In the last couple of years James Tynion IV has become one of the most popular and in-demand writers in comics. I caught up with him at the 2015 Emerald City Comic-con and had the chance to talk with James about his new series UFOlogy along with The Woods and his DC work.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: Thank you for joining me, James, on the eve of a new series. How does it feel to be launching something new?
James Tynion IV: BOOM! has been such an incredible home for me these last few years. Though it’s has really just been one year of being published through them, I’ve been working with them behind the scenes now for a while.
People know my stuff mostly from my DC work on Batman. It’s so nice to have the counterbalance to be with a company like BOOM! that has so much youth and energy and really seems to be pushing forward with very different kinds of comics. It’s the perfect offset for my big two superhero work.
That’s why I want BOOM! to be my home for all of my creator-own projects for the foreseeable feature, which is why I brought UFOlogy to them. That’s why we got it up and running.
It’s a series I’m co-writing with one of my best friends, who I have done a little writing with before, Noah J. Yuenkel. He brings an extra bit of voice. He’s actually my best friend, so it’s also something where I want to strangle him half the time, but in a good way.
The book has an edge of a teenage X Files kind of thing. It’s about two young kids in the upper Midwest, one of whom has waited his entire life to be chosen, to be the person who is going to discover the truth behind everything out there in the stars. Then there’s a young woman who doesn’t want picked. She wants to stay in her small town. She just wants to become the sheriff like her dad or a doctor like her mom. She’s figuring all of that out, but she does not want to go out and conquer. She feels like she is defined by this small town life. Then ultimately she is the one who is chosen by forces beyond human understanding.
Malcolm is going to have to deal with the fact that he wasn’t chosen, but still with all of his knowledge, he’s the one who is going to be able to help her realize what she has to do and how to uncover the truth behind this whole big mystery around them.
CB: It’s interesting it’s not about the sci-fi as much as it’s about an interpersonal piece.
Tynion: In any of my stories that is something that is absolutely key. They are human stories and you throw fascinating trappings around them. Really the most important thing is the emotional journey between those two characters, and their journey to become a team and learning how to respect and rely on each other and in many cases, failing to do that. So it’s a personal story.
For a cinematic feel, the thing that Noah and I leaned on very much is sort of that classic Amblin feel, small town America, growing up and being in the midst of the big unknown. That is something we really wanted to get across here.
But also we wanted to go stranger with the science fiction, too. You aren’t going to see a gray alien in the same way we’ve seen a hundred aliens. Aliens need to be unknowable. We didn’t want to play with any of the tropes in such obvious ways; we wanted to reinvent and subvert them down to the people on earth who are aware of something going on and how they might stop it.
It’s a very different kind of antagonist than we’ve seen in a series like this. So it’s a book that I’m incredibly proud of and we have the immensely talented Matt Fox on art. This is his first published comic work, although the project that he’s been working on that ended up catching the attention of BOOM! is called The Long Walk to Valhalla and it comes out this summer from Archaia. But just because of the strange differences in publishing monthly comics and a big hardcover, our book is coming out first.
I can’t wait for that tome to come out this summer because it’s going to knock everyone away. I think Matt’s going to come onto the scene hard and fast. I’m just honored to be a part of his rise to power.
CB: You can work together and improve each other’s careers at the same time.
CB: The Woods has a lot of similar themes then to what you are talking with UFOlogy. Obviously both comics are about ordinary people being transported or having their lives changed by encountering a science fiction element to it. These are obviously themes that are very important to you that you are touching on in these stories.
Tynion: Yeah, and I’d say the real chord is that moment at the end of high school. It’s the moment when you feel like you have an understanding of who you are and what you are going to do in the world. But then when the world is thrust upon you or you thrust yourself upon the world, you realize you don’t actually have those tools. You are not as much of an adult as you thought you were and that in fact being an adult is understanding that there is no one moment where you feel like an adult; it’s more learning to accept the fact that you never have any idea what you are going to fucking do.
Learning how to deal with that and just be able to move forward, that is such a core part of growing up. Whether the metaphor is literally something coming down from the stars that you don’t understand or it’s walking out into a horrifying forest that something could kill you from any vantage point. It’s the metaphor of growing up.
