Dead Inside: John Arcudi Talks Beautiful Gore & Jail Crimes

The longtime B.P.R.D. scribe's new book tries to solve a prison murder.

John Arcudi has been writing comics since the dawn of time (if you lived in the post-Crisis DCU, but here on Earth-33 just since 1986). He has, however, written very nearly everything, from a great Superman story in Wednesday Comics to classic Aliens stories to co-creating The MaskBut most of us would recognize him from his twelve year run on B.P.R.D., which came to an end this year because everything about 2016 has to be terrible.

Well, not everything.

His next project is Dead Inside, a crime comic about a the Jail Crimes Division of Mariposa County with art from Toni Fejzula, colors by Andre May, and covers from the legendary Dave Johnson. Linda Caruso is a detective with JCD tasked with investigating a seemingly open-and-shut murder inside the prison walls that turns out to be anything but. We had the chance to chat with him about the book and his work process. Take a look.

Den of Geek: A lot of your recent work has had a strong adventure bent to it, with B.P.R.D. and Rumble. Dead Inside seems almost quiet, or at least restrained. What’s that transition like?

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John Arcudi: I don’t really feel it, to tell you the truth.  Each story I write is, for whatever a reason, a story I really want to write, so the excitement level is always high for me.  I go for different moods, obviously, but whatever the mood I’m trying to achieve, I’m always just doing the best I can.

It seems like crime comics are hot now, especially at Dark Horse. Do you think having so many creators doing great work helped push Dead Inside to another level?

I can’t answer that.  I only know that when I presented it to DH they went for it.  And of course I’m happy about that.

Why did you choose jail crimes for the setting?

It’s something I’ve been interested in for years and years. I had hoped to do a story with this setting long ago, but here we are now and that’s great, too.

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Through the first two issues, you’ve made Linda and her world feel very lived in and real. Tell me about the research you did to put Dead Inside together?

I’ve researched DI — you could argue — all my life.  I’ve been interested in law enforcement since I was a child and constantly read books, watch documentaries, interview ex cons, etc.  It just so happens that it all came together here.

Was any of Linda’s broken character intended to be meta commentary on the prison system? I can’t imagine spending a lot of time looking at any system without finding something you’d change or don’t care for.

Linda got broken before she ever received her JCD assignment, but that doesn’t mean that her new duties as an officer of the law have done anything to fix her. At least not yet.

How do you construct a locked room mystery like this? Do you start at the solution, then add layers on top of it?

It’s not really a locked room mystery. Sure, the gate to the prison is locked, but honestly, the place is crawling with suspects, isn’t it? So I approached it the way I approach any story. You could say I started with the solution in the sense I knew right from the get go who the perp was, but working out the details went much as it does on other stories. Hard work and perpetual problem solving.

Toni Fezjula’s art is very stylistically European, grainy and detailed but slightly exaggerated. Why was he the right artist for this book?

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Because he’s great!  What more is there to say?

Fezjula seems to be taking the crime scene art to a new level – when I saw the preview pages, I thought the murder scene was just gore for the sake of detail, but after seeing (in issue 2) a hollow point bullet peel back over four panels, I thought there might have been more of a point to the detail he’s putting in each panel. Is Toni leaving clues for the reader with his art?

Boy, I hope not!  I have enough trouble keeping my own secrets.

Tell me about your work process – how detailed are your scripts, and how many of those art cues are at your instruction versus his own vision? Andre May’s colors are very vivid and striking, how do the three of you work together?

I write more or less the same way a screenplay is written. It’s the method I’m most comfortable working with.  I try to give Toni and every artist I work with as much detail as I think is needed, but enough room for expansion and improv. Or that’s the hope. Toni, in turn, works very closely with Andre suggesting moods to strike, etc.

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You’ve got Dave Johnson doing covers for the books, who’s so good that they should stop nominating him for Eisners because it’s not fair to everyone else. What’s working with him like – do you give him any instruction or ideas, or do you give him the script and say “you do you, I’m sure it’ll be perfect”?

We asked Dave because he’s so great, and Toni gave him a pretty tight sketch for the first cover, but after that it was a lot looser. Dave turned in a couple that needed no input from us, and there was some back and forth on the others, but yeah, Dave’s the best!

What’s the most exciting sequence for you in all of Dead Inside?

For me, every panel is tough and therefore equally exciting. Sorry, but it’s the truth.

Thanks so much for talking with us!

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Dead Inside is a 5-issue creator-owned series from Dark Horse. The first issue, which is very good and is worth picking up for Fejzula’s art especially, is out on December 21st. Check back with Den of Geek for more news about Dead Inside and all the rest of your weekly pull list.