Comics Features

INTERVIEW: Josh Dahl, Creator of Rapid City Below Zero!

Written by Tommy Partl

Villains, revenge, and unhappy endings. Rapid City Below Zero isn’t your average comic about superpowers. Here, people live in a tough world where easy decisions aren’t easy to come by. Written by Josh Dahl, with art by Shawn Langley, Rapid City Below Zero brings a fresh perspective to villains and superpowered characters.

We had a chat with Josh to learn more about the latest issue of Rapid City Below Zero, and their Kickstarter for it. Their modest goal will go towards funding the creators and publishing a 100-issue run of issue #4. Their Kickstarter rewards include past issues, getting to name characters, and even getting a sneak peek at their creative process.

AP2HYC: For new readers, what’s Rapid City Below Zero all about?

Dahl: Rapid City Below Zero is about a super villain named Icicle. She gets double crossed and betrayed on a job, and the rest of the series is about her revenge.

AP2HYC: What attracted you to writing about supervillains and revenge?

Dahl: Revenge feels good. We think that it is good, but it isn’t. It’s bad. But it’s a kind of bad we can cheer for, even when good guys are doing it. Some part of you knows that the right thing to do is to forgive. That little conflict… you know it’s wrong, but it feels right enough. That makes it compelling. Same with the bad guys. I love it when simple-seeming characters are complex, and when complex-seeming characters are simple.

AP2HYC: What sets the comic’s characters apart from typical supervillains?

Dahl: My characters are people with super powers who never learned how to get through life without hurting people. They aren’t maniacal mad-men or tortured super-geniuses. Make no mistake, I love bad guys with convoluted master-plans and armies of uniformed goons.  In fact, those kinds of bad guys are probably “out there” somewhere in Rapid City… you just won’t see them on the pages of Rapid City Below Zero.

AP2HYC: Since your main characters are all villains, do you feel more freedom writing for them since they don’t have to abide by the law or a strict code-of-honor?

Dahl: I guess not. No matter who I am writing, I ask, “What would THIS person do under THESE circumstance?” For some characters, those circumstances include legality. For others, the only considerations are, “What do I want?” and “How do I stay out of jail?”

AP2HYC: What comics influenced you while making Rapid City?

Dahl: Oh, lots. Lots and lots. Off the top of my head, I would say Sleeper and Scalped.

AP2HYC: How has your work in Boston’s juvenile justice system influenced Rapid City?

Dahl: Yeah. That is one of the origins of this project. A lot of the kids I work with have had hard lives and made what most of us would see as bad decisions. But to them, these are the only decisions that make sense. That is everybody in Rapid City. 

AP2HYC: Shawn Langley creates gripping black and white art for the comic. As the writer, what’s the creative process like between you and him?

Dahl: My scripts for this book were all written before Shawn came on board. So, we don’t really have collaboration at that stage. For me, the collaboration is drawing Shawn into the emotional beats of each scene and making sure he finds the stuff that is fun to draw. 

AP2HYC: One of the Kickstarter’s rewards is access to your Rapid City Open Studio Facebook group, where they get to watch the comic being made live. How has sharing your creative process affected your relationship with readers?

Dahl: Well, people love it when they see it. Basically, Shawn and I use a Facebook group to do all our collaboration. Everyone can watch us work on the book. Shawn posts his sketches and pages, and I make my notes and demand changes. It can get a little stressful, but it is a lot of fun. But, because production has been slow it is hard to hold that engagement. I am hoping that the pressure and exclusivity of the new Open Studio will really fire up that interest. For the course of this issue, the Open Studio is now The Exclusive Studio and is only available to Kickstarter backers.

AP2HYC: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned while creating comics?

Dahl: That the biggest barrier to making comics is making comics. Lots of people talk about making comics, and wanting to make comics, but few actually do it.

AP2HYC: Without giving too much away, what can we expect from future Rapid City Below Zero issues?

Dahl: I was joking the other day about making a Rapid City themed version of those “It Gets Better videos.” Only, in Rapid City it would be, “It Gets Worse.” Things get bad, and then bad people make bad decisions, and SURPRISE, things get worse. I hope people like that!

Rapid City Below Zero Issues #1-3 are available now at local comic shops, Big Cartel, and Comixology. Alternatively, you can also get copies by donating to the Kickstarter for Issue #4. You can find even more info at belowzerocomic.com.

Help Josh and the rest of the Rapid City team bring their world of villains, revenge, and progressively bad situations to life, and get to see how an indie comics gets from the creator’s heads to the comic book shop shelves. Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!

About the author

Tommy Partl