Smash Pages Q&A: Alex Segura on ‘The Dusk’

The editor, author and comics writer discusses his current project that’s up on Kickstarter, as well as his next comics-themed novel, Micro-Face and more.

Alex Segura has many irons in many fires on any given day. He serves as co-president of Archie Comics, where he has also been known to write comics featuring the flagship character meeting bands like the Ramones and the B-52s. And when he’s not in Riverdale, he’s working on his own projects, whether that’s novels like the Peter Fernandez mystery series and Poe Dameron: Free Fall, or comics like The Black Ghost and The Dusk.

It’s the latter that’s occupying a lot of his time right now. It’s a new comic he’s made with Elizabeth Little, David Hahn, Ellie Wright, Taylor Esposito and Joseph Illidge, and it currently has 10 days left in its Kickstarter campaign. It’s about a lawyer/divorced dad by day, superhero by night who tries to take a different approach to fighting crime.

Segura was kind enough to speak with me about this project, as well as his next novel, Secret Identity, and an upcoming comic he’s made with the folks at NPR’s Planet Money podcast, among other topics.

I’m sure you’ve shared the “origin story” of The Dusk a dozen times already, and how it relates to your own kids. But it’s such a great story I’m going to ask you to share it again. Why are you making the Dusk?

I’m happy to share it again!

It’s no secret that I love street-level heroes, like Batman or Daredevil. I grew up reading them and continue to read them. The Black Ghost was in many ways an attempt to modernize the idea. But as I became a dad, and started to watch my own five-year-old son get into comics, I found myself reading these stories in a different way. My son loves, loves, loves the idea of superheroes – the costumes, the characters, the colorful worlds. It’s really amazing to see him get into it. But as we read these stories together, I started to wonder what kind of message the heroes were sending. Superheroes are often super-cops, and that’s a complicated concept now, as it should be.

I don’t claim to have solutions to any of these problems, but as a parent, I wanted to present my son with something that at least raised questions about how we resolve problems, what is wrong with the criminal justice system, and some empathy for things like mental health and people entangled by mass incarceration and just systemic problems. I was talking to my wife about it – she does public interest law for children – and she just turned to me and said, “Well, why don’t you try to create one? Make a hero who struggles with this stuff.” That lit the spark, and it also made me realize I was blending two of my big passions – crime fiction, which in many ways is the best kind of social commentary, and superheroes. So I knew, going in, that I wanted to come at it from a different perspective, without losing any of the wonder and awe that I saw in my son’s eyes as he read the comics. I also didn’t want it to feel overly grimdark, violent, or deconstructive. This is a love letter to superhero comics – it just happens to raise questions along the way.

And to get specific, how will the Dusk approach crime-fighting in a way that’s different than, say, punching the Joker in the face?

Well, there’s a reason that, in the sequence we share on our page, we see Jaime/The Dusk take a swing at a criminal. He’s learning. It’s a journey. We’re going to see him start his crimefighting career with enthusiasm – he thinks he knows what needs to be done. But as the story progresses, we see Jaime, who is a fairly progressive and socially-minded guy, start to question his own methods. Is he really helping fix anything by assaulting people? What happens when the police take someone away? How can he help as a hero and as a public defender? The challenge is, from a creative standpoint, that there’s nothing as active as showing a hero punching a bad guy in the face. It’s not as visually compelling to show the hero try to talk down the villain, or advise a criminal to get a lawyer. So that’s what we need to make work – we need to tell a superhero story with a hero that understands that the system is not flawless, that not everything is good or bad, and that wants to do some actual good. That’s the big theme of the story – if one man wants to do some good, can he do it as a superhero? We think the answer is yes.

With this and The Black Ghost, you’ve been playing in worlds that seem to combine at least two of your influences and interests — crime fiction and superheroes. Can you talk about some specific influences you’ve drawn from for both these projects?

