What do the Archies and Miami private investigator have in common? Alex Segura.
This week Alex Segura's latest Florida crime noir Dangerous Ends hits stands, following for a third time the journalist-turned-private investigator. And next month, the comic book one-shot The Archies with Matthew Rosenberg and Joe Eisma tells the modern origins of the Riverdale garage rock band.
Segura, who does all this while holding down a career as Archie Comics' Senior Vice President of Publicity and Marketing, talked with Newsarama about his latest endeavors, bridging Riverdale and Miami, and how he balances it all.
Newsarama: Alex, let's start out slow - what are you working on today as we do this? You can be as specific as you want, and public relations counts as work.
Alex Segura: PR always. Also chipping away at the fourth Pete Fernandez Miami Mystery, tentatively titled Relics.
Nrama: We're talking today because you have several writing projects coming up - first I wanted to talk about The Archies one-shot. You've had them meet KISS, and the Ramones, but now you and Matthew Rosenberg are actually letting readers see the early days of Archies, the band - set in the new, modern Archie Universe. First off, how'd this story come about?
Segura: It really just came from Matt and I wanting to work together again. We had a blast writing Archie Meets Ramones, and we've been friends for a long time, so we wanted to see what else was available. I knew, from being in the building, that Archie was planning a few one-shots and mini-series to expand the world of the new Archie universe. I also knew Mark Waid and Joe Eisma, in the main Archie book, had danced around the formation of the Archies. I asked if anyone was pitching on the Archies as a book and was given the green light. Then Matt and I put our heads together and came up with, for all intents and purposes, the origin story for the band in the new continuity. It was a huge honor and privilege to tell that tale - and there are a bunch of cool Easter eggs and fun moments for classic fans, too.
Once we got the pitch approved, Archie decided to have Joe draw the book, which is huge. Joe's done such a stellar job on the main Archie title and you should all check out what he's doing on the Riverdale ongoing series - he just keeps getting better. Having him draw it really added a level of importance to the whole thing, making it feel more like an event, which is what it should be - it features the most important characters in the Archie universe. It's like the Avengers, minus the powers and with lots more singing.
Nrama: What previous Archie comics most informed your take on the band?
Segura: I'm a big fan of the classic stuff - the Frank Doyle/Dan DeCarlo stories, anything drawn by Harry Lucey or Samm Schwartz. The best Archie comics are built on visual gags, so I always go back to the artists - including Bob Montana's newspaper strips. We also spent a lot of time with Waid's current run, which so deftly reintroduces all the core concepts in a modern, meaningful way. He's just such a master at clearing the barnacles off a classic property and just boiling things down to the essence of what makes it appealing. In many ways, Matt and I were trying to just add a chapter to the bigger story Mark has been telling.
Nrama: Without spoiling too much, can you say what the key catalyst is in the formation of the Archies in your one-shot?
Segura: It comes from Archie - he's the starting point. He loves music, he loves writing songs and he wants to play them. But what's a bunch of songs without a band? Eventually, he - with some prodding from his friends - realizes he needs help. How he gets to the band is the fun part, though.
Nrama: This is a one-shot, like a pop single. How is doing it that way changed your approach versus a serialized story?
Segura: Matt and I are viewing it as a pilot, basically. If it does well, we'll get a full season pick-up. That means you have to write a great debut episode and really pull out all the stops. You also need to leave enough in reserve that if you do get a chance to keep going, you have fun stories to tell. I think we accomplished that goal, and Joe illustrated it perfectly.
Nrama: Did you have any real-life bands in mind when crafting this origin story for the Archies?
Segura: Sure. Matt and I have some overlap in music but we also like a lot of different groups, too. I'm sure his list would be very different. Fleetwood Mac comes to mind, because of the personal dynamics and their ability to not only sing great pop tunes, but also rock and show some really impressive musicianship. A more modern example would be a group like Rilo Kiley - where there are a few songwriters (though, Jenny Lewis was by far the standout), some tensions/chemistry and a strong pop sensibility that rides along with the ability to really get loud. The Pixies, Low and the Decemberists also popped up a lot while writing.
Nrama: Did you do any research into real music theory, chords on a guitar, or anything, for writing this?
Segura: Not particularly. I've been in bands and play guitar, so I drew a lot from my own experiences, at least in terms of how tricky it can be to find the right balance between playing with your friends and having a successful band. It's not easy and is fraught with challenges.
Nrama: This isn't your first time portraying music in comics, but it's a difficult thing to do due to the soundless nature of comics - comparable to drawing a chase scene given the static nature of comics. How has it been in your experience?
Segura: It is tough. The best you can do, if writer and artist are truly in sync, is give the reader the feeling of music, so they're basically listening to a song in their head. It's a lot easier when the song or property is established - people know KISS and the Ramones, for example. Most music fans know what they sound like. While the Archies definitely have a "real world" presence, most don't know more than "Sugar, Sugar." So you try and paint a picture of the performance and give a sense - through the art and story - of what it's supposed to sound like and then hope the reader picks it up. It's kind of like a musical mind-meld. We couldn't have pulled it off without Joe and colorist Matt Herms - who've done an amazing job really capturing the story Matt and I cooked up.
