Oculus Interview: David Lapham, Author/Artist

David Lapham is a comic book author and artist, best known for his creation of the Eisner-Award winning series Stray Bullets. He has accumulated a wealth of credits over the course of his long career, writing and/or drawing for publishers like DC (Superman, Detective Comics), Marvel (X-Men: Age of Apocalypse, Spider-Man), Wildstorm (Fringe, Modern Warfare 2), and Dark Horse (Predators, Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain), among others.

His signature series, Stray Bullets, was first published in 1995 through his own graphic novel imprint, “El Capitan Books”. Set primarily in 1970s, 80s and 90s America, the 41-issue series follows a recurring set of characters that are connected, some indirectly, through the ripple effects of violence, crime, and trauma. Unflinchingly brutal and sometimes surprisingly funny, its stories have an emotional resonance that carries it well beyond mere pulp.

In stark contrast to the hypersexualized noir of Sin City or the family-friendly supervillains of mainstream comics, a miasma of sleaze and fear clings to the low-rent criminality of Stray Bullets, where existence is cheap, vulnerable, and frightening. While the average comic reader can be forgiven for imagining himself battling Wilson “The Kingpin” Fisk or drinking with Sin City’s Marv, the truth is that any ill-advised foray into the local underworld would probably look a lot more like Stray Bullets. That the series feels so real is one of the main reasons it is so disquieting.

After an irregular publishing schedule that ran concurrently with David Lapham’s other comic work, the series went on hiatus in 2005. It finally returned earlier this year, wrapping up a 9-year-long cliffhanger as well as starting an entirely new miniseries. I had the opportunity to briefly speak with him earlier this year.

When Stray Bullets first went on hiatus, you indicated that the decision was made due to the more lucrative work available in freelancing. Was the choice to return based on any specific changes in the industry? Howe did you end up with Image?

When we started Stray Bullets and El Capitán Maria and I were really young.  She was maybe 19 and I was early twenties.  Ten years later we had a family, and needed to take time to honor that.  (After all, we didn’t want to raise future characters!)  It simply wasn’t possible to put in the 24/7 Stray Bullets required.  But it was always our intention to come home to Stray Bullets.  Image provided us with a way to to do SB the right way, with us controlling it creatively and editorially, but with them taking enough of the logistics off our plate that we could make it work.

Stray Bullets is notable not only for its gruesome depiction of violence, but also for its unromantic look of low-level criminality. Was the series a reaction to the portrayal of violence in fiction? Or, did it lack any sort of larger social agenda? What were some influences on the story?

It wasn’t a reaction to the violence in fiction, but rather the violence in reality.  It was and is a direct and frequently auto-biographical expression of my and Maria’s lives, feelings and experiences and us needing to get those ideas and emotions out and on paper. The agenda was and is all personal.

The tales of Stray Bullets often jump between characters and time periods, with major events and character deaths sometimes being either skipped over or mentioned in passing. Is there a plan to eventually cover the whole of the continuity, or is that irrelevant given the themes of the series? Do you have a complete timeline all mapped out somewhere?

I have a broad overview of the Stray Bullets world and where the characters are headed. The overview constantly shifts as new characters and ideas enter into the mix. Things happen, sometimes very interesting things, but whether we’ll show them or not just depends on where the characters take us.

You have written for an eclectic mix of titles in the decade since Stray Bullets, from Indie/semi-Indie work like “Dan The Unharmable” to large, mainstream franchises like Spider-man. What kind of work do you tend to gravitate towards when freelancing, and how is the experience of working for a small or large company/property proven different.

Large company or small company, I like projects that give me the freedom to be myself. The Strain I’m doing with Guillermo del Toro and Dark Horse was a blast, because of the great trust and leeway Guillermo gave us as creators to make it our own. Overall, it’s been amazing working on so many great characters and with so many phenomenal illustrators, but ultimately, finding freedom to express yourself fully is challenging.

Do you have a release date for Stray Bullets series and the larger collection? Do you plan to continue the series after this, or is this a one-shot?

March 12, 2014 is the release date for the collection, Stray Bullets Über Alles, Stray Bullets #41 and Stray Bullets:Killers #1.  Killers is just the next arc in the series, so you’re going to be stuck with us for a long while!

Any other forthcoming work you’d care to mention?

Juice Squeezers, my first all-ages book.  I wrote for my girls.  The other day my oldest daughter came up to me holding the first issue and said “I love this book!”  Literally, the highlight of my career.

The six-issue series “Stray Bullets: Killers” is currently being published. Its official website can be found here.

You can find David Lapham on Twitter: @DavidALapham