A while back, while listening to the podcast WAR ROCKET AJAX, I was first introduced to the awesomeness that is, Alex de Campi. She was on the show to promote the upcoming comic Archie versus Predator, and listening to the conversation, I was infected by the unbridled enthusiasm that Alex has for the project. I have never read an Archie comic in my life. I didn’t even know who was in the Riverdale gang was, outside of Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead. My entire exposure to Archie was limited to passing glances at the comic book covers over the decades of visiting the Comic Shop. Yet, listening to Alex describe the project, it sounded like the most amazing story I ever heard. This pulpy teenage horror story, marinated in over the top ridiculousness, stuffed with gore and violence, and garnished with snappy dialogue. I can’t remember the last time I was so excited for a book to come out, and when that day finally came, it didn’t just meet the impossible expectations I had built up in my mind, …it blew them out of the water. Not since the Joe Kelly/Ed McGuiness Deadpool run in the late 90’s, has a comic been this much fun to read.
No Mercy, from IMAGE comics, with Carla Speed McNeil and Jenn Manley Lee, is a story that takes you on different ride. Grounded in reality, it tells the tale of a group of teens doing charity work in South America that find themselves tested when a tragic car accident strands them in dangerous territory. It is powerful and emotional, expertly crafted with a sense of realism that makes the dangers these characters face, terrifying. The picture below from Issue 1, the teens look so happy, ready for the time of their life. Then the comments below hint at their terrible fate with such authenticity, it sends a chill up your spine when you read it. Two issues in and I’m hooked.
Clearly I am a fan, which is why when Alex de Campi agreed to sit down with Comic Crusaders for an interview, I begged for the assignment. What follows is an honest and open chat about her experiences breaking into comics, her love of teenage drama, and a killer list of comic recommendations.
LETS START AT THE BEGINNING, WHEN DID YOU DECIDE THAT YOU WANTED TO MAKE COMICS AND HOW DID YOU BREAK IN TO THE INDUSTRY?
I was an orphan, raised by a small family of badgers who found me abandoned next to a hedgerow in early spring. The badgers had made their nest using the gamekeeper’s discarded lad mags and X-Men comics, which instilled in my impressionable self a fervent desire to write comics. And I broke in because I have a photo of a major comics editor being rogered by a donkey.
CAN YOU WALK ME THROUGH YOUR PROCESS? HOW DO YOU BREAK AN ISSUE AND HOW DO YOU WRITE THE SCRIPT? IS IT MARVEL STYLE OR FULL SCRIPT?
I never write Marvel style. I always deliver full script, then I tell the artist to ignore it as much as he or she wants. Because I generally letter my own books, it’s easy to re-dialogue on the fly. I’ll generally have some big things I want to hit, and I usually (but not always) know where the issue will end. Then it’s just sitting down and writing the damn thing. Sometimes that takes the form of staring out the window and daydreaming for an afternoon; sometimes it’s lots of incomprehensible scribbles in a notebook; sometimes it’s just sitting down in front of Open Office (Hello, my name is Alex, and I am a Microsoft Denier) and forcing words onto the page. I’ve been doing this for a while… it’s all pretty instinctual now.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A COMIC BOOK WRITER? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU HAVE LEARNED OR PERHAPS A MISTAKE YOU MADE THAT YOU WOULD SUGGEST ANOTHER CREATOR ENTERING INTO INDEPENDENT COMICS DO DIFFERENTLY?
Oh, nobody should follow my road to the top (of the C-list). My best advice is to keep writing. Don’t keep pitching stories and only write the ones that land. Pick the story that means the most to you, and write that. Except if it’s your Batman pitch with the serial numbers filed off because we can all tell, and will laugh at you behind your back. Don’t worry about who will publish the story. Write the story, then find it a home. And the first few won’t find homes. This is good, as everyone’s first thousand pages are terrible. Older you will be VERY pleased indeed that younger you didn’t get those first couple scripts published.
Also: good writing is dangerous, and terrifying, and hard. If you’re not scared, it’s not writing — it’s typing.
IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU CAN OFFER TO A CREATOR LOOKING TO BREAK INTO COMICS IN TODAY’S MARKET?
Ask yourself: can you starve? It is really, really hard to survive in independent comics. You may not make a living at it, ever, so unless you have a partner with a day job and/or you also maintain a day job (pretty hard if you’re an artist), there’s a strong chance you’ll just get ground out by the soul-crushing lack of checks. Seriously, unless this is the thing you want more than anything else; that you simply cannot NOT write comics, you should GTFO. And lah, I know, people who don’t actually write or publish comics will tell you of all these wonderful opportunities in self-publishing, and all these great indie comic companies — and yes, Kickstarter is a blessed thing, and yes, the indie comics publishers are all fabulous (and should hire me immediately) — oh, the opportunities you’ll have to work your ass off for less than people make at Wal-Mart, weekends and evenings too, to publish a thing that almost nobody (relatively speaking) will buy.
NO MERCY IS FANTASTIC! A GREAT STORY ABOUT TEENS PLACED IN A DANGEROUS SITUATION THAT IS GROUNDED IN REAL LIFE. NO VAMPIRES, NO TIME TRAVEL, NO POST-APOCALYPTIC FUTURE. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO CREATE THIS STORY AND PLACE IT IN MODERN TIMES WITH MODERN PROBLEMS?
