Talking Comics with Tim | Alex Segura

My friendship and association with Alex Segura dates back to late 2004 when he invited me to join Robot 6's ancestor blog (or however you want to call its relation) The Great Curve. I wear my bias on my sleeve for this interview--I've always been a supporter of Segura's work--be it years at DC Comics, or more recently, his current role as Executive Director of Publicity and Marketing at Archie Comics. In addition to discussing what he's accomplished to date at Archie (and hopes to achieve in the near to long term), we delve into his own writing and musical pursuits (in the band, The Faulkner Detectives).

Tim O'Shea: Before your first stint with Archie a few years back, you worked at Wizard. So I gotta ask, what's your reaction to the end of the print magazine?

Alex Segura: On a gut level, it’s sad. Wizard was a big part of my getting into comics – or at least, sticking with them – in middle school and into college. There were times when I wasn’t actively buying any regular comic books but would still pick up Wizard to keep tabs on the industry. Working there was also huge. It was my first full-time job in the industry and gave me a crash course in comics and how they work. I also met some of my best friends there – many of whom I still talk to on a regular basis. Hell, I live with Ryan Penagos, who I first met at Wizard. So, yeah. I have a lot of fond memories of both my time at the company and my relationship with the magazine leading up to that.

Professionally, I’m not all that surprised. There was a time when Wizard was a major tastemaker – they had a big part in the rise of Image and for a long while broke major news from the Big Two. But with the rise of comic news on the web, it just seemed like they got left behind. Hopefully this new incarnation can revive the company. We’ll see.

O'Shea: Give me your top three favorite Archie characters?

Segura: That’s tough. I’ll have to say Archie, Jughead and Veronica. Archie was the character I always wanted to be, Jughead was the character I related to most and Veronica was the most fun to read just because she could be really nice and then suddenly mean. You never know where she’s coming from. But I like all of the core characters and even some of the more obscure ones. I was a pretty voracious Archie reader as a kid.

O'Shea: Thanks to your years in the industry, you've made a great many friends. Any chance you hope to get some of your creative friends to take a stab at telling Archie tales? On the other hand, Archie already has some great creators telling tales at present. Who are some of the creators that you hope to use your marketing skills to bring more attention to their work?

Segura: That process has begun in some ways – I’ve reached out to a lot of people that I know professionally and that I think have an affinity for Archie and the Archie characters to see if they’d be interested in contributing. I don’t want to name names just yet, mostly because we’re in the initial stages of conversations and anything can change before the book hits stands, so I don’t want to announce stuff and then spend most of my time answering questions about why X or Y didn’t materialize, you know? You’ll see the first product of those conversations this year. I can’t really say much more beyond that. But suffice to say, you’re right in your assumption and it’s going to be very cool.

O'Shea: Your years at DC were marked with an ability to effectively capitalize on the marketing strengths and advantages of social media. Every year there's shifts in social media trends. Archie Comics already has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and iTunes--any chance Archie will be popping up on Tumblr, or are you looking to maximize Archie's social media potential in a different way with its existing social media outlets?

Segura: Coming in, one of the first things I wanted to do was take the platforms we have – namely our site, Facebook and Twitter – and amp them up. Fans respond well when you’re engaged and you’re not just spouting the company line. Within weeks, we saw a marked increase in followers, “likes” and traffic. So, that was step one – and will be ongoing. Fans want companies to be interactive and of the moment, not just reformatted links or the same message blasted through different outlets. It’s a process, though. So, as we continue to engage, we’ll do some new things, like contests and more interactive projects. But it has to be done thoughtfully and not just to do it.

I love Tumblr, personally. I use it as my personal site and for most of my link-blogging on my own time. If we can brainstorm a unique and cool way to make it work for Archie, we’ll definitely consider it.

O'Shea: Correct if I am mistaken, but it never seems like Archie has much of a presence at comic book conventions. Are you looking to change that in the near to long term?

