In Part One of our interview with prolific writer Scott Snyder, we discussed the relaunch of Batman in DC Comics' status quo shake-up, the New 52. But Scott isn't finished revamping. This August, DC will publish Swamp Thing: Raise Them Bones, a fresh take that won over long-time fans and brought new readers to what was a lesser-known property. In this second part of our interview, Scott and I discuss the relaunch, collaborating with friend and fellow writer Jeff Lemire, American Vampire, and the creative benefit to taking a long road-trip.
Omnivoracious: For readers who may not be familiar with Swamp Thing, he's a character who previously existed outside of the DC Universe. Now, however, in the New 52, he's a part of the same world as the Justice League and other heroes. What does it mean for the character to be integrated in a more mainstream world?
Scott Snyder: I try not to think too much about where he's positioned. Instead, I'm excited that he's in this new renaissance at DC, where all these characters are being introduced to new readers who hadn't been reading comics or had lapsed from comics. The sheer number of new readers that are coming to [the New 52] is thrilling, because you hear how these readers go back to find the Alan Moore, the Bernie Wrightson and Len Wein Swamp Thing stories. That's what makes me want to write.
When I was younger, I used to trace the Bernie Wrightson drawings from Swamp Thing. I still have a lot of the Len Wein and Wrightson original issues at my folks' house, and the Moore issues as well. Those are my early favorites that got me into horror comics, and turning readers to those early stories while being able to bring Swamp Thing into the DCU is a huge thrill. It's been an honor to work on him, man. Behind Batman, he's my favorite character at DC. It's a labor of love, this one.
Omni: In the first collection, you touch on beats that are directly from Alan Moore's run, moments that no one has dared touch for years. What was your goal in returning to these stories?
Scott Snyder: The goal was to try to give new life to a character who made me want to be a part of the storytelling tradition and fall in love with comics. There's another goal, more from a pragmatic standpoint: to honor what came before and also do something new. It was not to try to re-envision the history of the character, to retell it or change it. Like with Batman, the story I wanted to do with Swamp Thing depended on that rich history of the character. There was a chance to start over and, for me that was antithetical to the story I wanted to tell, which was to touch on the stuff that Alan Moore did that was so inspiring to me, and the stuff that Len Wein did, and the stuff that Andy Diggle did, and Josh Dysart"”and all the writers who had previously worked on the book. That's the challenge of a character like Swamp Thing"”everyone who's written the character has had the chance to do something radically different with him. I had to do something that was entirely my own but at the same time depended and built on that history.
The story of how I got the book is funny, too. I was working on Detective [Comics], and it was right before the New 52 was announced. Geoff Johns called me up"”he was doing Brightest Day at the time"”and I didn't know him very well then. I was making dinner for my kids and wife, and I was like, "Oh. It's Geoff Johns. Honey, can you hold the spatula?" [Laughs] He said that he was bringing back Swamp Thing and heard that I was a fan of the character"”what was my take on him? I was scared to tell him my pitch of bringing Swamp Thing back as a human, but Geoff really liked it, and he was incredibly generous in setting me up to tell the story that I pitched.
Alec Holland, a character I've always loved"”because Swamp Thing, to me, is at its core about a monster wrestling with the notion that deep down he is human. In Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson's stories, it's about this man who's turned into a vegetable monster by an explosion.
Scott Snyder: But he always wants to go back and be human. He's desperate for this chance to return to his old life. And then Alan Moore switched him to this character who discovers he never was human; he's a copy of Alec Holland, made by the swamp and the Green. He's never entirely able to accept that and let go of his love for Abby or humanity. I wanted to flip all that and give Alec Holland a chance to be Alec Holland again. What he discovers or remembers in this primal way is that he was always destined to be Swamp Thing. It wasn't an accident. Even as a child, he had a connection to the whole mythology, to Abby, Arcane, the Green, to all the Swamp Things that came before. He was being groomed, and it's a destiny he's been running from his whole life.
Omni: You mentioned the "Green" and that's an element you've really brought forward so far. Plus, over on Animal Man, writer Jeff Lemire is writing about the "Red," which is very much tied to the Green. It seems like you two are building a dark corner for yourselves in the New 52. It has to be inevitable that these two books will meet or collide.
Scott Snyder: Jeff is one of my best friends in the world. I got off the phone with him about five minutes before you called. We were talking about kid stuff"”like his son and my son [laughs]. Outside of comics, he's one of my closest friends, and in comics he's my best friend. We became friendly right before we both started working for DC a couple years ago. I had already been a fan of his Essex County stuff and he'd read some of my stuff as well, so we bonded really quickly.
His sense of story, the way he builds a story, and the things he values in a story are all very similar to the way I do a story. We connected on a professional level as well as becoming friends. As we came up and I was offered Swamp Thing, he was offered Animal Man very soon after that. Immediately, we were like, "We have to do these books." He always loved Grant Morrison's Animal Man and I loved Swamp Thing, so we had to build this mythology together. The plan was to give our books a year apart, establish them as independent stories, where we could use our own voices"”and then at the end of that year we would bring our stories closer together for something big. So, it's been in the DNA of both series since the very beginning"”that we were going to crossover"”and I can't tell you how excited I am about our "Deadworld" [crossover].
