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Interview: Russell And Meli Say "Get Your @$$ to Mars!"

Interview by Nicki Faust

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From two-time Eisner and Harvey Award nominee Mark Russell and hot new talent Roberto Meli comes Travelling to Mars, a compelling new sci-fi series about a former pet store manager/the first human to ever set foot on Mars. Seriously.

PREVIEWSworld talked with the creative team behind this story of planetary exploration to find out more...

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PREVIEWSworld: What inspired Traveling to Mars

Mark Russell: I wanted to write a story about the futility of thinking other planets will save us from ourselves. The idea for Traveling to Mars first came to me as I was reading all the talks and op-eds and think-pieces about the urgent need to colonize Mars and spread the seed of humanity to other worlds. And the fact that this world is rapidly becoming uninhabitable they, mysteriously, seemed to think worked as an argument in their favor. But I couldn't help but think that until we first show enough interest in terraforming Earth, in making Earth a planet suitable for long-term habitation, all we can really hope to gain by going to other worlds is kicking the can of our extinction down the road a little bit. As I say in the series, we seem to be a rat racing down what we know is a dead end in the maze, but we don't know where we made the wrong turn or how to get back there... so full speed ahead, I guess. 

PREVIEWSworld: Can you tell us more about the main character, Roy?  His two robot companions Leopold and Albert are also very interesting...what's their story?  

Mark Russell: Roy is a former pet store manager from the town of Eufaula, Alabama. About as unspectacular a man as you'd hope to meet. And yet, he is about to become the most famous man on Earth. People will hang on his every word. And to Leopold and Albert, though he did absolutely nothing to earn this distinction, he is worshiped as their creator. As close a thing to a god as they will ever meet. Leopold and Albert are "super-rovers", Mars rovers equipped with artificial intelligence. Far more impressive, as sentient beings go, than Roy is. And yet, they consider him a god because they think he is privy to the mystery of life in a way they aren't. Then again, maybe that's all a god is. The beneficiary of misplaced awe.

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PREVIEWSworld: Roberto, as the newcomer, can you tell us a bit about who you are and where you hail from?  

Roberto Meli: Of course, I can: my name's RoB "Dakar" Meli and I hail from Italy. "Dakar" is some sort of nickname after my best friend ever, my dog Dakar.

PREVIEWSworld: How did you become involved in this project?  

Roberto Meli: For a long time I had always dreamt of entering the American comic industry, and luck struck me when my agent Davide Caci told me about Mark Russell and Ablaze Comics who seemed to like my samples. We talked a bit about it and I accepted with great enthusiasm to be introduced to Mark. I owe everything to Davide Caci - friend, talented agent, and little-big brother.

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PREVIEWSworld: What influences and research did you draw on to shape the characters and the setting, Mark?

Mark Russell: I did a lot of research about the logistical problems of settling on Mars, even as a short-term proposition. The big obstacle, the logistical hurdle of sending a human being to Mars that would soak up most of your research and resources, would be in keeping them alive once they got there. And God help you if you intend to bring them back from Mars. The scale of the project and the resources it will cost grows exponentially the more you want to see your settlers alive again. Which is why, in this story, the company that wins the race to Mars is the one that finds a terminally ill man willing to die more or less as soon as he gets there. In Roy's case (our protagonist), he's going from one planet that wasn't interested in keeping him alive to one that is even less so. 

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PREVIEWSworld: Were you familiar with Mark's work before this project, Rob?  

Roberto Meli: Of course. I knew his past works, but I felt like buying more to better understand his style, his poetics. We once met in a video call. He has such an appealing personality, he's very professional at the same time very easygoing. He is always ready to give me precious advice, and he gives me complete freedom to express the way I imagine this world. Furthermore, what I cherish most is his readiness in providing answers.

PREVIEWSworld: Why did you want to tell this story? 

Mark Russell: I wanted to give Roy the chance I think I might like to have someday, which is a long and monastic end-of-life experience. A chance to take stock at the end, knowing that it is the end. The chance to reflect on all the love and regrets you've accumulated over the years, and to put your life and what it meant into some sort of cosmic context. And then in writing where someone else (hopefully) might find it. That's the only real form of immortality I believe in. And it's not even very immortal. But somehow, for me and for Roy, it's enough.

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PREVIEWSworld: Any specific inspiration you are pulling from when drawing this book?  

Roberto Meli: Oh, well...when you're fond of comics and of a certain type of story you cannot be full of inspiration. I like so many artists and scriptwriters, and I am sure I have a lot to pick from every single one. I also am pretty fond of cinema, and many are the movies that somehow [end up in] my artwork.

PREVIEWSworld: Why do you feel Traveling to Mars will resonate with its audience? 

Mark Russell: When in doubt, I just write about the things that trouble or obsess me and assume that there's a lot of people interested in the same things. I'm not terribly original. But I think all one has to do is look at the news, read an article or two about heatwaves and wildfires and wonder why we keep racing toward the end of what we know is a dead end in the maze. That's ultimately what this book is about. What keeps us from solving the maze and what meaning there is in our lives as failed mice? Which sounds like a terrible downer, I know. But, at the same time, this book is not devoid of hope. There is meaning to be found and, for the most part, it is found in each other. So I feel that, in the end, it's actually a very hopeful book.

PREVIEWSworld: What can readers expect with this series?

Mark Russell: I would prefer they read it without any expectations whatsoever. But I know that's a tall order. So I will simply say that this is a book I have been wanting to write for some time. That this is, to me, what science fiction should be. A meditation on life placed in outer space so it doesn't hurt too much to think about it.

