Smash Pages Q&A: Scott Snyder on ‘Clear’ and more

The writer and teacher discusses the first three comics released through his exclusive deal with comiXology Originals.

Scott Snyder made a splash earlier this year by announcing eight new comics coming out digitally through comiXology and then in print from Dark Horse Comics.

Three very different first issues have already come out from the line:

  • We Have Demons, which re-teams Snyder with Greg Capullo after the duo’s long run on Batman and other DC projects.
  • Clear, a cyberpunk tale featuring art and colors by Francis Manapul.
  • And Night of the Ghoul, a monster horror tale drawn by Francesco Francavilla.

With these three books out, I checked in with Snyder about the books and how they represent what he’s thinking about right now.

You have multiple books out, but I really want to ask about Clear. It’s a cyberpunk noir, and it’s a very different kind of book from you and Francis Manapul.

With the whole line I tried to do what I always tell my students to do, which is, be the most exciting writer you can be to yourself. For a long time I tried to do that within the constraints of the superhero genre. The goal was always to keep moving and never stay still and evolve as a writer so I was never repeating myself. We had the opportunity to stay on Batman a lot longer than we did. To stay on Justice League. Of doing a third event after Death Metal. But I never wanted to be that writer. With this I wanted to take that ethos and really expand it exponentially in terms of the creative output. The goal was to take some risks and show the breadth of comics and try and show the elasticity of my own creative output. Clear is definitely at the tip of the spear of that. The first book out of the gate embraces all the stuff that I love to do with Greg, just on our terms with We Have Demons. With the second book I wanted to show that I was trying things that you’ve never seen from me before. This is hard sci-fi noir. Every book also comes form a collaborative building process with each co-creator. With Francis it really came down to the same mission statement on his part. He wanted to do something that no one had seen from him. He wanted it to be visually acrobatic so he could show off all kinds of things. He wanted it to be something that spoke to our fears for our kids. 

When he came and visited with his wife and kid about three years ago we had a long talk about our biggest fears, and my biggest fears really aligned with his which have to do with our kids being raised in an environment that simply reaffirms the things that they already believe. The algorithms that they’re exposed to and everything they engage with encourages them to buy more of the same. Every way of getting information is an affirmation positive feedback loop. Which has benefits. It’s great to go on Spotify and see them recommend things you might like, but the problem is, the fear is, that they’re going to be raised in a way that nothing will ever challenge them or unsettle them or make them look outside their comfort zone and understand the multiplicity and plurality of experience in the world. Being raised in New York City, that was one of my big fears moving to a rural area with my kids. In an urban area you’re forced into a confined public space with other people. Especially when you’re in a very public city like New York. It makes you deal with each other. You still have to understand each other as people.That’s where Clear came from. This fear of a future where America continues to decline and instead of facing deep, entrenched, systemic problems, becomes this environment where everyone can spiral into their own subjective experience as a preferred way of living instead of dealing with things that are difficult to deal with. Out o fall of them, it’s definitely the most urgent book the most engaged with this moment.

I kept thinking it’s Instagram filtering reality, which is deeply disturbing, though there are more troubling possibilities that become clear. And you’re connecting it to culture decline. You guys are clearly wearing your cyberpunk and noir influences on your sleeve.

I feel that sci-fi is inherently critical. Any futuristic city or environment you create is a commentary on the present. Horror to me is like conflict on steroids. If you do it well, the monster or the killer or the villain is going to be an extension of the fears you have about yourself or the world or whatever. Sci-fi has this built in commentary and analysis and I love that about the genre. There’s no way to show a flying car without making you feel, why don’t we have flying cars? So we were very careful about the environment we were trying to create. And be poignant in the most piercing ways. Like how everything is kind of bland. Everyone veils everything so everything looks straight out of a plain cardboard box factory with no character or individuation. That sense of the real world becoming more and more gray and rotting away. As opposed to the fantasy world that’s projected onto it by everybody. 

Talk about working with Francis, because he’s drawing and coloring this. I’ve been reading him for years, and he’s doing things here that I’ve never seen him do before.

He’s one of my closest friends. He and I became friends back when he was doing Detective and we just hit it off. His daughter is roughly the same age as our second kid and so we bonded a lot over being parents with young children. A lot of the things I realized he was working on for himself in the stories he wanted to tell – because he’s a great writer in his own right – have to do with a lot of the same things I’m concerned about for my kids. We had this immediate bond and we started talking about needing to do something together creator owned. We came up with this idea in 2017 and it’s been a joy. Francis is one of the most underrated artists out there, even though he’s a big star. People think of him as doing this bright vibrant exuberant superhero work with a lot of emotionality that has a light, painterly feel. With this he’s showing that he has this whole range that hasn’t been explored with darkness and nightmarish kinds of abilities that he didn’t get to do much in superheroes. One of the agreements we have on the book is that if there’s a veil he wants to draw, he can just draw it. Manga, 1940s black and white, whatever lens he wants to draw to show how someone is seeing the world, go for it. So its like a buffet for him, and I enjoy seeing him rock out on.

