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Stephen King's The Stand

The Stand: Firestarter

Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa takes us inside the methods and madness of the Trashcan Man



By Sean T. Collins It's time for the world to burn—Meet the man who's going to light the match. One of Stephen King's must unforgettable character creations, the Trashcan Man, aka Donald Merwin Elbert, started out just a harmless firebug until the Captain Trips virus. But with the world's authority figures in their graves and Randall Flagg on the rise, all of America's ripe for burning. It's a dream come true for Trashcan Man—and in THE STAND: AMERICAN NIGHTMARES #2, on sale April 8, that dream takes center stage. Marvel.com spoke with series writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa about this tormented figure, his relationship with Randall Flagg, and what his burning desires tell us about human nature itself.

Black and white
preview art by
Mike Perkins

Marvel.com: Without spoiling too much, can you give us the basic scoop on the Trashcan Man? Who is he? Where's he from? And where'd he get that nickname? Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: Trashy, as we like to call him, is a complete and utter pyromaniac. Since he was a little boy, and probably since he was in his mother's womb. And when we meet him, his fondest wish has come true. All the people who tormented him while he was growing up—the ones who nicknamed him "Trashcan Man"—for setting fires in trashcans, natch—all the people who wanted to stop him from lighting fires, who arrested him or threw him into insane asylums, are dead, thanks to Captain Trips. So there's a whole world out there, waiting to be lit on fire by him. And, more importantly, there seems to be someone in the world who actually wants Trashy to set fires. Someone with a lot of power. Someone named Randall Flagg. Of course, like many sociopaths, Trashy is his own worst enemy. Wanting too much, too soon. And he barely survives his first attempt—successful, by the way—to create a gigantic explosion/inferno. Marvel.com: It's clear from the start that unlike many of the other violent or cruel characters we've encountered so far, Traschan Man isn't "evil" as we'd understand it, he's mentally ill, a genuine pyromaniac. What kind of challenges, and opportunities, did that present in terms of your portrayal of him? Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: That's true. Trashcan Man is a little bit like Larry Underwood. They're both on the bubble, could go either way, towards good or evil, with a minimal amount of prodding. Of course, Trashy is much more unbalanced than Larry is, which means capturing his essence is a little bit more challenging. How does a sane person—assuming the writer

Black and white
preview art by
Mike Perkins

is sane—capture a truly insane character's thought-process? Or inner-life? It's hard. It's like stepping into a Salvador Dali-like funhouse—or hall of mirrors—and trying to describe, rationally, what you're seeing... Or, you know, you could just let yourself go a little bit insane. Marvel.com: Since Stephen King originally wrote "The Stand," as a country we've gotten a lot more first-hand experience with widespread devastation, from what Hurricanes Katrina and Rita did to the Gulf Coast to what the wildfires do to California and other Western states on an annual basis. With Trashy running around like a one-man firestorm, did these real-world disasters impact how you and [artist] Mike [Perkins] approached the results of his actions? Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: I can't speak for Mike, but I don't think so. "The Stand," like many classic works of art or literature—and by classic, I mean, among other things, something that's timeless—deepens over time. Events happen, echoing what Stephen wrote 30 years ago. Resonances are drawn across decades. It's eerie, sometimes, and prescient, but I don't think it affects my treatment of any particular character and/or sequence. Marvel.com: Supernatural forces using all-too-human beings to do their dirty work is a recurring theme in King's work, and is perhaps nowhere as prominent as it is in "The Stand." Why do you think that theme resonates? Should we expect Randall Flagg to get his hands on the Trashcan Man for that purpose? Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: Oh, definitely. You kind of get the impression that Flagg's had his eye on Trashcan Man for awhile, absolutely. As Stanley says to Blanche in "A Streetcar Named Desire": "They had that date scheduled for a looooong time…" In terms of that larger theme, I think we all like to believe that we're basically good. Even when we're

Black and white
preview art by
Mike Perkins

doing horrible things. So it's an appealing idea, this notion that there's an external, evil something manipulating us, bringing out the worst in us. You know, the little devil on our shoulder saying: "Go ahead, no one's watching." Of course, if you follow that narrative, you want to believe you'll be strong enough to resist that temptation, whether it comes from within or from without. Which Trashy isn't. Though Larry, perhaps, hopefully, is. Marvel.com: Anything else you'd like to add on Trashy—the floor is yours! Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: He's a blast to write, literally and figuratively. Mostly because, you know, one of the brilliant things Stephen King has done in "The Stand" is give us villains who are completely realized, completely three-dimensional. His human villains; Flagg is more a force of nature—evil incarnate. And what's insidious is how much you find yourself relating and empathizing with these guys—Lloyd, Harold, Trashy. At least, I do. Which maybe I shouldn't be admitting, but there you go… Light a fire with THE STAND: AMERICAN NIGHTMARES #2, on sale April 8. For more info, visit Marvel.com's Stand Hub and StephenKing.com. Published by arrangement with The Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. This comic series is produced under license from The Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group and Stephen King. Check out the official Marvel Shop for the best mighty Marvel merchandise! Download episodes of X-Men: Evolutionicon now on iTunes!

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