Part 2 – Mark Russell, writer of DC Comics’ Flintstones and Prez – Book Club Discussion


– This picks up immediately after Part 1, which can be found here:

ST: It seems that, unless people are forced outside of their comfort zone of taking orders and asking about fries, most people don’t actively try to use their “computer.”

MR: Well yeah, we numb them. They’re so exhausted, dealing with these mundane, uninteresting questions… when they go home, they don’t want to deal with the world.

They associate the world with boredom and hardship….


[roaring laughter]

ST: So we’ve touched on this a little bit, but in the Flintstones, there’s a lot of critique of Western society, American society…

Generally, what are your thoughts on our modern society? On the citizenry of this country? Stratification of power…

What do you think about where we are right now?

MR: What I hope we’re seeing is the last gasp of the entrenchment of these traditional institutions, which were outvoted decades ago.

The central conflict of the 20th century was, “should institutions change to serve the people, or should people change to serve the institutions?”

I feel like this is what fascism was about… trying to cram people back into the lines to serve the traditional institutions we’d created.

And I think in a lot of ways, that is what American politics is about now.

The insitutions have changed too quickly!
We’ve got same sex marriage now.
We’ve got secular education.

We’ve got all these institutions changing to serve the people. Now it’s time to force people to change to serve the institutions.

Obviously, I’m on the side of the institutions changing to meet the needs of people.

In the end, there’s nothing more important than unlocking people’s potential. And the institutions are good, only to the extent that they allow people to do that. To the extent that they LIMIT people’s potential, I think they should be changed, or abolished.

I think right now what you see is a real backlash against feminism, against gender equality, against marriage equality… against all of these social institutions that have changed over the last 40 years.

One last attempt to get everyone to squeeze back into these traditional institutions.

Get all the foreigners and immigrants out of this country, close all the Planned Parenthoods and get the women back into married relationships, make sure the men have all the money, like they used to…


ST: It seems that these things are cyclical in nature, too. Like… we change, and backlash occurs from traditional institutions, and then the institutions change, and then we change, backlash occurs, and so on.

MR: You’ll always have backlash, but the key is…
Imagine you’re playing football, you know, it’s ok to take a sack or a play with no gain every now and then, as long as you’re picking up 6, 7 yards on every other play.

You march steadily down the field and eventually, you score.

I think the key is to make sure that the pace of progress changes institutions with society, to make them move to allow people to achieve their potential within society, whether male, female, black, white, gay… whatever… that’s the goal… that’s the trend that society has taken over the past 150 years.

As long as you’re outgaining the forces of the backlash, eventually you’ll win.

I will never expect to live in a world where it’s utopia, and there’s no backlash, or anyone trying to oppose you.

But I do expect people to work to out-gain the defense.


MR: The culture war is the really the only war that I advocate fighting. Once you change most people’s minds, then people will say, “of course women are equal to men,” or “of course we shouldn’t have racial profiling,” … THEN, it makes it a lot harder for the institutions to get around that they’re on the wrong side of history.

ST: And this is your contribution?

MR: I think so…
I feel like this is my contribution to the culture war, and just the human conversation.

That’s my ultimate aspiration in life, is to just have some small moment where I am part of the human conversation that we call culture.


ST: You touched on this early on, but I really enjoy that you’ve taken this old cartoon, with old traditional references, and have brought it into the modern time.

MR: Well, so much of it felt irrelevant to me. For example, the gentlemen’s club, the Waterbuffalos.

Who belongs to a rotary club anymore?
Is there anything more obsolete than a gentlemen’s club?

[roaring laughter]

MR: But what is relevant to our experience is thousands of vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Returning to a country which has done absolutely nothing to prepare for their return to everyday life. So I wanted to make the Waterbuffalos something relevant.

I wanted people to be able to find themselves and their world in this comic.

And I felt the best way to do that is to not have it be about gentlemen’s clubs, and women who are addicted to credit card shopping.

I wanted to make it feel like a world people recognize, and can accept criticism of.

ST: Yabba-Dabba-Do as a PTSD zen mantra is very impactful!

MR: Well, like, who here has a catch phrase? Who here has a thing that they yell when they’re happy?


[roaring laughter]

MR: But we do have these little coping mechanisms that help us deal with the fact that life is overwhelming sometimes.

There’s nothing more meaningless to the world than gentlemen’s clubs, except maybe catch phrases!

So you take the catch phrase and you make it something that IS meaningful to people.
I think everyone feels overwhelmed by the world at times. And as nonsensical as they may be, we come up with little coping mechanisms to feel like it’s manageable.


ST: So, did you work down a list of things to take over from the original Flintstones?
Like, okay… we need: talking appliance animals, rock puns, catch-phrase…

MR: I’m not that methodical. I don’t really know what I’m doing.

[roaring laughter]

MR: I thought about it when it occurred to me, but I didn’t really have a plan.

ST: Were there things from the original that you definitely wanted to bring in?

