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Emerald City Comicon 2011: Interview with John Arcudi

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Writer John Arcudi initially made a name for himself on Hollywood-blockbusters-turned-comics like Predator, Terminator, Robocop, and more, and then on comics-turned-films like his series Barb Wire and The Mask.  Since then, he's become a staple in the Hellboy universe, writing B.P.R.D. and shaping that universe into what it is today.  In this lively interview at the Emerald City convention, John and I discussed his early work, what's ahead in the pipeline, and his growing number of side projects.  [Readers will note that this conversation takes place before artist Guy Davis announced his departure from B.P.R.D.]

Amazon.com: I have to admit that I did a bit of a background check on you before our interview, and I noted that earlier in your career you wrote for Cracked Magazine. I was a big fan of that book when I was younger. Can you share any memories from your time at Cracked?

John Arcudi: It was a long time ago. It was the mid-to-late 80s. It wasn’t the first professional job that I did--that was at Savage Tales for Marvel--but a friend of mine, Mike Delle-Femine (Mort Todd), was Editor-in-Chief, and he asked me to try out some stuff, and we worked together and it worked out really well. It was amazing, because I got to work with Steve Ditko, Wally Brogan--which was a lot of fun--John Severin…Gene Colan, yeah, that was a lot of fun.

Amazon.com: Now, mid-to-late 80s, does that mean you crossed paths there with Daniel Clowes--

John Arcudi: Oh yeah. Yeah, Dan and I were friends for a while before either one of us got into comics, and Mort is a mutual friend of Dan and mine.

Amazon.com: What kind of stuff were you writing over there?

John Arcudi: It’s Cracked Magazine, brother. It ain’t brain surgery, you know?

Amazon.com: [Laughs] You’ve written The Mask, for Batman, Gen13, but I think most of your contemporary fans associate you with B.P.R.D. How did this relationship begin?

John Arcudi: Really, only my friends give me work. Mike [Mignola] and I have been friends for a really long time. I met him in 1993, and pretty soon thereafter we became friends. We were always trying to think of something that we could do together. It really ran the gamut--we actually talked to the Cartoon Network at one point about doing something together, but he was launching this B.P.R.D. thing. I never thought to ask, and he never thought to ask me, but then all of a sudden it seemed natural. We talked about working with Guy [Davis] on B.P.R.D. and it all came together all at once.

It’s like all things in life. It’s not a movie or book, where it’s like, “This happened, and therefore this happened.” It just kind of fell into place over the course of probably--well, it terms of Mike trying to find something to do with me, that was years, actually--but when we finally decided to work together with Guy, it fell together probably over the course of a few months.

Amazon.com: The most recent collected volume of B.P.R.D, King of Fear, wrapped up a fairly large plotline that’s been in the works since the series’ beginning. What’s it like to set into motion that kind of finality, and where do you go from here?

John Arcudi: Well, that’s something Mike and I have been talking about for a long time. When we started working together, we didn’t know exactly where it was going to go, but as he did his stories and I did my stories, they sort of worked toward a certain end. It just seemed like a natural thing to do, and we knew when the threat of the frogs ended [that] things were actually going to get worse, not better. And that’s sort of the motto that we use: whenever a hero allegedly fixes something, it actually makes things worse. It’s worked really well for us so far.

Amazon.com: And now that King of Fear is over, what can fans expect from Hell on Earth?

John Arcudi: You mean the overarching series?

Amazon.com: That was--you know, you’re playing along perfectly, because that was my next question [laughs]. The current Hell on Earth series has a subtitle: Gods. Can you describe the title structure?

John Arcudi: Well, the Hell on Earth storyline, which is going to last for a while, is the not-so-gradual deterioration of the world [and] has nothing to do with the frog menace. Things are just gettin’ bad. That’s Hell on Earth. No one’s gonna get spared. We, like, wiped out parts of Indonesia and Malaysia, but I think it was in [Hell on Earth:] New World that I blew up Houston. Right here at this show, I did an eight-pager where we messed up Seattle. We’re going to start investigating the world outside of B.P.R.D. headquarters and what’s happening in a really big way--we’re going to expand the B.P.R.D. universe by showing more of what’s going on, because there is a lot more going on.

