No Mercy For Expatriates And Teenagers – Talking With Alex De Campi At SDCC '15

By Octavio Karbank

While at San Diego Comic Con 2015, I sat down with Alex de Campi. Writer of titles like Archie vs. Predator, Smoke, and also a Grindhouse series with issues sporting names like Bee Vixens From Mars! and Flesh Feast of the Devil Doll, it was a treat! For those of you who haven't picked up any of de Campi's work, she currently has the titles No Mercy and Archie vs. Predator out at your local comic book shop for your reading pleasure. Since the latter's final issue is coming out this Wednesday, I strongly advise you to catch up on the previous three issues. I also like to ask writers similar questions, but the thing is, the answers you get from Writer A will be dramatically different from Writer B. Therein lies what makes the interviewing process so fascinating: you never know what you're going to get.

tumblr_nr6j04DQp51s7f77no3_500Octavio Karbank: With regards to No Mercy, in five words or less, why should somebody pick it up?

Alex De Campi: Do you like watching teenagers die? That's six.

OK: I'll let that pass.

ADC: Or, "Just massive cliffhangers. Dying teenagers." Watch me as I try to edit myself. I still like, " do you like watching teenagers die?"

tumblr_nrspe9lP6h1s7f77no3_500OK: (Laughs) I'm fine with that. What was the inspiration behind No Mercy and Archie vs. Predator; they are incredibly different from one another.

ADC: Archie vs. Predator was all Archie. They were looking for another crossover to do after Archie: Glee was successful and Archie: KISS was successful and that was with IDW. And they were just having this meeting, going, "Oh what should we do as our next crossover?" and the guy in the back of the meeting, you know, there's always a guy in the back of a meeting, was like, "Predator!" and everyone went, "ha ha ha, tee hee…hey…yeah!" and Archie has told me that actually happened. And they called Dark Horse and Dark Horse was like, "Hell yeah!" and then Dark Horse, because of my Grindhouse series, called me. And then the rest is history and I spitballed the entire 4-issue mini on the phone with Brendan my editor at Dark Horse, and Roberto, the Creative Director of Archie…I wrote it and it's just been a question of every so often, Archie being like, "Alex, you can't have Betty hitting Veronica over the head with a mace; you can't make a child Predator joke, come on, girl!"

They've had to reel me back about ten percent, but I've still gone much further than anyone else. This is the first time anyone has died in an Archie crossover! The only thing that died in Archie Meets the Punisher was Frank Castle's self esteem. And then No Mercy was a book I've been looking to do for a long while and I was worried that publishers wouldn't be interested in a book that has no supernatural elements. It's just a drama. It's a suspense drama; no animals talk, there's no floating or flying. Erik, at Image, was super, super supportive of it. It came from my being an expat for a very long time. I lived outside the U.S., from right after I graduated college.

I lived in Hong Kong for five years, Manilla for a year, Latin America, then I went to London and lived there for ten years, until family illness brought me back to the U.S. I've lived in a lot of odd situations in foreign countries. As, you know, the foreign white person with my magical white person mantle of protectiveness. That mantle is different in various countries. Like in the Philippines and Hong Kong you're pretty all right as a white person, because they know that the Chinese people have all the money so you're probably not going to face anything directly because of your skin color. Filipinos kind of of love the U.S. anyway. They are generally really cool and awesome anyway. You go to Latin America, Argentina is fine, but you go to Mexico City, in parts of it you are targeted, because you are an English-speaking foreigner. And not necessarily even a Yankee, although there is some special non-love for Yankees in Mexico.

I had a friend of mind who's Honduran-American. He played football, gigantic, like 6'4, a linebacker, and he got into a taxi and was held up by a five-foot tall Mexican with a revolver and was driven around to three ATMS to withdraw the maximum. I did a lot of dumb things when I was overseas. I'm not dead by the absolute grace of god; there are so many things you do as a teenager that by all rights you probably should've died from, but you don't, somehow. And it's not even the white privilege thing, everybody as a teenager, we can all probably think of things we did where we think, "Holy shit, how am I not dead, or in jail, or both." I wanted to take these teenagers who have a real bad judgment of risk, and although it differs between the teenagers, in terms of their backgrounds, their leadership skills, their ability to cope in a third world environment, their ability to speak Spanish, many of them don't speak Spanish, and then put them in a environment where there's a tremendous amount of risk. Some of them just skate by on luck, and some of them it comes up tails.

tumblr_nrspe9lP6h1s7f77no2_500OK: I've noticed the Grindhouse theme popping up a bunch in your work.

ADC: There is sort of an exploitation flavor to all my work. No Mercy doesn't have the sex element; it's more of a Sam Peckinpah film. I always say it's what would've happened if Sam Peckinpah directed a John Hughes Film.

OK: And where does that flavor come from?

ADC: I grew up watching exploitation films. I keep talking about Sam Peckinpah, but I consider him one of the greatest directors we've ever had. Incredibly visceral, incredible way of directing violence, absurd turns in stories that feel so real, because life is crazy and absurd. And I'm a big fan of a lot of Japanese and Korean gangster films, and Hong Kong police drama and Triad films. Directors like Johnny To and Beat Takeshi…and those stories have real sharp reverses and violence that explodes out of nowhere and takes you by surprise. I guess that's why it feels really grindhousey, because you get lulled into this false sense of confidence and then you get smacked in the face with something you don't expect. That's just a particular storytelling style I have and sometimes it comes along with a lot of sex, like in the Grindhouse books. Sometimes it doesn't.

tumblr_nrspe9lP6h1s7f77no1_500OK: How do you balance the innocence of the Archie universe and the brutality of the Predator universe in such a way that it works?

