puts music in his stories because he loves you, and I do it because fuck you. That’s… fairly accurate.) We also get seriously into funk in Issue 4, plus Zappa and Sun Ra. (“SUN! RA!” she shouts, in James Murphy’s voice, to a casiotone backbeat.) It’s also fun reclaiming some of the music that’s been ruined by classic rock radio stations or in fact by events in my life, such as “Peace Frog”. Taking it back form snapbacks, Tiger Inn t-shirts and the smell of stale Meisterbrau…
Typically you do not have a letters page in the back of your comics. Can readers expect bonus content and back matter that will not be found in a possible future trade collection?
Alex: Maybe? Look, these books kill me to make. I write them, letter them, produce them, often do the graphic design on them…. readers can chill the fuck out with their expectations, frankly. I got this thing made and published, let’s just have a happy little moment about that rather than what freebies you’re going to get on top of that.
Are there any other projects you are working on concurrently or is Mayday your primary focus?
Alex: We’ve nearly wrapped Mayday. Tony’s finishing inking #5 right now. I need to finish lettering #3…. as for other projects, I’m working on about 10 things at once, as usual, including a couple novels and a feature film. I think a couple of the comics things are going to be announced soon… but meanwhile you can check out my other Image book, NO MERCY (with Carla Speed McNeil), on its final arc. And… yeah. I have a lot of cool things coming up. I seem to be having a successful / in demand moment? And I need to start writing the second Codename: Felix mini, The Brandenburg School for Boys (which has a preview in Issue #5 of Mayday).
Tony: Right now Mayday is our primary focus. I only have a few pages left, and series 1 will be finished. And, oh, what a finish.
What is the best way for fans to show their support besides of buying copies of Mayday?
Alex: Send toyboys and single malt whisky. No, ha, kidding. (A little.) Just buying books, really. You can follow me on social media (@alexdecampi pretty much everywhere) and occasionally tell me I’m a worthwhile human being? That goes a long way.
Tony: Share your love for Mayday with your friends! It’s a big market out there, and every little bit helps. Check out Alex’s creator owned work, and check out This Damned Band from Paul Cornell and I. Never forget that original comic art also makes a great gift.
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