Thursday, October 11, 2012

Interview Time--John Arcudi

John Arcudi is the writer behind quite a lot of stuff. He is known for his past work on, "Major Bummer," all the great, "BPRD," comics he is currently putting out, his newest mini-series, "The Creep," and he is of course the author behind one of my favorite graphic novels ever, "A God Somewhere (I declared it the best OGN of 2010 right when I was starting this whole blog-writing thing)." I conducted an interview with him where we discussed how you strike a balance between adding new things and honoring what exists in, "BPRD, I learned more about "The Creep," and we of course talked about, "A God Somewhere," along with other topics. Read it all below!

1. You've been doing a lot with the BPRD. How has it been working in the world created by Mike Mignola but now being influenced so much by your writing?

It's been great.  Mike mostly leaves me to write my stories my way, and as any writer working anywhere in this industry can tell you, that's huge.  Obviously, most of the characters I work with are Mike's creations and he's going to say yay or nay about some of the bigger things I want to do with those guys, but mostly he just allows me to do my thing.
Arcudi's Captain Daimio.
 2. To continue with that idea of, "Doing your own thing," I've always wondered when working in the "established property," sandbox how much of an urge is there to use the "toys" (so to speak) that are already in there, and how much of a desire is there to kind of make your own? For example in BPRD you have Captain Daimio whom I recall you created, but there are of course all the other characters in the universe you've done extensive work with. To simplify the question, how much of it is making your own new thing and how much is putting your unique stamp on what's already there? 

I just try to write good stories, and stay as true to the characters as is humanly possible.  When they're my characters (like Daimio) that's a lot easier, and in some cases (like Johann) I've written a character far more than Mike or anybody else has, so I really feel like he's mine -- creatively speaking.  The freedom to develop a character like that allows for creative directions that a more rigid environment would not.  But I'm not actively out to reinvent any character.

3. You’ve got “The Creep” coming out now from Dark Horse. Tell me about this PI with a strange deformity. Where did you get the idea? If someone loved the movie The Elephant Man, as I did, and also loves noir stories, would this be right up my alley?

I'd like to think it would be to your taste, but it's more modern noir than classic noir (well, it's 80's noir, anyway as it's set in 1988).  It's probably a bit more deliberately paced than, say, "Out of the Past."   But on the other hand, you have the same weaving together of characters' lives that you would see in classic noir-- where the harrowing situation created by the "crime" (in this case a pair of suicides) creates a kind of desperate struggle to connect with the survivors.  The main character, Oxel, has acromegaly -- a disorder that causes gross deformity of the face and skin, etc., and that certainly contributes to the heightening of emotions -- but I wouldn't otherwise compare it too, too much to "The Elephant Man."  Unless of course that gets you to buy the book!
Oxel may be deformed but his feelings and thoughts make him quite the sympathetic fellow.
 4. Well, your answer sold me on it so I've now read the #0 and #1 issue. It's quite a good read and I've enjoyed it a bunch! I have some questions about it too. For example, I liked how Oxel clearly has something  physically wrong with him but it isn't too exaggerated to a point where he's horribly freakish to see. Did you try to make him look just "different" enough he was unique but not too out-there so that someone reading the story could still identify with him?

Acromegaly is a disease that used to affect a lot of folks (less so today due to effective treatments) so we had to adhere to the real world facts of the illness.  Really, Jonathan is the guy you should be talking to.  Lots of artists would have made the features a broader caricature of the actual disease, which would be a mistake for this kind of story, but Jonathan Case nailed the look we wanted.

5. I have more to ask about, "The Creep." From those early issues it is abundantly clear our hero carries with him a great sadness and feelings of guilt. Without spoiling too much can you say if we're heading toward a happy ending for Oxel or am I going to be depressed upon the series conclusion? In fact, is there a chance that after this we could see more tales about Oxel? I could picture a variety of series where he takes up new cases each mini.

I'd love to do more "Creep" stories, but the market will determine that.  A happy ending for Oxel?  Well, that all depends on what you would consider a happy ending for a 1980's NYC noir story.  I tend to think of it more as a realistic ending rather than "happy" or "sad."  And that may well be your answer right there.
A "Hero" who would rather slack-off than save the world is the best way to describe Major Bummer.
 6. “Major Bummer” was originally a DC comic, but then was re-printed by Dark Horse in a large collection. How did this happen, and does this happen to mean you have rights to it—i.e. there is a slight chance we could see more  Major Bummer stories someday?

Doug Mahnke and I do indeed own the rights to MB, and while it seems unlikely, yes, there's the slight possibility for new stories.

7. Okay, I’ve made it no secret one of my favorite books is, “A God Somewhere.” First off, when writing this story did you set out to make a world where there was no such thing as super-heroes?
Eric is called a hero, but I found it important no one ever says anything, “super”. Was this to make it a more human tale?

It is a human tale, or anyway, I think it is.  For instance, there are no superhumans in our world, so that's the world I wanted to write this story in.  And the real impact made in this story is on Eric's friend,
Sam -- as well as Eric's brother and sister-in-law.  For that matter, on everybody but Eric -- but we see the collateral benefits and damages of being Eric's friend primarily through Sam's eyes.