Amazon.com: I’ve read that you are branching out in the Hellboy universe, and you’re taking on Witchfinder after the previous arc, In the Service of Angels. Now that you’re picking it up, what’s next for this character?

John Arcudi: It’s a Western story. He comes to the United States, and I actually started writing this before Mike started writing his Witchfinder series [In the Service of Angels], because I was working with John Severin. We knew John Severin--I mean, he’s a god and the best--and we knew he couldn’t draw anything really, really fast. So, we wanted to get a head-start on things. And he’s as good as he’s ever been. 89 years old, and his stuff is still just fantastic, and he’s a total sweetheart. I couldn’t be happier.

Mike wanted me to do a Western, but he didn’t know how it was going to work out. When he started this Witchfinder thing, that’s when he suggested I do a Western, and Scott Allie, the editor, suggested we get John Severin because he’d worked with John on a couple of other things, and I’d actually worked with John on a War on Frogs oneshot. Man, I think he’s just finishing up the last two pages now, and--couldn’t be happier--the stuff is just gorgeous.

Amazon.com: You also recently wrote a Superman story in Wednesday Comics, which had to be a very different job from your regular gig. How did you write for The Man of Steel?

John Arcudi: Superman’s like the only superhero that makes any sense to me. He’s from another planet, so he dresses weirdly, and he doesn’t know any better. He’s the only guy that I can think to myself: “Yeah, I can see why he would wear a costume.” It’s like when you go to Paris and you wear your Bermuda shorts, and they make fun of you. It’s like the same thing.

That’s the only superhero that I think I could do anything with, and I thought I did a pretty good job. I had a lot of fun with that. I also got to work with [artist] Lee Bermejo, which, you know, that helped a lot [laughs].

Amazon.com: If Superman is the only superhero you think you could really work with, what about other genres in comics?

John Arcudi: Well, I did sort of tackle the meta-human thing last year in the graphic novel A God from Somewhere.

Amazon.com: There’s a new edition coming out, right?

John Arcudi: Can we just hold on a sec? [At this point, a group of fans had been waiting very patiently by John’s table, and John shakes their hands and signs miscellany.] Where were we?

Amazon.com: Let’s pick up with A God Somewhere.

John Arcudi: Sorry about that, folks. The meta-human or superhuman idea--like “hero,” I don’t even know what that means [laughs]. I wanted to approach the idea of what if someone didn’t become a superhero, he just became “super.” The interesting thing to me in a story isn’t the rock that hits the water; it’s the ripples. So even though one of the main characters, Eric Forester, becomes a meta-human, I was much more interested in his friend, Sam Knowle, and how it affected his life, and how it affected Eric’s brother and his brother’s wife. And that’s what I explored. I wasn’t too concerned with what happened to the superhuman as I was [with] everybody else. People liked it, so I must have done something right.

Amazon.com: Along with that side project, there’s also a collection of yours coming out called Major Bummer.

John Arcudi: Yeah, that was something I did for DC back in the late 90s. [Artist] Doug Mahnke and I--the rights reverted to us, and we’ve been puttering around with it [in] Hollywood through a few studios that have picked up options. This October, we’re actually putting together a collection through Dark Horse of all 15 issues. I still think it’s Doug’s best work.

Amazon.com: And you worked with him on The Mask, correct?

John Arcudi: Yes, Major Bummer was a direct result of our work together on The Mask. DC wanted to do something with us, and even though it wasn’t a success commercially--critically, it did really well, and we’re hoping that with Doug’s increased profile we can get this in front of more people.

--Alex

P.S. That wraps up this week's ECCC 2011 coverage (see also our interviews with Dave Stewart and Guy Davis).  Stay tuned next week for more!

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