In the Limelight

From taking Archie Andrews to the stage alongside the likes of KISS and The Ramones, to hitting the gritty city streets with Pete Fernandez, Alex Segura’s work has been varied – to say the least.

He’s the author of the Anthony Award-nominated Pete Fernandez mystery novel series, which so far includes Silent City, Down the Darkest Street, Dangerous Ends, Blackout, and Miami Midnight. He has also penned numerous comic books, such as The Archies, Archie Meets KISS, and plenty others.

Scoop had the opportunity to chat with Segura about his writing process, his personal comic history, his own life with Archie, and what’s next for the many characters that have graced his pages.

Scoop: When you’re sitting down to write, are there things you do differently when you’re going to write comics as opposed to prose?
Alex Segura (AS): Not really. I need quiet, I can’t listen to music or really be around a lot of noise/distractions. I know a lot of writers who will, say, turn off their Internet access, but I don’t do that. I just need quiet. But being a father of two means those moments are few and far between, so I’ve trained myself to sprint when I get pockets of freedom or silence, where I can jam on a few thousand words. 

Scoop: Do you have a set writing area or do you write anywhere?
AS: I have a desk/office area at home, but I’m usually at the dinner table or in the kitchen, because those places are a bit apart from the bedrooms, and I tend to write while everyone’s asleep! 

Scoop: Do you listen to music or television while you write or edit, or do you prefer silence?
AS: Silence! If I’m feeling daring I’ll put on some jazz or classical, because I find I get less distracted by music without lyrics, but I rarely have the lead-in time to think about how to curate my writing – it’s usually a scramble to get stuff done before something else happens. So, I usually default to silence! 

Scoop: What – if such a thing exists – is a typical Alex Segura day like?
AS: I don’t think there’s a typical day, but during the week it usually shakes out to me waking up, getting our toddler ready for daycare or his day, then work, a midday walk/break, more work, going home and helping get the kids to bed, then writing or reading, then sleep. Any or all of these things can expand or contract, depending on the day. 

Scoop: How did you get started reading comics?
AS: My mom bought me an Archie digest as a kid and that hooked me into the medium. A few years later, I got a Spider-Man reprint digest and got a taste for superheroes. Eventually, my dad started buying me comics whenever we’d hit the newsstand, and soon enough I was scrounging cash together to get my own collection together from my local comic shop – the dearly departed Frank’s Comics in Miami.

Scoop: How did you get started working in comics?
AS: My first comic book-adjacent gig was interviewing creators at Newsarama, when I was in college. I helped Matt Brady and Mike Doran with the site, during the early, wild west days of comics journalism – when Wizard was a colossus and the sites, like Newsarama, CBR and others, scrambled to keep up. Then I bailed and moved to New York to work for Wizard for a few years. But my early comics days were in the comics journalism space, because my background was in journalism, and it seemed like a good fit. Then I sold my soul and went into PR at DC Comics, then Archie, and slowly sidled up to editorial.

Scoop: Archie made his debut during the Golden Age of comics, but still seems as relevant today as he’s ever been. Why do you think his stories still resonate with audiences in 2019?
AS: I think it’s because we – under the watchful eye and guidance of our CEO/Publisher, Jon Goldwater – do our best to make sure people know and see that these characters aren’t retro or trapped in the past. We keep them in the moment, and we keep the brand fresh through things like the Riverdale show, but also in our publishing – like the Waid/Staples Archie relaunch, or things like Afterlife with Archie or crossovers like Archie vs. Predator. You don’t know what to expect, so it keeps people on their toes.

Scoop: As a writer, is it at all difficult to write an Archie-focused story in 2019 that still remains true to the core of the character that was invented in 1941?
AS: I don’t think so, if you love the characters – and that’s kind of the venn diagram we look for with talent – gifted creators who have a passion for these characters, who are fans and get how these characters live and breathe. I think as long as you’re true to who they are – what the dynamic is between Archie, Betty and Veronica, Jughead, Reggie and so on, is – then you’re much closer to telling a vibrant, relevant Archie story than anyone else, and that makes the stories feel timeless and of the moment. 

Scoop: Many of the stories you’ve written involve Archie’s musical endeavors. What about The Archies is so appealing to you as a writer?
AS: I love music, and it’s such a big part of Archie’s history and story – I always felt myself drawn to those classic stories as a kid. And I love the idea of blending Archie and his friends with other great, real bands. But my favorite stories are the ones that chronicle Archie and his friends growing up and dealing with things that come up in high school through the prism of being in a band – it allows for some really funny, human, slice of life stories. 

Scoop: As an aside, can you explain why they’d ever let Reggie play with them when he’s such a jerk to them? Is it because decent bassists are just that hard to come by?
AS: The irony of Reggie is he’s such an egomaniac, yet he plays the most modest (yet essential!) instrument. Reggie contains multitudes! 

Scoop: You’ve written stories in which Archie and the gang meet some legendary rock acts, like The Ramones and KISS. What were the particular challenges of those projects?
AS: Each one was unique, but also relatively painless, once the initial hurdles were resolved. The Ramones and KISS have a history with comics and are used to interacting with other, fun brands, so once the ground rules were established, it was smooth sailing, thankfully – and we love the end result, of course. 