For sure. I think The Black Ghost was very much an extension of the private eye novels that inspired my own books, the Pete Fernandez series – there’s a reason we name the issue titles after crime novels. Hard Revolution, the first trade that Dark Horse is putting out next month, is an homage to a George Pelecanos book. Those are stories about flawed people trying to help themselves and others push back against the evils of the world. I wanted to go heavy on the noir and bleakness – to really show someone at their absolute bottom struggling to get back on their feet, and on the way there, discovering they can be a good person. It’s a story about recovery and reflection, and realizing that even after so much tragedy and problems, we can still be of value. Lara’s come a long way from the first arc and I love how much she changes and grows. Jaime is kind of the other side of that coin. He’s not messed up when we meet him – he’s not an alcoholic or struggling to get by. He has problems – he’s a young dad to a teenage girl, he’s divorced, he’s unclear about his family history, but in terms of his personality – he’s pretty happy-go-lucky. I really wanted to have a hero who was doing good because they WERE good, not because of some childhood tragedy or accident. Jaime wants to help. He does it with a smile. I happened to be rereading Mark Waid’s Flash run around the time I was thinking about this project and I was so inspired by the idea of a hero who was flawed, human, but also cheerful and optimistic. It’s okay to look on the bright side. That’s kind of why we went with the name Dusk – there’s still light in the darkness.

The Dusk and Impossible Jones by David Hahn

How did you assemble the creative team for this project, and what do each of them bring to it?

I’ve wanted to work with artist David Hahn for a while. I love his style, he’s a fantastic storyteller, and he just fit the aesthetic I wanted – which was, to tell these stories in a way that was appealing to not just us jaded comic book readers, but new readers looking for a different take. He blends this indie, Love & Rockets vibe with a Bruce Timm quality that I just love. One of our big touchstones is Batman: The Animated Series, so when I had the idea I immediately emailed David and said, “Would you want to work on this with me?” He did some designs and we were off to the races.

Elizabeth Little, the co-creator/co-writer, is a dear friend and a fantastic crime novelist. Her books transport you to different worlds – Pretty as a Picture was one of my favorite novels of 2020. Her characters are quirky, different, and have voice. David and I were pecking away at the idea for The Dusk but had hit a lull. I knew Liz wanted to get into writing comics, so I mentioned it to her and she gave the pitch a look. Almost immediately, the energy changed and the book became something greater than. That’s what I love about comics. People chip in and add and tweak and it comes to life as something you hadn’t expected. Liz, David, and I are all parents – our kids are at different stages, but we all understand the weight and responsibility that brings, this desire to make the world better because you’ve brought these lives into the world. It’s really helped with how we write Jaime and his daughter Dawn, for example.

Ellie Wright and Taylor Esposito are the colorist and letterer on The Black Ghost, my project with Monica Gallagher and George Kambadais, and we just have a fantastic working relationship. They’re versatile, professional, and wonderful to deal with. I knew a Kickstarter would be tough in and of itself, so I wanted a team I could count on. Ellie has been able to completely pivot from the dark, neo-noir world of The Black Ghost to something more open and almost animated with The Dusk, and it’s been fun to see. Taylor is our rock. Solid and reliable.

Editor and creative consultant Joe Illidge was the final piece, and once we had him on board I knew this could become something special. I’ve known him a long time and we’ve always wanted to work together. Though I am an editor, writer and everything else, I need an editorial voice with my projects, even if it’s my IP. Greg Lockard, for example, is our fearless leader on The Black Ghost. He just keeps things running and adds clarity where needed. He’s essential. Joe has a storied background, from Milestone to DC to Lion Forge to Valiant to Heavy Metal, but I was particularly keen to tap into his Batman brain, as someone who was literally in Gotham when the character had one of his most vibrant eras. I wanted to take that experience and use what he’d gained after to really put a new spin on the urban crimefighter idea for the 21st century, and Joe thankfully liked the pitch and was all for it. We’re lucky to have him.

We partnered with Ominous Press to do the Kickstarter, too – and I’m glad we did. I knew I personally didn’t have the bandwidth to create, fulfill, and coordinate a campaign. I’ve known Ron Marz and Keith Champagne forever, and they’re great guys and extremely talented. So once we got to talking it felt like an amazing fit. They’ve been fantastic handling all the behind the scenes stuff and just giving us the infrastructure to make this book a reality.

Right now you’re more than halfway through the campaign with a $10,000 gap between you and the finish line. What are you doing in these last couple weeks to amp up interest and pledges? And what’s the pitch you’d give to anyone who might still be on the fence about it?

We’ve been blessed to have a veritable Who’s Who of comic book artists contributing to the project, and I’m so excited to unveil a bunch of new Dusk images to entice people to come visit his hometown of Blackstone. We’ve also got some VIP tiers we’ve been saving for the final stretch. I think my final pitch would be this – if you love superhero comics, especially characters like Batman and that genre, the Dusk is for you. It’s a modern take on those kind of stories with heart. Jaime is a three-dimensional, flawed person trying to save his city from falling apart. But he doesn’t want to do it the way it’s been done before. He’s going to fight crime in a world with no easy answers, but he’s still going to keep pushing, and that’s the kind of hero we need today, I think. I hope people can support the book and get us over the finish line, because we’d love to bring this comic to life for everyone to enjoy, and to keep telling stories in this universe.

