ECCC: Scott Allie talks "Exurbia"

Announced at this weekend's Emerald City ComiCon in Seattle, "Exurbia" is an original graphic novel written by venerable Dark Horse editor Scott Allie that will arrive in October. Illustrated by Kevin McGoverm, "Exurbia" stars ruined idealist Gage Wallace as he stirs in a town that is simply waiting for the Earth to swallow it whole. Soon, though, Gage will be sucked into events beyond his control, pursued by a menagerie of bizarre characters, even as his ex-girlfriend hunts through his diaries for the secret that first sent Gage to his listless existence. CBR News spoke with Allie about the project, its memorable mutant cast, and how his career as an editor has influenced his own writing.

"Gage is a slacker kid who's very intelligent, was once hyper motivated and idealistic, and had it all torn out from under him," Allie told CBR, describing "Exurbia's" protagonist. "He'd probably go through his whole life as a lazy little bastard, except for the events of the book--it shakes him loose and makes it impossible for him to be apathetic anymore."

The first of these life-changing events occurs as Gage's apartment building explodes in front of him, and the erstwhile slacker becomes the prime suspect in a bombing spree. "The ironic thing, that honestly only occurs to me now, is that the [real] Bomber's doing what he's doing to get the citizens to wake up and deal with their lives, but the only one that his plan works on is the very guy who gets framed for the crimes," Allie explained.

The Mad Bomber, as the explosives enthusiast is known, may be influenced by the forces of decay that have ruined the Fat City suburb. "The town is completely falling apart--it's hopeless and doomed," Allie said, noting that he and McGovern enjoyed the image of a city of dice buildings. "It looks cool, it's a nice graphic--and it blatantly hammers the theme of the instability of society. If your town is built on a fault line on the edge of a river, what's the worst thing you can build your homes of? Dice."

Allie continued, "So everyone in the town is a little bit nuts, and their worship of a messianic Rat is completely due to the condition the town is in. If this town had anything going for it, no one would admire this talking Rat. It's only out of their severe desperation that they pin their hopes on him."

Gage, though not an ardent believer in the Rat, nevertheless develops something of a personal relationship with this would-be savior. Throughout "Exurbia," Allie builds up the Rat as a popular guru, though his spray-painted messages on city walls are for the most part quite simplistic. "The thing is, it's not even a case of simple messages. It's non-messages, and dumb messages," the writer said. "I think the popular appeal of such a figure is the popular phobia about independent thought. You hear someone talking with a little bit of poetry in their language, and you build a church around them. It's human nature. The Rat is just the extreme example of that being a bad idea.

"This also never occurred to me until just now, but I'm a tremendous Bob Dylan fan, maybe too much, and in a way the Rat is Dylan--he doesn't want to be anybody's messiah, he just has a certain turn of phrase that people try to reorient their lives around, and it's a total pain in his ass. I don't think I understood that about Dylan when I created the Rat, but if the Rat is a metaphor for people worshipping the famous and the strange, Dylan's sort of the epitome."

The character Gage does look up to is a pirate cable access host called Big Fist, though some event transpired between the two that ultimately sent Gage into his downward spiral. Without revealing too much, Allie did say that this was not a case of "never meet your heroes." "Big Fist was amazing for Gage. Big Fist was a little nuts, but he was the real deal. And his image was never tarnished in Gage's mind. Or mine. Gage's defeat was a result of what happened to Big Fist, not any failure on Big Fist's part."

In addition to writing "Exurbia," another upcoming graphic novel titled "The Devil's Footprints," and a recent "Solomon Kane" miniseries, Scott Allie is editor of some of Dark Horse's biggest comics, including "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Umbrella Academy," "Hellboy," and "The Goon." Asked how this experience influences his own scripts, Allie said it helps to learn from the best. "I get to work with some amazing people as an editor, and that's my education. Working with Joss Whedon, Kurt Busiek, Mike Mignola, Craig Russell, Sergio Aragones -- those guys have been my masters class in comics, and working with them the way I do, all it does is fuel my desire to do it myself. That was why I got into it in the first place. 'Exurbia' was something that I started as short stories in my self-published series back in the early nineties, before Dark Horse. It's the only thing from those days that I ever planned on revisiting, because it's always been one of my favorite ideas.

"With 'Kane,' and 'Star Wars,' and 'Devil's Foootprints,' all this stuff, I try to apply what I spend my every day obsessing over. There's a spectrum of involvement that I have in my books--working on something with Sergio Aragones, it shows up, and it's perfect, and you get it printed. That's one end of the spectrum. Over on the other end is 'Exurbia' or 'Solomon Kane,' where I determine where it goes, and get my hands dirty on every level. Between Sergio and 'Exurbia' falls 'Umbrella Academy,' 'Buffy,' 'Hellboy,' 'Rex Mundi,' everything else I work on. My involvement from one book to the next is a matter of degree, without a sharp line between books I write and books I don't write. There are books I don't write that are a lot closer to my role on 'Exurbia' than my role on 'Groo' when I was editing that. I'm immersed creatively on all of them, and I just like to have this farthest end of the spectrum, with 'Exurbia,' where I know it's my idea, and the vision rests heaviest of all on me."

Artist Kevin McGovern has been attached to the "Exurbia" project from its humble pre-Dark Horse beginnings, and though his name may not be familiar to most comics fans, he has spent a fair amount of time in and around the industry. "I met Kevin in a comics shop in Portland in 1993, and he became one of my best friends," Allie said of his creative partner. "All my friendships are work friendships--Dave Stewart, Todd Herman, Gerard Way, Paul Lee, Kevin, Mike Mignola. I can't get enough of talking to these guys about making comics. Kevin and I worked on the self-published stuff I was doing. We've kicked 'Exurbia' around a lot over the years, and now it's finally happening. He lives in Seattle now, which is why we're announcing the book at Jim Demonakos's show [Emerald City ComiCon] there. Kev's been in art school, doing ashcans and zines and stuff. He's been working at carving this style out of solid rock, and I think he's really got it. Something unique. I'm glad we waited."

"Exurbia" goes on sale in October from Dark Horse.

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