CB: I’m here at Emerald City Comicon 2016 with Simon Spurrier. Tell me about Weavers, your new series from BOOM!
Simon Spurrier: It’s worth saying the sort of stuff I tend to write is the sort of stuff that one really struggles to do an animated picture. I don’t really adhere to genre really well. I have theories. I don’t think genres is a particularly sensible way of approaching stories. But in this one case at last, I can give an elevator pitch.
The Weavers is what would happen if H.P. Lovecraft was given the opportunity to write a season of the The Wire. It’s a crime organization and the association between criminal enterprise and business seen through the eyes of a loser, a punk nobody who swallows a psychedelic spider, develops incredible powers, and finds himself dragged into this organization.
It arose from me just thinking about superheroes and some of their powers in general. It struck me that for all of the various deconstructions and different ways of looking at it that have gone before, nobody has ever tweaked it so that the association between developing powers is no longer with making moral decisions (choosing to become a good person or a bad person). It’s not about that; it’s about loyalty.
Weavers is a story where with great power there’s no law, no moral objective, no adherence to justice. All that there is, is loyalty to the other people who are already have superpowers. The only structure, the only paradigm which exists in the real world which mirrors that, is a criminal organization. That’s the story.
CB: It really has a mafia feel, this whole supernatural element on top of crime families. I want to say it’s unique, but it also what I expect from you.
Spurrier: I’m big fan of H.P. Lovecraft. I love that disturbing reality of the stuff which festers just below the surface. It’s important that there’s enough of the real in the story that it feels recognizable. It feels like you can relate to this guy because he’s just a nobody. He’s a mess.
Then you start feeling he’s genuinely open and frequently very grotesque. Because you think about it. If somebody did develop extraordinary physical powers, it would be quite gross. It would be quite scary.
My artist (I’m very lucky), Dylan Burnett, is incredible. He’s really into that. The central superpower (and I hate that term, but for want of a better phrase) that our main character Sid manifests was called the flesh growth originally. It was supposed to be that the palms of his hands kind of peel open like the petals of a flower. He’s able to shoot bolts of energy from his hands.
Dylan has leaned into it. It’s become this riving mass of tentacles of sort of shrinking demon type of thing. Oh, it’s amazing.
CB: It’s so disturbing because it also is so noir. One thing I want to ask was you’re clearly playing with the classic clichés, Is that part of the design, too, to give people something familiar?
Spurrier: Yeah, a little bit. Actually it wasn’t until we started developing this and the first issue was all plotted that we realized there’s one way of pitching it and it’s sort the way we would choose to be our principal pitch. But you could legitimately get away with saying it’s a subversion of the Peter Parker story basically.
It’s about what happens when a kid suddenly, unexpectedly comes into the proximate of power. What does he do? This is the story of what happens when he goes in the wrong direction and he gets sucked into a completely selfish world rather than a world of selfless heroism.
The internal conflict in readers is just as important as all of the various, say, external stuff going on. Our central character, as I say, is a nobody. He’s an everyman. But he also has, as we all do, his own desires, mysteries, and secrets. He wants to pursue those. When he comes into the inheritance of this strange power, he wants to look after his own ends. He wants to chase his own motives.
The spider inside of him is the seat of his power, and it manifests increasingly throughout the series. It’s this whispering voice which tells him how to behave and makes him feel pain when he does things that it doesn’t want him to do. Increasingly the story is about him externally working his way through the company, confronting the enemies of the clan, and all of this stuff, but also wrestling internally with this alien motive that’s trying to make a loyal member of the organization.
CB: Then it becomes very symbolic, too. He’s truly wrestling with the dual nature of himself.
Spurrier: There’s a lot of ominous stuff.
CB: That goes back to Shakespeare.
Spurrier: Oh, yes! There’s layers and layers and layers of stuff. And that’s often the case with things I write. Hopefully all of this stuff is buried with enough care and nuance that it doesn’t get in the way. It feels like a fun story about a kid with tentacles instead of fingers who becomes a member of a really, really nasty organization and has to work out what he’s going to do about it.
CB: How do you make a book like this stand out? How do you get people to pay attention to it?
Spurrier: I’m very lucky in that BOOM! is very good at doing just that.
