Backstabbing Breeds Bad Girls

 

by Vince Brusio

All for one, but only one gets the money. That’s pretty much how a bunch of ladies think about the millions of dollars they can grab and keep for themselves in Alex de Campi’s Bad Girls (MAY181747) from Gallery 13. Friendship is a good thing, but only when it doesn’t put a drain on the pocketbook. Millions of dollars tends to foster greed, and so the pocketbook factor is at the front of everyone’s concerns, which makes for an interesting sordid adventure in 1958 Havana. Read our exclusive interview with writer Alex de Campi, and see how history heaves up this harrowing tale of murder and mischief.

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Vince Brusio: Tell us about the ladies who make up the “bad girls.” What’s in their DNA? What’s the litmus test that makes them “bad”? Or maybe the litmus test should tell us how they’re not “bad” but “survivors”?

Alex de Campi: The story focuses around four women: Taffy, a Black American singer / emcee; Carole, a White American gangster's girl with a secret; Ana, a Cuban dancer; and Kitty, a White American wannabe actress and socialite. Carole, Taffy and Ana all get into trouble and decide that the best way out of said trouble is to abscond from Cuba with $6m of stolen mob money. Kitty just wants to be at the same New Year’s party as Marlon Brando. And while none of them are bad people, really, there's... a lot of murder that happens when they're backed into corners. So you have three women with $6m, who don't even like each other and certainly don't trust each other, and as the story progresses they have more and more ammunition to double-cross each other. But also... they don't have a lot of time. Or anyone else to rely on. This isn't a narrative of "due to this traumatic event, we've managed to overcome our differences and become friends." Ohhhhh no.

Vince Brusio: The setting is 1958. Havana. Long before this country’s sexual revolution. Yet one of your main characters, Carole, is caught up in interracial love affair. So the reader’s thinking, ok, she lives on the razor’s edge. But then later in the story, when someone’s in trouble, she doesn’t appear to be so daring. She seems to be conflicted.  What other personal dramas should we pay attention to in this story?

Alex de Campi: Yeah, well, that's Carole. She needs to get out from under the thumb of Joe, her abusive White mobster boyfriend, so she can run off with Sugo, the Cuban guy she's having an affair with. Carole is one of these people who won't leave a guy until she has another guy to go to. And she isn't a hero. She's scared, and looking out for Number One only. She doesn't want to help Taffy or Ana when they get in trouble. Why should she? She has enough to deal with. She's one of those people who is very narcissistic, but also completely un-self-aware about it. 

Ana's love interests also play a role, both a past love with a tragic end, and a current would-be love. Ana is a single mom, and her young (7 year old) daughter Leonela plays a big part in the story. Don't judge Ana's life — she's not a single mom because she wanted to be. Things happened. Taffy doesn't have a love interest in the story. Taffy in my head is 100% lesbian, but there's no clue in the book of that — she doesn't really have time while she's stealing a whole bunch of money and running away from the mob to discuss her love life, y'know? And Kitty, of course, is in love with Marlon Brando. Kitty's another completely narcissistic, oblivious person. She's the kind of gal who, when she's talking to you, is always looking over your shoulder at who might be more advantageous / important to move on to. I sort of love Kitty for that, though. There's a little Kitty in all of us. Hopefully, we grow out of it. 

Vince Brusio: The supporting characters. Some of them are mob. Italian goodfellas. Put them in a police line-up, and tell us their angle. Why is Havana a target for their business? Is there any historical fact that you worked into the story to shore up how these wise guys operate?

Alex de Campi: The book is completely based in historical fact. El Colony, the resort on Isla de Pinos, really did open on New Year's Eve 1958 and all that happened there really did occur; there were six casinos around Havana and all were mob-run except the Trocadero and all the mob-run casinos suffered the fate of our fictional El Edén; all of it. All of it mostly happened as described. The casinos made a ton of money for the mob, and were useful for laundering funds. It's the same reason Vegas and Atlantic City were mob strongholds for years. They paid off Batista's government, and they got to do what they wanted. Batista's brother, IIRC, had the monopoly franchise for the slot machines ("traganickels") and so they were a particular target after the Revolution. I made up the plot, of course, but the settings and external events and places are all real. Even details like Taffy being carried in on a throne made of money, that was a thing that happened in a particular casino show in that era. 

Vince Brusio: Why do you think Victor Santos’ artwork is the right fit for this story? How does his style complement your vision? And was he left to himself to recreate the visuals for 1958 Cuba, or did you work with him in researching the imagery?

Alex de Campi: Victor has SO much style. He's a dream to work with, because my writing is very design-led, and he can take my ideas and really move them to the next level in terms of bringing sex, violence, and unforgettable visuals. I mean, I think I worked harder on the lettering than on any other book I've done, because Victor's art just was so perfect to work on in terms of graphic design. Most of the reference work he did, though for specific things I did send him some photos so he wouldn't have to spend important drawing time sifting through google. Mostly, though, I just trusted him. He knows what he's doing, so I let him do it. 

Vince Brusio:  To get a visual on how you went through the production of this book, did you complete it start-to-finish driving in one lane, or did you take any alternate routes? In other words, did the project evolve any during production? If Bad Girls had a “DVD Extras” section, and we could see the outtakes, what would we see that went on behind-the-scenes?

Alex de Campi: Once Victor was on board and did some sample art, Gallery 13 (Simon & Schuster) picked the book up very quickly — the editors there had been keeping tabs on its progress for a while. Then, once the book was at Gallery 13 and Victor was drawing, everything was incredibly smooth. The book did have some early dramas, in that a well-known artist had agreed to draw it when I first wrote it in 2014 (I think! Maybe it was earlier.) He then strung me along for a couple of years and I finally had to be like, "my friend, I need to release you from this book before it ruins our friendship." So it goes, though. That sort of thing happens all the time in comics. And of course it was frustrating at the time, but I've slowly learned that books find their own karma, and if it isn't working out with someone it's because the book is meant to be drawn by somebody else, and you just need to be calm, keep your eyes open, and wait for that to happen. 

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Vince Brusio writes about comics, and writes comics. He is the long-serving Editor of PREVIEWSworld.com, the creator of PUSSYCATS, and encourages everyone to keep the faith...and keep reading comics.

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