Making her name with titles such as Dark Horse’s hyper-trashy Grindhouse, IDW’s young reader-friendly My Little Pony: Friends Forever and the Eisner-nominated Smoke, writer Alex de Campi‘s comics reprepertoire is not easily pigeonholed. Deadshirt comics editor Max Robinson spoke with de Campi about one of her latest projects, Archie vs. Predator.
Max Robinson: So Predator is one of my all-time favorite movies, and you homage it plenty in this first issue with “Dutch’s bar” and the sexual tyrannosaurus callback. One of the things I really dig about the film is how it’s this critique of hyper-masculinity. That’s not necessarily a consideration here, but I wondered if it colored your thought process while writing this.
Alex de Campi: That comes into play in the series somewhat, but it’s hard working hyper-masculinity into the Archie universe. I DO MANAGE IT, HOWEVER.
MR: That sort of leads to my next question: When you’re doing a book like this, how much consideration is put into tone? How do you find a balance between two wildly different properties like this?
AD: The whole series is a very delicate balancing act, between what Predator fans want and what Archie fans want. Like, you can’t just go, eff you people who read [PICK ONE], I’m going to make this all about the other franchise. My way in was realizing that I could basically work this as a variant on the summer camp slasher. The odd thing of course about AvP is it’s done in the Archie house style, so the gore elements seem a lot more unexpected and wrong.
MR: Yes! I like how Betty’s bloody nose really signifies in a subtle way that we’re not in for a regular Archie story.
AD: And the book gets a LOT gorier as it goes on. Betty and Veronica and Cheryl are all a little more exploitation-y, too, the way they are drawn. A lot of that is Fernando, but I keep trying to have their clothes fall off too, in a teen-friendly way. It’s fun bringing a lot of the Archie subtext closer to the surface. Lots of accepted relationships that are actually fairly odd. (I wasn’t able to use the word “threesome,” though. I TRIED, GENTLE READER.)
Everyone’s like, “Wow, Alex, your Reggie is SUCH a dick,” and I’m just writing him like dudes I knew growing up. We all have that friend. And if you don’t have that friend? You probably ARE that friend.
MR: I like how the story operates under “Archie logic” in that it kicks off when Jughead wins a trip from a bag of chips, and then it somehow leads to a bikini contest? Meanwhile there’s this stuff with JUNGLE SHRINES and MAGIC DAGGERS.
AD: Oh yeah, this book is complete comic book logic. Why not? It’s FUN. I have so much fun writing these scripts. They’re all done, and now I’m seeing pages back and the jokes are actually a million times funnier on the page. Archie stories also have a very specific pacing, with a LOT of gags per page and a lot going on in the background, which is great to write. I didn’t want to sacrifice that, as Afterlife tends to, especially since visually the book would look like a standard Archie digest.
MR: I think that’s a big part of why the OG Archie crossover Archie Meets The Punisher works. How much influence did that have on your scripts here?
AD: Archie Meets The Punisher is clearly the best of the crossovers (sorry, KISS and Glee). More influential, though, for me was a lot of the forties and fifties Archie stuff, which is crazy and dark. Archie plot lines are delightfully nuts. Betty selling her soul to the Devil to make out with Archie? Yep, that happened. Aliens arriving and the entire cast being “nbd”? Yep.
MR: I think the extent of my early Archie knowledge was him driving a Model T.
AD: Yeah. I read about 4,000 pages of Archie comics before starting the mini. The world was starting to take on voodoo qualities by the end of it.
MR: Conversely: this is very much a Predator comic. Like, the pretty strict adherence to “Predator only goes after armed opponents” really stuck out.
AD: Yes. And with some pretty interesting/original fights, too. I think Issue 2 is the only issue where there isn’t a major fight—oh, no, wait, we destroy half of Riverdale in #2. There’s a fun bit in #2 when Kevin’s dad (a general) comes in and tries to explain the Predator, but of course none of the kids are really listening. And as we go on, we realize why this Predator acts the way he does: he is essentially a teenage Predator on his first hunt. Also hence the emoji HUD comms.
MR: The emoji heat vision gags were great.
AD: Indeed. It’s incredibly boring as a writer to write filler unintelligible alienspeak. It’s usually just finding a symbol font and then writing “chucklefuck cuntbag” and other unique Anglo-Saxon compound swear nouns until the balloon is full. Trust me, if there is ever filler symbol dialogue like that and you want to crak/cryptograph it? The four letter word is ALWAYS “cunt”. Well, if it’s a British writer, because the word has a different place in the roster of Very Bad Words there. In the US…? Not sure what the go-to 4 letter word is.
