Duffy Boudreau on Crafting “BlackAcre” as a Frightening Future [Interview]

By | June 19th, 2013
Posted in Interviews | % Comments

Image Comics’ “BlackAcre” is a harrowing and exciting tale of a possible future where the power continues to pile up on the side of the wealthy, leaving everyone else on the outside of utopia. The action-packed world outside of the walls of “BlackAcre” pits our hero, Hull, in a situation that is part “The Walking Dead” and part Children of Men in its ability to find humanity where there doesn’t seem to be much hope. By the end of the first arc, Hull finds himself in an unlikely place and the plotlines begin to thread together in really satisfying ways.

We caught up with the writer of “BlackAcre” and all-around nice guy, Duffy Boudreau, to talk a little about how “BlackAcre” came about, to reflect on the series’ opening salvo of an arc, and what we can expect for the next arc and the foreseeable future.

So, just where did the idea for “BlackAcre” come from?

Duffy Boudreau: Years ago, I read an article about state legislatures throwing around the idea of selling off public lands so they could close some budget gaps, and I just started thinking: what if this happened on a larger scale, and some alliance of powerful men bought a big chunk of land from the federal government and started building their own society on it? That was the spark that started the whole thing. Oh, but here’s my caveat after saying that–there’s no talk of deficits or legislatures or any of that other bullshit in the book, so don’t worry. “BlackAcre” is a dystopian espionage book full of violence and intrigue, not budgets and land transactions, so I hope that answer didn’t make anyone stop reading this interview.

I have to say, Duffy, one of the highlights of reading “BlackAcre” has been seeing class warfare taken to such an extreme. You seem like a intellectually-minded writer. How did you translate your ideas about classes & societies onto the page and how did you go about crafting a story where things have gone horribly wrong for a majority of the population?

DB: It wasn’t an intellectual thing, so much as a dread or fear I get when I think about what happens when an overwhelming majority of the population becomes completely superfluous to this tiny sliver of folks who control everything. I think this question, plus the idea mentioned before about an exclusive, insular society built apart from everything else, when you combine those two things, the world of the book grew pretty naturally. I tried to imagine the order of that world. And that order gave me an opportunity to present the two classic dystopian settings side by side–the technologically advanced, socially-engineered, neo-fascist state, and the lawless tribal frontier on the other side of the wall.

I’ve been describing BlackAcre as a socio-political science fiction story. Fans of “Twilight Zone”-type scenarios or “The Walking Dead” would be right at home here. What sorts of influences in literature or media that have driven your work on Blackacre? What sorts of fans should be checking out the book?

DB: BlackAcre’s been influenced by bunch of different stories–fictional and real–from Mad Max, to The Handmaid’s Tale, to all the different news articles I’ve read over the years about the strange and terrible accounts of war and tribalism that, unfortunately, we see every day. But to put it simply, I’ve always said if you’re a fan of Children of Men, this is the book for you.

Tell us a little bit about the main character, Hull. The impression that I got from him in the first arc was that he was a tough guy, but much warmer and engaging than your average stoic protagonist. Is that accurate? What has shaped him and what motivates him?

DB: Hull has to be a real hardass just to exist in the world of the BlackAcre Auxiliaries–they’re modern day Spartans. But as tough as these guys are, and as brutal as they can be when they’re shooting some poor asylum seeker on sight, they have a deep emotional connection to one another. It’s not just a job, it’s a brotherhood. I tried to convey that in the first scene of the story proper when the guys prank Hull on his last day. That’s something you only do when you’re really going to miss someone, and that’s what his team was telling him there. It’s this sense of brotherhood that drives Hull when he foregoes this bright future waiting for him within the city and decides to head out into the Hinterlands to discover what’s become of Greene. There’s a good chance that Greene’s already dead, right? But Hull still risks everything because of his sense of loyalty. So, he’s tough and somewhat stoic, but he’s definitely not a loner. He’s used to a meaningful community, and it’s not some abstract thing for him, because he spent every day of his life as part of this elite community of warriors. It’s this strong sense of belonging that made his life within the city-state of BlackAcre so satisfying… but now that he’s lost all that, he’s in trouble. He’s never existed outside of the BlackAcre authority structure, and when he’s marooned in the wilderness full of all these warring foreign tribes, he finds himself in a completely unimaginable and terrifying situation.

