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The Enemy Next Door

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Being new to comics doesn’t imply you can’t make a splash on your first try. And that’s exactly what Drew Melbourne intends to do on ArchEnemies, a four-issue mini series coming this April from Dark Horse Comics.

BROKEN FRONTIER: In ArchEnemies, Ethan Baxter and Vincent Darko are roommates and at the same time hero and villain. Kind of like Friends but with the positive vibes replaced by fireballs and rockets…

DREW MELBOURNE: Exactly. The series brings new meaning to the lyric, "So no one told you life was gonna to be this way." David Schwimmer would make an excellent Vincent, but I'm holding out for James Van Der Beek to play Ethan.

The key to ArchEnemies is that James is… I mean ETHAN… is the hero, but sometimes he's kind of a jackass. Superheroes are good. Supervillains are bad. Actual people invariably fall somewhere in-between. ArchEnemies lets us watch a hero and a villain interact when they're not busy being all iconic and whatnot.

BF: So, now you’re saying Ross and Dawson have a dark side? Man, there will be ladies out to get you now, I tell you…

DM: Heh… I'm a jackass all the time. It doesn't mean that I have a dark side. I'm just intensely dumb when it comes to some things. "Nobody's perfect," as the cliché goes. And obviously that's truer of some people than of others.

BF: In comics, the saying goes that the greatness of a hero is defined by the boldness of his villains. But that doesn’t mean you have to put them in the same apartment, now does it?

DM: I'm just very lazy. "Where could Star Fighter and the Underlord run into each other this issue?" "Um. In the living room?"

But to be serious for a few seconds – start your stopwatch – the real point of ArchEnemies is to consider two questions: "What would you learn about the people you hate if you really got to know them? And what would you learn about yourself?"

Also, it's about jokes.

BF: Did you base the series on any real-life events? Now, I just want to know if you ever went through the whole ‘roommate’ thing… I don’t think it’s in anybody’s best interest to find out what superheroes you guys dressed up as. [Laughs]

DM: I actually roomed with Victor von Doom for two semesters in college. Every night, while I was trying to sleep, he'd be banging away at this big machine he was building. He was all, "Doom will not rest until he has reclaimed his mother from the pits of Hell!" And I was all, "That is SO going to blow up in your face."

Who's laughing now, Doom???

BF: How did Vince and Ethan come to share bed, breakfast and toilet paper anyway? And what do they do in real life besides kicking each other’s butt?

DM: So no one reading this is confused: Vincent and Ethan have their own beds, they make their own breakfasts, and Vincent keeps his own roll in his room for safe keeping!

About the characters: Ethan is a pretty typical twenty-something Manhattanite. He has a crummy job in publishing. He's got a crush on a girl at work. He likes to go to bars and hang out.

Vincent is less typical. Ethan assumes he's independently wealthy, because he's never seen him go to work. The truth is that Vincent really doesn't have much of a life outside of being a supervillain. He has an opportunity coming up to join a big criminal organization, and he's throwing all of his energy into that.

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BF: ArchEnemies is billed as “high-concept superhero action comedy drama.” Which of these four genres is at the center of the story?

DM: Let me answer this question by completely changing the subject: A few months back I came up with this idea for a comic called "Hotel of Heroes." It was about a group of down-on-their-luck superheroes who take jobs at a ritzy 5-star hotel. Their leader ("The Concierge") would send them on missions like, "The man in room 13 won't pay for his porn. Deal with him."

As I was sketching this concept out, I kept asking myself questions like, "How would it feel to fall that far?" and "How would that change you?" Whenever I write something, I'm always asking those sorts of questions. It doesn't matter how ridiculous the situation is, I'm always looking for the drama. I'm always looking for the pathos. I'm always trying to discover some greater truth about the human condition.

So, to answer your question: it's all about the comedy.

BF: You really mean action, right? Anyway, is Hotel of Heroes still being worked on, or did the concept slowly trickle into what came to be ArchEnemies?

DM: A property like "Hotel of Heroes" is so inherently goofy that I could only pursue it if I was going to go all out. At the moment, I'm much too pre-occupied with things like "story" and "character" and "depth." So no AE/HoH crossovers on the horizon, I'm afraid.

BF: As a stand-up comedian, you know a thing or two about what makes a good joke. What’s your secret recipe?

99% of comedy is knowing what the audience expects you to say and saying the opposite. The other 1% of comedy is getting the audience drunk first.

BF: Wait a minute… that legendary comedian who is said to buy everybody a bottle of Jack Daniels before he hits the stage is you?

DM: No, I don't have the money for that. I just go on after him.

BF: Really, was it hard to inject the comic with good humor? Part of a stand-up comedian’s success is knowing how to improvise and play to the audience’s tastes. With ArchEnemies being a printed product, on-the-spot, in-your-face humor doesn’t really work, so how did you turn this comic in the comedy series it wants to be?

DM: I had to cut the watermelon-smashing scene because it just wasn't working on the page, but otherwise it hasn't been a big problem. Most of the comedy in ArchEnemies is character based. The characters in my comics tend to say the smart, funny things that you would say if you had a month to plan out every sentence.

BF: As a writer who’s on the verge of breaking in, you hopefully didn’t make any enemies yourself. Please say no…

DM: Well, I think Seth Green is out to get me. But he's been playing it very cool…

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BF: Seriously, it’s very hard to break in as a creator these days. What can you tell us about your life on the barricades?

DM: I feel a bit like Vincent trying to join his criminal organization. It's a lot of hard work, it's very stressful, and I really need to get out of my apartment more often. Financially, I'm going to take a hit this year, but hopefully things will balance out in the long run.

If not, I hear that you can get some serious money for your kidneys on the black market.

BF: Another thing to keep in mind is that whether you’re “in” or not doesn’t always matter these days. Have you come up with any treats to make ArchEnemies a unique experience?

DM: Sure have. Let me just mention three "treats" here:

First, you get an extra story page in every issue of ArchEnemies, because the story in every issue of ArchEnemies starts on the cover. Which people will either love or hate. We'll see. Bottom line: There are 100 total story pages in the first four issues. That's 15% more comic than you'll get out of an issue of Lobo or Darkhawk or whatever the kids are reading these days.

Second, we're packing the back of each issue with as much bonus material as we can manage: cartoon strips, behind-the-scenes material, character profiles, "in character" articles and interviews, etc. We really want to immerse readers in the world of ArchEnemies.

Third, we're putting even more bonus material online. My favorite: Trish Darrow, who's one of the key not-Ethan, not-Vincent characters in ArchEnemies, has her own MySpace page: http://www.MySpace.com/TrishDarrow. She's a fictional character, but she still finds time to update her blog every Friday!

Oh. And an unofficial fourth treat: the comic is just plain good. Yvel has been sending me the final pencils for the fourth issue as we've been chatting, and they're really amazing.

There's a lot of funny in ArchEnemies, but there's a real emotional core too. Our characters go through the ringer in this series, and issue four has a real payoff for that.

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