MR: I don’t know if this is the first interview about Archie comics where a writer said “cunt” twice but I’m pretty glad I’m here to see it. Doubling back, Fernando Ruiz’s art here is so good.
AD: Fernando is AMAZING.
MR: Total Archie house style, but then it cracks here and there. Like the bit where the blood is dripping from the tree and no one notices because, hey, why would they?
AD: Yeah, the blood drips were fun. The book has an underlying current of darkness along with the kind of fluffy teen stuff, which becomes more obvious as it goes on. There’s also a whole off-panel subplot about Sabrina’s family that makes me fill with glee every time I think about it. Hint: it involves the phrase “mass grave.” [Ruiz] can push it more EC/Warren when he wants, and he’s been subtly doing that. Fernando is a super artist.
MR: What kind of conversations have you two had as you’ve worked on this?
AD: Fernando and I chatted a bit, but he is such a pro and has done this so long, he just wants a script that gives him fun things to draw, and if he has fun, WE have fun, because then he is inspired to throw in background gags…like the whole business with Jughead and the fries on that page of issue 2 we leaked, where Pop Tate’s head goes pop.
MR: I was completely blindsided by the Sabrina/Hellboy back up in issue #1. Was that just a fun gag or is it going to tie-in?
AD: The backups don’t tie in. I’m not that good, or that OCD. #2 is Jughead / Mind MGMT with Matt Kindt drawing it—it’s probably my favourite. Then Finder/Josie, and finally Li’l Mask / Li’l Archies. I haven’t written the last two yet.
MR: How was working for Archie AND Dark Horse on one book?
AD: Not bad at all. Brendan is my usual Dark Horse editor; we’ve done two seasons of Grindhouse together so work very well. I think that’s why I got the gig—they saw what I was doing in Grindhouse and were like, “She is just crazy enough to make this work.” I write the script, it’s vicious, violent, and dark and has some bit about sex in it, and Brendan is like, “Alex, no, we can’t have jokes about child abuse in an Archie book,” and I go back and revise until it’s funny and still gory and still actually pretty dark but less obviously so, and then we send it to Roberto and he’s like, “We can’t say ‘threesome,'” and we change it to “cuddling” and everyone’s fine.
I actually think it’s given me a really bad intro to Work For Hire, because between that and my Wonder Woman experience everything has been easy and delightful, and what notes I have from editors have served to make the story better and there have been only a couple revisions.
MR: It’s interesting to me that Archie as a property’s become more malleable pretty recently. You’ve got something like this, Afterlife with Archie, and even the Waid/Staples “reboot” feels like a big move away from traditional Archie. Why do you think these takes work?
AD: Teen stories just endure. Archie is a really unique one in that the boy is (theoretically) the focus of it. The great teen melodrama movies (see: John Hughes in the 1980s, Twilight, etc) are ALL focused around a female hero. Even the great teen horror flicks tend to skew towards a female protagonist/final girl. Shoujo/teen manga, all girl. Archie walks a really interesting line in being successful as a male-fronted teen book. I think the Archie kids are such archetypes—Archietypes, even—that they can take on a lot of different stories and still work.
MR: It’s pretty interesting that Betty and Veronica have always been equal co-leads. The Archie universe requires that balance.
AD: Yes, and that’s pretty ironclad. Neither can ever really get ahead. I feel when Archie is written sloppily, B & V can be very interchangeable. But they’re a lot of fun as characters. I’m not really into Lena Dunham, but I am interested in seeing what she’ll do with her Betty & Veronica miniseries.
MR: Oh, me, too. I’m sure that’s going to be fascinating. What can you tease with the rest of the mini-series? What are our chances of ARCHIE VS. ALIEN VS. PREDATOR?
AD: Oh, goodness. So much death. So much snark. I would love to write a chestburster cracking out of someone. We have another big Predator homage at the end of #2…”What are you waiting for? KILL ME!” And Veronica saying, “She certainly doesn’t need those clothes any more. ESPECIALLY the turtlenecks.”
There is a mecha suit in it. Because I thought, “This book has things I love in it. What would make it mega awesome?” Dilton builds a mecha to fight the Predator. Which, of course, like all of Dilton’s creations, isn’t 100% reliable. And that’s not even the craziest thing that happens in the book.
MR: I’m holding out for a guest appearance from Little Richard, personally.
Archie vs. Predator #1 is on sale from Archie and Dark Horse on April 15th. The first issue of No Mercy, from de Campi and artist Carla Speed McNeil, is on sale April 1st from Image.