Interview

Interview

Exclusive: Writers Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire Talk 'Swamp Thing', 'Animal Man' and 'Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.'

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Seeing as how horror has long been an integral part of DC Comics, it's only fitting that the company's darker characters play a role in its massive new reboot (collectively dubbed "The New 52"). Two of the new macabre titles (Animal Man and Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.) are penned by writer Jeff Lemire (whose Sweet Tooth was a hit with fans and critics); while a third, the new Swamp Thing, is helmed by Scott Snyder, who's no stranger to the genre having co-written the Harvey and Eisner Award-winning American Vampire with Stephen King. I sat down with both Lemire and Snyder recently and asked them about their plans for their new books, the first issues of which -- along with those of the rest of The New 52 -- just sold out and received second printings. Find out what they had to say after the jump.

Swamp Thing and Animal Man are now DC titles, as opposed to Vertigo books. How tricky is it to integrate them into that larger realm while still crafting your own personal stories?

Snyder: The only way for me to approach that is to bring everything I love about the character to the page to hopefully get other people to like him as much as I do. I wasn't too concerned with trying to do anything that I thought was inorganic to the story I wanted to tell to try and bring people in. Because I was hoping that the story, which to me really built on everything that was already there for Swamp Thing – but hopefully distilled it in a way that was understandable and acceptable for people who haven't been reading the book – in a story that is about all the things that I love about that character, about the inner struggle that Alec Holland has with monsters that are his own demons, this legacy of Swamp Thing and this notion that he's somebody who might be destined to be this monster in ways that he doesn't want to admit. So in way I'm really hoping that the strength of the story will really pull people in rather than trying to do anything that changes the character in a way that makes him more accessible. To me he's accessible just because he's such a rich, engaging figure from the start. For me, Swamp Thing is a character that… since I started at DC, I thought it would be a dream come true to work on it. He's one of my two favorite characters in the DC Universe – Batman being the other one. So I feel like I must have sold my soul to the Devil in a past life to get to work on these two.  But the truth is, for Swamp Thing, the way to make him successful in my opinion is to really just bring all the great things about the character that have been there in the past to the page, in a way that puts him right there from the start so that other people can get as excited about the character as I have been.

Lemire: For me, in terms of Animal Man, it was a little bit more challenging. Because most people just remember the Grant Morrison stuff, which I guess technically wasn't Vertigo yet. I love the Jamie Delano stuff that came afterwards, and I thought it was loaded with some really interesting ideas that could be explored more. He did some really good stuff that I thought had some a lot of potential. But if I stuck to the entire Vertigo continuity, and took all ninety issues that Grant Morrison and Jamie Delano and Pete Milligan did, that sort of canon, there's all kinds of contradictions about his origin, which just wouldn't make sense anymore and would be completely inaccessible. My approach was just to make the Grant Morrison stuff canon, and this is sort of like the next chapter after that. But some of the stuff that Jamie Delano did I really liked, so I want to start reintroducing some of those concepts again to a new audience, in maybe a slightly more accessible way. His stuff was kind of esoteric and strange. I liked it, but I don't know that it would really work with the DC Universe. So there were some specific decisions I had to make in terms of what I would and wouldn't keep.

Scott, was there a similar period in Swamp Thing's history that you considered to be canon? Or did you find yourself drawing from different periods?

Snyder: Well there are stories that I like more than others from the past. But I tried to keep pretty much almost everything canon that was there. Just because the stories sort of built one upon the other. I guess there have been radically different interpretations of Swamp Thing, but we tried to keep it relatively streamlined. So for me it really was about picking the things I loved the most and bringing them up to the front of the story, as opposed to needing to change things from the canon. There are things that I'm focusing on a lot more than others. My favorite stories with him have always been the earlier ones, with Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, and then the first couple of volumes of the Alan Moore. That's where it really is focused on this man, who at first thinks he's still Alec Holland, and he's struggling with being changed into this monster, and longing to go back to where he was and become human. Then in the Moore, struggling with the loss of that humanity in some ways, and coming to terms with being a monster, but he' s never really able to give up the vestiges of the personality of Alec Holland. Which is what makes him really compelling. So the stories that focus more on that, those volumes. And in a lot of ways I always liked the Andy Diggle stuff that came later too, where they're kind of reducing him back to Swamp Thing as just a creature who's a man underneath. Those were the stories that I tried to build on the most. But in terms of things that we needed to change, it wasn't as tricky a situation as Animal Man.

Lemire: Putting the characters back in the DC Universe for me wasn't really as much of a challenge, because most of the characters started there. Their roots were there anyway. So it's not a hard thing to go back and pretend that they were always there.         

Snyder: One of my favorite Swamp Thing stories is where the authorities are holding Abby because someone took pictures of her with Swamp Thing, and they think it's this abomination… [Laughs.] But you're right, they're both really rooted in the DC Universe, so that part of it wasn't a really big challenge.

