Oliver Mertz, is the DC based co-creator of the First Law of Mad Science. The hit indie comic couples chilling horror with inventive speculative fiction to create a world full of compelling characters and big ideas.
In the story, super-scientist George Baker rocks the world with his newest invention; cheap retinal eye implants called “cyber-eyes”. But as the technology runs amuck, George and his family race to solve the problem before a global pandemonium ensues. The journey launches them into ancient civilizations, other-dimensions, and subterranean cities where they face robots, cults, monsters, and more. It’s a helluva ride.
Mertz and crew have a current Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of a 164-page trade paperback compilation along with a new 68-page anthology. I had a chance to speak with the Mad Science writer about the work and his comic writing.
So how long have you been making Comics?
Mike [Isenberg] and I first started writing First Law of Mad Science at the end of 2008. We wrote for about a year and half before we even approached an artist. It was our first comic and we had a lot to learn about writing before we felt we had anything worth anyone’s time. We started working with [artist] Daniel Lapham in 2010 and have been self-publishing ever since.
One of the biggest obstacles for new comic writers is finding that perfect artist pairing. How did you hook up with Daniel?
You’re right. If you don’t find someone to collaborate with who wants to make the same kind of art as you, it can be pretty clear on the page. Mike and I found Daniel online, on Digital Webbing. We put out a post saying that we were looking for an artist and asked for samples. Of all of the artists that replied, Daniel was the best. It was clear that he came from the same place as us creatively and that he had the same influences. It’s also fitting that we met Daniel online being that Mike and I write over Skype. We’re completely a product of the digital age!
Most comics are written by one person. What’s your and Mike Isenberg’s writing process like? Do you ever bump heads?
Mike and I both have our strengths and weaknesses. I love to write long, natural sounding dialogue while Mike likes to cut it down to the bare minimum. It’s fun to brainstorm and cobble together a rough outline. Then, I’ll flesh out the script. After that, Mike takes an editing pass. We go back and forth like this until we both feel like we’ve got something. It’s also nice to have someone to call you on something if it’s not working. Sometimes I can get caught up in an idea, but if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t make the cut. Really, brutal honesty is the only way we can create something worth a reader’s time.
What are some of your influences as a writer and comic creator?
Garth Ennis. Preacher rocked me when I was younger and that impression has stayed with me. Warren Ellis as well. Transmetropolitan is an all-time favorite. And more recently, I’ve been reading the trades of Mind Mgmt by Matt Kindt. That book is just so darn elegant.
Your current Kickstarter campaign builds on two previous successes. Could you describe your experience with crowdfunding?
It’s amazing! We launched issue one of First Law of Mad Science on Kickstarter back in 2010. Kickstarter was still pretty new and not everyone was familiar with crowdfunding at that point. Essentially, we went online and presented ourselves. We said, we’d like to make a comic and we need your help. And shockingly enough, people supported us.
It’s not hyperbole when I say that it changed my life. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for that support. From there we started going to cons, meeting other creators, and becoming a part of the small-press community. I love being a part of that community. Kickstarter allowed us an entry point into the world of comics. It removed a financial barrier that indie creators didn’t used to be able to get past.
Even with things like crowdfunding, independent comic creating is often a labor of love. Is that true in your case?
It really is a labor of love. We put a lot of time, energy, and our own money into creating First Law of Mad Science. It’s because, for us, there is no other option. We love telling this story and want to share it with readers. We do things like Kickstarter to help offset some of our up front costs, but we’re committed to making this comic no matter what. I love making comics and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
What obstacles do you face as an independent comic creator?
There are loads of obstacles. Money is a huge one. It costs a lot to produce comics, especially if you’re a writer and not an artist. We pay full-page rates to all of the artists we work with. They are doing the hard work of bringing the story to life, so they need to be paid, even when we, the writers, are not. But that means we can only produce so much given our funds.
The other big obstacle is getting our book out there. It’s hard to get noticed when bigger publishers already have everyone’s attention. I’ve found the best thing to do is to continue to make the best book possible. It takes a while but little by little, people notice and pick up on quality.
If you could write for any character, real, fictional, living or dead, who would it be?
I’d love to continue writing our characters! I’ve never really seriously thought about writing someone else’s characters. It would be a nice challenge to take on an established character but what I really like is getting to know the characters that we create. It’s incredibly satisfying to build a three-dimensional character. It’s even more satisfying to see how that character behaves in your story. I suppose this urge comes from having studied behavioral psychology at university.
Can you give an example of how your behavioral psychology education has informed the characters in your book?
I’m really interested in the difference between how people see themselves and how others see them. For R.A.I.Ch.E.L., the robotic daughter of super-scientist George Baker, she is at odds with the world. The world is completely accepting of her as a marvel of science. Furthermore, they see her as a novelty. She, however, is incredibly powerful, smart, and strong. She’d like to be recognized for it, feared even. It’s that disconnect between how she sees herself and how others see her that makes for interesting drama.
Ultimately what can indie comic fans expect from First Law of Mad Science?
A good read. A satisfying mystery. A globe-trotting adventure. We tried to create something that we would like to read. So if you like sci-fi comics and enjoy horror comics, you’ll like First Law of Mad Science.
To support Oliver and company, as well as grab a copy of First Law of Mad Science volume 1, “Work Until Your Family Is Sad”, check out the new Kickstarter campaign. The team can found on twitter at @FirstLawComic, online at www.firstlawofmadscience.com, and in person at the Boston Comic Con, Baltimore Comic Con, and New York Comic Con later this year.