8. More AGS questions for you, why did you decide to never make it clear how Eric gained his powers? Did you feel it unnecessary to story?  Was it partly to avoid the cliché of aforementioned super-hero stories with their complex origins?

It's not important to the story, I don't think.  I always intended AGS to be more allegorical than literal, and focusing on the ripples the rock creates when it hits the pond's surface is always more rewarding and interesting than analyzing the rock itself (no offense to any geologists out there).  Also, when prodigies do occur in our world, what's the explanation?   When a 9 year girl old graduates from college summa cum laude, does anybody run around asking "How did this happen? What vitamins did her mother and father take?  Was the kid exposed to cosmic rays?"  No, we just accept it as a  fluke, or a miracle -- something like that.  And even if we did ask those questions, there are not real answers, are there? Beyond that, what explanation would have been adequate?  In a story where people get crippled, and raped, and disfigured, and dismembered, what explanation is credible and doesn't trivialize the material? A magic ring? A bite from a radioactive weasel?

9. Another AGS question, it seemed like Eric moved from good to evil a little fast, which is one of my potentially few qualms with the story. Was this due to constraints of space,  or did you want to show how something wonderful can turn terrible pretty quickly?

 I've heard this a lot, but I don' think his transformation to evil is all that quick -- and I also question the use of the word "evil," honestly, but that's a topic for another conversation.
 I don't want to give too much away to any potential readers but there's a scene where Eric foils a bank robbery.  I think for the average comics reader (or action movie enthusiast) what Eric does is perfectly acceptable, but maybe if you read it again you might question that.  Is what Eric does (given his unbelievable power) what Jesus would have done?   And that's a significant question because Eric identifies as a very devout Christian. So while earlier in the story we forgive Eric's violent rescue of Sam (he is, after all, just human at that point) what's his excuse in that bank robbery scene?
And there we see the first hints of what's to come, I think.  Acting in a way that we as a violence- drenched culture find perfectly acceptable an even laudable, but in a way that maybe a true Christian might not.

10. I'm intrigued by your pointing out of Eric being a devout Christian, as in a way it seems as he grows in power he becomes less committed to believing in a God, and just believing in himself as the God-being. The story shows how Eric is indeed religious, but he comes off more as the type of Christian who believes in, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," helping Sam that first time that met and Sam was being attacked. Eric doesn't fit the stereotype of the judgmental Christian who tells people they are going to hell or such, instead being the kind who truly follows the ideas of Jesus' teachings of kindness and love (from what I know of Jesus' words, I'm Jewish so I've only studied the New Testament a bit). That's why it’s all the more striking when Eric turns into a violent entity who seems to have become less of a Jesus-figure and more of a vengeful-God. Was the idea of the story to show how when one stops believing in something--be it religion or just the goodness of human beings, that life loses meaning, and for someone as powerful as Eric that's quite dangerous?

I'm never going to tell anybody else what to think about anything I write.  Whatever folks see, it's valid for them, I guess.  What I will say is that my idea of what a Christian is has always been the faithful "golden rule" kinda man or woman.  Judgmental is just not what a Christian does -- not by any dictionary definition I've ever seen -- so I wasn't going to write that kind of story.  I wanted a complex character who goes through a big, big transformation, and let's be honest.  Eric's first encounter with Sam does not exactly elicit Christ-like behavior.  He's trying, but he's only human.  And maybe that has more to do with what happens to Eric than any faith he may or may not have.

Eric may have powers, but Arcudi points out, "He's only human." His brother hurting his feelings foreshadows trouble...
11. One more AGS question. Without my spoiling too much there is a scene where Eric decides he's done, "playing nice," and wreaks a lot of havoc before leaving a location. Upon this happening Sam points out how if Eric had wanted he could have simply just flown away. That part of the story really struck me as the big turning point in Eric's metamorphosis from loving and kind to harsh and judging. So, my question to you is, why didn't Eric just fly away? Was he trying to make a point? Did he want to display his immense powers so he would be left alone? Was it an idea of him thinking of people as nothing more than insignificant ants whom he didn't care about crushing? Why?

Again, won't tell you what to think, but all of your answers make sense, don't they?  On the other hand, maybe the answer is that Eric is not quite so above the fray as he plays it.  Maybe he's incredibly petty inside after all.

12. We've talked about some of your past work and current projects, but what can you tell about future works we'll be seeing  from you in the upcoming months and year?

More BPRD and plenty of it.  We're really ramping up the apocalypse here, bringing in some more work by James Harren, and Laurence Campbell, along with Tyler Crook.  Some very different sort of stuff for Kate, Johann, Liz etc.  And more Lobster Johnson.  After finishing off the shorter stories, we're planning on going back to a larger arc which will bring back an artist I'm sure everybody will be happy to see return.

I also am working on developing two creator owned projects with two incredibly talented artists.  Very, very early stages stuff, but very exciting for me.  Wish I could say more, but there wouldn't be any point.  Just too early.  One of them may be published overseas, however -- another reason to not talk too much about it now.

13. Thanks so much for your time and engaging in this interview!

Thank you, David.

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