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There is a lot of sinister stuff clearly going on in the background of the action-heavy plotting. The machinations of the oppressive society of Blackacre drive the action, in fact. How do you strike a balance between Hull’s espionage mission and the schemes going on behind closed doors?

DB: Hull’s story always drives the narrative. Even in the behind-closed-doors scenes–which are very short, so don’t let the mention of those scare you off!–it’s always about him in some way, because he’s gained this significance to the Guardians, the leaders, of the city in their political battles against one another. To Sinclair, the man who sent him on the original mission, Hull is a huge liability and the faster he gets confirmation Hull’s been silenced for good, the better. For Sinclair’s political foes, they would love to get Hull into a room and let him spill everything about Sinclair’s abuses. And even though the two worlds of the book are separated by this wall, they’re tightly connected to one another. An event or decision made in BlackAcre is guaranteed to have a significant effect in the Hinterlands sometime down the road, and likewise, incidents in the Hinterlands are really going to start blowing-back into the city-state itself and cause some serious problems.

I think it’s safe to assume that not everything is as it seems, even on Hull’s end among the people outside of BlackAcre. Can we expect twists and turns ahead? Double-crosses, even?

DB: This second arc is going to be very tense for those outside the wall. Hull and Lee are adjusting to their new life within the Sacred Yoke community. They obviously don’t fit in or trust anyone there. And the community doesn’t trust the two of them, either. The average member of Sacred Yoke looks at Hull and Lee, and thinks to himself “who are these people and why are they allowed to live here?” So the whole arrangement’s really charged with distrust and ripe for misunderstanding…and situations like those are always ready to explode into something terrible and violent.

Also, the emergence of Bird’s new partner Fawna, the femme fatale of this story, really complicates things. She had something serious going on with Greene, of all people, when he was an undercover BlackAcre op running with Bird’s crew of scavengers. We know something went horribly wrong with that relationship because she jumps at the chance to join Bird, to sneak into Sacred Yoke territory and take a shot at her old flame. Both she and Bird are such cunning, amoral operators, it’s a shaky alliance, with one never turning his/her back on the other.

A sneak peek at BlackAcre's Fawna

Set the stage for the 2nd arc for us a little bit. How “new reader friendly” is it? What can fans and new readers expect to see in the coming months of the comic?

DB: The first thing you can expect to see, is some of our penciler Wendell Cavalcanti’s best stuff. The deeper we go into this book, the more he’s been able to render the world of the story in this amazing way. As the writer, I naturally default into talking about the story, but when it comes down to it, this is a visual medium and it’s Wendell’s work (along with our other guys: Marc, Antonio, and Brian) that makes the book. So, look forward to the art being taken to another level in this next arc.

Story-wise, there are three big things happening in arc two. First, the question I’ve already touched on: Are the outsiders Hull and Lee going to be able to make a life in the rigid and foreign Sacred Yoke community? There’s a ton at stake there, not the least of which is Hull’s relationship with Greene, who happens to be the leader of this community. Because if the answer is ‘no’, then how does Greene deal with that? Second, Bird and his new partner Fawna, are attempting to infiltrate the Yoke to assassinate Hull and Greene. This is already an insanely hazardous task, but add to that the fact that the two can’t even really trust one another. Do they have any real chance of pulling this off? Third, we’re gonna see Sinclair on trial. He’s been so careless and loose-lipped about his unsanctioned activities in the Hinterlands, it’s almost like he wanted to get caught. Now you’ll see why…

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Also, I think this is a good time to mention that if you’re enjoying the book and want to get new readers into it, let them know that BlackAcre #1 is free on Comixology. And the trade is available now, for only ten bucks. Lot of ways to jump on board here.