Night of the Ghoul is a horror story, but it’s also a monster story and it feels like both you and Francesco Francavilla, but also it doesn’t in a lot of key ways.

Again, everyone I’m working with on these are friends in some capacity or another. Some people I’ve never worked with extensively, but there are people I’ve gotten to know over the years. People whose style and vision and presence in comics I respect and admire and am inspired by. Like Francesco. He was one of the first artists that took a chance on me with Black Mirror. We’ve been friends ever since, and his wife is friends with my wife. This is probably the oldest book in terms of conception out of all the books in the line. In 2016, he and I both rediscovered a love of classic horror movies and we started talking about how cool it would be to create a new classic monster together. What if we just made one up and inserted it into the pantheon and made up a story about this great horror movie that was lost. It came from that idea. Can we create a classic monster that didn’t exist, but seems to have and speaks to this moment in a way that those monsters – in good and bad ways – spoke to the moments in which they became popular. 

The Ghoul for us was about creating something that would be scary right now the way that vampires played on fears at the time that they were popularized. Sometimes those are bad fears and ugly fears, but we wanted something that felt potent and responsible and very immediate. The ghoul is this monster that created all other monsters. It’s this ancient creature that hides in human hosts and forces that host to eat necrotic material so the ghoul living inside of it can create all kinds of horrible diseases and viruses and bacteria, so that when it’s ready it will create a plague that will level civilization. It’s done this different times and nobody knows how many ghouls are out there. But over the years its created a brain eating bacteria that’s responsible for the myth of zombies and a blood cell destroying virus that’s responsible for vampires. So we’re making a monster that’s the granddaddy of other monsters, but you’ve never heard of it. The story is about this classic horror film from the nineteen thirties that was destroyed in a studio fire that killed a bunch of people before the film could be screened. A guy finds the remnants of this film and tracks down the writer-director who’s still alive at like 102 years old to ask him what really happened. The writer-director immediately launches into this delusional tirade about the ghoul being real and here in the building. And so it becomes this very claustrophobic scary double helix of a story where half of it is the fragments of the film drawn in black and white and then the other half takes place in the present in full color and tells the story of this deadly night in the rest home. 

Part of that involves poking fun at critics. Or at least one critic.

Well, Forest – the main character who finds the film – he’s projecting a lot of his own desires onto the film. One of the things the story explores is the ways in which we take up monsters as vehicles for our own fears. And how we imbue with them with our own anxieties. What the writer director says to him in the first or second issue is that the ghoul is just a monster. It doesn’t care what you think of it. It is what it is. It’s coming here to kill you and it doesn’t matter what you think it is. So there’s a fun aspect to the story about this romanticization of monsters. When they’re scary they’re not reflections of the things we desire so much as things that we’re really afraid of at that moment as a culture.

Monsters are expressions of a lot of personal and cultural fears. Often ones that make us cringe but they manage to be so many things.

This story is not negating that at all. Forest is determined to say that this movie is about the things that I want to say to my son. It’s about fathers and sons. It’s about a guy who comes back from World War I with the ghoul in him, and his son recognizes something is different about him. Forrest believes that the story is about the distance between fathers and sons and the things that can’t be said. The director is saying, no, it’s about my father coming back from the war with the ghoul in him! It’s literal! And so the ghoul does represent all of these cultural fears and personal fears, but the main character is determined to say, this film is about everything I go through with my son. It’s not. It’s a much bigger monster. 

You mentioned before how you could have kept writing Batman or written another event, and is that one reason you were thinking about not just lots of genres and story formats, but focusing on shorter projects and miniseries?

Yes. Some of them have seasonal structures, so there’s variety. We Have Demons is an ongoing that we’d like to do seasonally if people like it. Greg wants to go do issues of The Creech for a bit and then maybe we’ll come back and do a second arc. 

My goal was to try and tell all the ideas that have been in my head the past 10 years, the genres I’ve wanted to experiment with. If it was all in the direct market, they would be competing with each other and we’d have to dribble it out very slowly. And do it in a way that would hurt stores more than help them. But doing it like this, through a subscription based service where people can find 40,000 plus comics to fall in love with. Doing it in a way that’s affordable and allows you to then go to your store and buy what you love. I believe that the methodology you see in other ways in the cultural landscape from music and television and everything is: browse it, scream it, and then buy it in a collectible way. I think that’s going to make comics stronger and stores stronger, honestly. Instead of this competitive chaotic direct market with so much speculation the way it is now.

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