With his new miniseries, Dead Inside, the first issue of which is out on Wednesday, John Arcudi, of the recently wrapped B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth, The Mask, and Rumble at Image, mixes grizzly murder, gritty noir and booze soaked police work for something wholly unlike the rest of his work.
With art by Toni Fejzula, it’s a book with a dreamy, nightmarish mood that both feels distinctly separate and wholly at home with the realistic but brutal crimes it depicts. Still, it’s a comic that tackles big issues, like institutional transparency, racism, sexism, and police violence. Before the first issue hit stands, we talked to writer John Arcudi about crime fiction, character, and shifting from big stories to smaller ones.
When did you conceive of the story of Dead Inside?
John Arcudi: Years ago I read about — and then saw a program detailing the responsibilities of — Jail Crimes investigation units. It’s fascinated me ever since.
We’re in the midst of a national discussion around transparency and justice in the prison system. Did that discussion inform the story?
JA: A bit. I mean there’s no avoiding it if you’re going to discuss prisons, is there? But I wouldn’t say it’s a major theme or anything.
I was struck by how detail and procedure focused the first two issues of Dead Inside were. What was your research process like going into a book as grounded in reality as this one?
JA: I’ve been researching the criminal justice system all my life. Ever since my first arrest, really. But I got my shit together and started looking at it from the other side. The good guys side, if you will. And the fact that the criminal justice system even exists is rather interesting. What is even more interesting — to me anyway — is how similar the administration side of things is to every other kind of job. Politics are everywhere, which makes for an accessible story — I hope.
How does your approach differ when working on a miniseries like Dead Inside versus an ongoing like Rumble or the recently wrapped BPRD?
JA: It doesn’t. I always just do the best I can. It isn’t the same kind of story, but I simply approach each thing I write with as much research and information as I can and go forward. It may not appear like it, but there’s a lot of research that goes into Rumble and BPRD. Just different kinds of research.
What is your collaboration process with Toni Fejzula and Andre May like?
JA: Toni is the man on this! So talented, so hard working. And he and Andre work very closely on the colors. It’s fun to watch!
One of the most striking things about the book is how it depicts violence with a warmer, neon color palette, dutch angles and a tighter focus on the grizzly details of weapons and blood. It gives the scenes a real sort of feeling of witnessing a nightmare. Where did the idea to depict the violence and flashbacks that way come from?
JA: From Toni, mostly. I mean, some of it is in the script. The first pages of each issue, for instance, are written with very specific and detailed directions — and some other pages, too — but Toni ran with it from there.
I really appreciated your depiction of Caruso and Diaz, where we slowly get to see the personal demons and addictions they’re wrestling with over the opening issues. How much work goes into establishing who these characters are when you have a limited amount of space to both to tell a story and establish who these characters are?
JA: This is always a funny question for me to answer. I don’t know, really. I just try very hard to work as much of each character’s life and vibe into every story I write. I don’t know any other way to do this, honestly, which works great on Dead Inside, and on Rumble, and BPRD — but maybe not so great on other books. So I guess it’s fortunate that I’m writing these books. I mean, it’s hard work, of course. You have limited real estate to work with and you want to somehow make these characters live. It is tough, absolutely, but it’s just what I feel I have to do so I don’t really gauge the relative difficulty. I just want to write good stories with believable characters.