Writer James Tynion IV is a former student of comics superstar Scott Snyder who has become a rising star himself. He has worked and DC Comics on series like Talon and Batman Eternal, and just launched his first creator-owned comic The Woods at BOOM! Studios this summer. Comics Bulletin writer had an opportunity to sit down with James at San Diego Comic Con to discuss his work on The Woods and what makes it unique.
CB: The Woods represents a lot of firsts for you. It's your first big creator-owned series and first work outside of DC Comics.
Tynion: I had a few small things with Thrillbent online, but in terms of print-and-publish work, that’s correct.
CB: It being your first print-and-publish work outside of DC and also first printed creator-owned work, what made BOOM! Studios the right fit?
Tynion: I really feel like BOOM! is having a moment right now. They seem to be aggressively pursuing the future of the industry. They're so much more willing to experiment, to do very strange projects with very diverse styles. When they started approaching me to join up and start writing for them, I was just excited by what BOOM! is doing as a comics fans, and this is the place I want to be a part of. Just talking to the staff there about everything that they want to do and what they're trying to accomplish, they have the same big dreams for the industry I do, and that's it. That's the big thing that's making me want to do this.
CB: That actually reminds me of the exact same thing (George) Perez told me earlier in the year when I was talking to him. It made him excited as a comics fan. Your collaborator on the series is Michael Dialynas. He's been providing outstanding work for The Woods. His ability to craft visuals and design the flora and fauna and also provide an eerie atmosphere is very impressive. How did you two decide to work together?
Tynion: We were actually connected through BOOM! BOOM! was trying to find an artist who really had the right voice for this series. We were looking at a bunch of people, but when I saw Michael's character work, it made me see the characters. They were the characters in my head, and they had come to life in a way that was wholly them, and in that moment, it was a no brainer: “We need Michael. We need Michael on this project right now.” It's just been an absolute pleasure working with him. Once a week we have our little Skype sessions where we talk about life, the universe, and everything.
CB: When working you say you have Skype sessions. Is your scripting process normally full script, or do you bounce ideas off each other first?
Tynion: I go with full script because the thing with The Woods is that I have a full plan with everything. But there are lots of little pieces that changed especially through talking with Michael. I've talked with everything through the end of the first year with him, and he's given me lots of really cool things to think about. Like with the flora and fauna, he's had so many ideas that completely change the way I think about how this alien world works, and that's just made it so much richer. I'd be nowhere without Michael. Michael is incredible.
CB: As far as the character designs go, I like the character designs in the book a lot, both from the writing and the art perspective. You said they're very distinctive. During your marketing campaign, you had those cards with “The Geek”, “The Wallflower”, and because they're so distinctive it's easy to recognize who's on the page at all times. How did you develop the characters from these clichés to the full personalities that are starting to come out in the second and third issues? And how did you design them visually? Did you leave that to Michael or did you have specific ideas as to how each person would appear?
Tynion: I had some specific ideas. Some of them were more general than others. But Calder in particular I had an image of what he should look like, and I'm really happy with how he's turned out. But how I came up with all these characters, honestly, they're all me. They're all different aspects of my personality. I have friends who make fun of me saying this is some kind of therapy where I have all of these versions of myself arguing with each other on a page. I was trying to find the different pieces that; A. would play off of each other and B. I didn't want to do anything typical. I didn't want to create something that we've seen a hundred times before. I wanted all of these characters to be strange and different, and even when they seem to skewing towards an archetype, I want to throw a weird wrench into that of something totally unexpected. There will be more of those wrenches coming as everyone learns more about all of these characters.
CB: One thing that I enjoy about the characters and that intrigues me going into the future of the book is that you start off with a core cast of about ten to twelve people, but you also have a school with about five hundred kids in it. Are there plans to keep growing that cast as the story goes along?
Tynion: That's a hard question to answer, but yes. But maybe not in ways that you would expect. Hopefully not in ways that you would expect.
CB: You said the story's very personal. One thing I've found very interesting is that I've been reading through it on a more social level, and that I see a lot of themes of a post-9/11 society reflected in the work. Are there certain observations of the world that you're trying to work in there?
Tynion: There are elements of that, but that was never the goal of what I was setting out to do. But coming of age after 9/11 shapes everything in my life and all of that. That is how I view the world. I absolutely believe that is in there wholeheartedly but it's not intended. It's a happy after-effect.
CB: One thing that strikes me just after reading issue #3 is the high security state of the school, and the commentary there of “There's a clear and present danger, but what's being done is dangerous in and of itself” and it questions the balance of that.
Tynion: That's definitely there. I honestly hadn't thought of it in those terms before, though. That's a really, really interesting point. You're totally right! It's just I hadn't consciously been like “Ooh, I'm doing this!”
CB: So one of the things I really like is that the story is split between two paths. You're following the kids in the woods and the kids in the school as two different tales. Scripting that, are you looking at it as an A and a B story? How are you designing those stories, as they develop?
Tynion: The one thing I will say is that people should not get too comfortable with the format because I am like “I'm going to do something totally different” because it's more interesting to do something totally different. The way the stories are structured are going to change starting with issue #5, and then they're going to change again with issue #9 and again and again and again. I like shaking things up. But yes, with the first four issues, the A story is definitely the story that's happening in the woods and the B story is what's happening in the school. And the kids out in the forest, those are the main characters of the series. What's happening in the school is very important to what's going to happen in the series, but they're going to go down a very different path.
CB: Listening to you talk about it, it seems like you have a very clear plan in mind. You're listing issue numbers of when things change. Is there a clear endpoint? Do you have this planned out and know where it's all going?
CB: Even down to issue number, or are you flexible in terms of how long you think it may run?
Tynion: I mean it's… I know I need to be flexible but I see it roughly as three books, each book being one year. I say “issue #36” so, knock on wood that, I hope we get to issue #36. Based on the response to the series so far and the fact that I'm determined to finish this story and if people are interested in following me down that road I hope they want to see it end as well, because the ending is so… I like escalation. I like radical escalation. The ending will blow your mind. But it's two years away.
CB: Well I look forward to seeing it in two years. One last question; you've spoken a lot about trying something different, and one thing I like about The Woods is that it does feel very different. Despite the initial elevator pitch being of teenagers put in a desperate situation where they're going to die and be put in lots of trouble. You see that sort of story archetype a lot, you see things like Hunger Games and Battle Royale recently, then all the way back to Lord of the Flies. What attracted you as a writer to that age group and putting adolescents in that sort of situation? Because it seems like it's something that's popular in fiction, but gets used in a wide array of different stories.
Tynion: I think everyone just has weird shit that they went through in high school that they're not remotely over on any emotional level. I know I do. That's why when you're a teenager, everything feels like it's life or death. When you take that and you escalate it to actual life or death situations, it makes everything even bigger and more potent. That's why teen fiction has that extra glow to it. That's what's special about it. And it's why we all gravitate towards it. That's why teenage characters have always sort of been the archetypal heroes, because it's when you figure out who you are and how to be the person you're going to be for the rest of your life. That's the turning point. And the secret is that you just sort of realize that there isn't a graduation ceremony where suddenly you're an adult. You're just always going to be not really entirely sure of what you are, but once you accept that and make peace with that, that's the moment that you're an adult.
CB: And I imagine over the next couple of years we're going to see these kids grow a lot and learn a lot about themselves, and do the same.