ADC: Archie vs. Predator is a teen slasher film. Think of it that way and it works. The slasher is…Michael Myers is the Predator and the teenagers are the Archie kids, and it just works really well like that. The teens are a little more bumbling than usual, because Archie, and the Predator is a teenage Predator on his first hunt. Whereas an older Predator would be like, "I'm not bothering with them," or else the Archie gang would last precisely 1.2 seconds. Anyway, the Archie vs. Predator books are really, really dense. Not only is there a lot of story even though it's only five-panel pages, there's a lot of dialogue and background jokes as well. It's easy to miss things, but we're kind of all right with that. We want it to be exciting upon several readings and going back and seeing things you didn't necessarily the first time.

Fernando Ruiz, the penciller is wonderful for that, because he draws all these background gags and funny stuff happening in the background that makes the script 500% funnier. I love the Archie characters and I can quote the first Predator film and I've seen it like thirty times. I've seen all the other Predator films. I liked Predators, but I wanted to rewrite it in my head while watching it. We wanted a book that was a really great Archie comic for the Archie fans, and a really great Predator comic. We've been surprised by how many people are like, "I haven't read Archie in years, but I bought Archie vs. Predator and I loved it!" The Archie characters look like you're used to them looking like, they do the things you want them to do. Archie trips and falls over all the time, he has heart eyes for like legit half an issue, Betty and Veronica bicker, Archie can't decide, Jughead eats things, Dilton builds things, Moose is an idiot. All is the same in Riverdale except for the violent death.

AvP3OK: You seem to know these characters very well. Did you have to do any research for them?

ADC: I grew up reading them, but I went back and read four to five thousand pages of Archie comics. They send me these thousand page Archie Giant Digests and I would just sit up at night reading them. You can whiz through them and they are really fun and they cover Archie from the early days, the forties up till now. They are wonderful to read. I keep telling Archie they need to do a Weird Archie Stories book because there are all this crazy Archie stories. Everyone thinks Archie is so polite and nice and stuff. What about the story where Betty sells her soul to the Devil for a kiss from Archie? What about the gratifyingly large number of sex bots that Dilton builds? There's so much in Archie that's nuts. There's an Archie cover where Betty has Jughead on a leash like a dog. There's so much wrongness in Archie! Everyone thinks, " Oh, but they're so nice!" No! Subtext, my children! Subtext!

OK: Archie and Predator both have huge fanbases, albeit very different ones, so do you feel a certain kind of responsibility writing these iconic characters?

ADC: Absolutely! You have to take the fans' love of these characters very seriously. Otherwise people are going to read it and be like, "this sucks". Why would you want to insult someone's love of something, especially something that's been so successful, and something that I also love? It seems like everyone wants to do hipster and ironic takes on things, but those are really never that popular, except for the occasional Tumblr post with hipster Archie. Ha Ha, very cute. Next. It's writing the characters well that sells books.

OK: What's next for you after No Mercy and Archie vs. Predator?

ADC: I've got a couple projects at Image that aren't announced yet. We don't announce until we've got two issues in the bag, so we're still in production. Grindhouse is also wrapping up with the final story, the last two issues, which is basically just porn in space. Issues 7 and 8. Production on that is wrapped. Still working on my web comic Valentine. We just finished episode fifteen and that'll be released soon on Comixology. I've just got things sitting, waiting to be approved. I also have Semiautomagic starting again in Dark Horse Presents #13 with Jerry Ordway. It's a really wonderful, grisly, street level occult horror book. We've already done one arc and we've gotten fan mail at Dark Horse Presents, which never happens! We're starting the second arc and it's got a lot of grisly horror. It's very similar to early Jamie Delano Hellblazer, but it's about a girl, as the occult magician/troubleshooter, and she's in the U.S. because America is a really hella weird place and I'm taking advantage of all of it's weird locations. A lot of it is much more Japanese horror in terms of say, the devil is not going appear or f*cking Bastet, the Egyptian Cat goddess isn't going to show up, none of that tired old Vertigo stuff.

It's all Lovecraftian, things that people can't know and she can't predict. She knows some magic, but she doesn't know what the consequences are and people die all the time. A lot of the magic is technology related. Like somebody cuts themselves exploring an abandoned location, and some blood drips on the floor, waking something up, and their photos of the location therefore have a sense of possession to them and are causing people to die. Japanese horror, there you go! It's all this modern Atomic Age horror, it's very little about, you know, "here's some rooms and there a demon on the loose…in Connecticut," No, no, no…done.

24119OK: Final question. What does writing mean to you?

ADC: It's just something I have to do. Whenever I'm the least bit idle, I think of stories. I just like to tell stories. It's my way of figuring out how the world works.

OK: Do you think the world needs figuring out?

ADC: I think it makes me feel better to try.

OK: That works. Thank you!

ADC: No problem!

Octavio Karbank is a writer and bona fide Whovian. Living in Massachusetts, you can find him on Twitter @TymeHunter and his blog www.cozmicventures.com

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About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.
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