Smash Pages Q&A: Alex Segura

The author and co-president of Archie Comics talks about his latest project, ‘The Black Ghost’ from comiXology.

Alex Segura has had a busy year. During the day he’s busy as the co-president of Archie Comics, where he’s editing books, including the company’s flagship title, Archie. This year he also published a new novel, Miami Midnight, which he claims will be the last book in his Pete Fernandez series for the time being.

This week comiXology starts to serialize The Black Ghost, a creator-owned miniseries that Segura co-wrote with Monica Gallagher. The comic tells the story of Lara Dominguez, a reporter trying to uncover a masked vigilante in the city, and plays with the intersections of crime fiction, pulp fiction and superheroes in interesting ways.

The first issue is out this week, and I asked Segura a few questions about the comic, crime fiction and collaboration.

How did you come to comics?

My first comic was an Archie digest – Betty and Veronica Double Digest #10, to be exact. I think my mom got it for me to calm me down during a boring grocery store run. I was hooked. I became an Archie fanatic for a long while, and eventually graduated to superhero fare, like Spider-Man, the Flash, Batman, X-Men, Avengers and Justice League International. I’ve been reading ever since.

How do you describe The Black Ghost?

The series is an exploration of one woman’s drive to find out the truth – about the Black Ghost, about her past and about what’s going on in her adopted city. Lara Dominguez is a flawed, conflicted protagonist struggling to fight off her own demons so she can do the right thing. That’s not always easy. The Black Ghost, in terms of the character we meet in #1, is a mystery man that evokes characters like the Spirit or the Shadow. Silent, strong, beloved, and an advocate for the little guy. He’s Lara’s white whale – the story she thinks will make her career. Things don’t go as either of them have planned.

I was in part asking that because I wondered how you thought about and approached this story. Because it is in some ways similar to other things you’ve written but you’re also telling a superhero/pulp kind of story.

The themes are similar, yes, but the method is very different. My Pete novels tell the story of how this messed up guy went from a fall-down drunk to being a hero, of sorts. This is similar, but we’re also playing with a different genre, and a different genre’s tropes. We touch on a lot of the elements people love about vigilante comics – and we ask the question, “Is this relevant? Does this fit the world today? And what happens if those things are challenged? When all the heroes are gone, who steps up?”

How did you and Monica Gallagher start working together, and what has kept you two working together?

We first connected on Lethal Lit, the podcast we co-created for iHeart Media last year, which got a hugely positive response. We get along really well, and I love working with her. I think our writing flows naturally together, and we add elements that we wouldn’t have on our own. Plus, we’re both relatively easy to work with, I think! Monica has a great knack for dialogue and comic timing, and I like to think my plotting and pacing is strong, so it blends well and the end result is something unique and fun.

What do you think comics offer you the chance to do that prose or audio doesn’t?

Monica and I were newbies when it came to podcasts, and while we adapted well and are now grizzled vets, we both come from comics – I was in comics before I wrote novels, even. So it felt like our next collaboration would be in that space, because it allows us to not only bring back what we’ve learned writing novels and podcasts, but use the expertise we have in comics already. It’s my first big creator-owned book, and it’s very much the book we want to read.

I’m curious, what are the mystery/crime comics and the pulp adventures comics that you really enjoy and were on your mind when working on this?

I love this question! I’d point to books like Alias by Bendis and Gaydos, Batwoman by Rucka and JH Williams III, Denny O’Neil and Denys Cowan’s The Question, Sandman Mystery Theatre, Wild Dog, Marv Wolfman’s Vigilante, Kelly Thompson and Leo Romero’s superb Hawkeye run, Francesco Francavilla’s The Black Beetle – just off the top of my head.

I would argue that your work is very much defined by how you think about structure, and in a comic you have more structural limitations than in a novel. How does the form impact the way you’re approaching this story and telling it?

That’s a good point, and very true. The limitations are stronger, but the collaboration is also stronger – and we’re so lucky to have a great team with us, starting with artist George Kambadais, letterer Taylor Esposito, colorist Ellie Wright and editor Greg Lockard. They add so much to everything we do, and the final product comes across seamlessly. But in terms of story, for Monica and me, it just meant we had to know the big beats earlier than I would, in, say, a novel. Because in a novel – even though it’s a slow moving ship – I can move the whole thing. In a comic, there are so many different factors. But it just meant Monica and I had to hash out the whole initial arc – and rough ideas for a second – very clearly. It didn’t mean we didn’t leave wiggle room for things – we had characters appear and become integral to the plot, for example, that we hadn’t planned on – but the major beats were there, and were pretty consistent from the earliest stages.

As a last word, the first issue is out this week — what do you think might surprise people in the next few issues, or what ended up surprising you about Lara and the story?

I think the first issue as a whole will surprise people. This is not the book you think it is. Which is a lot of fun, and I’m curious to see how people respond to that.

I think Monica and I had a rough idea of who Lara was, but once George joined the team and brought her to life, it added a layer of depth to her we weren’t really expecting. She became fully formed and complicated, which made her more fun to write – she’s stubborn, driven and prone to making bad choices, but she’s a good person at heart. That makes for great drama.

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