I've known Alex de Campi forever. Or maybe it just seems like it. We knocked around in the same circles in London back in the late nineties and early noughties.
I've always enjoyed her work and I think we ended up in the same volume of Commercial Suicide together. And then there was *that* Brighton Comic Con on the pebble beach… but now we're an ocean away. And I'm glad the rest of the industry is starting to catch up to what I've always known, that de Campi is pretty damn brilliant.
She now has the second volume of her digitally pioneering Valentine created with Christine Larsen set up through Mark Waid's digital platform Thrillbent. The comic, with olde worlde soldiers mixed up in magic, made every other digital layered comic that would eventually follow a "decampi comic", but it was also innovative in translation and forcing ComiXology to fit its design rather than the other way around.
So it was a good chance to catch up.
Rich Johnston: Well that's handy. So… the headline is Valentine back for a second, newer, helping at Thrillbent? Return of The Cossack or similar?
Alex de Campi: Well, we're far beyond cossacks in the story…. We're still working through the old episodes of Valentine that Christine and I did before we had to go on hiatus in early 2011 due to crippling poverty, job loss, etc
But we're also back on Comixology (via Thrillbent), which is wonderful, and like coming home. So we're releasing mini-episodes weekly on Thrillbent (we have over 52 weeks of content on the thrillbent FTP).
And there'll be our regular-sized 80-100 panel episodes on Comixology, also weekly, until we catch up (at year end). Christine and I completed 10 big episodes (out of a projected 22) before we had to suspend due to financial hardship. We've completed 3 new ones now, and I've written 3 more. Still have to write the final ~6! But they're outlined.
RJ: It's something that's a constant theme of past interviews – the lack of money, income, jobs and financial hardship. Apparently the economy is getting better. Have you seen any sign of it?
Alex: I've been getting a lot more work from the indies — in fact I have so much creator owned work (plus a couple groovy work for hire projects) that I am really almost overwhelmed. Unfortunately to make most of it happen (and because I have fine, expensive taste in artists) no advance for Alex, so I'm still just scraping by.
I'm a lot more positive, though. 2015 is going to be huge. Still no new superhero stuff but hey, they're all about the illusion of inclusion and once I realised that I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.
RJ: So is this a new, uber-positive Alex de Campi? Some kind of secondary mutation?
Alex: Well, I battled severe depression for a long time. I was also in a fairly emotionally abusive relationship, which didn't help. That's now over and it's taken me a year to climb back out of that hole but yes, I can now turn my skin to diamonds and your slings and arrows mean nothing to me.
RJ: Another common theme was a lack of respect, concern or even awareness from the rest of the comics industry, even as aspects that you pioneered began to be accepted by the mainstream and used by others. Any development there, after Thrillbent's adoption of Valentine?
Alex: Well, thanks to the respect of Mark Waid, there IS more Valentine. So there's this funny thing… although we pioneered a ton of things with digital comics (throwing away the page, multi-language, optimising for phone, etc.) in longform serialized fiction, nobody wanted to know us. Even with half a million downloads from Comixology! But hey, we were just two girls who weren't pals with the right people.
But we inspired Thrillbent, and Mark in turn came to us once the site had found its feet and asked us to finish Valentine. And believe me, kids — if you ever have the chance to work with Thrillbent? TAKE IT. Great people. Great support. So good at the marketing stuff that I suck at. And they're not grabby about format or platform — here we are, also on Comixology too now.
And in turn we've also inspired cool people like Tim Gibson (he of MOTH CITY, check it!) and he's taken our techniques further and then we went and were inspired by him and are using some of the things he did…
So on the one hand there is a little crowd of us all swapping ideas and borrowing off each other and doing cool stuff, and then there is Digital Comics Inc. (DC, Marvel, even Madefire) who are the ones with the money and they don't want to know us. But they would probably all be so frustrating to work for, because it's like the illusion of inclusion — it's the illusion of innovation. I'm shocked how far we HAVEN'T gotten from when Christine and I launched Valentine in late 2009.
Like, we're still doing these crappy unhappy compromises between the printed page and digital, everything made to fit a half page of print, or crappy motion comics that make me eyeroll so hard I actually can glimpse my own brain. The next step in digital comics/entertainment is expensive, and daring, and that is in part why nobody has done it — those with the money aren't daring (and/or are wedded to print), and those who are daring have no money.
And we've had this future mapped out for five fucking years but nobody's picked up the gauntlet yet. And I don't even care if it's someone else who gets to do it, just somebody fucking do it already. Get a team: an innovative young artist, a writer, a coder, a musician, possibly someone with game experience, and ON WE GO.
RJ: Any hope for Electricomics? Or will that be same new, same new?
Alex: Electricomics? That's Alan Moore's thing, right?
RJ: Yeah, him and friends. Similar bunch of folk as you just mentioned.
Alex: Alan Moore, who allegedly didn't speak to his editor at Wildstorm for several months because while he was allegedly stoned he painted over where he had written the editor's phone number in pencil on the wall next to his landline? That Alan Moore?
RJ: It does sound possible.
Alex: Also the Alan Moore who claims not to read new comics because they are all rubbish?
RJ: Something along those lines.
Alex: This is our brave new leader into the world of digital? (Does he have a cellphone?)
RJ: I think the world might end if he did.
Alex: I mean, respect to the OG, but it all seems like a terrible fit.