For instance, when we first announced Weavers, we did it without the title. It was the central cover, the main cover, which is a shot of our central character Sid with this spider logo hanging about his head. We knew people were going to go, “Simon Spurrier is doing a Spider-Man book? This looks interesting.” People sit up and pay attention.
That was never something we planned beforehand. It’s not like we set out to do a subversion of the Spider-Man story. It felt like something we could play with when it was all in place. But otherwise it’s just a case of making people acknowledge that it’s beautiful, with such great artwork. Dylan is going to be such a big talent.
Actually it’s worth saying, the colorist Triona Farrell has taken something that was already exquisite and made it so unique. The city is this acid tone, bleak place. It’s extraordinary. It’s about making sure everybody knows this looks like nothing else. It deals with familiar questions about power and youth versus responsibility in completely new ways. It’s awesome. It’s really awesome.
CB: If you want blood and guts, I’m looking at a page right here where a man literally gets eviscerated. But there’s also an interesting metatextual mystery to it.
Spurrier: Yeah. There’s a double-page spread in the first issue which is two pages of repeat panels of a woman on her phone having a conversation with somebody you can’t see. You can do that sort of experimental stuff when you’re dealing with a company like BOOM! who wants to push it and play with new things.
Yeah, there’s all of this stuff that we will be putting at the top of the column. It’s action and violence and amazing pictures. But it also a story about a bunch of really interesting characters interacting.
CB: Do you feel like your biggest motivation is the characters or the storytelling? What gets you up in the morning ultimately.
Spurrier: Everything. I could bore you, honestly. I have theories about reality to do with story. I think story is the most fundamental mental technology there is. Without the idea, without the concept of story and specifically without the concept of endings, we don’t understand how the universe works. We just can’t. Our brains are fundamentally attuned to the idea of nuggets of information with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
That’s a given as far as I’m concerned. It follows that I, as you will gather, approach things in a quite analytical way to start with. I say, “Alright, I’m going to deconstruct the idea of superpower. I’m going to do it in a new way. I’m going to play with power structures. It makes sense for the central story to be about this, this, this.” You work your way through logically.
Then you go, “Alright, let’s have a think about how everybody would feel in this situation.” Of course you have to rewrite everything because people don’t behave the way they would if there were no emotions involved. It’s a little bit of everything. That’s the short answer. I start with the logic and then pour it into chaos and mix it up with entropy and emotion and all of the rest of it.
CB: What you’re talking about is a very gestalt a thing, where you’re pulling all of these different pieces.
Spurrier: Yeah, I think you have to approach story from a holistic perspective. Otherwise it feels cold or it feels uncontrolled. You want it to be both. You want it to be a satisfying story that has a calculated resolution. But you also want it to feel like a resolution which occurs naturally, which the characters discover rather than they just…
I can’t tell you how many big TV shows I watch these days where supposedly smart characters behave out of character or do stupid things because the script told them to.
CB: Because you have the plot points you have to hit. You have to have the end of episode big moment.
Spurrier: Exactly. That’s fine. I understand why it happens, but it’s bad writing because you should be able to explore and hit those beats in a way which makes it honest. The characters have to behave how the characters have to behave, which means irrationally and angrily and with beauty and love and all of the things you would never expect in a book about superpower gangster.
CB: I think honest is the word I might use for writing. It’s not a word I expected to use. It feels like you’re producing these works that are really representative of the way you view the world.
Spurrier: Yeah, and you have to. I know sometimes I lean too far into it. Sometimes I come across like I’m preaching to people. That’s a risk. That is not what happens in Weavers because when you start with (and this becomes more and more apparent as the series progresses) a character who is literally nobody… We find out about Sid’s background, his past, as we go on and he’s literally nobody.
When that is your opening gambit, you can’t help but be honest about the stuff that surrounds your central character because he’s seeing it all with completely unclouded eyes. That’s beautiful. That’s a nice way of exploring any structure. It means I can say this is a weird world that is unlike anything. But it doesn’t feel anymore overwhelming than it does for the central character. You’re thematically relating to him.
CB: One of the reasons I love doing interviews (I’ve done hundreds of interviews at this point) is because I think it’s very interesting to see how different people approach their work in different ways. For example, I talked to Chris Claremont. With Claremont, everything begins with character. Everything builds from there. All of the events are all, for him, about illustrating character.
