Brooklyn native Mario Candelaria wears different writing hats, whether he’s breaking a story for a new comic book or preparing a set for performance in a comedy club. Mario and I had a wide-ranging conversation, from his secret origin as a comics reader, to setting a creative mood through music, to lessons learned along the writer’s journey — oh, and his love for X-Man and the Red Hood.
First off, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.):
Your home base (city/state or just state if you prefer):
Current project title(s) (either already released or upcoming):
GOOD FIGHT Anthology short w/ Serg Acuna, Lesley Atlansky, Scott Ewen
COSMIC LOVE Anthology short w/ Adam Ferris, Lesley Atlansky, Scott Ewen
JENNY RAYGUN miniseries (Source Point 2020) w/ Adam Ferris, Lesley Atlansky, Scott Ewen & John Keaveney
Kevin Sharp, Fanbase Press Contributor: At what age, or roughly when, did reading comics first become an important part of your life?
Mario Candelaria: As far back as I could remember, I’ve always been reading comics in some capacity or another. Growing up in Brooklyn, we had bodegas on almost every corner with spinner racks and shelves right next to the Little Debbie’s cakes. A lot of my older cousins also had some comics, so it was just something that was always around.
It wasn’t until I was maybe three or four where I consciously remember seeing a Spider-Man floppy copy and getting excited to pick it up and buy it for myself. That might’ve been the first superhero comic I owned. It was an Erik Larsen “Revenge of the Sinister Six” chapter.
KS: Any other characters you were especially interested in?
MC: X-Man (Nate Grey) was a big one for me -- I almost have the full run of his series. I feel like I really related with him a lot more from a subconscious level, because he found himself in a world much different than the one he came from, and this was right around the same time my mom moved in with her now wife, uprooting us from Brooklyn to the suburbs.
I never really put two and two until just now, so I thank you for the free therapy.
KS: Kids today have a lot of competition for their money and time, and buying comics isn’t necessarily a high priority. What role did comics play in your life at this time? Were you a regular reader?
MC: I grew up poor, so I didn’t have a lot to really give, but the great things about comics are you can always lend them out or trade with other kids. Sometimes, I would go to the mall and read comics from the rack in the old Walden Books. Sometimes, I would volunteer to go grocery shopping, just so I can slip off to the magazine section for a few minutes and see what new comics were out.
If there is a will, there is a way -- and I did what I had to to keep up with the storylines.
KS: What’s the first comics piece you remember creating, at whatever age?
MC: I didn’t get into the creating side until late in the game, but, in high school, my buddy, Colin Crose (Kubert grad and also professional wrestler), kind of gave the Hamburglar a gritty origin comic where he took on the other fast food mascots who were led by Chuck E. Cheese. Believe it or not, I was straight-edge back then!
KS: That project sounds amazing! What was your role in the development?
MC: I helped Colin come up with the concept, and we would spitball ideas in the lunch room for how the story could go or lines that could be said. It was my very first collaborative effort in a way. Plus, we worked at McD’s, so maybe we had a bit of rebellion in us.
KS: Nowadays, do you have a set daily (or nightly) writing routine? Does it include listening to music, or any other background noise while you work? Any go-to snacks or beverages for this work time?
MC: I try not to set a daily routine, because I will somehow find a way to rebel against it subconsciously. I tend to write when I get the inspiration, and when I do I like to listen to something not too distracting, but catchy enough to influence my story. Sometimes I will put a song on repeat if I feel it is keeping me in a specific mindset I need to be in at that moment.
I don’t really eat while I write, but I do have the cliché write stash of bourbon with the big ice cube. Old Forester Statesman is my go to, but I love some Kraken rum. Diet Mountain Dew is my cocaine these days, so one can be seen within proximity while I am writing.
KS: Can you give an example of using music to get into a specific mindset? What’s a favorite song (or two) and when might you use them?
