Vigilantes are not new to the comic world, particularly the superhero genre. Batman may be the most famous of the bunch, and one of the many characteristics of the dark crimefighter is how both wit and might take down the baddies. As exciting as this can be for the reader, what lesson is it teaching? Survival of the fittest? Violence solves the issue every time? Writer Alex Segura decided maybe there was a better way to approach the superhero vigilante that is a little more suited for the younger audience looking up to them.
The Dusk, Segura’s original graphic novel launching on Kickstarter this week, is the hero parents and kids can both enjoy. Published in conjunction with Ominous Press, the book is co-written by crime novelist Elizabeth Little (Pretty As A Picture, Dear Daughter) and drawn by David Hahn (Batman 66/Wonder Woman 77, Bite Club, Impossible Jones). Colors are by Ellie Wright and letters are by Taylor Esposito (The Black Ghost). Joseph Illidge (Batman, Valiant, Lion Forge, Heavy Metal) takes on editorial duties. Variant covers are by Howard Chaykin, Francesco Francavilla, Jamal Igle, Rebekah Isaacs, Gabriel Hardman, Greg Smallwood, and more.
Segura chatted with The Beat about the hero and why this story is relevant to today’s world.
Deanna Destito: How did you come up with this story idea and character?
Alex Segura: I’ve always loved the urban crimefighter genre – it’s something we explore in great detail in The Black Ghost, my creator-owned ComiXology Originals/Dark Horse series. And I thought that was going to be my commentary on the space. But as my son got older, he got more and more into superheroes – he loves the mythology, the colorful characters, the villains. It was a fun process to see. But I also started reading a lot of the comics we were enjoying together from a different perspective, as a parent. I saw fights being resolved by violence. Criminals being tossed into jail indiscriminately. Blind devotion to the justice system, too. This isn’t in every comic, mind you, but it’s kind of elemental to superheroes. Many of them are super-cops. I talked it over with my wife, who is a public interest attorney, and not really a big comics reader. She said it’d be great if there was a crimefighter, a Batman-esque hero, who tried things a different way. Something that retained the high-flying adventure and colorful landscape of superhero comics, but gave readers a different message. Something kids could enjoy and parents could also get a kick out of.
Segura (cont.): Which isn’t to say this doesn’t exist already – books like Chip Zdarsky’s Daredevil and a lot of Denny O’Neil’s work, especially The Question, explore how heroes might want to do good, but in a different way. But I also wanted this book, The Dusk, to be lighter. Not grimdark or needlessly violent. I didn’t want it to feel like a comic just for kids, but I wanted it to feel like a comic for everyone – the kind of book parents and kids could read together, with each one taking a piece from it and enjoying it together. It was a high, high concept at that point – but it felt very personal and real to me.
Segura (cont.): After that initial idea, Jaime Nuñez, the man under The Dusk‘s cowl, appeared. I wanted him very much to be another side of the Miller Batman/Daredevil coin – someone light-hearted, driven but not vengeance-fueled, optimistic but not retro. I guess the closest examples would be characters defined by Mark Waid – like Wally West or Waid and Samnee’s Daredevil. I wanted Jaime to be confident and eager to do good. When we meet him, he’s a public defender in the fading city of Blackstone, a Boston or Philly-like city with deep roots, but also a metropolis that’s seen better days. Jaime does his job because he wants to help people – the victims of the justice system who would otherwise get chewed up by the machinery if he wasn’t able to help. But even then, doing that work, he realizes there are spaces he can’t fill. And it gnaws at him. When he comes into a surprise fortune, he’s left to wonder a) who gave him this money?! and b) is this the opportunity he needs to do some good, outside of the law?
Segura (cont.): Jaime is also a dad to a smart, savvy daughter. I really wanted to play with the concepts of heroism and family, because it’s something I wish we’d see more of. Jaime wants to be a good man, a good father, and a hero – which is a tall order. The bulk of this first story, the collection we’re asking people to fund, is about his initial journey toward becoming The Dusk. We see him in action, we see him learning what not to do and what might work, and we learn along with him. He’s by no means defined when we see him in costume for the first time, and that’s part of the fun.
Destito: Why do you think a book like this is important or helpful nowadays?
