Writer Peter Dabbene has crafted an intriguing tale of mystery, adventure, and conflict that strikes at the human core of survival in his classic series ARK published by Arcana Comics. Peter recently talked with comicbookinterviews.com publisher John Michael Helmer about his career in comics and what projects he has lined up in the future…
JMH: Where were you born and raised?
PETER: I was born and raised in Staten Island, New York. It’s part of New York City — it’s sometimes called “the forgotten borough” because it’s the smallest, and probably the least remembered, of the 5 boroughs of New York City. I went to high school there (Monsignor Farrell High School) and college, St. John’s University.
JMH: Tell CBI about yourself…
PETER: Well, I like to read and write, all different kinds of stuff. I’ve written short stories, plays, poetry, essays, sports commentary, erotica, a novel, and of course, comics. I review books of all kinds for a couple of different companies. At one point I was regularly reading about a dozen magazines per month, plus the daily newspaper. If you put something in front of me, I’ll read it. And if an idea occurs to me, I’ll usually write it.
JMH: Have you had any formal training in writing?
PETER: No. I grew up in a pretty grounded, practical, middle-class family, and a degree in English, quite frankly, seemed like a path to nowhere. So I studied finance (I have an M.B.A., in fact) and worked in that field for about a dozen years. I was writing all along, but a lot of opportunities seemed to spring up when I looked into writing full-time.
I’m kind of glad that I took the long road to comics… obviously, I had more time to practice the craft of writing, and there’s also a lot of life experience that happens in twelve years — it gives you a broader perspective on everything you write about.
JMH: Who are your writing influences?
PETER: I don’t know that I’m actively influenced by any particular author anymore, but over the years, certainly Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, as well as older comics writers like Roy Thomas and Archie Goodwin. Comics in their heyday weren’t as sophisticated, but they were a lot of fun. I like Moore and Morrison because they’re not afraid of words. It seems like a lot of people these days think the ideal comic would have no words at all, which I think takes the old writing axiom “show, don’t tell” way beyond its intent. I’d say I aim for a middle ground: I’ll use captions and the occasional thought balloon if I think it’s warranted, but I’m not about to indulge in 1970′s Marvel-style editorial notes throughout a book, either.
JMH: How did you break into writing comic books?
PETER: I wrote a 5 page script for FutureQuake magazine in the U.K., “Red Planet”, which was based on a short story I wrote years ago. I did that to get a feel for writing comic scripts, and after that, I dove right into ARK. I sent Arcana a sample, and luckily, they thought enough of it that they agreed to publish not just ARK, but the two future volumes I told them I had in mind, as well.
JMH: What is the first comic you remember reading?
PETER: That’s an easy one for me: Star Wars #10 (Marvel). I saw Star Wars in the theater at age five, and was just amazed. Back then, of course, you couldn’t just get the movie on DVD and watch it 100 times, which is probably what I’d have done if I could. Instead, I pored over storybooks with still photos from the film, read the novelizations, and hungered for any bit of Star Wars I could find. I’d had no idea there were new stories being produced after the first movie, so Star Wars #10 was a revelation. I remember struggling over words like “behemoth” in that comic, but I don’t know anything else I’d have read so willingly that would have challenged me as much.
JMH: Do you read any of the new comic books that are being published today?
PETER: I still find time to read comics, though I haven’t read new individual issues for a long time. I just can’t remember the details of a story from one month to the next well enough — I’d rather read a complete story in a trade paperback collection. I’m the same way with TV shows — virtually any scripted series I’ve watched in the last ten years has been binge-style, on DVD, once the show has finished its run. So if you extend the meaning of “new” to mean “issued within the past six to twelve months”, then the answer is yes.
JMH: Print versus Digital. Your thoughts…
PETER: At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur, I kind of hate digital. I grew up reading comics, things that had a physical presence. I like the feel of a book in my hand, and I spend enough time looking at screens already. So print is my personal preference. Having said that, there are huge advantages to digital, primarily that you don’t have to worry about the costs of color printing, distribution, etc. But as I see all the time as a book reviewer, lower barriers of entry also means a lot more bad books on the market. For now, I’m fine with digital and print existing side by side, but as with mp3s versus CDs, I just feel like something’s missing from the digital equation.
JMH: Writer’s block. How do you get around that creature?
PETER: Thankfully, it’s been pretty rare for me, but when it does happen, it’s usually because I’m overthinking something. Writing something else – a short essay or a poem – tends to push me back into the “figure it out and get it done” mentality whenever I stray too far.
JMH: What is ARK?
PETER: The most direct answer is that it’s an offhand nickname one of the characters uses for the spaceship Explorer. But in the larger sense, it’s the story of some very different types of people trapped in a very unusual situation, all trying to figure out what to do next.
JMH: Do you research your story ideas? If so, how?