MC: I used to write while listening to Lana Del Rey -- I even produced an anthology inspired by her music –- but lately I’ve been vibing to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. My mom was on the young side when I was born, so a lot of my music was in the then and now, the top 20 stuff. I got into hip hop right in the crib thanks to my uncles, but I gravitated on my own towards rock and punk when I was the tenth grade.
KS: You’ve written scripts for a variety of different artists. What’s something you’ve learned about collaboration in comics writing?
MC: You really need to learn to read someone when collaborating. Some people only want to be told what to put on the page while some others want to be heard when it comes to their thoughts. Writers need to strike a balance on being flexible while staying true to your story.
Most importantly, writers need to really examine what they are committing artist (or even colorist & letterers) to do. There’s only so much that can fit within the confines of one page. Hopefully, concerns over this would be addressed by the team before it goes through each step and looks poorly on the final product.
KS: If you look back at your earlier writing work, what stands out as different from how you do it now?
MC: I feel like I may have been freer back then, because I was new and didn’t know what would work or wouldn’t work, but I also see it was all over the place just because I didn’t get that pacing down. The beautiful thing about life is we are always learning and always making mistakes as we go. Hopefully, we can be smart enough to recognize them when they pop up and learn.
Ask me this question in five years, and I will more than likely tell you about mistakes I made today that I wish I could go back and change.
KS: Give us one word that sums up an important trait for being successful in this business.
MC: Persistence. Not a week goes by where I am not frustrated at not being where I feel I should be, or not getting opportunities those I come up with are, or not feeling rejected by numerous emails going unanswered. The little voice tells me I should quit all the time, and I can see it in my family’s eyes when they ask me how things are going and it makes me feel like a failure at times… but I’ve just got to keep on persisting because I know I have a lot to offer some publishers. It’s just a matter of time before the right person sees what I have done and gives me that shot I’m looking for.
KS: In addition to comics, you also do comedy writing. What’s different between the two when it comes to which creative muscles you use? Obviously, one form involves other collaborators — what I’m wondering about is the specific challenges for the writer.
MC: Comedic writing is more immediate in terms of feedback. I can be in a room with people or in a Skype and we’re all spit balling ideas back and forth and the laughter from your peers is the selling point as to whether or not something can work. Comics is a bit more isolated during the creation process, and you won’t necessarily see reactions until you’ve finished the thing on your end and send it off for feedback.
KS: Whether it’s a comic script or a comedy bit, how do you know when you’ve gotten it as good as you can on your own? Do you have any trusted readers/listeners to give you feedback?
MC: I have a few people I let see my raw ideas and thoughts as they progress from a turd nugget to a more polished turd nugget, but for the most part I don’t think I will ever feel something is as good as I can get it. A lot of creative types will agree that they can be their own worst critics at times, but, sometimes, you just have to let go, put it out there, and hope they like it enough to allow you more opportunities.
KS: What’s a comic book/graphic novel by someone else that you look at with awe?
MC: THE ALCOHOLIC by Dean Haspiel and Jonathan Ames is my all-time favorite example of how comics are more than just kid stuff and source material for superhero movies. The story starts with the lead waking up from a drunken state about to get a beej from some Nan in a car. Who starts a book like that? Excellent storytelling from beginning to end that really hooks you in and slaps you in the feelings.
KS: Going more mainstream for a moment, is there a well-known comics character you’d love to try writing a story for? Could be a single issue, a graphic novel, a miniseries…
MC: This is a funny question. I recently saw someone tweet out that posting these “I wish I could write ____” might make someone who is writing that character insecure because you are publicly stating you’re gunning for their job, but I think it’s good to let them sweat it out and not feel complacent.
Ughhhhh. I am probably going to royally f--k myself by putting this out there, but I would really like to write the Red Hood. What can I say, I love the bad boy characters. I think I can do it some justice if given the chance.
KS: And finally, tell us a little about your most recent/upcoming comics project
MC: JENNY RAYGUN is an action adventure story created by Adam Ferris and me. It’s about a cocky soldier who is the poster child mascot for a retro-future space war. We have had a lot of fun creating this, blending that action element with comedic spots. I am very proud of my team and hope our fun translates through to the readers.