CB: It’s not that different from signing your mortgage papers some day, right? I had no idea what I was signing then either.
Tynion: Yeah, exactly. And it’s a process that never ends. It’s just always going on.
CB: How do you approach creating these stories? Obviously with your DC work, you have a core of characters that you are able to work with. But these stories kind of come for you. How do you create these worlds? Do you start with the metaphor? Do you start with the characters?
Tynion: Really, with The Woods, that was something that I got a great piece of advice from Scott Snyder. I had started doing some superhero work and I knew I needed to get a creator-owned project out there because I needed readers to understand my personal voice. The thing is that in trying to get that voice across, I had no idea whether or not they would give me a chance to do something else.
When BOOM! first approached me, my first thought was, “Oh, I’ll come up with a cool little four issue mini-series or something like that.” But then Scott sat me down and was just like, “If you could only write one comic book for the rest of your life, like this is the comic you write month in and month out, what would that comic look like? What genre would it be? What would the cast of characters be?” Because for him, that’s American Vampire. That’s the series that ties into American history, horror, all of the elements that he loves playing with. And so I started looking at all of my interests, and it’s horror, it’s young adult fiction, It’s fantasy, It’s science fiction, and world building. Those are the things that I love doing.
Master manipulator kind of characters who think that they have everything under control who just don’t realize what actually wielding that control is. So it’s like what is the story there? What is the mystery?
I started building it from that because The Woods is my passion project. That’s the book that explores everything about me. If there is a single book that I would give to someone to just understand me as a person, The Woods is that series.
UFOlogy was a little different with the fact that it was a collaborative project. So I was talking with my friend, Noah, and we were throwing ideas back and forth. Honestly, we were kind of making fun of each other, playing a little game about, “Would this be a dumb idea? Would that be a dumb idea?” And then all of the sudden we stumbled on this thing and we started spitballing and then the whole process was there. And then we started pulling in the structure and the thematics and everything. And we realized we had this big story that we needed to tell.
CB: Are any of the kids in The Woods more or less like you?
Tynion: The characters in The Woods, that cast is very much me.
CB: Each one is different.
Tynion: They are different parts of my mind. So really writing that series is like me dealing with a weird bit of schizophrenia. It’s just all my different voices talking to each other. Like Adrian is my desire to take control. Karen is my fear that if I do take control, I’ll lose everything. Isaac is my depression. Ben is my dealing with my feeling like I’m physically inadequate. And Calder is my id and Sanami is just me wanting to yell at people sometimes. It’s like different elements of me.
They’ve grown from those little seeds that I planted at the beginning. But I knew I didn’t want to build a story based on archetypes that didn’t touch me. I wanted to pull my own archetypes, the different archetypal James’s that you might run into at a convention or something.
UFOlogy, it’s interesting because those two characters, Becky and Malcolm- Malcolm I think at his core is much more like me, but the way he expresses himself is very much how Noah expresses himself. And Beck at her core is very much Noah, but her personality is more my personality. They are both these weird hybrids of the two of us. So it’s like when the characters argue in the book, it’s the kind of the two of us having an argument.
CB: A little bit of them having a life of their own then.
CB: Do you feel that way as a writer?
Tynion: Absolutely. The Woods in particular, that series I’ve really seen… The story shifts as I keep moving forward. I have the plan all the way out through issue thirty-six. But all of a sudden I realized around writing issue seven that at the end of the issue twelve there was going to be this major twist – and it hasn’t come out yet, so I can’t spoil it- that I then had to restructure the entire second two years.
That change has made it a much more dynamic, interesting story. It’s what the story demanded and it’s what the characters demanded. When a story starts doing that, it’s when it comes to life; that is when it becomes something really special.
CB: It’s one thing to conceptualize, a whole other thing to actually be putting the words on the paper I can imagine.
Tynion: Right. Absolutely.
CB: And then seeing the feedback from your artists, too, I’m sure. Has that changed your directions in some ways also?
