The Black Hood Q&A with Alex Segura and Duane Swierczynski
The Red Circle characters have historically been on the periphery of the super-hero scene, with the Archie characters keeping the spotlight for decades. But the newly re-launched Dark Circle line is looking to be one of the biggest news makers of 2015. What should we be expecting from your book, THE BLACK HOOD?
DS: I’ll be honest—but Alex Segura first approached me about the idea, I was leery. I’d written a fair amount of superhero comics over the years, and wasn’t sure I wanted to dive back into another. So I pitched him a story that I’d been kicking around as a possible novel, something so dark and violent and Paul Schrader-ish that I thought he’d never go for it. The joke’s on me, I guess! But Alex and co-editor Paul Kaminski not only embraced the darkness, they asked me to add more darkness. So I guess this will tell you what to expect.
AS: I think if you’ve read and enjoyed Duane’s novels, or are a fan of crime fiction or crime cinema, this book is going to really hit your sweet spot. I’ve always been a fan of Duane’s work, so when I was given the task of launching Dark Circle – I hesitate to call it a relaunch, because we’re very much starting from the ground up – it was a no-brainer to approach him. This isn’t a disservice to anything Duane’s done before, but I really wanted to give him the chance to completely cut loose and channel the crazy, nonstop energy I see bursting from his prose work. Pairing him with someone like Michael Gaydos, who’s done such amazing work in the crime comics genre, especially with ALIAS, just made it all click into place.
This comic is going to really surprise people – in the best way possible. Having said that, I really want to give props to the great Dark Circle editorial team – which includes Paul Kaminski, who backs me up on BLACK HOOD and SHIELD and runs point on THE FOX. While I oversee the entire imprint, guys like Paul and assistant editor Vin Lovallo make the machine run. Also really grateful that the Archie execs – Publisher/CEO Jon Goldwater, President Mike Pellerito, CCO Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Creative Consultant Jesse Goldwater – have given me pretty free rein in terms of creating the books I think will resonate, with the talent I think have the best chance of making great comics. Story has always come first for these guys, with everything else a distant second, and that’s a very rare thing in this industry.
What do readers need to know going in when they read the first issue in February? I mean, the character goes all the way back to 1940, for gosh sakes. That’s a lot of continuity to catch up on.
DS: We take care of continuity on page 2 of the first issue. After that, you don’t have to worry about it. (Seriously.) While I love the history of The Black Hood, I wanted something more relevant to police and street crime of today. Back in 1940, the idea of a policeman moonlighting as a costumed hero sounds quaint, even wholesome. Today, the idea of a cop running around at night in a black hood fighting crime sounds utterly psychotic.
AS: Yeah, you need to know very little coming in. In fact, I’ll go a bit further than Duane and say you don’t need to know anything coming in. Duane and Michael do a masterful job of nodding to the past while speeding off the cliff with this book – this is the Black Hood. Nothing else really matters in terms of the story being told in this series.
Duane has made a name for himself as one of the most thrilling and prolific crime writers working today, but his resume of comics work is growing day by day as well. What is it about the BLACK HOOD that made you say, “Yeah, I need to clear yet more space from my schedule and be a part of this line of comics?”
DS: You threw me, off, referring to me in the third person there, Dan. (Especially when you call me prolific—I feel like I’m slow and plodding compared to my peers.) As I mentioned earlier, I really didn’t want to accept this assignment until Alex and Paul called my bluff, which of course is when I really got excited by the possibility. Both have encouraged me to tell the story like I would a noir crime novel, and I’ve drawn inspiration from novels like Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, P.J. Wolfson’s Bodies Are Dust, and of course, James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet. This may seem backward-looking, but the inspiration wasn’t for period detail. Those novels, to me, are examples of how far you can push the genre until it starts to squeal. That’s what I wanted to do with this comic.
AS: This is unfiltered noir. It’s not a mash-up, it’s not noir superheroics; it’s a dark, dirty and realistic crime. Duane and Michael have created a protagonist who’s flawed, dangerous, unhinged and yet surprisingly relatable. They’re setting the bar really high for not only the other Dark Circle books, but comics in general.
Comics are a unique combination of words and pictures. And the BLACK HOOD has some of the best art in the industry with the phenomenal Michael Gaydos. Personally, his work on ALIAS with Brian Michael Bendis is required reading. Duane, how does your scripting change when you’re partnered with someone of Mr. Gaydos’s talent? How specific is your character designs, action scenes, etc.? How much freedom of interpretation is there for the artist?
DS: First of all, I can’t tell you how thrilled I was that Michael joined the team. Like you, I’m a huge fan of his ALIAS run with Bendis. With Michael, I knew I could really have fun with some quieter, weirder, moodier moments in addition to the action. Just wait until you see the first issue; people are going to be blown away by Michael’s work.
Alex, you come to this from a very unique point of view. Having written your own Archie stories with ARCHIE MEETS KISS, but also having success as a crime novelist yourself. As the editor for Dark Circle, describe your vision for BLACK HOOD, as well as for the line of books as a whole.
AS: On a very selfish level, I wanted to work with people I admire to create comics I would read. Zooming out a bit more, I wanted to really explore the idea of a more title-specific, as opposed to universe-focused comic book imprint or company. These books are unique, individualistic exercises on story, not pieces of something else. Instead of creating a tight-knit “universe” of titles that require readers to plunk down a ton of money to just understand what was going on, I wanted each book to really have a personality, cast and reason for existing. I didn’t see a point in, say, having three vigilante books a la Batman or Daredevil. Or three superhero books that are just build-up for them eventually interacting. I did, however, think there was a need for a great crime comic, or an idiosyncratic and trippy book like THE FOX or a high-speed conspiracy thriller like THE SHIELD. These are genre explorations in superhero clothing. Will the leads eventually meet? Maybe. If, and only if, the story is good. Do the books happen in the same “world”? Sure, in a very general way. If you only want to read one of the books, you won’t be penalized by having elements pop in that reflect some bigger, confusing narrative.
I could see any of these books as a cable series or movie. I’m also doing my best to treat the talent the way I’d like to be treated as a writer – which is where that experience, as a comic writer and, more importantly, a novelist – helps. I see my role as editor more akin to facilitator and communicator. Letting these really great, talented people be great and talented on the page, while adding input and trafficking information between them and my bosses. It sounds much less glamorous than I guess it should, but the reality is – I set the table for these guys and let them cook the meal. It’s their show.
My vision for Dark Circle is to create a home for unconventional, cinematic, literary and creator-driven comics. Where you, as a reader, retailer, fan, consumer, whatever – don’t feel like you have to have read a million other comics to be included. Where every issue stands on its own as a really compelling piece of fiction. Will every book be for everyone? No. I don’t want that anyway. I want these books to be water cooler books. The kind of entertainment where you get to the end and you can’t wait for the next installment. With Black Hood, I know we have that. Thanks for talking to us, Dan!
Gentlemen, thank you for your time! And readers, please remember to pick up THE BLACK HOOD this February!