PETER: I tend to have very lengthy “note files” for all my story ideas before I even start them — just random stuff, added piece by piece, that I think might work when woven into the larger whole. I also do some specific research, mostly science stuff – for example, the details of the different animals the meta-humans in ARK are based on. I read a great book on the psychology of interstellar migration. At the same time, I don’t want to overload the reader with science stuff. I mean, nobody’s crying for the new Star Wars movies to be scientifically accurate, are they? They care about the characters. I want to offer enough science to have that sheen of realism, that “suspension of disbelief” — but if you probe deep enough into most popular science fiction, you’re going to reach a point at which the science concepts kind of fall apart. If readers are over-focused on the science stuff, it implies a failure of the characters to keep their interest on what’s most important.
JMH: What is your writing process like?
PETER: Unpredictable, I’d say — very natural, and though I hate to use this word, organic. I don’t use any special writing software, just a standard word processing program. I usually get to a point where I have to do chapter outlines to keep track of all the moving parts and finish up a book, but my favorite part of the writing process is closer to the beginning, when I’m not exactly sure what the end will look like. I like to improvise as I go, and although I always look back and edit out stuff that doesn’t seem to work, that free-flowing method is where some of the most interesting stuff arises.
JMH: Do your stories carry a message?
PETER: Well, I’m always wary of offering an explicit “message” in a story, but I do try to have a few different levels — in the case of ARK, there’s the action/adventure-mystery on the surface, but beneath that there’s certainly more to be found, if a reader wants to find it.
JMH: Do you feel more comfortable with writing prose or comic book sequential storytelling?
PETER: The last couple of years, I’ve been doing mostly sequential stuff, so at the moment I feel very comfortable with that — also, Ryan and I work well together, and anytime you’re talking about something collaborative, that’s important. It keeps it fun. Still, my scripts do sometimes go on a bit, so Ryan might tell you I haven’t completely abandoned prose.
JMH: What are your thoughts on DC’s Before Watchmen project?
PETER: I haven’t read them, and I’m certainly skeptical, but I’ll probably check them out eventually and at least give them a chance. Watchmen has been getting a lot of attention in the last ten years or so – featured on greatest novels lists, stuff like that — so it’s kind of weird that the one stand-alone graphic novel that was being touted to non-comics readers as the best example of the form, is now getting the same kind of continuing saga-treatment as other comics superheroes. Before Watchmen has its work cut out for it, and if readers don’t consider it worthy, it’ll just end up as a cautionary tale, one that DC probably needs to learn.
JMH: Would a line-wide relaunch of the Marvel heroes be good for the industry? why?
PETER: For the main Marvel characters, I think you need to respect the stories and continuity of the past, but not close off accessibility to new readers — easier said than done. The problem with a relaunch is that, after so many relaunches and reinventions in the past, no one has any faith that there won’t be another relaunch, another #1 issue, a few years from now.
If the comics industry wants new readers, a relaunch alone won’t help – it also needs to become more reader-friendly. A lot of comics issued from Marvel and DC assume a high degree of familiarity with their universes, and if you’re a newbie, you’re just standing there, saying “What the heck is going on?”
I don’t know what the answer is, but I can tell you this — all those now-unfashionable captions, thought balloons, and editorial comments that were the hallmark of the comics I grew up with, definitely made comics a lot more accessible. You could pick up, say, issue #27 of some 1970′s or 80′s comic, and enjoy it on its own, but also continue reading the series from there without needing to get the earlier issues. It’s something that I appreciate much more now that my own kids are just starting to read comics.
JMH: What future projects are in the works?
PETER: Ryan and I are currently working on another science fiction graphic novel called The Adventures of SpamFram, which I’m really excited about. Hopefully that will be out in the next year. I’m also working with artist Lee Milewski on an adaptation of the Robin Hood legend — trying to keep all of the essential elements I’ve always loved but also tweaking it here and there so it’s fresh. That should also be done in the next year. Beyond that, I hope to continue working on additional ARK stories — Arcana has agreed to publish two more volumes, and I have some ideas I’m looking forward to developing. And in my back pocket is a script for a graphic novel about George Washington, which I’d love to do if the right artist and/or publisher came along.
JMH: Where can fans get a hold of your books?
PETER: They can buy print copies through Amazon ($18.95) at http://www.amazon.com/Ark-Peter-Dabbene/dp/1771351225
The digital version ($4.99) is available at Comixology:
Arcana is offering substantial direct-order discounts to comic stores and dealers who want to offer ARK to their customers, and stores and dealers in the U.S.A. get free shipping, too. Contact Emma Waddell at email@example.com
JMH: How can fans and publishers contact you?
PETER: Through the ARK Facebook site (be sure to “like” us!):
or through my own website, www.peterdabbene.com
JMH: Anything else you’d like to mention that we haven’t covered yet?
PETER: Well, just that marketing and distribution for anyone who’s not Marvel or DC is pretty challenging, so if anyone out there reads ARK and likes it, please pass along word to your friends!
JMH: Peter, CBI appreciates your time! All the best!
PETER: My pleasure!
About the interviewer –