Breaking In: Interview with Alex de Campi

Welcome to the latest installment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.

Today, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to interview Eisner Award-nominated comics writer Alex De Campi. As noted in her bio on the Image Comics website, Alex writes comics and directs music videos and commercials.

Her best-known works include the New York Times-reviewed, Eisner-nominated spy-thriller Smoke/Ashes (with art, per her bio, by “everyone”) and her Grindhouse series (USA Today’s “Most Insane Read of 2013”), both from Dark Horse. Her groundbreaking digital thriller Valentine is ongoing at Thrillbent and ComiXology.

Her most recent project is the intense, unrelenting teen survival horror comic, NO MERCY (with art by Carla Speed McNeil and colors by Jenn Manley Lee), from Image. Four issues have been published – separately and in a collected Volume 1 – with issue #5 shipping December 9, 2015.

A group of US teenagers on a pre-college service trip are stranded in a remote part of Central America after a horrible accident. Things get worse from there.

Boy, do they ever!

NO MERCY is available in print from your preferred comics vendor, or in digital from Comixology. You can learn more Alex’s works, and how to find them, here.

Alex De Campi - NO MERCY 5 Cover

NO MERCY #5, written by Alex de Campi, art by Carla Speed McNeil, colours by Jenn Manley Lee. Published by Imagine. In stores December 9, 2015!

[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Alex! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?

[ADC] I’m not sure. I don’t even know if I have broken in right now. But I write all the time, and most of what I do seems to get published, so I guess I’ve broken in? I could use more money, though. Send cheques.

Alex De Campi - GRINDHOUSE - Doors Open at Midnight Double Feature Vol 4 - Lady Danger and Nebulina (cover Afua Richardson, Francesco Francavilla)

Doors Open at Midnight Double Feature Volume 4 — Lady Danger & Nebulina TPB, written by Alex de Campi, cover by Afua Richardson and Francesco Francavilla, published by Dark Horse — and ALSO available December 9, 2015!

What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?

My entire career is basically a lesson in how not to do it in comics. You want to be big in monthly comics? Do a couple indie books then campaign hard to get on WFH DC/Marvel, build up a big readership there, then go off and do creator-owned books (or not, depending on your interests). Of course monthly comics aren’t it, they aren’t even half the giant sequential publishing industry. You can be big in webcomics; big in graphic novels, big a whole bunch of places. But you have to do all the initial part yourself, for much longer than you think. Repeat after me: nobody helps you until you don’t need help any more.

My path to breaking in was (to paraphrase Peter Schjeldal) to hang out in bars with other people who made comics. Our gang became a tribe; our tribe became a movement. As we got published we helped each other. That’s it, really. Never was one for the corporate thing, and I had some early bad experiences with editors — the nail in the coffin being of course that I was right. (They never forgive you, when you’re right. You can be wrong all day long and they’ll take you back and take you back, tho.) My career’s a hot mess, but such as it is — I get to tell exactly the stories I want to tell. And I guess that’s all we can ask for: I’m happy, and I’m telling my stories.

Alex De Campi - SMOKE-ASHES Cover (cover art by Tomer Hanuka)

Smoke / Ashes, written by Alex de Campi, cover by Tomer Hanuka, published by Dark Horse

And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?

Mmm… nothing. I like being The Girl That Nobody Owns. I feel free. But it’s not the easiest of roads, and if you’re going to be the cat who walks by herself you need to be stunningly good / original in your writing voice and confident as all hell.

Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?

I thought I’d be making more money, tbh. But it’s lovely, having lines for my signings and people buying my work based on my name and a certain expectation of casual brutality…

What are you working on now?

In production on my Cold War miniseries. Just finished lettering No Mercy #7. About to start writing Valentine 16 and 17. Waiting on two completed graphic novels for my space in artists’ schedules. Starting to sketch out two new projects, one of which already has an artist/collaborator. Then going to write #4 of an unannounced thing.

How can people keep up with you online?
I’m @alexdecampi pretty much everywhere.
I’d like to thank Alex for a thoughtful and thought-provoking interview.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m kind of desperate to pick up the new issue of NO MERCY, because I have to know what happens next!
Seriously, it’s been a long time since I read a comic where I finished it, and immediately had to go back and re-read it because I was so worried about the characters. Oy, “… a certain expectation of casual brutality…” is, if anything, an understatement.
Coming up next on the blog: A Breaking In interview with author Lorna Schultz Nicholson, and the year in review.
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