Writer Tim Seeley is best known for his horror titles like Hack/Slash and Revival, but the man himself is very personable and enthusiastic about what he does. I sat down with Seeley at SDCC 2014 at the Dark Horse Comics booth to talk about his new project with the publisher, Sundowners, as well as his work on a couple Bat books over at DC Comics.
CB: What’s the plot of Sundowners?Seeley: Sundowners is a superhero horror book that takes place in Chicago. It’s about a group of people who join a support group because they all have the same mental illness which they’re calling “Sundowners Disease”, which at night makes them compelled to put on a costume and run around the city and beat up criminals. And they all realize this might make them crazy, so they get together for this group, and once they start talking to each other, they realize that they all see the same thing, which is people with glowing skulls.
They start to realize something’s up, and that either they’re the only ones crazy enough to see it, or they’re totally crazy and seeing something that isn’t there. So it’s sort of like They Live meets Kick-Ass. It’s a horror superhero story with some aspects of the real world superhero stuff going on, where I think when we see those people we instantly assume that they’re crazy. So it’s sort of inspired by the Batman-style vigilante kind of character in the real world, plus crazy horror stuff.
CB: So do they have superpowers, or is their only power to see the weird stuff?
Seeley: They believe they have superpowers. We as readers don’t know if they have superpowers. One character, Arcanica, believes that her power is that she does evil sin — biblical sins — she can get strength, so when she sees someone mugging someone, she has to mug someone to have the sin enough to knock the mugger out. She believes that’s her power. We as readers are like, “She might be crazy, or she might have that power.”
There’s another character named Crowlita who appears to have the power to turn her head into a crow’s head, but it might also be hallucinations, so we’re not quite sure. And there’s another character named Carl Wolfe who’s a magician, although we never see him do any magic so he might just be good and sleight of hand and faking it. We’re not quite sure as readers ever if they’re just nuts or if they actually have superpowers, which I think will sort of add to the fun of the book. As a reader, you don’t really ever find out one way or the others, and that’ll always be a mystery in the book. “Did she actually punch through that truck, or did she not?”
CB: So who’s the artist with whom you’re working on this project?
Seeley: It’s a guy named Jim Terry. He’s an artist out of Chicago. He does a lot of creepy horror stuff. His style kind of reminds me of Bernie Wrightson, one of those old issues of Creepy magazine, and then you kind of add the superhero aspect. It looks unlike any kind of book I’ve ever seen. It’s pretty cool. It’s gonna be a true synthesis of horror comic and superhero comic into something totally new.
CB: The characters all have what in this world is a diagnosed mental illness. So are they hiding this illness, or do their loved ones and doctors know that they have it?
Seeley: They’re going to a support group, and it’s led by a psychologist named David “Shreds” Shrejic who believes he’s discovered this mental illness and is basically using it as a way to get famous because he can get a TV show out of this. He can make a reality show or a Dr. Phil-type self-help show by riding this mental illness to fame, and he’s kind of using these people to make himself more famous. But he’s got some twisted secrets of his past, and it’s pretty crazy. And a little spoiler: He will eventually become one of the Sundowners.
CB: So from the sound of it, he lets them go out and do this when he should be putting them away.
Seeley: He’s helping them. Or at least, he believes he’s helping them. He’s putting them through therapy. He’s a sort of self-help psychologist, so he’s doing his best to talk them through it. They’re functional in their day to day jobs, so he’s just kind of looking at it as “I’ve discovered this crazy thing, and I will be on Dr. Phil inside of a month”. That’s how he’s thinking about it, so it has some comedic aspects with this guy trying to manipulate the situation to give himself the book deal.
CB: How did you come up with this idea?
Seeley: I was looking at the emergence of people in the real world who dress up in superhero outfits and go out at night. In the real world, when we see a guy like Phoenix Jones or something like that, we instantly think they’re crazy. In comics, somebody puts on a costume and jumps off a rooftop, we think it’s awesome. Superheroes are more popular right now than they’ve ever been, and when it’s in film or a comic book we just accept it, we don’t question it at all.
There’s this weird disconnect between how we think of these things, so I want to write a story about “Why do we think these people are crazy” and “Why do we make fun of real world superheroes when we love fictional superheroes?” It’s also inspired by my love of gonzo weird fiction like stories about really strange stuff like H.P. Lovecraft and David Wong’s books like John Dies At The End and This Book Is Full Of Spiders. I’m kind of inspired by that stuff and kind of synthesizing it all into something that would keep me super entertained while making it.
CB: These sound like a pretty messed up bunch of people. Who’s the most horrific character?
Seeley: The bad guys are really horrifying. There’s a character in the book called “The Illuminatrix” who used to be a superhero called “The Pigeon” and you see in the first page what she traded to get real superpowers, and it’s the grossest thing ever. It’s super disgusting. Right away you see what kind of book it is, and what people would trade for power and the chance to change the world. That character’s really gross, and there’s a couple scenes in it that gross me out, so you know it’s gross.
CB: A lot of horror stories are often informed by our own fears and the fears of the creator. What are some of your fears that you think tie in to this project?
Seeley: Mostly I think that for myself it’s that I have an anxiety disorder. It’s not real bad or anything, but I’ve had it my whole life and that notion when you realize that you have a mental illness and that you have to go for treatment- it’s like the only way to fix it is to talk about it, take drugs, all that stuff. There’s a fear in that and what people will think about you and why people are so uncomfortable with mental illness over physical illness. So I think it’s kind of inspired by my fear of that stuff. Like when I first started dating a girlfriend and have to say “It’s not big deal, but I have an anxiety disorder. I kind of have panic attacks sometimes. You know, I’m on drugs, so I’m ok, but just so you know”, and there’s a weird sort of stain that comes with mental illness. It’s based on my own fears about that sort of stuff.
