British comic book artist and writer Brendan McCarthy started out as a Mad Max fan but almost 30 years later he has co-written Fury Road, the new instalment of one of cinema’s best-known franchises.
Set in an energy-scarce, dustbowl apocalyptic future where filling up with fuel can cost a life rather than £1.09p a litre, the first three Mad Max films made Mel Gibson a household name in the 1980s. The fourth outing has Tom Hardy cast as Max, Charlize Theron as the formidable head of a group called the Five Wives and Hugh Keays Byrne, a bad guy in the first Mad Max, as Fury Road’s main villain.
For London-born McCarthy, teaming up with legendary Australian director George Miller to write the script has been a dream come true. “As a young man, I was completely blown away by Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior,” he said. “I was 20 or so at the time and was in Australia after travelling around for a while. Leaving the cinema after seeing it the first time I was in a semi-religious state. The film was a magnificent punk masterpiece. I turned around and bought another ticket and watched it again and again. I needed to know how they had made this astonishing film.”
Around this time, in the 80s, McCarthy was carving himself a notable career drawing for comics. British comic 2000AD and US giants DC and Marvel Comics are among those he has drawn for. After seeing Mad Max 2, he and writer Pete Milligan created the comic strip Freakwave. “It was Mad Max goes surfing,” said McCarthy. “Over the years after seeing Mad Max 2 I used to write to George Miller, asking him about the films. I met Road Warrior’s producer, the late Byron Kennedy, but it was 15 years after that memorable night in Australia before I met George. We met in Hollywood and I chewed his leg off about Mad Max one, two and three.”
By this time, McCarthy was creating storyboards for movies as well as illustrating comic book stories. He worked up the storyboards for Highlander 2: The Quickening and 1996’s Loch Ness starring Ted Danson. McCarthy also developed art work for a proposed 1990s adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows books, and designs for a remake of Lost in Space. He has also worked with directors like Tim Burton and David Lynch.
McCarthy’s work on Mad Max 4 started more than a decade ago. As well as co-writing the film, he produced thousands of drawings for its storyboard and the cover for an early idea to make it a graphic novel. Fury Road has taken a long route from Miller and McCarthy’s initial conversation in the Beverley Hills Hilton, to them writing the story in Sydney, to it now being ready for its cinema release in May.
The wheels have almost come off at various junctions along the way — including Gibson falling out of the picture as the leading man and freak weather transforming a desert location in Australia into a less than apocalyptic wild flower meadow.
The production had to move to the Namib Desert in Africa.
There, in one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth, fan-turned-co-writer McCarthy found himself among the film’s menagerie of strange vehicles. McCarthy said: “They are amazing, with wheels taller than me and massive hand-made chrome blowers — and they all work. Incredible craftsmanship, beautiful works of art.”
For obvious reasons, McCarthy gives little away about the plot.
But he does offer up a couple of nuggets. He said: “The Five Wives are the nub of the story. It is around their fate the entire adventure revolves.” The artist describes the story as “stripped down” with scant dialogue and lots of action. “It is basically a huge chase movie,” he said. “George has spoken of it in essence, being ‘figures in motion in a landscape’. “The film that will most give you an idea of what it is like is John Ford’s Western The Searchers.”
Beyond the thundering doom and daring of Fury Road’s chase movie, McCarthy has continued his work on new comics and graphic novels. They include his current “Inception-meets-The X Men” tale Dream Gang and a project simply called Monster.
“Monster is based on the Loch Ness Monster myth. It will be a graphic novel and I have written the core of the story,” said McCarthy. “The best way to describe it is if you imagine Trainspotting meets a werewolf movie. A bunch of idiots are looning about the shores of Loch Ness and one of them, a smack head, gets bitten by something in the waters of Loch Ness and later starts metamorphosing into a monster in Glasgow. It’s a metaphor for addiction.”
The work is keeping him distracted from the hype being built up around the first Mad Max movie since 1985’s Beyond the Thunderdome.
McCarthy said: “I have avoided any early showings of the film. I don’t want to see a half-finished version, or a version with scenes that haven’t made the final film. I just want to see it as an ordinary paying punter and come to it fresh and enjoy it. What we have been trying to do is give a new generation its own Mad Max. To blow them away and send them reeling into the night.”