Lapham On "Crossed" and "Caligula"

These days, David Lapham, the writer and artist behind such acclaimed indie titles as "Stray Bullets" and "Young Liars," is making a name for himself on a number of dark, eclectic titles, from a "Predators" movie tie-in to the recently-launched "Deadpool MAX." But the series that perhaps plays best into the sort of reckless abandon and mayhem seen in Lapham's creator-owned comics is his foray into Garth Ennis' "Crossed" universe at Avatar. The seven-issue "Crossed: Family Values," illustrated by Javier Barreno, wraps up in January, the same month that Lapham's original graphic novel "Crossed 3D" debuts. Then, in February, the six-issue "Crossed: Psychopath" launches, followed by Lapham's new non-"Crossed" horror miniseries "Caligula" in March, illustrated by German Nobile. CBR News spoke with Lapham about his slate of horror projects and pushing each set of characters to their limits.

Ennis first introduced the Crossed in 2008, the result of a plague of unknown origin causing ordinary people to descend into pure evil and depravity. Infected individuals bear a rash in the shape of a cross on their faces, but for anyone unlucky enough to encounter the Crossed, it's very likely already too late -- and by the time the Crossed have had their way, death is a mercy.

"Crossed: Family Values," which released its sixth issue in December just after this interview was conducted, finds Adeline Pratt, her family and a small band of survivors trying to forge a new life away from Crossed-infected areas. Even in moments of relative calm, however, Addy's father -- the community leader and an incestuous pederast -- represents a dangerous and self-righteous element. As the group is whittled down by death and infection, Addy steps up to defend her camp, sometimes making very tough decisions that not all of her people can abide.

CBR News: "Crossed: Family Values" is set to wrap up soon, and the story has had some pretty unsettling moments, even outside of what the Crossed get up to. When you were writing it, were there any moments where you sort of horrified yourself?

David Lapham: I hope so. Sometimes I wonder about me.

Judging from the first five issues, Adeline Pratt manages to hold things together pretty well, all things considered. Given the makeup of her family and the abuses of her father before the Crossed came to town, what is it about her that let her rise above?

Well, wait until you read issue #6 -- even Adeline has her limits. Addy's the one with the spark. She's a natural leader. She's the first one to stand up to her father, and the reason is because she inherited her father's strength -- just without all the crazy delusions of grandeur and the incest.

At this point, though, most of her family is either dead or Crossed. If she gets through the end of issue #7, what sort of life is Adeline looking at?

Addy's got plans -- big plans -- for her family and friends that she reveals in issue #6. But this is the Crossed world. That's one of the horrors here: you can't really ever stop or the Crossed will get you. The future is always uncertain. There's no safety.

In January, we get your "Crossed 3D" graphic novel. Why take this story 3D?

Well, the short answer is: that's the challenge that was presented. Avatar called and said, "We want to do a 'Crossed' story in 3D." So I knew I had to come up with something big -- big concept, big scope, big action.

The artist on that book is Gianluca Pagliarani. What makes him the right choice for this story, and what about his art makes it a good candidate for 3D?

Besides the fact that he's an incredible artist, his style really suits this. It's full of clean lines and clear planes in the Geof Darrow vein. He can handle the detail and scope of the action. We have massive hordes of Crossed, bullets and blood. We have Manhattan, buildings and wreckage. He can handle it all.

The story is set in New York City, which I imagine is teeming with Crossed. Compared to the more wide-open country setting of "Family Values," what sort of opportunities for horror does a big, crowded city represent?

New York is not quiet horror. We're not waiting for something to jump out from behind a tree. New York is a horror show. Armies of Crossed would be literally dismantling the city piece by piece, building by building. It's not a death trap -- it's just death, like leaping into an active volcano.

The horror comes from the reason these people go in. It's a hopeless mission for a hopeful purpose. We want to believe they can win even though we know they can't. But maybe they can, just maybe. A big, fat maybe...

More to the point, then -- how the hell could anybody survive in New York post-Crossed?

They can't.

What can you tell us about the central group of characters in this story? Who are they, what have they lost as a result of the plague and why do they sign up for this rescue mission?

The story centers around a SWAT team called "The Handymen." Only one man -- MacAvoy -- was actual SWAT, and the other five guys just joined in under him. Their purpose is just simply to help where they can for as long as they can, because with the world gone to hell, it's the only thing that seems worth doing. Each man has his story, some demon for which he's trying to redeem himself, and that's greater than the fear of death. For instance, one man had to kill his own family when they were infected. Another is an obsessive compulsive who truly believes his bad thoughts brought about the Crossed plague.

The group is on the way to rescue a doctor. What makes this person worth the risk?

A doctor in itself is a precious commodity and simply more valuable than a regular Joe. This particular doctor started it all off by risking her life, going into the city to retrieve medical supplies critical for some very innocent people. Then things went wrong.

Following the 3D book, you've got "Crossed: Psychopath." While the title sort of tells us where this might be going, what can you tell us about that series' central character, Mr. Lorre?

This in undoubtedly the most insanely messed-up thing I've ever written, yet at the same time, I'm finding it to be a complex character portrait and one of the most pure noir things I've ever done. I realized about halfway through that this is a kissing cousin to Jim Thompson's "The Killer Inside Me." We're following the story from Lorre's point of view. We are Lorre.

What is his situation at the start of the story?