CB: When’s the book coming out?
Seeley: It comes out August 27th from Dark Horse Comics. It’s an ongoing series. The first seven issues are done, so we’re so far ahead of this thing that we’ll never miss a ship date on this book.
CB: I’ll hold you to that. So, you’ve got superhero horror going on, and you’ve also got superhero espionage going on [with Grayson]. Do you think of yourself as sort of a specific genre specialist or just a writer in general?
Seeley: I think people think I’m a horror writer more since I’ve done horror more, and it’s a major interest, but there’s not a genre I don’t like. I would love to try anything, but because superheroes are so well established there’s sort of a way to mesh them with other things. Meshing superheroes with espionage is not new with S.H.I.E.L.D. and other stuff going back to the 40’s and 50’s. We’re really excited to fuse that stuff for Grayson. Take a little bit from column A, column B, and basically the job is to convince everyone to read it why Dick Grayson would be the greatest and coolest super spy of all time, which has been pretty easy so far.
CB: In the first issue, we get a surprise cameo from Midnighter of Stormwatch. Are we going to see other espionage groups pop up like the Suicide Squad or S.H.A.D.E.?
Seeley: Yeah, they all operate in the same world. In the second issue you’ll see more of Midnighter. There’s a reason he’s there, it’s not random. You’ll see more of the world they live in. In the second issue, we make some very clear insinuations that there are other spies in on the game that Dick is for Spyral. To us, it’s playing in the DC Universe first, and then it’s a spy book, so we want it to be able to do all that cool stuff and use all those great characters, so why not? It’d be such a bummer to not use a character like Midnighter if he’s just sitting around there not being used.
CB: One thing of interest that we’ve seen in Nightwing #30 and now issue #1 is Helena Bertinelli, who has superpowers. And notably she has wings, the cross, and sort of an angel motif going on. What’s up with that?
Seeley: Or does she? Or is that what people saw? Because they have the Hypnos Implant which allows them to manipulate peoples’ minds. So did she do that or did people just see that? Spyral’s whole thing is that they play with your mind. Mind erosion is their technique, so Leslie Thompkins saw purple wings, but maybe that didn’t happen. So we’re gonna play around with that sort of stuff, because that’s definitely their M.O.
CB: Let’s talk about Mikel Janín. Did you have to request him for the book, or did DC assign him to you?
Seeley: He came with the book and we could not have been happier to get him. As soon as we found out that he was ours in the book, we were super psyched up. I was already excited for it, but he’s been doing even better work than I expected from him, which was already great work. He’s serious one of the best artists I’ve worked with on a superhero title, so he’s amazing, and I’m happy to have him.
CB: Regarding Tom King, it seems a lot of your projects are done solo, so what’s it like working with a collaborator on the writing?
Seeley: I’d learned how to do it on Batman Eternal. It works for me pretty well. All in all it’s about making a better book so if you can work with someone and you’re both not doing it for ego you can make a better book. Tom’s the kind of guy who can put aside his ego for a better book, and he’s great to work with.
CB: Have you accidentally learned any government secrets through his CIA experience?
Seeley: He is totally zip-lipped about that stuff. He always says “Aah, I can’t talk about that, it’s in my NDA”. So I don’t know anything good. He knows some creepy stuff, I’m sure, but I’m not aware of anything.
CB: Because of that NDA, how do you think you do at getting past the traditional fiction spy and trying to incorporate as much real spy? Do you think you don’t have as much as you want, or you have just enough because it’s a superhero world.
Seeley: To me, real spy stuff is actually deadly boring. I mean, as far as superhero comics go, it’s deadly boring. It’s mostly guys sitting in rented offices making copies and taking photos. That’s what spy work entails. So, we’re doing this now sort of more with the emotional beats that Tom actually knows about- what it’s like to be undercover, what it’s like to away from your friends and family, what’s it’s like to be shot at- all things he understands. And that’s more important to me than minutiae about spy work. I love personally a good dry spy story like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but I’m also completely aware that it’s not a good superhero comics. I’d rather make a good superhero book and watch my dry spy stuff for fun.
CB: Will we see Grayson tie in to Batman Eternal at all?
Seeley: Sort of. It’s not direct, but Eternal tends to bridge all the things, so you’ll see them work together. They’re not super-tied together.
CB: Final question about Eternal: I know that you guys have different writers on any given script, but can you break down who’s mainly in charge of what subplot?
Seeley: James Tynion and Scott Snyder came up with a rough outline. James Tynion refined that outline, then we’re each assigned an arc and a one-shot in a specific sequence of books. And we all read them and make notes for each other, So although each book is a team approach, there’s one individual writer on each issue, but we all jameed and came up with the story notes. It’s very collaborative, but each issue is individualistic.
CB: Alright, because I was under the impression that Ray Fawkes does the Spectre stuff, you’re doing the Batman and Julia Pennyworth stuff, etc. But it’s really more “everyone’s in everything”?
Seeley: Yeah. We gave characters to each other and said “you handle this” so I did Batgirl and Red Hood, that kind of stuff. But I did Killer Croc stuff, Ray did the Specter stuff, James did the Red Robin stuff, Kyle is handling the Architect and side-characters like that, so we’re all working on Batman, but we’re all doing our individual parts that we are assigned.
Batman Eternal and Grayson are out now, with Sundowners on the way. You can follow him on Twitter @HackinTimSeeley.