Lemire: Batman's been a part of the Swamp Thing stories right from the Len Wein years. The same with Animal Man – he was in the Justice League and stuff. He was always of that universe too. It was fairly easy to make decisions that way. And to bring it back to DC just seemed kind of natural.

Jeff, can you briefly describe the premise of Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.?

Lemire: Sure, it's Frankenstein as a super soldier for the government. There's a top-secret mad science division, and he's basically the field operative. The way I'm approaching the character is that he's completely humorless and an unstoppable killing machine, but in his heart he's a really gentle, romantic Victorian character. He kind of longs to be at peace and to stop fighting, but something's driving him to protect mankind from all the characters that it can't face itself. That's the concept.

You've tackled the book's title character before, but now you're digging deeper into the toy box. Can you talk about the blending of genres and the inspiration behind it?

Lemire: Yeah, I mean it's part of the Dark line, but for me, I'm not really approaching it as a horror book, the way that Animal Man is definitely a horror book. Frankenstein, even though it has these classic characters in it, it's much more of a sci-fi adventure book. It's a lot more fun. I guess I just want to do something that captures the energy of Jack Kirby at DC, where it had a lot of big ideas and was just fun. Because Animal Man is such a slow, tense emotional story, I wanted to do a book that was almost the opposite, where it was just big and fun. Really it was just a mash-up of all the different genres in every issue, and it keeps moving really fast. That was my intent with that book.

Snyder: It's so packed with ideas. Every page has great ideas.

Lemire: The whole idea of mad science suddenly funded by taxpayers is kind of fun. You take all these clichés of comic-book agencies and you just kind of twist them inside out and make them look as absurd as possible. [Laughs.]

I like the idea of having Father Time as a small girl in your first issue.

Lemire: I can't take credit for that. That was Bob Harras' idea actually. [Laughs.] For whatever reason, Bob suggested a schoolgirl. I don't know what Bob's thing is with that. You'll have to ask him.

Snyder: I thought that was Jeff's brilliant idea. [Laughs.]

Lemire: No. The whole thing with that character is that Father Time needs to regenerate a new body every once in a while, so he can look like anything. I think it's pretty funny to have him as a little girl.

Can you guys comment on how you're plotting the books? Will they have six or twelve-issue story arcs?

Lemire: For Frankenstein, I just try to do really short fun storylines, like two or three issues long. Then in between are solo adventures of Frankenstein at different points in the twentieth century to kind of slowly reveal his past. That's how I'm approaching that book. I have about a year, maybe a little bit more, plotted out at this point. Scott and I have some pretty ambitious plans for Animal Man and Swamp Thing.

Snyder: Yeah, that's been one of the fun things.  Jeff and I have been sharing scripts since we both started at DC, so getting to work on characters that have a shared neighborhood in some ways, with shared enemies and forces that they deal with, has been a real pleasure. So for Swamp Thing… We both approach a story very similarly. I'm writing Swamp Thing as though if I never got to write it again, this would be my big Swamp Thing story. It's like a ten-issue story that deals with Alec struggling with this notion that he's come back human, and he just wants to forget about everything that he experienced as Swamp Thing, even though he never was Swamp Thing, but he remembers everything that happened from continuity when he was joined to the Green. So he tries to sort of move away from the legacy of Swamp Thing and just get on with his life. What he slowly starts to realize when bad things start to happen and characters from the Swamp Thing mythology are reintroduced, is that maybe there's a reason why he was chosen to be Swamp Thing in the first place. Maybe the accident that supposedly made him into the Swamp Thing, or replicated him into the Swamp Thing, actually stopped him from becoming the Swamp Thing he was supposed to be, because he died before he could be. In that way, there's a destiny waiting for him that he never experienced as Swamp Thing, and maybe there's a mythology that sort of ties all the characters that have been Swamp Thing in the past, that make up the Parliament of Trees, to Alec. And an opposing force in some way that is the enemy we've never seen Swamp Thing face, that he basically is born to fight from the beginning. In that way, it really is a big ambitious story about Alec Holland as someone who's basically a lynchpin or a keystone to the entire Swamp Thing saga. Him being brought back human, this is kind of the moment the story has been building to. That's the way I'm trying to approach it. It's a lot of fun. There's lots of monsters and gore. But it's a very personal story about this guy who doesn't want to admit that there's really something monstrous about him, both in his past and in his future as well. That's the scope of it. It's about ten issues. And Jeff and I have been talking about places we could tie in from the beginning. The characters are linked, and we've always wanted to do stuff together, so we have big things planned for after that as well.

Lemire: All the stuff Scott is talking about with Alec is very closely linked to the Baker family as well, because the Red and the Green are so closely linked. So in many ways, both of our stories, even though they're kind of separate for the first ten issues or so, are actually kind of part of a bigger story. That will come together at the end of the first year and then spin off into something new with both books linked again. We're super excited about that.             

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