Segura: If by “not much of a presence” you mean we’re not at every show, then you’re right. We’re a smaller company and we have to be more thoughtful about what shows we attend. Is this the audience we want to market to? Was this show successful for us last year? Will it be this year? Unlike some of our competitors, we’re not templated in how we do business. We have the flexibility and knowledge to move and adapt to the marketplace, and that also applies to conventions and the like. I do think, though, that in the coming years we will expand our presence at both comic book shows and retailer-centric events, because we want to strengthen our relationships with retailers on the direct market side and the book market as we continue to learn from our new relationship with Random House.

O'Shea: When Heidi MacDonald interviewed you back in December, you said with your new job you will be: "helping show that new things are happening at Archie and that things are moving forward in a unique way." Care to detail some of the new things that are happening and/or things that are moving forward?

Segura: I think for a long time the publicity mentality here was that people would react to us and then report on the news, but that only works on some levels. If anything, one of the things I’ve brought to Archie is the ability – via contacts and relationships I’ve built up over the years – to reach out to the press and industry in a more proactive way. Instead of having a story come out and crossing our fingers in the hopes someone will notice it, we have the tools to position ourselves in the press and marketplace more effectively. It’s something we’re constantly working on and tweaking, so you’ve only seen the beginning of that process.

I think a lot of people who are immersed in the day-to-day of the industry forget, because Archie doesn’t have an active superhero universe (key word: active – stay tuned) that the characters we do have aren’t recognizable. It’s quite the opposite. Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and Reggie are some of the most well-known properties in pop culture, much like Superman and Batman. So that familiarity is a great asset in promoting and discussing these stories. A lot of people grew up reading Archie Comics, and a lot of those people are now reporters, editors, writers and so on across the media spectrum. Having that built-in familiarity is huge for us and very helpful when we get the word out. People want to know what Archie and his friends are up to because they have really strong and fond memories about the time they’ve spent or continue to spend in Riverdale. It’s something we’re very grateful for.

O'Shea: In your free time over the past few years, you've written a draft of your first crime novel, SILENT CITY, and are working on a second, DOWN THE DARKEST STREET. Care to discuss either?

Segura: Sure. I’m an avid mystery/crime fiction reader – have been for years. And I always wanted to write. It all really kind of gelled for me a few years ago when I first picked up a copy of George PelecanosA Firing Offense, on the suggestion of my friend and Vertigo Editor Will Dennis. It blew me away. The protagonist was flawed, the story – like life – was messy and raw and the characters felt like people I knew. That’s when it all clicked for me and I realized that writing crime fiction was what I really wanted to do. I didn’t start putting pen to paper then – but that’s kind of when it fell into place. Since then, I’ve discovered so many writers that I literally have stacks of to-read piles just in the crime fiction genre. I’m a big fan of Dennis Lehane, Michael Koryta, Greg Rucka, Megan Abbott, Sara Gran, Richard Price, James Ellroy, Henning Mankell, Duane Swierczynski, Charlie Huston, Tom Piccirilli, Laura Lippman, Raymond Chandler, Michael Connelly and tons more.

I don’t want to say too much about SILENT CITY itself just because a lot isn’t really nailed down. Y’know, little things like a publisher, etc. It’s the story of Pete Fernandez, a Cuban-American journalist who’s returned to Miami after his dad’s sudden death. He’s drinking himself to death slowly and in a job he hates. When a coworker he barely talks to asks him to find his daughter, he foolishly sees the opportunity to bring some excitement to his life. Bad idea. When that turns out to be much more than he bargained for, things get interesting. It’s a story of fathers and sons, relationships, battling your inner demons and growing up – with guns, violence and a Miami backdrop.

SILENT CITY was very much a learning process, and continues to be one. After a fitful start, I finished a third draft around July of last year and then took some time to network a bit. I went to BoucherCon in San Francisco and met a lot of people in various stages of the writing process and the industry (thanks to the wonderful Jon and Ruth Jordan for making that possible!), which was a huge help and very informative.