Scoop: Are there any other musical acts you’d like to see Archie cross paths with at some point?
AS: Oh, the Beatles and Taylor Swift are atop my list. If anyone can make those happen, reach out! 

Scoop: What’s the most appealing kind of Archie story to write?
AS: As much as I love writing the big music crossovers, to me, the ones that really resonate are the personal, teen life stories – which is something we tried to do in The Archies book with Matt Rosenberg, Joe Eisma, Matt Herms and Jack Morelli. We wanted to tell a bigger story about growing up, dealing with rejection and making music with your friends, amidst the insanity of crossing over with bands like The Monkees or CHVRCHES, to name a few. 

Scoop: What’s your favorite Archie project to date?
AS: That I’ve worked on? I have a soft spot for The Archies. 

Scoop: How different is your mindset when you’re editing projects as opposed to writing them?
AS: My editorial philosophy is to get the right people together and let them do their thing. I try not to micromanage, and only interject myself to work triage or advocate for something one of the creators feels strongly about. At the same time, as the editor, I’m the company man, so I need to let the talent know what the sandbox is, and what the rules are – but once that’s established, I like to step back and watch them make magic. As a writer, I’m on the other end of the spectrum – I want to execute the editorial vision but in my voice, which is equally challenging. Both are rewarding in different ways.

Scoop: You edited Archie’s Dark Circle iteration of the MLJ/Archie superheroes. What appealed to you about the project overall?
AS: I’ve always loved those characters, so the idea of bringing them back with a more “network” or genre approach really spoke to me. I’m immensely proud of the stuff that came out of it, and I’d stop at discussing it in the past tense! There’s stuff in the pipeline I can’t reveal just yet!

Scoop: The line got a good bit of notice for The Fox and The Black Hood. What were your favorite parts of Dark Circle?
AS: Like I said, I loved them all, but I’m particularly proud of the work Duane and his team of artists did on The Black Hood – it’s one of my favorite crime comics ever.

Scoop: The Black Hood has popped up on Riverdale. Will that lead to more comic book or TV adventures of the character, or do you think it’s going to be a while before we see more from this line?
AS: I think we’ll come back to those characters, but not in a way you’d expect.

Scoop: The tone of the Dark Circle books, particularly The Black Hood, provides a nice segue to your prose crime fiction. When did you know you wanted to be a novelist?
AS: I always wanted to tell stories – but the love affair with crime fiction turned into a desire to write crime fiction around the time I moved to NYC again to work at DC. When I’d really, for lack of a better term, made comics my career. And it lead me to read crime novels for fun. And, because I can’t have hobbies, I made it another career – and started writing a novel. 

Scoop: How long did it take you from the time you knew to when your first novel came out?
AS: About six years. I wrote a draft, rewrote it, wrote a second novel, sent it around, looked for an agent, looked for a publisher, then found a publisher before I got an agent. Everyone’s story is different, but mine was long and winding. 

Scoop: What sparked your imagination to come up with Pete Fernandez and his supporting players?
AS: I wanted to read a private eye origin story – as opposed to meeting an established, accomplished hero. I also wanted a series in my hometown, and to read about someone who was like me – Latinx/Cuban, and maybe a bit younger. So those were the broad strokes I knew I wanted, and that mushroomed out to create Pete and his crew, including Kathy Bentley, Harras, and Dave, for starters.

Scoop: Was the character’s evolution from book to book – he’s still a working reporter when we meet him in Silent City and eventually becomes a working private investigator – a deliberate decision on your part or did you just follow where the story took you?
AS: A bit of both. I knew I wanted Pete to stumble into it, and evolve, like the series I enjoyed reading – but I didn’t have it all mapped out. But I did know I wanted it to be finite, and I wanted it to really push him forward from book to book. I wasn’t interested in just telling adventures that felt static or evergreen, without Pete changing or becoming someone else by the end of it.

Scoop: With the changes Pete goes through, does it change your approach to writing each subsequent story or is your mindset pretty much the same each time?
AS: It’s the same, I think. I write about whatever I’m obsessing over as a reader – be it jazz, the mafia, Cuba, serial killers, or what have you. Then I weave in Pete’s journey and what his character arc will be, and what those stakes are. Ideally, they blend in together in a meaningful way.

Scoop: Were any of the books harder to write than the others (and if so, why)?
AS: I wish some were easy! They’re all hard in their own way. Silent City was about figuring out if I could write a novel. The rest presented their own, unique challenges. I never wanted the series to feel stale or repetitive, so I tried to challenge myself to, firstly, keep myself interested, but also to hopefully make sure the readers remained engaged and invested. 

Scoop: Based on the blurbs for your upcoming fifth Pete Fernandez book, Miami Midnight, you’re picking up some very nice attention from your peers in the crime fiction field. Who are some of the folks you’ve heard from and what’s that feel like after working so hard to get here?
AS: It’s validating and exciting, I have to say! To think that, years in, I’d be on my fifth book and be mentioned among my heroes is a real honor, and I’m humbled the authors I admire would even consider reading much less talking about my work. I’m thankful every day to do what I do. 

Scoop: What’s next?
AS: I’ve got a few comic book things coming out that I can’t say much about yet, and I’m getting started on my first-ever standalone crime novel, which is an idea I’ve had bubbling in the back of my head for years. Really excited to get that story out into the world soon.