I spoke to James Tynion last year at this convention. For him, it’s much more about having this large story he likes to explore. He likes to play with these ideas. For each of the writers, it also is very clearly their own approach to the world.
Spurrier: It’s a whole different emphasis.
CB: As I write my own fiction, it’s my own particular emphasis on the world. To me, it’s about emotion and connection and trying to create something that’s very uniquely based on character. I find it interesting that for each person, they have their own very specific thing. In a way, it’s the beauty of storytelling that everyone brings their own.
Spurrier: Absolutely. I’ll do you one better. The privilege of being a writer is that you can be working on multiple things at the same time, which means one approach to a story over here, you might have a very different approach to a different story over here.
At the present time, I’m writing Weavers, which is, as we’ve discussed, a holistic mass of plot and character and theme. I’m writing Cry Havoc for Image, which is far more about exploring a very, very recursive experimental story. And, yes, there’s character and there’s all the wonderful sense. But that very much started from the position of, “I’m going to explore a story. This is a plot.”
Then I do Dr. Who with Titan, which is all about going, “Okay, here’s this incredible character. Set him loose and see what happens.” It’s wonderful to be able to change your own approach to each of these different things that you’re working on.
CB: Two different writing muscles.
Spurrier: Yeah, exactly.
CB: Do you approach your creator-owned stuff differently than work for hire? I guess there’s a lot less leeway with doing a Dr. Who comic.
Spurrier: Yes and no. It’s like function follows form when it comes to a lot of these comics. When you’re writing a character with whom you’re familiar and you know the readers are familiar, you don’t have to go through the paces establishing a world. You don’t have to spend real estate establishing stuff. You go, “This is going to be a pure expression of my affection in an established world.”
CB: You have the good faith of the people with the character, right.
Spurrier: Whereas if you’re doing creator-owned, there’s often an awful lot of subtle world building that has to be implied. That’s wonderful. I love doing that stuff.
For instance, Cry Havoc, the reason that I’m so proud of Cry Havoc, the reason that people seem to be responding so strongly to Cry Havoc is that it’s an exploration of a plot, a story. It’s the most carefully, elaborately, and experimentally plotted book I’ve ever done. But because I spent so long thinking about it before committing anything to paper, it tallies perfectly with the needs of the themes and the needs of the characters in a way that I hope doesn’t make it feel like some chilly experiment. It makes it feel like a wonderful story, which is being told in the only way that it can be told, even though that is a completely batshit way of telling a story.
CB: I have to say I haven’t read any of that. It sounds like something I would really enjoy.
Spurrier: I think you would.
CB: I enjoy most of your writing.
Spurrier: The elevator pitch for Cry Havoc was it’s not about a lesbian werewolf who goes to war, except it sort of is.
It’s the story of one woman who gets infected by occult chaos and winds up in Afghanistan with a group of mercenaries. It’s bizarre. The only way that we could tell this story is by chopping her life into three stages: the beginning in London, the middle in Afghanistan, and the end when she is a captive in some strange place. Then telling them side by side. They aren’t told one after another. They‘re told in parallel. It’s weirdly effective. It’s amazingly difficult to write, but everybody who has read it loves it.
CB: You get those resonances, the echoes, that really help to make something feel power.
Spurrier: Yeah, it’s incredible. You find that by mistake (because stories are willful and they have thorough desire), you will find that by putting threads in parallel the troughs will all tally. The peaks will all tally. The climaxes with either converge or juxtapose in really exciting ways. It’s wonderful exploring narratives and finding out where they want to lead you.
It’s worth saying; with something like Weavers, it’s exactly the opposite. There’s no densely complicated experiment. it’s this very strange, unique, but familiar world explored directly and openly.
CB: Earlier you said, “Finding out where the story wants to lead you.” You’re discovering as you go.
Spurrier: A little bit. I will always know how I want it to end when I start writing a story because, without going back into it, I do believe that endings are the most important variable.
It must be said that even though I will always know where I want and expect it to end when I start a story, that’s not always how it will end because things will change. You have to accept when doing a longform comics, something which comes out month after month, that things will evolve. Things will change as you go and you have to be prepared for that.