DOWN THE DARKEST STREET is still a ways away from being done. I’m finishing up the third act of the first draft now. It’s a much darker novel than SILENT CITY and that’s been tricky – as a writer I’m learning how tough it is to literally torture your characters. And while first drafts are universally terrible, I’m hoping that by the third or fourth pass on this one, it’ll be in decent shape.

As for publication and those kind of details, nothing’s really final yet. But once I have anything to announce, you’ll know.

O'Shea: Right before leaving DC, you had one of your stories run in a DC Halloween Special. Are you hoping to write more comics in the near to long term?

Segura: We just announced that I’ll be writing ARCHIE AND FRIENDS #156, with Bill Galvan on art. Basically, Archie and the gang get to attend the first-ever Riverdale Comic Con. I’d written some comic stuff before, most notably the Flash/Frankenstein story in last year’s DCU HALLOWEEN SPECIAL – hat tip to the incomparable Mike Marts, Janelle Siegel, Harvey Richards, Dan DiDio, Ian Sattler, David Hyde and Austin Trunick for helping that come to life. But this was my first full-length comic. It was a lot of fun to write and our president, Mike Pellerito, was really helpful and patient with me. Most of my personal writing deals with guns, murder and the like, so shifting gears and trying to be funny and all ages was a challenge. But one I’m hoping I can keep trying! I got a real kick out of it and had a few “pinch me” moments – like writing dialogue for Jughead or sneaking in a few exciting cameos. The issue hits in June. I’m excited to start seeing some of the art, doubly excited to start on the next one.

I’d love to do more Archie work as time permits. As you know, Archie has a fairly impressive stable of talent already, so it’s not just about wanting to do it – it’s about doing it well. Hard to compete with guys like Dan Parent, Alex Simmons, Tom DeFalco and Fernando Ruiz. In my head, I think I can probably do a script a month. Famous last words, eh? But seriously, yes. I’d love to keep the comic book writing as a regular part of my time here. So long, social life!

O'Shea: In terms of all your prose novel pursuits, what's the biggest challenge in garnering focus to write after a long day in the office?

Segura: Making time is the hard part. My writing took a bit of a hit when I switched jobs just because with any new job there’s a transition period where you get acclimated to your workflow, commute, etc. But things seem to be settled now so I’m cranking on DOWN THE DARKEST STREET again. I find I do my best writing in the mornings on weekends, or on weeknights when I manage to get home at a decent hour. The key is to get in front of the computer and avoid distractions. Stuff like Twitter, Facebook, email, Tumblr, your telephone – even if it takes you away from the writing for a moment – can be dangerous. And it’s tough – because I enjoy social media as much as the next guy. But your time writing has to be very solitary, otherwise you’re just writing a few paragraphs in bursts and not getting much of a flow.

O'Shea: As if your writing did not demand enough of your free time, you also sing and play guitar in the band, The Faulkner Detectives, along with Elizabeth Keenan: bass; Meg Wilhoite: vocals/keys; and Vanessa Lopez: drums/vocals. Any intention to go into the studio eventually--or do you prefer the adrenaline rush of playing at venues, more than recording?

Segura: I think our big goal is to learn the 10 songs we do have so we can play live. I’ve only played two shows with my last band, so I definitely want to make playing live around the city a regular thing if we can swing it. Considering we’ve only been together as a four-piece for a few months, I’m really pleased about our progress. We don’t really sound like anyone else, which is a good sign. We all get along really well and are like-minded about what we want to do with the band, so I think we’re in good shape.

O'Shea: When do you sleep?

Segura: Believe it or not, I’m usually in bed by 11. Thrilling, right?

O'Shea: Any parting thoughts to share with your Robot 6 Archie Comics fans?

Segura: I’d just like to let fans know that we have a lot of exciting stuff in store – Kevin Keller’s own mini-series, Mega Man in April, Sonic Genesis and a few things that’ll be announced in the coming months. It’s a very cool time to be an Archie Comics fan, so they’re in for a treat.

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