Interview with John Arcudi
John Arcudi penned his first comic book script in 1986. Since then, his writing has filled the comic-shop shelves on such titles as Aquaman, Doom Patrol, Gen-13, Aliens, RoboCop and Batman. In the nineties, he was known for his work on the original comic book series The Mask and Barb Wire—both adapted into motion pictures—and on his series, Major Bummer. More recently, Arcudi has been hard at work as series writer on Mike Mignola’s BPRD. Today, we talk with John about comics, craft, his upcoming projects and his newest book A god Somewhere—a powerful and haunting graphic novel with a humanity that Publisher’s Weekly says, “elevates Arcudi’s script… proving that there are still some new stories out there after all.”
In recent years, you’ve been exploring superhero or supernatural themes within gritty, real-life settings, where the fantastical characters have human attributes and lives with actual consequences. Have your thematic intentions as a writer changed throughout your career?
JA: Boy, I hope so. The older you get, naturally you’re going to start to look at life and stories and entertainment differently. I hope that’s reflected in my writing. The only thing I feel like I’m still trying to do the way I always have is just to give the characters I create or work with as human and natural a feel as I can, but beyond that, I look at scripts as opportunities to explore larger issues than just the plotline at hand (to the extent that that can be done).
In your writing, you do a great job filling in plot and character details through engaging events and dialogue, moving the story forward without any dull or unnecessary exposition. Is that tight pacing something you had to practice at? You seem to do it very naturally.
JA: Thanks. Pacing is a huge pain in the ass, so yeah, I need to work on it quite a bit—not only throughout my career, but on each and every script. That’s what second drafts and rewrites are for.
The dialogue you write reads very fluidly and organically, which is so important in comic book storytelling. Any advice for aspiring writers on creating convincing dialogue?
JA: Listen. Pretty cliché, I guess, but that’s it. Listen to folks and then try to mimic those rhythms while always using the chatter in your books to move your story (or a mood) forward in a script.
One of the undercurrents in A god Somewhere is the overlapping of the different racial cultures of the characters, which lent an interesting depth to the narrative. Do you feel that issues of race are typically underrepresented in mainstream comics?
JA: Absolutely, and even when those issues are represented, they are usually ham-handed and swinging sledgehammers. Maybe most comics folks don’t think it’s something worth pursuing, perhaps. Who knows? A god Somewhere also dealt with religion, but again, I tried to play that down—just have it be there, be part of the background. Of course, when you have “god” in the title of a book, hard to say that it’s a subtle undercurrent, isn’t it?
How long does it take you to flesh out and script an entire graphic novel like A god Somewhere, or a five-issue BPRD story arc? Is your process very different when you’re working on a creator-owned project versus a franchised or work-for-hire ongoing series?
JA: For BPRD, I’d say it takes about 7 months from the time of inception, through outline, and to final drafts on all five scripts. Sometimes a little longer, sometimes a little shorter. A god Somewhere took a lot longer due to a bunch of delays, but in terms of actually writing, rewriting and conceiving, maybe closer to 18 months. And yes, the way I approach creator owned material is very different from the way I do work-for-hire stuff in that most of my creator owned work comes to a planned ending. It’s not going to be ongoing, so that’s really going to change the thinking from the get-go. That finality permeates every aspect of the process, from the conception, right down to the pacing.
What do you like to read in your spare time? Any favorite writers or influences?
JA: Melville is always on the top of the list, but usually I read non-fiction—history and sciences, mostly.
What have been some of your favorite projects or series that you’ve worked on?
JA: Well, Major Bummer with Doug Mahnke couldn’t have been more fun, and of course, A god Somewhere with Peter Snejbjerg and Bjarne Hansen is an all-time career highlight. That said, working on BPRD and other Hellboy-related books has been a dream. John Severin, Guy Davis, Peter Snejbjerg; these are the kinds of artists this association has teamed me with. And more to come that I can’t talk about yet!
You’re currently known for your work on the BPRD. What else are you working on right now? Any plans about future projects that you can share?
JA: I mentioned Major Bummer earlier, and Dark Horse will be releasing the collection of all fifteen issues this October. While that’s not a new project, I am really excited about getting it back in print. I’m also working on a creator-owned miniseries that I can’t tell you too much about, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and my hope is that it will be with Dark Horse. And then there’s this very ambitious 12-issue project I’m putting together which I’m really, really jazzed about. I’m just looking for a publisher. Vertigo would be ideal, but that’s their call.
You have a long and varied career in the comic book industry. Have you ever thought about branching out into any other types of writing?
JA: I’ve done a little TV writing and it was a terrible experience. Not to say I wouldn’t ever try it again, but when you’ve got writing by committee, it’s just no fun and the pay was surprisingly low. I’m working on sharpening up my prose, so maybe I’ll get back to that.
How do you feel about the current state of the publishing industry? Do you think that writers’ roles will change in the future due to the surge in free online content?
JA: Some aspects of comics publishing cheers me. You have creators who are self-publishing and some of the smaller presses are getting more diversified material out there. On the other hand, the largest publishers seem to be narrowing the field, and that’s depressing. As for “free” online content, the only role I see for the writer (or any creator) in such a development would be unemployment. So this “free” thing needs to be looked at a bit more closely.
John Arcudi’s A god Somewhere is available on Amazon.com