It’s Kids Vs. Bugs In ‘Dark Horse Presents’ As Lapham Launches ‘Juice Squeezers’ In July
On top of crafting some of the most critically acclaimed independent crime comics of the past 20 years, David Lapham has worked on a diverse catalog of memorable work-for-hire stories at essentially every publisher in the business. So when Dark Horse hit up ComicsAlliance to let us know that the Stray Bullets, Young Liars and Murder Me Dead creator would be working on something more akin to kid-populated ’80s classics like The Goonies and Stand By Me with a horrifying monster bug twist, we were a special kind of intrigued. Lapham’s new series in question is called Juice Squeezers, and it’s set to debut this July in Dark Horse Presents #26 and run through September’s issue #28, with the potential to go even further should a tale of bug-battling kids secretly protecting their small town catch on with fans. We got in touch with Lapham to find out where he caught the bug to tell this new story, and why now was the right time to put both his keyboard and pen back to work on a creator-owned project.CA: What was your inspiration for Juice Squeezers and what made now the right time to tell the story?
David Lapham: Well a few years ago a friend of mine at Disney Animation wanted me to pitch him some live action or animated TV shows. I came up with a great idea which didn’t fly because an element of it was thought too un-PC, which is crazy if you read the idea, but I’m not going to show it to you now, and it was NOT Juice Squeezers! But that experience put me in mind to create an idea that was completely me but would be more adventurous-More Goonies or Stand By Me meets Me in a dark alley and less outright tragic like Stray Bullets and Young Liars. I came up with Juice Squeezers. I talked with [The Strain editor] Sierra Hahn at Dark Horse about this idea three years ago and she loved it at that time, but I wasn’t in a position to draw it then due to commitments and we weren’t sure how to package it or sell it. But then a few months ago I just woke up and literally felt an overwhelming need to get back to doing my own stuff again. DHP seemed like a perfect fit to just jump in an get something going, like, that day. So I talked to [Dark Horse Presents associate editor] Jim Gibbons and said here’s what I want to do. He talked to Mike [Richardson] and we were off and running…
CA: Children and teenagers figure heavily into a lot of your work, but this may be the first book that hones in on a group of kids. What interests you about the dynamics of childhood interpersonal relationships?
DL: Kids are raw. They’re emotional and magical. They can live outside the rules of society. They haven’t been programmed to react in a certain polite way. No one takes them seriously even though what they go through is often far more serious than a mature adult. They’re fun and never boring. Most kids on TV and elsewhere are written to be insanely annoying, but when I do them they’re not annoying, they’re great! Also, just maybe, I don’t understand grown ups.
CA: The kids in Juice Squeezers are motivated and heroic, which is kind of fascinating. Kids don’t have quite as many pressures or responsibilities as adults, meaning they’re kind of the ultimate self-starters in a lot of regards. Can you tell us a little about what motivates your core cast and why they choose to take on such a huge burden despite their ages?
DL: That’s true but in many ways they have more pressures. Many of the things we take for granted, kids are experiencing and learning for the first time. School can be a horror show of interpersonal dynamics and unlike adults, they’re trapped there, like prison. Still these kids have an extra special burden. As I expand the universe you’ll see that the Squeezers are a tradition that’s been passed down. So this group of kids didn’t create this mission, they’re just the latest recruits. Most of them have mothers or fathers that were once Squeezers. Some were recruited because their smaller stature lets them get down in the tunnels with the bugs. What they do keeps their town safe and they do it because that’s what they do. They don’t know another way. They don’t question it. At least not so far. Hopefully we’re just getting started in this universe.
CA: The intensity varies, but the collaborative and corporate aspect of the comics business is perhaps more under the microscope than it’s ever been. What do you like about where you’re at with the medium these days as someone who both writes and illustrates? How do you think your skill set has helped you navigate the business and create the stories you want to create?
DL: Well, being versatile helps a ton. On a work-for-hire front you open up more possibilities. It also means you can rely on yourself when you have an idea you like. Comics can be the most creative of all the mediums. Sometimes on bigger superhero “universe” type stuff you can get swallowed up or at least derailed by a larger editorial picture. I understand it, but I do wish it weren’t the case. I know in an industry where sales can be hard to come by, making everything tightly interconnected helps sell books, but it also can come at the expense of some good ideas that people might really enjoy. The recent cancellation of a Marvel book I was working on was due, at least in part, I believe, by a lack of being “hooked in” to the rest of the universe. That book wasn’t “relevant” to the rest of the universe titles, thus it was easy to pass on it in favor of one that was. Of course, maybe the book sucked, I don’t know. I felt good about it. I only say this because I know at least one review site scores the quality of the art, the writing, and has a category for relevancy as well. So there’s a bit of navigation in that world. That said I’m hard pressed to tell you a project that I did not enjoy working on. I started in work-for-hire, I understand it, and I try and be very accommodating to the editors and company’s needs. I always try and solve them in a way where it accomplishes what editorial needs but it’s still done my way in my voice.
The main thing I like about where I’m at with comics is that I feel like I can use the medium to tell my stories. I’m not intimidated by it. There’re lots of things I wish I could do better and strive to improve upon, but as far as having an idea and translating it to paper?…I’m comfortable with making comics.
As far as creating my types of stories. It’s a blessing that I have had the outlets I’ve had to be able to show as much of myself as I have. Ultimately, you can only be the best at being you, whether that’s doing a creator owned or working on doing some big superhero project. But if you have it in you to do your own works, ultimately those are going to be a tiny bit more special.