I thought I’d turn now to another project you have going on. How did you end up working with the folks at Planet Money on a Micro-Face comic? And, um, what’s a Micro-Face?

Oh, this was a blast. Planet Money is NPR’s economics podcast, where they tackle complicated business ideas and translate them for people in entertaining, fun ways. They were doing a series on IP and how superheroes have become extremely valuable in this era of cinematic universes. In my role as Archie Co-President, I was a guest on an episode and explained to them – they were trying to buy a superhero from a company – that no one in their right mind would sell them a character. It’s impossible to put value on something that, like Groot showed us, could be extremely valuable down the line – depending on the story.

When they hit a wall trying to buy an existing character, they decided to dig through the public domain and recreate a Golden Age hero. They found a character named Micro-Face, who has audio-based powers and was created by artist Al Ulmer. They came back to me and asked if I’d like to help them write the story, to which I said yes! We put together a great team – Jerry Ordway redesigned Micro-Face, Peter Krause is doing interiors, and Ellie and Taylor are onboard, too. It’ll be a 40-page one-shot hitting later this year, and people can pre-order the new Micro-Face’s debut on the NPR site. we decided to take a legacy approach with this, in the vein if Infinity Inc. or those kind of heroes – where we meet the original Micro-Face’s grandson and watch as he picks up the mantle. It’s been a complete blast to work on.

And on the prose side, you’re finishing up a new book, Secret Identity, that’s set in the comics industry. Can you talk a little bit more about it, and when it’s expected to be out?

Yes, Secret Identity hits next year, I think around April, from Flatiron Books. It’s set in 1975, which was, as many know, a particular low point for the comic book industry – before the direct market became a viable channel, and long before movies and TV were so commonplace. It felt like a dying industry, to many.

Secret Identity tells the story of Carmen Valdez, a Cuban-American woman from Miami who grows up reading comics and then moves to New York to work for a fictional publisher as the secretary to the CEO. She makes it clear she wants to write, but finds herself blocked at every turn, mainly by her boss. She’s approached by a colleague who wants to create a new hero – he offers Carmen the chance to co-write the story in secret, promising that she will eventually get the credit she deserves. Seeing no other path to achieving her dream, Carmen agrees. The character goes on to become a huge hit – but her collaborator is murdered. So Carmen not only has to figure out what happened to her friend, she wants to reclaim her character before it gets twisted and changed beyond recognition.

It’s chock-full of cameos and fun stuff for diehard comic fans, but also serves up a compelling noir mystery with a few unexpected narrative twists. I hope people enjoy it!

We’ve covered a lot here, but is there anything else you’re working on you want to mention?

I’ve got two or three comic book projects in active production and some other book news I’m just patiently waiting to get announced! You’ve covered a lot, though!

Finally, what’s your time management/balance like, given your day job at Archie, your prose writing, your comics projects and, of course, being a dad? And how has the last year helped or hurt your productivity?

The pandemic has been challenging, as it has been for everyone. Before, I felt like my days were segmented by travel and motion – I’d go to the office and do my day job, come home and have family time, then do my creative/freelance stuff at night, sometimes have an event or what-have-you. I still kind of echo that rhythm, but it’s challenging because we’re so limited in what we can do, for obvious reasons. I’m thankful to have this time with my family which I wouldn’t have had – watching the kids get older vs. just seeing them for bursts of time. I guess I’m lucky because I didn’t have much downtime before, so I’m accustomed to the idea of working all the time (laughs). That’s really the only answer I have to the time management question – if your hobbies become your job, as it has with me, where I work in comics and novels and that world, then it doesn’t feel like work. And that’s a blessing.

But in terms of useful advice – I would just suggest writers avoid adding too much ceremony to their work. Sometimes you only get a burst of time and you need to be able to pivot and write for 15 minutes. So the more steps it takes for you to get from your starting point to actually writing, the longer it’s going to take to finish. I don’t believe people need to write X amount of words a day – that limits who can call themselves a writer, and people have day jobs, kids, other responsibilities. But you sure as heck should be trying your best – because if you’re not treating writing like a profession, it may never become one. It’s 90 percent hustle and sweat and 10 percent talent, I think.

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