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Traveling to Mars is available to preorder now with PREVIEWSworld Pullbox! It hits comic shops November 9, 2022 from Ablaze! 

Keep an eye on PREVIEWSworld.com's TwitterFacebookYouTube, or Instagram for more artist spotlights!

ABLAZE PUBLISHING
TRAVELING TO MARS #1 CVR A MELI (MR)
(W) Mark Russell (A/CA) Roberto Meli
From two-time Eisner and Harvey Award nominee Mark Russell and hot new talent Roberto Meli comes a compelling new sci-fi series...
Traveling to Mars tells the story of former pet store manager Roy Livingston, the first human to ever set foot on Mars. Roy was chosen for this unlikely mission for one simple reason: he is terminally ill and therefore has no expectation of returning. Roy is joined on his mission to Mars by Leopold and Albert, two Mars rovers equipped with artificial intelligence, who look upon the dying pet store manager as a sort of god. Against the backdrop of not only his waning days but those of human civilization as well, Roy has ample time to think about where things went wrong for both of them and what it means to be a dying god.
A riveting story of planetary exploration and of finding meaning in your final days.
In Shops: Nov 09, 2022
SRP: $3.99
PREVIEWS Page #238

ABLAZE PUBLISHING
TRAVELING TO MARS #1 CVR B ANDOLFO (MR)
(W) Mark Russell (A) Roberto Meli (CA) Mirka Andolfo
From two-time Eisner and Harvey Award nominee Mark Russell and hot new talent Roberto Meli comes a compelling new sci-fi series...
Traveling to Mars tells the story of former pet store manager Roy Livingston, the first human to ever set foot on Mars. Roy was chosen for this unlikely mission for one simple reason: he is terminally ill and therefore has no expectation of returning. Roy is joined on his mission to Mars by Leopold and Albert, two Mars rovers equipped with artificial intelligence, who look upon the dying pet store manager as a sort of god. Against the backdrop of not only his waning days but those of human civilization as well, Roy has ample time to think about where things went wrong for both of them and what it means to be a dying god.
A riveting story of planetary exploration and of finding meaning in your final days.
In Shops: Nov 09, 2022
SRP: $3.99
PREVIEWS Page #238

ABLAZE PUBLISHING
TRAVELING TO MARS #1 CVR C LAVINA (MR)
(W) Mark Russell (A) Roberto Meli (CA) Zulema Lavina
From two-time Eisner and Harvey Award nominee Mark Russell and hot new talent Roberto Meli comes a compelling new sci-fi series...
Traveling to Mars tells the story of former pet store manager Roy Livingston, the first human to ever set foot on Mars. Roy was chosen for this unlikely mission for one simple reason: he is terminally ill and therefore has no expectation of returning. Roy is joined on his mission to Mars by Leopold and Albert, two Mars rovers equipped with artificial intelligence, who look upon the dying pet store manager as a sort of god. Against the backdrop of not only his waning days but those of human civilization as well, Roy has ample time to think about where things went wrong for both of them and what it means to be a dying god.
A riveting story of planetary exploration and of finding meaning in your final days.
In Shops: Nov 09, 2022
SRP: $3.99
PREVIEWS Page #238

ABLAZE PUBLISHING
TRAVELING TO MARS #1 CVR D MCKEE (MR)
(W) Mark Russell (A) Roberto Meli (CA) Brent McKee
From two-time Eisner and Harvey Award nominee Mark Russell and hot new talent Roberto Meli comes a compelling new sci-fi series...
Traveling to Mars tells the story of former pet store manager Roy Livingston, the first human to ever set foot on Mars. Roy was chosen for this unlikely mission for one simple reason: he is terminally ill and therefore has no expectation of returning. Roy is joined on his mission to Mars by Leopold and Albert, two Mars rovers equipped with artificial intelligence, who look upon the dying pet store manager as a sort of god. Against the backdrop of not only his waning days but those of human civilization as well, Roy has ample time to think about where things went wrong for both of them and what it means to be a dying god.
A riveting story of planetary exploration and of finding meaning in your final days.
In Shops: Nov 09, 2022
SRP: $3.99
PREVIEWS Page #238

ABLAZE PUBLISHING
TRAVELING TO MARS #1 CVR E BLANK ED (MR)
(W) Mark Russell (A) Roberto Meli (CA) Blank Cover
The Blank Cover Edition - available as a variant for TRAVELING TO MARS #1 - features the same great story and art, but with a blank wraparound cover for you to get your favorite artist to draw their own cover!
From two-time Eisner and Harvey Award nominee Mark Russell and hot new talent Roberto Meli comes a compelling new sci-fi series...
Traveling to Mars tells the story of former pet store manager Roy Livingston, the first human to ever set foot on Mars. Roy was chosen for this unlikely mission for one simple reason: he is terminally ill and therefore has no expectation of returning. Roy is joined on his mission to Mars by Leopold and Albert, two Mars rovers equipped with artificial intelligence, who look upon the dying pet store manager as a sort of god. Against the backdrop of not only his waning days but those of human civilization as well, Roy has ample time to think about where things went wrong for both of them and what it means to be a dying god.
A riveting story of planetary exploration and of finding meaning in your final days.
In Shops: Nov 09, 2022
SRP: $10.00
PREVIEWS Page #238

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Nicki Faust's heart is as cold as concrete in the Chicago winter. When not writing for PREVIEWSworld, Nicki is busy playing Limbo on Twitch, writing about the great robot uprising on Medium, and completing the untitled follow-up to the 2012 best-seller, Sue Storm: A Nude Photobook.   

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