At Special Edition: NYC, Alex Cox from the CBLDF hosted Alex de Campi and Jim Zub, with the possibility of more for the Dark Horse Builds Character Panel.
De Campi spoke about her work on Archie Vs. Predator and the current issue of Grindhouse, which is running in 4 parts of 2 issues, with a space exploitation coming next. She said that trying to come up with bad ideas is their art for the book, and they toyed with the idea of asking Shia LaBeouf to draw back up stories.
Jim Zub has "wrapped up" a Conan/Red Sonja story with Gail Simone, tracking Conan's relationship with Red Zonja over a long period of time. As they get older, they realize the repercussions of the actions of their youth. They get to "indulge" in their "sword and sorcery wishlist", he said, making "iconic" storytelling. Zub explained that Sonja with a "j", was created for the comic, and Sonya is a character in the Robert E. Howard story. He and de Campi spoke about the interchangeable nature of Howard heroes. It was an excellently nerdy conversation. Zub said that Simone's work on Sonja is fantastic, making it wonderfully modern, getting rid of "hokey pulp garbage" but keeping the "savage" elements.
Talking about the future, de Campi said she has possibly three things coming up at Dark Horse, including one of their longer term properties that hasn't been done in awhile. De Campi really wanted to do a Hellboy/Sabrina series crossover, but sadly it was turned down.
The conversation turned into an assessment of Robert E. Howard's influence and legacy, properly geeky, and Jim Zub joked he wants to do "The Call of Conan Cthulhu". Zub doesn't have any current Dark Horse projects coming up, but his series Wayward with Image features Yokai and the "next generation of supernatural powers", like Spirited Away with more swearing.
De Campi is also working on an Image book called No Mercy, which is basically "watching teenagers die", she said, featuring middle class youth about to start studying at Princeton. The first issue features a "very bad event" and some shallow-looking kids (though social media makes us all look that way, she said). Their problems have been limited in life, but now they are stuck in a situation with nearly all grownups dead, minimal Spanish, and a remote location. The story is also about those waiting at home and how blame is assigned. It's a "tense thriller meant to be read in singles" she said, and she just finished writing issue 8.
Going back to a discussion of Grindhouse, de Campi said she's very interested by Mario Bava, of course, but didn't go back to any exact films to write the comics. She wanted it to be "new" and modern in a sense, saying, "Let's just have fun with it". It was her response to "many of the things that were going on in comics when they stopped being fun" despite the hyper-violence. When she was a kid, sneaking over to a friend's house to watch a scary movie, that was a fun experience. What they've been trying to do with it is not about being grim, and "ultimately boring with no feeling of consequence", but in "taking comics back", making them lively and fun.
Zub said that when he was working on the Conan book, he sat down and read his favorite stories but also asked "how does this make me feel", or looking at a great Frazetta painting, asking the same. He tries to discover "what it is I like" about source material first. He wants to bring out a "similar feeling" though not using the exact same moments, as in the source material, in the reader. Red Sonja is "obsessed with consequence" when she's young but moves into a freer zone as an older person but Conan fails to see consequences and they catch up with him in older age.
Regarding influence de Campi said that growing up, she had to watch really "sleezy" movies to see female heroes, and that led her to Grindhouse themes. She just didn't find them in other genres or mediums enough otherwise. She also looked toward Asian female-revenge films. Discovering John Carpenter films was one of the best days of her life, she said.
Jim Zub said he's had a "circular career with Conan" because he was a colorist on Conan stories in 2003. Now 12 years later, he gets to write the stories and that blows his mind. De Campi pointed out that the fact that Zub has been writing an not adapting is a rare chance at writing a Howard-based story. Asked about Skullkickers, Zub described it as his "breakout" story about two mercenaries in a "big, ridiculous pastiche of sword and sorcery". These characters "break" all the tropes of classic fantasy stories, and it led to his current work. As the series has progressed, it was self-contained but now has grown into a story that "desconstructs" fantasy stories and why we like them. It concludes in 2 months, and he feels the series has really "defined" him, and though he's aware the end is coming but it's not really "real" to him yet.
De Campi's first real work was Smoke and Smoke/Ashes with Dark Horse after a Kickstarter which ended up drawing in big talent. Dark Horse stepped in to publish the work and help with Kickstarter distribution, thereby lowering costs.
Asked what has been unique for them about working with Dark Horse, de Campi said it's about working with Brendan Wright, an editor who she likes, and the production department is "amazing", producing "physically beautiful objects". Zub said there's a "great support system". He's enjoyed working with other publishers, but the level of "communication" with his editor and removal of "ambiguity" has been really helpful. He described it as a "polished, professional experience". De Campi said they also pay well and have good contracts, leaving many rights with the creator.
De Campi was asked if she could do an Archie/ Carpenter mash-up what she'd do and replied that she'd do Escape From Riverdale.
Asked what other books they like from Dark Horse, Zub said Hellboy books have always attracted him. He feels it's a "flagship property for a reason". De Campi has read a lot of Dark Horse books via the digital app, and loves her collaborator Carla Speed McNeil's Finder books. She finds them incredibly "true" and very well done. She likes the work of Donny Cates a lot, who she feels is of the younger generation, though he might disagree (his Dark Horse books are Ghost Fleet, Buzzkill, and upcoming The Paybacks) She also loves the artist on Ghost Fleet, Daniel Warren Johnson, whose webcomics are worth a read also. Zub agreed that it's a frequent thing to learn that creators have been working for years, and having done all this other work, finally become a "ten year overnight success" and seem to come out of nowhere.
Zub said that he has always been a fan of EmPowered. He says it's a series that's constantly changing on you, and is "fun, snappy, and kinetic".