Out for Scalps

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After taking Vertigo readers by storm with The Other Side, his Vietnam mini epic with Cameron Stewart on art, Jason Aaron is now delving into American soil—of the native kind.

Tomorrow sees the debut of Aaron’s Scalped, a new ongoing series about a band of Native Americans whose life has gotten a whole lot more chaotic after being introduced to the bad side of Western culture: drugs, gambling, and organised crime. BF spoke to the writer for more about his new title…

BROKEN FRONTIER: In The Other Side, you deal with the Vietnam war and Scalped is about Native Americans. You seem to have a certain fondness for tackling controversial topics in your comics work…

JASON AARON: No great agenda there, really. Those just happen to be two subjects that have fascinated me for a long time.

BF: One of the fears initially surrounding The Other Side was that war comics usually struggle to find an audience. Do you, or DC, have a similar fear when it comes to comics built up around Native Americans?

JA: I think it’s hard these days to launch any sort of new series that doesn’t feature a DC or Marvel superhero, regardless of the setting or genre.  With Scalped, it’s obviously the Native American aspect that makes the book different, and hopefully readers will respond strongly to that, just like they have to the offbeat mix of horror and war story that Cameron Stewart and I are telling with The Other Side.

BF: Why are you particularly interested in delving into Native American Culture via the comics medium? Did you amass any knowledge about it over the years that you wanted to express?

JA: I’ve been fascinated with Native American history and culture ever since I was a kid.  So once The Other Side was underway and I was thinking of other ideas to pitch to Vertigo, one of the first things I thought of was an update of the old DC western hero Scalphunter.  But westerns are super tough to get approved these days, so I ended up changing the setting to the present, which turned out to be a far more fertile setting.

BF: The story deals with Dashiell Bad Horse, who returns to “The Rez”, short for the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation, and finds it unchanged, except for a new casino. Is this series about the clash between Western civilisation (capitalism) and an untouched culture?

JA: Part of it is about the clash between Traditionalist and Progressive factions of Natives on The Rez, but for Dash the whole series is really a journey of discovery, as he’s forced to come to grips with a heritage and history he has always rejected.

BF: The artist on Scalped is Serbian artist R.M. Guéra. While readers of Heavy Metal and people with a bit of knowledge of the European Comics scene probably are familiar with his work, most of the US public isn’t. Do you consider that an advantage or a disadvantage for launching a new title?

JA: I’m sure it makes it a tougher sell having both an unknown writer and an unknown artist on the book, but after working with Guéra I honestly couldn’t imagine doing Scalped with anyone else.  Guéra may be unknown right now, but he’s going to be huge, no doubt about it.  I’ve been blown away by the enthusiasm and heart he’s brought to bear on each and every page of Scalped, and I think readers will be to.  He loves these characters just as much as I do, and he’s always challenging me to defy readers’ expectations.  His involvement has made Scalped a better book and me a better writer.

BF: Did you show his work to Vertigo in the hope of working with him on the title, or did they have Guéra in mind before you did?

JA: Editor Will Dennis was the one who brought Guéra on board.  Guéra has been working for years in Europe, but for some reason has never ventured over to the States.  I’m proud to have his American debut in the pages of my book.

BF: Readers will be served with another visual treat each month as Jock’s refined designs grace the covers. How happy are you having him on board?

JA: Jock was already one of my favourite cover artists, but I think his cover for Scalped #1 is some of his best work ever.  It tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the book right there in one image.

BF: The first arc, a three-parter, is called “Indian Country”. Aside from introducing readers to the main characters, how will it function in terms of setting up the series?

JA: It introduces the setting and sets up the main conflicts, along with providing heaping helpings of action, sex and mystery.  The second arc, “Hoka Hey,” delves more into the history of the Red Power movement of the 1970s and also propels things toward the casino’s grand opening.

BF: What about the mood and tone of the book? Looking at the preview pages that have been released, this isn’t a series for people who can’t take five curse words on a single page…

JA: Sometimes we even have six on the same page!  Yeah, we’re definitely taking full advantage of Vertigo’s Mature Readers tag.  There’s lots of salty language and plenty of trashy sex as well, but never merely for the sake of being dirty.  It’s all part of the tapestry.

BF: Since Scalped deals with current Native American culture, how does the series’ title fit into the whole premise, seeing that it refers to an old Native American practice?

JA: Just because it’s an old practice, doesn’t mean we won’t be seeing someone get Scalped in the book.  A few someones, actually.

BF: Both The Other Side and Scalped are published through DC’s Vertigo imprint. Do you envision yourself stepping outside of the mature-readers realm and into the mainstream—you know, superheroes? Or are they not your cup of tea?

JA: Most definitely.  I already have plans to venture into other genres in 2007, including the world of mainstream superheroes.  More on that coming soon.  I’m looking to keep things interesting and not get pigeon-holed with any one genre, so 2007 is shaping up to be an exciting year for me.

BF: Regardless of your answer to the above question, now that Ed Brubaker’s revitalised him in Uncanny X-Men, I don’t think you’d be such a bad fit for a Warpath mini series! [Laughs]

JA: Marvel, you listening?

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