With this and the Batman: Night of the Owls stuff, DC has been wonderful to me, to Jeff, and to other people in letting us crossover and build organically. Both of these stories were things that we decided on. It wasn't passed down in any way from above. We made a deal when we started our series that if we got to the end of our first year didn't feel like crossing over, we wouldn't. So, DC has been great about letting these stories come out of my relationships with other writers that I am comfortable with and am excited about sharing stuff with.
Omni: With Swamp Thing and your American Vampire series, horror is finally back in mainstream comics. This feels like a personal genre for you. Where did this fascination begin?
Scott Snyder: Yeah, I didn't think of myself that way until I got into comics, but when I look at a lot of my prose work it's pretty horror-driven [laughs]. My influences are so horror-heavy, like Stephen King, Peter Straub, George Romero. I was a huge horror movie buff growing up. Huge. I still am, but there was a video store near me when I was a kid called The Video Stop on 26th Street and 3rd Avenue in Manhattan, and they wouldn't rent R-rated movies to kids. But they would deliver them to your house [laughs]. So, I would call them up all the time and have them deliver, like, Sleepaway Camp II, Ghoulies, and Crittersand the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. I loved horror movies. I don't know if it was because I liked seeing the popular kids get killed [laughs], or if it was more that I enjoyed the idea that, if you are a more artsy or comic book kid growing up and you're as anxious as I was, your days can be nerve-wracking even when you're a happy kid. I wasn't an unhappy kid, but you enjoy being scared by these things that are completely fictional.
With my own stuff, I love taking characters and trying to figure out what their greatest fears are, especially with the licensed superhero characters, and then trying to bring those fears to life as a challenge for the characters. Even when these characters aren't fighting ghoulish monsters, it still feels like horror, I think, emotionally because they are facing things that are terrifying to them. It's more about the challenge than creating something that's gross or monstrous in some way that makes it "horror."
Omni: But you can write the monstrous stuff, too. In the latest American Vampire arc, for example, the characters are in World War II, and Henry receives a very interesting recruitment call"”that of a vampire hunter. Yet, he's married to a creature of the night. Why would he ever take this gig?
Scott Snyder: [Laughs] Yes, I know. It's kind of like this strange marital betrayal. That arc is one of my favorites that we've done and we'll pick up with those characters again fairly soon. The fun of American Vampire is trying to figure out where these characters will be"”emotionally"”in a certain decade instead of saying, "Hey what would be cool to show from the 1950s or 1960s?" Or, doing a story set in World War II because we feel like we have to. We're thinking about where in the 1940s will these characters be. Henry is a character that really struck me, because at this time he will be in his 40s, but his wife is a new species of vampire. She won't be aging, but he will.
All able-bodied men are fighting in World War II, and if Henry is rejected from that service, I feel like it would be a tremendous blow to him. I knew that was the story, and it became more about where to put him. How desperate would he get to try to prove that he was still alive? For him, it's a very difficult thing to swallow that he's been living in hiding with this woman, Pearl, for years. He's leading this small life, and yet everyone he knows is fighting this huge enemy. What he has to learn is that the life he was living does matter, it's of tremendous value, and I think he regrets leaving it to do this Guns of Navarone, crazy task of wiping out a new species of vampire. Plus, we got to pair it with the other miniseries with [artist] Sean Murphy, American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest [also included in the latest collection--ed.], which also takes place in World War II.
Omni: Amidst all of these huge books, there's another one from you that's creeping under the radar. You did a book called Severed with Image Comics and it's recently been collected, but I'm not sure if a lot of your fans have heard of it just yet. What's this one about?
Scott Snyder: That was a book I did with my friend Scott Tuft, who's a filmmaker. We've been friends since we were like 13 and he had blue hair and liked The Smiths and The Cure, and I was a comic geek. We bonded over renting these terrible horror movies, like Rabid Gannies and Faces of Death [laughs]. For a long time, we made a tradition of taking a road-trip together as best friends in the summers.
For both of us, the idea of going on the road is a very powerful concept and it's one where we discovered things that we wanted to write about. We've done stories together before [in] screenplays for fun, and this was really about creating a story for both of us that taps into what's essential in the material that we like to write about.
Severed is about a period in American history where the road is brand new. Being able to travel and reinvent yourself"”the sense of a landscape opening up and remote corners of the country suddenly being available to you. What if we told a story about a character that represented all the wonder and naivetÃ© of that time"”[that's] our young protagonist Jack, who runs away to find his father. Conversely, there's a character who represents all of the worst things, the nightmare of that time; a predator who changes his identity constantly. That's where the idea came from, and I'm really proud of it. You know, it is a smaller and different kind of book, another real labor of love, and I'm happy people have responded so positively towards it.