Jason Aaron - Sticking With 'Scalped'

Even with all his work at Marvel, writer Jason Aaron says he won't leave Scalped, his Vertigo series set on a Native American reservation that's been lauded by creators and reviewers.

With art by R.M. Guera, Scalped focuses on an FBI agent working undercover for a corrupt reservation leader, but the comic's strength lies in the development of a diverse set of characters affected by decades of crime on the "rez."

All the attention he's gotten for Scalped is what landed Aaron a Marvel exclusive last year, with his work appearing in Wolverine, Black Panther and the ongoing Ghost Rider series. Yet despite his rising profile at Marvel, Aaron's clearly dedicated to Scalped, the series he started in 2007 at Vertigo.

With the release this week of the comic's third collection, titled "Dead Mothers," we talked to Aaron about what makes Scalped so special to him and so many other people, and what readers can expect from the series as it continues.

Newsarama: Jason, we've talked before about how everyone from Brian K. Vaughan to Garth Ennis to Ed Brubaker have publicly praised Scalped. But this series has won loyal fans everywhere, and you're obviously attached to it. What is it that makes not only you love it that much, but makes it really resonate with so many people?

Jason Aaron: I think part of it is that it's just something different. In some ways, it's familiar, but at the same time, it's got that little tweak to it that makes it different, and those seem to be the things that resonate most with people. You can identify with these characters in a lot of ways, but they're still from a background and a setting that most people aren't familiar with.

And I think the characters appeal to people. It's a character-driven story. It's not setting the world on fire with the plot. It's a straight-forward plot, and even though there are twists and turns along the way, everything's driven by the characters. The issues that people have really responded to the most are the ones that are just straight character drama, kind of digging into the minds of the different characters.

NRAMA: Have you mapped out the entire series to where you wanted to culminate and end the story?

JA: Yeah, I initially had an outline up until issue #30, although that wasn't an ending point. It's a point when things really hit the fan. Everything kind of blows up. That's what everything's been building toward so far. But yeah, everything's building toward a specific ending point. All the characters have specific arcs. But in terms of an issue number, I don't know. We'll just see along the way. And there are always new characters who pop up that I want to explore more or new stories along the way. We'll see. Guera and I are still really excited about the book and Vertigo is still really behind it.

NRAMA: Did you do research for this?

JA: It's just like with The Other Side, I did a lot of reading and talking to people. But it helped, as with the Vietnam War, I have been interested in Native American history and had been into it for years on my own time, before I ever thought about trying to work that into a story.

NRAMA: What attracted you to Native American history? You had a family connection with the Vietnam War because of your cousin Gustav Hasford, but why the interest in this subject?

JA: It's true that I had a more personal connection with the Vietnam War. And I don't know that there's any one thing that I could trace this back to. I mean, I have interests like that. I've always been interested in the Civil War as another one of my obsessions. And demonic possessions. And college football. So yeah, it's just one of those things I'd always read about, especially the American Indian movement and the Red Power movement of the '70s, and the Leonard Peltier story. So all that just kind of worked together with my desire to do a crime series. Like with The Other Side, I wanted to do, like, a familiar genre, but something that was a little different.

NRAMA: With the release this week of the trade for the Dead Mothers arc, what can you tell people about the story?

JA: There have been two murders on the rez. Two different women turn up dead. One of them is the mother of our main character, Dash Bad Horse. The other is murdered in a meth house, leaving behind a pack of kids. This arc focuses on those two deaths and how they affect Dash, how he throws himself into the investigation of the meth house murder and befriends the dead woman's son, in whom he sees a lot of himself. And also how he slowly comes to grips with his own mother's death, and the resentment he's always had for her.

NRAMA: As you've already revealed, at the end of the first arc, Gina Bad Horse is found dead. While the reader has now discovered who killed her, is there going to be a resolution of the characters' search for who killed Gina?

JA: It depends on what you mean by resolution. There's not going to be a big moment where everybody in the book finds out at the same time who the murderer is.

NRAMA: Her death has been really important to the main characters, though. Does her death continue to play a part in the lives of the characters as Scalped continues?

JA: Her death continues to affect several different characters in different ways. Dash is still coming to grips with it, as is Chief Red Crow, who was her former lover and bitter rival. And now Officer Falls Down is getting pulled in as well, as he's sent out to find her killer. And then there's the matter of the killer himself, who's revealed at the end of the Dead Mothers arc. Revealed to the readers at least, not the characters in the story. Gina's death will remain a core element of the story in Scalped for a long time to come.

NRAMA: Does the emotional struggle we're seeing related to Gina Bad Horse's death have something to do with the plan you have in place for everything to "blow up?"

JA: Yeah. A lot of that stuff would come to a head. You've also got tensions on the reservation between Red Crow and this Asian street gang that he's been laundering money for, so that's got to come to a head. And then at the end of Issue #20, there was a dark, very important path that Dash started to walk down that is going to come back and bite him in the ass.

NRAMA: The current story arc is focusing on Dino Poor Bear, a young character you're revisiting after we met him several issues ago. Can you tell us about the story we'll be seeing about this boy?

JA: In the Casino Boogie arc, issue #10 with Dino and issue #7 with Red Crow have been the issues that people love the most, and those are two of the characters that I'm the most interested in. So with the arc that just started in issue #21, a four-part arc called The Gravel In Your Guts, it focuses on those two characters, comparing and contrasting where they're at in their lives, and the long dark roads they still travel.

We're seeing everything Red Crow's gone through to get to the point where he is, and how he's been sort of corrupted along the way. But he's at a point where he's trying to change things, and something's been forced upon him that makes him feel like he needs to make a change. And he's struggling with that. Meanwhile, you see Dino, who comes from an average household on the reservation, but he's getting sucked down that same road that Red Crow's been going down for years. So it takes both of those characters to a different place by the end of the arc and kind of ups the ante in a lot of ways.

NRAMA: Then just to finish up, we've talked about how this book resonates with a lot of people, but how does it feel to write a comic that gets such a strong response from readers?

JA: It's really flattering that I hear from a lot of people that it's one of their favorites, if not their favorite book. And Scalped is the whole reason I have a comics career. It's the whole reason I'm doing Wolverine and Ghost Rider and everything else. It's not a series that's ever going to sell 100,000 copies a month in the direct market. But it's a book that the people who find it do seem to respond strongly to. I just try to write for myself and please myself. And hopefully if I respond strongly to it, there will be at least a few other people out there who feel the same way.

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