Segura: There’s so much going on in the world now – I can’t begin to rattle off the things creating division and stress in our lives. First and foremost, we wanted to tell a story that would be fun, entertaining, and engaging. Something you’d read and want to come back to or see more of. But we also wanted to play with the superhero genre in a different way, too. Elizabeth Little, the co-writer, and I wanted to bring some of our favorite elements of crime fiction to the idea of a Batman-like figure, too. We’re both crime novelists and, I think, one of the most meaningful parts of writing those kind of books isn’t just the mystery – it’s about putting a spotlight on society, what works, what doesn’t, and how things might be different. Again, I’m not saying this doesn’t exist in comics now, but I think we bring a unique and grounded perspective and then choosing to do it in a style that harkens back to a simpler time with a more complex message felt like a really fun and novel juxtaposition. What happens when you really try to do good in a world like ours? It’s not easy, and there are no simple answers. Jaime’s journey will show us that, and he’ll be evolving as it unfolds.
Destito: Why did you choose the crowdfunding route?
Segura: Two reasons: we wanted control, and we wanted to engage directly with the customers. From the moment I first got the idea, The Dusk was very personal and special to me, and it became the same for the rest of the team as we expanded. We also, cumulatively, have enough comic book experience that we know the basics of putting a book together – so it became less of a “let’s hope this publisher will put this out!” and more about how we could do it ourselves, to retain our vision and to also get it in the hands of people that wanted it.
Segura (cont.): I’ve backed a number of Kickstarters over the years, and I love how it allows creators to sidestep the infrastructure and gatekeepers to just create. It’s a simple request – help me fund this cool project. I can see it from both sides, too, as an executive at a comic book company. There are benefits to walking in and having certain things taken care of – distribution, printing, you name it. But I think the team and I really wanted to take control of The Dusk from as many angles as we could, and we found a fantastic partner in Ominous Press, who’ve run dozens of successful Kickstarters and were able to guide us to the starting line.
Destito: How did you put together the creative team?
Segura: David Hahn, the artist, is a seasoned veteran of comics. I just love his work. He has a clean, dynamic style that I thought would fit perfectly. At that point, I just had the rough idea I mentioned before. So David and I went back and forth and eventually, we had bits and pieces that would become Jaime. We both got busy and it was stuck in neutral for a bit. At the same time, I was talking to Elizabeth Little, who is a dear friend, fellow crime writer, and she mentioned a desire to get into comics at some point. I love how Liz writes character – like many of my favorite writers, her plot springs from people. She creates these vivid, three-dimensional personas and that depth makes for complicated and grounded stories. I mentioned The Dusk to her, and in a few days, we were batting ideas around and I could literally see the project getting better and better with each pass. David, Elizabeth, and I are all parents of kids of varying ages, but we share the same desire to not only create a fun, dramatic superhero story but one that we can hand to our kids and feel like they’d get something out of it, too – without feeling like they’re being lectured or given homework.
Segura (cont.): I can’t say enough good things about colorist Ellie Wright and letterer Taylor Esposito. I’ve worked with each a number of times and they’re the backbone of The Black Ghost in addition to so many great credits they’ve collected on their own. Ellie’s style is bombastic and versatile, and Taylor gets the (sometimes) thankless job of lettering done with verve and style. They were no-brainers.
Segura (cont.): Editor and creative consultant Joe Illidge was the final piece. We were just talking – we’ve known each other and been pals for quite some time – and I got onto the topic of The Dusk. He asked to read the pitch and really dug it. It was very casual, and I think we just came to the idea together – that he’d be a great part of the team. He has experience in every aspect of making comics, and he’s worked inside the Batman office, too, during one of the character’s most creative periods. I knew he could zoom out and guide us to accomplish what we’d set out for ourselves. And I’ve been proven right so far!
Destito: Do you have any plans to work in this world in the future?
Segura: I think so. I think Kickstarter and crowdfunding, in general, is such a vibrant and direct path to finding your readers, I’d be foolish not to. That said, call me when this campaign is over!
Destito: Any other projects coming up you can talk about or tease?
Segura: The first Dark Horse collection of The Black Ghost, co-written by me and Monica Gallagher, with art by George Kambadais, hits in May wherever comics or books are sold. My next crime novel, Secret Identity, a comic book noir in 1970s New York being published by Flatiron, arrives in 2022.
To back The Dusk, click here.