MR: One of the only things I really liked about the original cartoon were the animal appliances.

Even as a kid I found that shocking!

That you would have this cartoon about a little bird who lives inside a camera!
And he only comes out when you press the button to take a picture, chizzles the picture, and then goes right back into his stone jail cell.

To me that was horrifying!

ST: It’s the ultimate expression of man believing that this world is ours, and we have domain over it…

MR: You exist to serve me, and I’m sure you enjoy it!

[roaring laughter]

ST: When the garage door closes on Powergoat…

MR: Yeah, you think it’s funny when he’s mowing the lawn with Powergoat, but then you realize that he’s going to be in that garage for the next week… in the darkness!

And I think this relates to people, because we’re all seen as our economic function, rather than people.

It becomes easier to dispose of someone, or treat someone poorly, when you just see them as the guy who hands me tacos, or the street cleaner, or the janitor… as opposed to the human being that is taking out the trash, or a human being that is handing me tacos.

That’s the sin of Fred and Wilma, in the Flintstones. They’ve reduced these creatures to their economic function, and don’t see them as living beings.

And it’s not an intentionally evil choice that’s being made. It’s just the desire to have the things in life that everyone else enjoys, without thinking of the consequences.


ST: To touch again on the comments you made earlier about the culture war. As a vet, returned from multiple tours in Iraq, I see a lot of the perspectives in this book, when I look at society. I can see the criticisms of the answers given by traditional institutions.

People are used as tools and critical self-reflection is easily dismissed. There’s not a good path for the people that reflect and consider that, “maybe I’ve been wrong.”

MR: Yeah, that’s a hard come-to-Jesus moment for a lot of people to have.

We all, in our own way, have reduced people to some function that they have.
That’s a soldier. It’s okay if he dies.
That’s a janitor. It’s okay if he’s forced to clean up trash for nothing.

And civilization has managed to do that to all of us.
It’s reduced us all to a minor function within. We’re all expendable.

If we’re going to take advantage of all the things that civilization provides, without reducing people to these roles that they play, we’re going to have to start seeing each other as MORE than that. We have to see one another as complete human beings.

And we have to realize that there are human costs to everything that we ask people to do. Sometimes we’re going to have to say, “no, we’re not going to ask someone to do this, because of the human cost to them.”

That’s incredibly hard to do!

If we’re enjoying all of the things civilization affords us, it’s difficult to step back and decide to not enjoy things because of the human cost.

The bowling ball.
The vacuum cleaner.
The janitor.
The soldier.
It’s too much!

And I think this is the only solution to the problems created by civilization. To begin to sort of unpack and see one another as complete human beings, and not as functions.


ST: So is the main tactic just raising awareness? Spreading the message?

MR: You know, raising awareness is great, but it only does so much. Awareness by itself does nothing.

People were aware of slavery in the Antebelum South. No one was surprised to hear that slavery was going on. Awareness of it did nothing to end it.

In the end, again, it’s the culture war.

You have to have a majority of people saying, “this is intolerable.” Not just that we’re aware of it, but we’re intolerant of it.

Until you get a majority basically willing to go to war over it, or to change laws to do away with it, awareness won’t do much.

Awareness is a good first step in winning the culture war… in getting people to decide that you’re right and that this thing is unacceptable, but it’s ONLY the first step.

The next step is like what I think all science fiction is. It’s finding a way to get people to examine their lives without taking it personally.

ST: This is one of the reasons we opened this shop. Comics, for us, have always been a subversive genre of media. Flintstones fed perfectly into our philosophy as a shop. The whole point of having discussions like this is ***SPOILER ALERT*** we just want to infect your minds!

We live in a society of absolute propaganda. A memetic society. Non-stop. All the time.
If we don’t fight back with the propaganda of the people, of class equality… the propaganda of the people who don’t have shit, then we’re going to be doomed to continue down a path of exploitation.

MR: I think really the only purpose of culture is subversion. All culture is an admission that culture before was inadequate.

Culture says, “things need to be different, now.”

It’s why you create anything, because you’re not happy with what came before.

So really, subversion is the engine of the evolutionary change that makes our society better. Culture is at the very ground floor of that.

Culture changes people’s minds, which changes their social beliefs, which changes their politics, which changes the world.

Within the culture war, there are no non-combatants. There are only soldiers and captives.

You’re either fighting the culture war, to move society in the direction you want to see the world go, or you are a captive to what someone else wants you to believe.

So I encourage everyone to have a creative outlet. That’s your entry, not only into the culture war, but into culture. That is you being fundamentally human.

I think that humans evolved to create art and express themselves to the universe in a way that they could not express any other way.

You’re not living a full human experience if you don’t have this sort of outlet for the deepest part of your humanity.

If you don’t have a way to express to the universe, the most important thing to you, I think in a way, you’re being cheated.

I encourage everyone to do something artistic!
Find the way that you can feel the most comfortable communicating to the world!



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