Nrama: Another thing I wanted to talk to you about is a passion of yours outside of comics entirely - prose novels. Your third novel, Dangerous Ends, comes out Tuesday, continuing the life of the journalist-turned-PI Pete Fernandez. How is Pete doing as this novel starts out?
Segura: We find Pete's possibly gotten his life into some kind of order in the opening pages of Dangerous Ends. The second Pete book, Down the Darkest Street, was intense and by the end of it, Pete had basically reached an even lower bottom than he could have ever anticipated. But by book three, he's trying to move on - he's settled into being a PI, is staying sober and seems to have found his place in the world. Unfortunately, that all goes out the window very quickly. His partner, ex-reporter Kathy Bentley, loops him into a big, controversial case - Gaspar Varela, an ex-Miami Narcotics officer spending life in prison for the bloody murder of his wife ten years prior. It seems that Varela's daughter Maya thinks there's some evidence out there that might help her father be exonerated, and she wants Kathy and Pete to find it. Dubious at first, Pete finds himself pulled into the investigation by his natural curiosity and the general feeling that something might not be right with Varela's conviction. At the same time, a deadly street gang known as Los Enfermos have Kathy and Pete in their sights. What little Pete can suss out about the gang is not good - they have ties to Castro-era Cuba and might hold the answer to a generations-old mystery that's haunted Pete and his family since the early days of Castro's rule.
Nram: Did you have this point in time mapped out to some degree when you first began the Fernandez novels? How did it change - and what changed it?
Segura: Very roughly. Midway through the writing of my first Pete novel, Silent City, I had an idea for a sequel and by the time I started work on Down the Darkest Street I knew that the third book would take a bigger view of things and involve not only Pete and his world, but his past, Miami/Cuba, and the legacy of Pete's family and bring it all together in the present, forcing him to not only deal with an immediate, external problem, but also with where he comes from - just as he's trying to figure out how to move forward. That wasn't all concrete in my mind when I was writing the first book and, honestly, didn't click into place until I started writing the book. But I always knew I wanted to write a couple or three Pete books, and since then I'm eager to keep going as long as it stays interesting for me to create.
Nrama: He's on a case which has some twists and turns leading into the hotbed of Castro supporters in South Florida, with the many Cuban immigrants that live there. There's been a lot of change in how Cuba and the United States take to each other - was that on your mind when writing this?
Segura: It was, definitely. I wanted to show the gray areas of the Miami/Cuba relationship, at least from my perspective - one that I think is shared by many people my age that grew up in Miami. There's just a lot more to what's going on than just "let's be friends with Cuba again!" There's generations of people that were displaced, a bloody history of violence spearheaded by the Castros and, on the flipside, a very vocal and defiant exile community. I wanted Pete to experience that and peel back the curtain a bit on those tensions and really give the reader a sense of how complex this issue can be, while at the same time telling an engaging mystery. A lot happened while I was writing and revising the book - Obama's visit to Cuba, Castro's death, the repeal of wet foot/dry foot - and I tried to keep the book feeling current and relevant. At the same time, my goal was to tell a good story and it was fine if the book became about a moment in time, rather than a living document, if that makes sense.
Nrama: You grew up in Miami, and worked at the local paper, but now live in the New York area. How would you describe the influence of Castro, Cuba, and the Cuban American culture in Miami?
Segura: It's in the DNA of the city. The influx of Cuban immigrants forever changed the dynamic of the city and made it into a unique, vibrant and forever special place. There's no city like Miami - it's one of a kind.
Nrama: Is there something in this that makes it uniquely personal to Pete?
Segura: There's no Pete without Miami. I've read so many great mystery series and the ones that really resonate with me - the ones that I think back to and find inspiration from - all play with setting in a big way. The city becomes an important and essential character to the books. I wanted to do that with Miami - my Miami - for Pete. There have been and will be times where Pete is not literally in Miami in the books, but the stories will always be about the place and its draw. It's a conflicted and complicated place that isn't just a tropical paradise. It has a dark side and a sprawling, wide-screen palette to play with. I never find myself bored writing about it.
Nrama: You're doing this, writing comics, doing Archie's PR, and managing their Dark Circle comic book line. Four jobs, seemingly all very different - how do you prep and adjust to jump between each one?
Segura: It's all one big thing to me. I try to approach each role with passion and an eye for the creative. I like to stay engaged an interested, so being able to change gears and work on different things is really appealing. It also keeps everything fresh. I also don't get much rest. It helps that writing prose helps in writing comics, which in turn makes me a better editor and publicist. Having experience in different areas helps you relate to those people as you deal with them in other roles. As an editor, I know what I'd like to hear as a writer, so I try to communicate with that in mind. Same goes for being a publicist and having been a reporter. It's about utilizing your experiences to communicate, I guess.