I grew up reading a lot of drama — y’know, plays — and for me the ideal story is something like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. One room, four people, absolutely gripping. Character work really excites me. (I also grew up watching Gatchaman and Space Battle Cruiser Yamato, so I do love crazy sci-fi too). I don’t inherently have anything against superpowers or high concepts… I just never get around to writing them. My stories never end up needing them. I am doing a kind of super-powery mini later this year or early next, and also planning a big sci-fi thing, but it won’t be high concept tech sci-fi in the end. It’ll be a Western in space. They’re all character pieces, my stories. I suppose it’s something I owe to falling in love with Naoki Urasawa’s writing. Something like MONSTER is really an exercise in serial portraiture.
ONE OF THE THINGS THAT STANDS OUT IN NO MERCY IS THE TEENAGERS ALL HAVE VERY UNIQUE AND AUTHENTIC VOICES. WHAT DRAWS YOU TO TEENAGE CHARACTERS AS PROTAGONISTS?
I love the inherent drama of the teenage years, when everything is a world-ending situation. Didn’t get texted back? AUGH THE END TIMES! Someone didn’t talk to you at a party? LET THE EARTH SWALLOW ME UP! The teenage years are, I am convinced, the worst years of our lives for like 95% of us, right? But still chucklefucks tell teens “these are the best years of your life!” NO. NOPE. NO SIREE.
And, voices. All of those characters have very specific intonations and speech patterns. I often say the dialogue aloud, and do all the voices, while writing. Nobody will ever hear this except my dog.
ARCHIE VERSUS PREDATOR IS A CRAZY FUN STORY! WHERE DID THE IDEA COME FROM AND HOW DID YOU COME TO BE THE WRITER ON THAT PROJECT?
I think the Archie guys were spitballing new crossovers after Archie/Kiss, and someone suggested Predator! Dark Horse said yes, and my editor for Grindhouse, Brendan Wright, was the natural Dark Horse editor for the book as he edits the big Archie Archives hardbacks. Brendan thought of me
THE ARCHIE GANG ARE ALWAYS FUN AND I LOVE REGGIE, HE HAS SOME AWESOME LINES. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE OF THE ARCHIE GANG TO WRITE?
Betty and Veronica. I could write those two bickering all day. I do love Reggie, too (he and Jughead bickering are like the male equivalent of B & V) and Dilton has some great lines in issue 3. They’re all fun to write.
THERE IS SUCH A RICH CATALOGUE OF WORK YOU HAVE AMASSED IN YOUR CAREER. IS THERE ONE PROJECT IN PARTICULAR THAT STICKS OUT IN YOUR MIND THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
“They are all my sons…” I’m proud of them all. I’m proud of Smoke/Ashes because it nearly killed me (PS you can buy it here: http://alexdecampi.bigcartel.com/) and it contains some of my best writing and hey, collage lettering on Sienkiewicz art. I’m proud of Grindhouse because it got me noticed. Proud of No Mercy because again, I think it’s moved my writing to a new level. I love Archie vs. Predator, proud of that too. And of course all the ones yet to come.
WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE COMIC BOOK CHARACTER THAT YOU HAVE YET TO WRITE AND WHY?
Hmm. Tough one. Technically, I’ve already written Wonder Woman so I can’t say her. You know what? Superman. I’d be amazing at Superman. And, he’s hard to do well. Any damn fool can write Batman — dark, brooding vigilante with lots of hyper-violence, it’s the 17-year-old misfit white male’s dream character. Batman is actually someone who made all the easy choices — not engaging with people, not really. Not using his money or influence for anything other than building bat-vanced weaponry. (NB, I am not slagging off Batman writers, here. Batman is the bass guitar of the DCU — easy to play at an acceptable/mediocre standard; extremely hard to play well.) Superman made the hard choices. He does engage with other people. And, in our sarcastic, depressed, everything-turns-to-shit society, he still does the right thing, every damn time. How do you get in that mindset? How do you make it natural, believable, laudable? How do you give people an exciting story that is also hopeful, fun, and uplifting? That is why Superman.
WHAT IS ON YOUR CURRENT “MUST READ” LIST?
A lot of nonfiction history / research for upcoming books. For comics? I’m going to talk about new stuff because if you’re not reading things like Saga or Lazarus or The Wicked and the Devine, or Waid/Samnee’s Daredevil by now, me regurgitating their names YET AGAIN won’t change your mind. Go, be alone with your wrongness.
NEW STUFF! RunLoveKill has me hooked. A nice #1, and then a killer #2. I am looking forwards to Airboy. I love Kaijumax and it is going to make me cry. Jem and the Holograms is super fun and I’m always on board for Sophie Campbell’s art. Ghost Fleet is the best miniseries nobody read, as was Vandroid. The webcomics, Kill6BillionDemons and Space-Mullet make me cry with jealousy at their wonderfulness. I have an advance copy of the High Crimes trade (out soon), which I’m excited to dive into.
ARE THERE ANY UPCOMING CONVENTIONS OR EVENTS YOU WILL BE ATTENDING YOU WOULD LIKE OUR READERSHIP TO BE AWARE OF?
I’m at Phoenix ComiCon this coming weekend, then Special Edition in NYC on 6-7 June — if you want more tips on the business side of being a pro from an all-star lineup of creators, you should come to our “Let’s Talk About Checks” panel at 1pm on 6 June. I’ll be at SDCC too, my first one in years. Then a couple October cons including Jet City and (probably) NYCC.
Look for NO MERCY Issue 3 and ARCHIE VS PREDATOR Issue 3, available JUNE 2015.