RJ: So who would you like to see seizing the gauntlet?
Alex: I'd obviously love a crack at it. (I even have a story in mind.) But if I'm too mouthy, too unknown, or just too full of girl cooties, then… gosh…
RJ: And then there's all the money.
Alex: Vaughan's thing is a nice story but doesn't make use of digital in any sort of innovative way. Um… I'd hazard a chance with that young Grant Morrison fellow. He gets tech, and its possibilities. And he's not too corporate.
RJ: And I believe he has some money on his person as well.
Alex: Or he has to but snap his fingers, and money will appear. I'd even ghost / adapt a story for someone like John Scalzi. That would work, too. Take a name-name writer and put them with someone like me who can adapt and do the tech side…
But really, it would be costly. And it's never something that a company like Tor would do.
Maybe Ron Perazza at Amazon might do it. Especially with the Comixology linkup.
It will not be a book publisher that does it, I can tell you that for damn sure. Or a comic book publisher. It'll be someone else — a network, a company like Google, Amazon… something like that. And that's part of the reason it's not happened yet. People keep hitting book publishers with these ideas, and the publishers wring their hands and look longingly at their paper books and claim to have ePubs (another format that has just stalled to a crashing halt in terms of innovation) or be on Comixology and surely that's enough, yes?
Maybe it will be a gaming company that does it. In fact, that's where I'd lay my bets. Because the sort of thing I'm talking about isn't that far away from, say, The Last of Us, and is a damn sight cheaper than developing a full game. Also takes way less time. So why couldn't a game company throw off interesting, almost choose-your-own-adventure style comics four times a year as laigniappe or appetisers between their main game releases?
EVERYONE: YOU'RE WELCOME. And game companies get the writer-artist-code-music-effects nexus
RJ: Alex de Campi Explains It All?
RJ: So, basically, you should probably be doing interviews with games websites?
Alex: But seriously folks like Perazza and Pablo Defendini and Dan Goldman and I have been having this conversation for five years. Give us money, motherfuckers.
RJ: Can't you just steal it? You can hack computers, right? I've seen Wargames.
Alex: If I could steal it, I'd have already done so, and would be too busy sipping inadvisable rum-based breakfast smoothies at my own private island, while supervising construction of my orbital death ray, to speak with you.
RJ: So since we're throwing names around… computer games and comics – what are Rebellion up to? Anything?
Alex: I dunno?
RJ: That in itself is probably a problem.
Alex: I heart Rebellion. Matt Smith is an amazing editor and someday I need to get my shit together and submit to 2000AD. They've told me the door is always open — very welcoming.
RJ: But from the sound of it, you'll submit something that could change their very business model. And that's the problem isn't it?
Alex: Yeah, no, no point submitting something that will change a company's business model. See previous handwringing; longing looks at the safety of the past model… But suddenly all my other creator owned stuff got picked up and lawks, deadlines. I'll probably have at least two books a month out through 2015 and into 2016.
Alex: No real plans for more Lady Zorro, though I had a blast writing it.
Alex: Whenever Bitch Planet comes out, it's going to be a net positive for Grindhouse, so yeah, I'm fine with that. That whole thing got crazy overblown. I was always fine with it. just kind of amused how much Kelly Sue [Deconnick] didn't know what other female writers were doing.
Anyway! I have a squillion comics pages to letter including the preview of Slay Ride, RM Guera's gorgeous first story in Grindhouse Season 2, and the second installment of my Dark Horse Presents supernatural horror serial, Semiautomagic with Jerry Ordway and Marissa Louise. So, weep for me, I will be staring at the work of masters of comic art at 600% all day.
RJ: Talking of weeping, given the current schedule and financial reality when do you reckon old Valentine fans will get that conclusion they've been waiting for?
Alex: Well, the fastest the new-new episodes (11 onwards) will be available is by Comixology, in about 11 weeks… as they are releasing a chapter a week every Thursday, and 1 & 2 are up now. We should have up through Chapter 15 done by end of this year. So given it takes 5-6 weeks to draw and colour a chapter, and given conventions and other work interruptions… we should be releasing the final chapter end of next year?
RJ: By which point according you your schedule you should have around another twenty something comics out?
Alex: No, probably just two a month. I can't really handle more than that.
I could probably do a third comic a month if I could afford someone else to letter, but also, like lettering them myself.
RJ: You realise two a month is twenty-four a year, right?
Alex: Twenty four a year — I know! And that's not even counting Valentine. Some months it will be three. I'm still waiting to hear on launch dates (and I need to finish writing my miniseries with Matt Southworth, too). So yeah, the stuff next year is with Jerry Ordway, Matt Southworth, Carla Speed McNeil and (towards year end) Ramon Perez.
Life could be worse. Part of the reason it's all happening is my foolish insistence on completely writing projects before pitching them, so once they are accepted, they're not a massive burden.
RJ: Is anyway I've got this idea for a comic. You could actually write it and I'm sure we could use your contacts to find an artist. I can't pay you but it would be good exposure. Are you in?
Alex: Exposure? Rich, I live in Northern New England. People die from exposure up here.
RJ: I think that's what happened to Chuck Dixon… See you in New York?
Alex: Table Y-3! Some fun WFH stuff with me being announced there…
RJ: You're writing the new Slave Leia series for Marvel as an accompanying project to Waid's book, right?
Alex: Haha, nope.