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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Interview: Alex de Campi - comic book horror writer

From gore and sex to My Little Pony, writer Alex de Campi can do it all! Gef and I talked with her about her Dark Horse hit Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight along with some future projects. 

Gef: I'm no expert on comics, but it seems a press like Dark Horse is willing to feature subject matter that DC and Marvel might be too timid for, but when it comes to Grindhouse and your vision for the series, even they were a little blanched at first. How much convincing was needed to let you and the artists you've worked with on the series thus far pour a bucket of gasoline over the exploitation genres and light the match?

Alex: Marvel might be too timid for it, but DC's Free Comic Book Day comic had some female character's screaming face cut off and stapled to the chest of another character soooo yeah, DC would probably be down with it. In fact, one of the reasons I wrote Grindhouse was I was so tired at the ham-fisted co-opting of exploitation tropes into mainstream superhero comics as a way of making them seem more “real” and “relevant”. I wanted exploitation to be fun again, and not always about horribly mutilating an innocent female character. I mean, any fule kno, you only mutilate the sluts or the evil ones. (I kid. Partly.)
But yes. That is the secret origins of Grindhouse. Bring sex and gore back to something I can enjoy! More sex! More exciting gore! Not horribly offensive to women / all from a white male gaze! Make it gleefully schlocky and fun again!

Gef: With each two-issue story, Grindhouse apparently has a checklist of genres it is tearing through. Was there one in particular that you couldn't wait to dive into? Is there one in particular you hope to highlight in the future?
Alex: I had way more fun than I was expecting to with the summer camp slasher, Flesh Feast of the Devil Doll. It's like some unholy melange of Incubus, Sixteen Candles, and The Dirty Dozen. There's a reason why the summer camp slasher is the high plateau of horror genres. I mean, they were all a ton of fun. The kiss at the end of Prison Ship Antares (and the shower scene at the beginning) are two moments I just love. Page 1, Panel 3 of Bee Vixens.. yeah, that was fun. That whole page was fun.
In terms of genres I can't wait to do? The space sexploitation story (Barbarella, etc). The blaxploitation story (Coffy, Cleopatra Jones). A straight up giallo/paranoia-slasher. My Christmas Annual story, which I need to finish!

Gef: Nearly every story in the series has its fair share of humor to go along with the horror, except for Bride of Blood. Is that a case where any hint of levity would have diminished the emotional impact you were aiming for?
Alex: I have many things to say about rape as a device in comics. But my short answer here is I wanted the rape to be lengthy and physically uncomfortable/unenjoyable for the reader. This isn't a shortcut to character actualisation. This isn't a lazy footnote to tag a male character as “the baddie”. This isn't so the male character can scream “noooo” in silhouette over the broken and mutilated body of PoC / teenage / gay / female (circle as appropriate) team member and then go on a vengeance spree.
And, c'mon, there were a couple good lines and a good twist-scare at the end. No chuckle? No chuckle.
Part of me ultimately wondered if the story being medieval was too distancing. What if she were a young freshman who got gang-raped at college? Would that have been more uncomfortable for people? Because that book, the point of it (like all the good rape revenge films) was to make you uncomfortable.

Gef: How many fingers do I need to cross in order for "Swamp Tramp" to become a real thing?
Alex: Oh, we definitely want that to happen. It was on the list for Grindhouse Season Two, which is still in negotiation. I love Luca Pizzari's work and have wanted to do a project with him for some time.

Gef: I imagine scheduling is one of the big determining factors when you have a series that features multiple artists. How trying was it find the right artist for the right story? With the prospect of future Grindhouse stories, do you have an artist wishlist in your hip pocket for specific stories?
Alex: One of the good things about two-issue stories is the brevity opens you up to a much larger pool of artists. Many artists who could have never done a 6-issue book, could fit in two issues with a long deadline. I finished all the scripts by March 2013, and the first issue didn't come out until October.
I had a pretty easy time finding artists for the Grindhouse stories, and I'm immensely pleased with how each one of them delivered.
As far as Season Two, yes, I have artists I very much want to approach for certain stories. Some I've already had brief chats with.

Gef: Along with writing comics, you're also squeezing in time to write your first novel. How much of a gear shift is it when focusing on a different medium?
Alex: It's a huge shift. Comics, I don't revise that much. I think over the story for a couple months, sketch out some notes/breakdowns, then I sit down and write an issue in a week or less. The novel, holy cats, no. I get these awful, jumbled, leaden words down just to beat a path through the emptiness and I hate myself for how clumsy the phrasing is. I know in my heart that when I type the last sentence of the novel's first draft, then the real work begins.

Sharon: What is the nerdiest thing you own?
Alex: Hm. I don't own that much nerdy stuff. I also don't own that much nice stuff, and half my life has been in boxes for almost a decade now due to poverty / living in tiny apartments / general life turmoil. But! You know the bug-typewriter in the film NAKED LUNCH? I have touched it. It is in a good friend's home.

Sharon: Does it feel weird to write a My Little Pony Story and then turn around and chop off penises in Grindhouse? <G> Have you ever wanted to have Pinky Pie go into beast mode and eviscerate someone?
Alex: I had totally wrapped the Grindhouse scripts about six months before I wrote Pony, so there was a clear delineation in my mind. Also, I have to say, horror and comedy share a lot of similar pacing tricks.

Pinkie Pie using Twilight as a magic machine gun in the season finale of Season One was... one of my all-time favourite Pony moments.

: How many languages do you know? Which is your first?
Alex: American is my first language. I'm fluent also in English. I can stumble along in French and Spanish, and I used to know a fair amount of Italian. I can curse in Cantonese and Tagalog. 

Sharon: If you could own any piece of art in the world what would it be?
Alex: There was a huge, wall-sized Basquiat painting up at auction in London just before I moved to the US. I wanted that with the fire of a thousand suns. And, of course, the modernist urban mansion to display it in. 

Sharon: What can we be on the lookout for you in the second half of 2014?
Alex: I am not quite going to achieve my goal of having a book out every month of 2014...June is my letdown. (Though my supernatural thriller webcominc, Valentine, still updates every Wednesday at Thrillbent and it's free! Go check it out). In July, my Lady Zorro mini from Dynamite comes out – a four-issue swashbuckling extravaganza where hot, shirtless men are saved; indigenous peoples are badass and awesome; bad people are cleaved in the head with axes, and Lady Zorro doesn't fall out of her bra ONCE. Wonderbra has nothing on the 1820s, people.

In November, my next project with Dark Horse debuts in Dark Horse Presents #4: a supernatual horror series with Jerry “The Greatest Artist Ever (And Also Nicest Dude)” Ordway (seriously his pages make me cry, they are so good). It's called Semiautomagic, but I tend to refer to it as The Alice Creed Stories. If you liked Hellblazer? Well, this is nothing like Hellblazer, but you might like it too.

Check out Valentine over at Thrillbent. It is an amazing way to read a comic.

About the Author:
Alex de Campi loves explosions and obscure film noir. She hates writing bios. She writes the comics SMOKE/ASHES and GRINDHOUSE for Dark Horse. She has directed a bunch of music videos for indie bands famous and not so famous. Rumours that she was the product of a secret Mi6 programme to create a race of genetically modified super-agents are, alas, entirely without foundation. The rumours that she snuck across the Russian border and spent many louche years in Hong Kong are completely true.

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