Tynion: Oh, absolutely. In any book, as you understand an artist’s strengths, you start playing towards them. With The Woods, I have an incredible partnership with Michael Dialynas. He’s just incredible. My scripts are becoming looser every single time I write them because I know when I leave it to him to take charge, it will be better than what I come up with.
I lay down the groundwork and then he builds on that ground work and makes it better. He’s the perfect partner for this project. And, you know, we are starting in on year two right now. The exciting thing is he is shaking up his art style a little bit. He is bring in ink watches, and it’s just beautiful seeing his work evolve. I think my work is evolving, too.
CB: That is the beauty of comics; it’s a kind of very intimate relationship you have with your artist, right?
Tynion: Yes, absolutely. And it’s a relationship.
You know, I had a friend who was having issues with his artist and I was sort of realizing at some point what they really need to do is go to couples therapy. They’re intimate relationships. You have to be open and honest and you have to be in it together. And when you find a partnership that works, there is nothing better than it. Michael is a real creative partner. And Matt is becoming a great partner as well.
CB: I can’t have you here without asking a little bit about your DC work. Do you have a certain issue or series that you particularly loved working on?
Tynion: The whole process of working on Batman Eternal was absolutely incredible. I thought it was going to destroy my life, but it was just phenomenal. It was amazing because there was no ego in that room. We were just telling a big story that we jst wanted to get to tell in the biggest possible way.
I’m really proud of a lot of my work there, and I love Gotham City, but I’m also really excited about the books that I’m going to be launching in June and July this year. I’m co-writing Constantine: The Hellblazer with Ming Doyle, with art by Riley Rossmo. That series is going to be something special.
CB: Riley is the perfect artist for that series. I can’t wait to see what that looks like.
Tynion: It has been a dream book of his for a while, so it’s up to us to make sure that we bring that dream to life and make it as hard edged and scary and contemporary as we can.
CB: Right, such a classic 1980’s, ’90s series, but it also has such an audience now, especially with the TV show. Does that present a whole different dimension to the character to you?
Tynion: Honestly, my core comes from the Hellblazer comics. It’s going back to John as he first showed up in comics because it was the danger of this attractive, young man entering a scenario. You have no idea how he knows all the things he knows. There is a danger to that that is just so vibrant and was just so fresh right from the get-go.
We wanted to bring him back to that kind of core. Because I think it’s easy to write him as a simplification of the archetype that he started to become. It’s more important to cut down to his core and represent that core in a contemporary light. Because what made John work is that he felt like a real human being from the modern era when he first stepped into that book.
CB: Oh, yeah. Well, he was based on Sting, who at the time was the biggest rock star in the world.
Tynion: Right, exactly. John needs that sexiness and danger to him. As the audience of a character ages, it’s like the character starts aging with them. That became something that was really cool with John, because he aged in real time in the Hellblazer series.
At the end of the day, when you have the opportunity to bring the character back to core, you don’t go back to the core of what he was in the late ’90s, early 2000s; you go back to the core of what he was in the late ’80s and early ’90s. That’s when he was the most vibrant, dangerously contemporary figure in the comics industry. That’s why he made such a big splash. That is something that we are really excited about.
CB: What’s the other DC book you are writing?
Tynion: It’s a book called Dark Universe that I can’t talk too much about right now, but the art on that series is by Ming Doyle. It’s about a young magician falling into the dangerous dark world of DC’s magical community. It’s the book where a lot of the core magical players are going to come in, but there is also going to be a lot of unexpected central figures in the story and playing off different parts of the DC mythos. Those two books are things I’m very, very excited about.
CB: What was the process for getting these books accepted? Did you have to pitch them or were you pitched the idea of writing them? How did that work out?
Tynion: I was asked if I had any interested in the sort of dark line of characters. I brought them what I was interested in and there was a lot of back and forth seeing what they were interested in. How can we create the books that everyone is going to love, including the creative team and editorial, everything?
Now we are at a point where we are moving forward and we have these really powerful stories. I could not be more excited.
CB: You are obviously excited about all four series that you are working on. It sounds like you’re really living your dream.
Tynion: I really am. It’s a pretty cool life.