Recently I had a chance to chat with Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie about the work he’s been doing on the B.P.R.D. spin-off title, Abe Sapien. My review of the January issue can be found here, so enjoy the interview!
Josh Epstein: First off, I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with me. I’m a newcomer to this universe, and your book was my first gateway.
Scott Allie: Awesome. Thank you.
JE: Obviously this isn’t your first rodeo with Abe and the supernatural world of B.P.R.D., but it’s the first where you’ve taken the lead. In crafting Abe’s story, you’re working with “toys” originally developed by your colleague Mike Mignola. How would you characterize your relationship with Mike in handling Abe’s solo adventures and how they factor into the larger fabric of the B.P.R.D. universe?
SA: Mike’s the guy I have learned the most from, and who I continue to learn and work the most with. We talk almost every day, steering all the books he does for us. Mike and I do Abe together, I’m not solo or necessarily the lead. The overall arc of this series, which does have an end, was something Mike and I worked out together, with him having a lot of the biggest pieces already in mind. The series developed as a way to show more personal, ground level horror stories set in this disintegrating world of the B.P.R.D.. In the monthly B.P.R.D. book, Arcudi and Mignola are showing big things falling apart, a global perspective on the end of the world. John is amazing at making those sorts of stories really personal, for the characters you’re following, but the point of view on the apocalypse is very high level. And Mike and I wanted to get down into it—initially that’s why we cowrote a few B.P.R.D. shorts, Pickens County Horror and the Abyss of Time. To do what we think of as horror stories, which have to be down on that personal level, rather than the big bold monster studded action adventure stories that John tends to do in BPRD. So the series accomplishes two things—it follows the journey and development of one of Mike’s most important creations, and it gives a perspective on the worldwide crisis that contrasts the view you get in the B.P.R.D. monthly. You get a more personal view of the victims.
JE: Abe is carrying a lot of personal baggage in your run, but he still seems as though he’s able to find the humor in life. How do you strike that balance of exploring the thoughts and concerns that weigh on him while still allowing him to have fun?
SA: I wouldn’t think it’d be honest to make him dour all the time, and it doesn’t make for a good read, I don’t think. I don’t think he’s exactly lighthearted, but he has moments of forgetting his problems. In issues #6 & #7 there was this fireside scene where Abe was laughing, and Sebastian drew this great panel where Abe was laughing like Kermit the Frog. I loved that panel … The way I try to balance the series with the grim is to have the characters react how you think they would to situations, and different situations generate different reactions. And I think it’s human nature, whatever else is going on, to sometimes forget your problems and just relate to the people around you. Not everyone does that, some people can never turn aside from their trouble, and that can make compelling fiction too, but Abe’s not like that; I don’t think Mike creates characters like that.
JE: Max Fiumara obviously brings a great deal to this series in terms of crafting the extraordinarily creepy aesthetic. I’ll admit to getting a crawly feeling when looking at some of the panels. What’s the process like between the two of you in terms of establishing the look and feel of the world Abe is investigating?
SA: Yeah, Max is drawing this current zombie arc—he and his brother Seba trade off stories in the series. This is an incredible experience working with these two guys. I got to spend a week with them in Argentina this summer, when I went to a show there, and we got a long real well, we got to talk about the book. They know how it ends, they know where it’s going along the way. The collaboration is very interactive. We get on the phone every couple of weeks, and we email a lot. I run broad concepts by them, ask them what they want to draw. Max said he really didn’t want to draw zombies, but I told him the story, and it was something he felt he could do justice to. He really embraced the zombie thing in the places where he had to, but he wanted to make sure it wasn’t what he thought of as a typical kind of zombie story. Anyway, he had a lot of input on how it was presented, and he does amazing designs—I just got some character designs from Seba for a character who’ll be really significant from issues #16 to #22.
I’m really into location, and Max is too. I think a great thing about comics is the ability to take you to a place, to make you feel like you’re immersed in it. Max loves bringing a setting to life. As Abe travels through the southwest, Max actually complained about too many desert scenes, because they’re too easy to draw. He wants more variety. So even within the desert, we’ve found a lot of variety. I love how he brought Payson, Arizona to life. We did a lot of research, talking to people there and using street view on Google maps for all its worth.
JE: One thing that seems to be very present in the last few issues of Abe Sapien is the idea of the weary warrior. There seems to be a distinct contrast between Abe and the Sheriff where it comes to how they deal with the scars of their respective pasts. Is this by design and, if so, what would you say we’re learning about what makes Abe tick?
SA: Yeah, that’s one of the key ingredients to this series, but it’s one I don’t want to dwell on forever. In the first arc, Abe didn’t talk much about why he left the BPRD. In the last couple, he’s talking about it more. The most obvious reason is that they think he has something to do with the apocalypse, and he thinks he doesn’t. He says he’s out here to prove that, but he’s not actually doing anything to prove it. So really he’s just running from it. But he’s also running away from being a soldier for the BPRD. The fact that he’s running away from the fight is at the heart of the conflict, for him, in the current story, and the outcome of this story will send him off running in a different direction.
JE: In 2012 you took over as Editor-in-Chief of Dark Horse. Do you find that’s altered your relationship with the B.P.R.D. universe and the creators who work on it?
SA: The added responsibilities have led me to rely more heavily on Daniel Chabon, the Associate Editor on the Mignola books, and it’s allowed him to form greater bonds with a lot of the creators involved. But it hasn’t fundamentally changed things for me, with these guys. The relationships that I have with these guys, and the way we run these books is a way of working that I love, that I think is a great model, and that, if anything, I’m trying to use the EiC job to duplicate in other parts of the editorial department.
JE: Again, thank you for taking the time to do this.
SA: Thanks, Josh!
Josh Epstein is the Publisher for the Capeless Crusader website. He also hosts the weekly Infinite Crossover podcast in cooperation with Fanboys Inc. He’s a lifelong comic nerd, and “Superman” is the first word he ever read aloud. He is also an actor, singer, and resident of a real-world Smallville.