Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Fans of your previous book, God Is Disappointed in You, will be excited to learn that you will soon be releasing its sequel, Apocrypha Now. For those that may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the premise of this series, and what inspired you to take on this endeavor?
Mark Russell: The canonical Bible is actually just a small peak sitting atop the massive Jewish and Christian oral and written traditions that lurk below the waves. Apocrypha Now is our attempt to let people see the rest of the iceberg. The problem with the Bible is that it's virtually impossible to understand on its own, and yet, everyone who wants to explain it to you seems to have an agenda. I wanted to write a book that explained the Bible as quickly and simply as possible without trying to hide its pimples or otherwise push readers to believe or disbelieve. I basically wanted to present the Bible, and its surrounding source material, as if explained to someone at a bar over a few drinks.
Shannon Wheeler: Mark will describe it better, but I look at the Bible, and our take (God Is Disappointed in You) as the attractive members of the family. To put together the Bible, they picked the stories that made the most sense. Apocrypha Now collects stories from the same time (and often with the same characters) that were too weird, nonsensical, feminist, egalitarian, or pagan. For example, the Infancy of Christ has Jesus turning his playmates into animals.
BD: Retelling the Bible and creating a sequel in more simplistic, yet hilarious terms, is certainly no easy feat. How did you approach sorting through such a large tome as source material?
MR: The authors of the Bible were writing for people of their own time. They weren't writing thinking Southern Baptists were going to be reading this two thousand years in the future. As such, they left out a lot of details that would have been obvious to ancient readers, but without which, the meaning of the book is completely lost on modern audiences. Who are the Edomites? And why does Obadiah have such a bug up his ass about them? Why does God care whether or not I have a shrimp cocktail? This is the sort of context that is often left out of the Bible, but without which, it cannot really be understood. I read a lot of historical and other background texts to the Bible so that I could include this much needed information in our rendition. In doing my research, I discovered so many fascinating and hilarious stories in the midrashim and the other sort of gossipy background texts to the Bible, that I thought they warranted their own book. And that is where the idea for Apocrypha Now came from.
SW: My job was easier than Mark's job. I skimmed the surface of the lake and grabbed a fish when I saw it. When I could summarize a story in a cartoon, I'd do it, but I was happy when I could find a moment of humor to illuminate (as it were).
BD: Would you recommend a specific target audience for both God Is Disappointed in You and Apocrypha Now?
MR: I think anyone who really wants to understand the Bible and isn't content with the answers they got in Sunday School. God Is Disappointed in You seemed to be received very well by religious and non-religious people alike. I just think there's a lot of curiosity about the Bible. Despite the fact that it's such a huge cultural cornerstone, nobody really seems to know much about it.
SW: The Bible has permeated almost every aspect of our culture. Our books are a great way to understand some of the source material. I'd recommend the books to anyone that won't be offended by irreverence.
BD: How would you describe your shared creative experience on Apocrypha Now?
MR: I like working with Shannon. We sort of feel like family at this point, so it's really for us to be honest and critical with each other. We don't really feel the need to sugar-coat opinions or validate each other's egos, so we can focus on what really matters, which is the work.
SW: It was a great back-and-forth. When I work alone I have to panic, run in circles, or play with the cat when I hit a creative wall. On this project I could turn to Mark and say "I've got nothing" and he would always be there with ideas.
BD: Do you have further plans to continue this series into either further books or other mediums?
MR: Not immediately. We've discussed possibly doing a third book of opinions explaining what the Bible, in the end, is all about and why it matters. Or maybe covering all the other writings and religions that have sprung up in the wake of the Bible, like the Book of Mormon, the Anabaptists, Puritans, and Seventh Day Adventists, etc. But we have nothing concrete is in the works.
SW: Mark has some ideas on a third book. I wouldn't mind writing some of my personal experiences with religion down in some autobiographical comics. When I was a child, my mom took us to see Jim Jones preach (yes, of the the kool-aid fame).
BD: Readers will be interested to know that there is an audible version of God Is Disappointed in You, and actor James Urbaniak lends his voice to the character God. How would you describe your experience in working with James, and why did he make the perfect God?
MR: I’ve been a big fan of James Urbaniak since Henry Fool, which in my opinion is the best movie ever made about the art of writing. And I found the idea of Dr. Venture voicing God to be at once hilarious and terrifying. But mostly, I wanted an actor who wasn't just some velvety voice who was going to sleepwalk through the material without any grasp of the meaning of the work or an appreciation for the humor and the timing it requires. I felt like James was someone who would really get it and do it right. And he did. The audiobook is phenomenal. Couldn't be happier with it.
SW: Not only is James the perfect God, he's the perfect Satan. He's also Dr. Venture and Robert Crumb (American Splendor). Hanging out with him in San Diego made my head explode.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Apocrypha Now?
MR: Oh, the best way to learn about it is just to read it. It comes out on June 2nd. And one thing that we've done differently this time is that Shannon has adapted several of the shorter books into mini-comics. The book contains a mini-comic about David being chased by a giant monster, the Jews trying to explain the creation story to Caesar, and the invention of the mule. Another thing that I think is really cool about Apocrypha Now is that you get a lot of different perspectives than you get from the intended-for-mass-consumption. There's a gospel from the perspective of Mary Magdalene. King Solomon comes off as a bit of a dick. Judas is a hero. Jesus would reduce his school teachers to tears. These stories might not be canon. They might not even be real. But they're a fascinating glimpse into the sort of stories Jews and Christians came up with to make sense of their relationship with God.
SW: Apocrypha Now adds extra insight into the the Bible. The story of Susanna and Lilith are already part of our culture. To get a sense of them, check out the book.