That’s certainly a great deal for that first arc of the story. I hope readers will check it out.

The first arc spent most of the time split between the schemes of BlackAcre and the trials of the people of the Sacred Yoke. How much bigger does the world of “BlackAcre” get?

DB: As the story progresses, we’ll be going deeper inside the city, to see how the other two classes of BlackAcre–the Auxiliaries,and The Citizenry–live. They have radically different lives than the Guardians. Outside the wall, we’re going to be introduced to a whole network of clans, who to this point have only really been hinted at. It’s a world of terrible conflict that made it possible for a movement as brutal as Sacred Yoke to be the best alternative. It’s gonna be scary.

Light spoilers for anyone who hasn’t caught up, but Hull has found a “friend” in Lee – maybe something more than that. What sorts of things will they deal with, living in a society that has been left out of modernity and has plenty of scars of its own?

DB: Hull’s found someone who he has a real connection to in Lee. Her personality–she’s defiant, smart, loyal, and has a dark sense of humor–made them a natural pair. At this point, she’s his anchor. And not only as a guide through a foreign landscape. Emotionally, too. His entire existence has been turned inside-out, he’s been tossed out by his masters. His best friend, Greene, has undergone a radical transformation and there’s a strange distance between them now. Lee’s the only person preventing Hull from losing his shit after a huge personal upheaval. His big challenge is going to be keeping her safe, and teaching her how to keep herself safe, in this world where it’s utterly terrible to be a young woman.

BlackAcre's Hull & Lee

Speaking of scars, readers will notice that many of the characters have prominent and distinct scars. This is obviously a symbol of the physical brutality that is inflicted on them in a variety of different ways. Does it represent anything else? Are there any other themes or motifs that you’d like to call attention to, especially in the onset of the next arc?

DB: The scars are just there to reiterate how terrible life is for everyone in the Hinterlands. If you’re alive out there today, you survived something horrific yesterday.

What is your longterm vision for “BlackAcre”? You’ve got a lot of spinning plates of plot going all at once and the story could go down all sorts of different paths. What is your vision for where you want the comic to go?

DB: The trajectory of BlackAcre has always been straightforward to me, and while we may take a few trips down some side paths along the way, the story’s always been about how one man’s involvement in a murky and ill-conceived clandestine mission leads to the unlikely downfall of a powerful city-state. I’ve had people tell me, “Hey, you just spoiled the ending!” and I’m always like, “How’s that?” Just because we know that BlackAcre is going to fall, it doesn’t tell us anything about what, if anything, is going to stand in its place. We don’t know if life will be better or worse as a result of all the conflict. And, we don’t know who will be standing at the end of it all. So I don’t think it spoils anything. There are a ton of possibilities for how this story could end, but only one way it will. And you’ll have to stick around for that.

Anything else coming down the pipe for you?

DB: I’ve started to work on another book that I can’t go into detail about just yet. I can say the tone of the thing is really different than BlackAcre. It’s an absurdly satirical, Chew-style, book. It’s been a lot of fun to work on. A nice change of pace. Other than that, I’m just getting used to being on the other side the table at conventions. The sense of camaraderie among creators is great, and it’s been a real boost talking to fans. So for now, my immediate plans are to get on the road more and try to get the book into new readers’ hands. And when I’m at home, keep making comics. Enough to keep a person busy.

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Issue #7 of “BlackAcre” just hit comic books shops earlier this month, along with the trade paperback for the insanely affordable price of $10. Check them out – it’s a thrilling little title. Here are the gorgeous Brian Churilla covers of “BlackAcre” issues #8-#10, all going on sale in the coming months:

Issue #8:

Issue #9:

Issue #10:

Vince Ostrowski

Dr. Steve Brule once called him "A typical hunk who thinks he knows everything about comics." Twitter: @VJ_Ostrowski