At the start, Lorre is in trouble, near death. He's found by a group of four people who save him and decide to take him in. I really don't know what to say beyond that, except that clearly they've made a bad decision.

The solicitation text mentions that he's willing to do whatever it takes to survive the Crossed, but it seems like there's also a suggestion that he doesn't much mind taking these extreme steps. What sets him apart from the Crossed themselves? And, if they are kindred, why does he fight so hard to resist them?

The world has changed, and Lorre realizes that the old rules no longer apply. The Crossed are ruled by instinct and evil. Lorre realizes that he, too, can just let his id go, and for the most part, it serves him well. He's survived despite being a poor physical specimen. But it's caused him problems, too -- problems he needs his new friends to help him out of.

Lorre's not exactly kindred with the Crossed. The Crossed are still the Crossed, they didn't open up the club to humans who are psychotic. They'd kill Lorre as quick as anybody else. Lorre doesn't want to be a Crossed. He's trying to survive them, too.

You've got a knack for getting readers to sympathize, at least to a degree, with some not-very-nice people. What will we like about Mr. Lorre?

It's not that I'm trying to make these people likable; I'm just trying to show them in many facets. I think people mistake likable to mean, "He saves puppies," or, "She does charity work." But likable to me means interesting. Do I want to keep coming back and see what this guy's about, see what he's going to do next? Then, in the course of showing these people, we also see that they're not so different than we are. Okay, Lorre does some not-so-nice-and-in-fact-completely-vile things, but in another moment he's charming, telling a funny story. Or sometimes, the Crossed are around and he's scared shitless just like you or I would be. He's trying to survive the same as us.

What else can you tell us about the story we'll be seeing? What does Mr. Lorre need to do that the Crossed are preventing?

Well, there is something -- the Crossed have taken something precious from Lorre, and he's mad about it. Distraught, really.

Raulo Caceres is illustrating this series. How does his take on the Crossed differ from what you're doing in "Family Values" with Javier Barreno?

Raulo's art is pure horror. The guy draws someone brushing their teeth and it seems vile. I'm getting these pages and thinking, "This looks like an old EC book or something out of Alan Moore's 'Swamp Thing.'" For this story, I couldn't think of a more perfect fit. I'm expecting this book to be one of the creepiest things ever put on paper.

After "Family Values" and "Crossed 3D," this will be your third "Crossed" project. Is it a challenge to keep thinking of awful, depraved things for the Crossed to be doing?

Not so far. It's just an environment, especially for me. I'm not Garth, so I don't have to wonder where this world is headed or if we should reveal more or less about the bigger picture. It's just a playground that I get to play in. As far as stories go, I just start thinking about different types of people. I imagine how they survived and what they'd try to do after. Extreme environments can be a lot of fun.

As far as the Crossed and thinking up new ways to be evil, I could imagine that being a problem because a writer has to try not to repeat himself. I've done a similar trick one or two times because I thought the situation called for it, but generally I try to avoid it. Usually, you can get something unique by extending the horror out from the character, so the torture is unique to that character's fear.

In addition to your multiple "Crossed" series, you're also doing "Caligula" with Avatar. How does your Caligula differ from the historical emperor we know?

Wow, that's tough. On the one hand, much about the real Caligula is lost to time, so nobody really knows who the real Caligula is. So maybe mine is spot on. Except for the supernatural part, but, hey, maybe that's real, too. The guy did appoint his horse to the Senate, supposedly. On a real level, this is a horror book, so for starters, I'm approaching it from the perspective that every vile rumor that could possibly be tied to Caligula is fact. Then I make up more stuff.

What made you interested in doing this sort of historical horror story?

Avatar's publisher William Christensen wanted to do a Caligula book. So the spark extends from him. My thought, besides it being fun to do a period book, is that if you're going to do a historical horror piece, why not Caligula? The guy's name is synonymous with depravity, excess, and insanity.

What is the nature of Caligula's possession?

That would be telling. I'll say that this is an interesting time period in that Jesus was crucified in the couple years before or just after Caligula took power. Though Christianity was a practically unknown factor in Rome, it does bring the birth of a whole new mythology into the mix of the old Roman and Greek gods. I've pulled something out of that mix. Remember, though, this is a horror book, so it's a subtle thing. We're not going to be having "God Wars" in this one.

Is Caligula the point of view character, or is the protagonist someone else?

Caligula is not the POV in this story. I've created Junius, a young farmer whose family is killed in extra-special fashion by Caligula and his entourage. Junius is no fighter, barely more than a boy, but what Caligula does is so horrific that he comes to Rome looking for revenge. By hook, crook and other means, he gets inside the palace. But then things take a bit of a left turn, largely due to that supernatural element. Junius becomes Caligula's tag-along. He has to rethink his entire plan if he wants to kill Caligula, but the harder thing is trying to keep his own sanity. Unrestrained depravity can be infectious.

Some of the most intriguing aspects of your series, like in "Young Liars" and "Sparta USA," are unexpected conceits or situations outside what could be gleaned from solicitation text and plot description. Is there anything readers might like to know about "Caligula" that I would never in a million years think to ask about?

Those particular books, especially "Young Liars," were designed to be that way. I emptied the contents of my head onto paper, particularly in "Liars." "Caligula" is a horror book. There's an extra element to it, but it's a period piece. We're taking on Rome. No one is going to wake up in a barber chair with a martini and copy of "Moby Dick" with the first six pages ripped out...

...I'm saving that for my next series.

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