This week, I had the chance to talk to Scott Snyder about his recently concluded comic series The Wake. He shared insight into the conclusion of the series, as well as thoughts on anxiety and depression, and Jaws 4. Spoilers ahead.
The first time I spoke to Scott Snyder, he was at the gas station. He was about to pump gas, and told me he'd call me back in a few minutes. A little while later we get reconnected, and he mentions that he's just gotten a new car, and that the hands free calling device doesn't seem to be working yet. It's a funny insight into one of the most popular writers in the comic book industry right now, and certainly one of the most influential.
Snyder's been writing Batman since the New 52 began several years ago, and has written several arcs now which have been highly regarded among critics. He's certainly made his mark on the Batman mythos, and in such a faceless industry as comic books, it can be hard to think of these mythologized writers as real people. It's like thinking of Alan Moore grocery shopping.
Snyder offered to talk to me about his recently-concluded comic books series The Wake a couple of weeks ago, an offer I eagerly accepted.
Zuldim: Killer mermaids aren't exactly a trope you see a lot of. What gave you the idea to do a horror series with such a unique premise?
Scott Snyder: I was always a fan of Creature from the Black Lagoon as a kid, but what really kicked it off were these pictures— I showed them to Sean [Murphy] —of these prehistoric sharks off the coast of Japan, you can find these pictures on the internet.
It really made me think, what if we found some branch of prehistoric man that was deep underwater, and they emerged?
Z: It's rare for a series to shift as heavily as The Wake did between issues #5 and #6. What were the challenges of virtually starting the series over halfway through its run?
SS: It was hugely challenging. That was the original pitch, splitting the story into two halves, and at one point I told Sean I thought we should just focus on the future arc, and put the Lee Archer story as flashbacks with Leeward being kind of the main story. Sean was very adamant 'this is what the original pitch was, let's do it.
I really admire Sean's fearlessness, and how willing he is to take crazy risks. I'm much more neurotic, and I've struggled with things like anxiety and depression in my life.
Really, The Wake was all about taking risks, and breaking rules. Even little things like naming the main characters similar names, Lee and Leeward, broke one of those unwritten rules of writing. Using those cold opens in the first half and not the second is another one of those rules you don't break, if you look at my other writing I try to stay pretty consistent with that kind of thing. Taking that risk was nerve wracking. I don't think there was anything about this book that didn't cause anxiety.
Z: Speaking of those cold opens, a lot of them don't make much sense until later on in the story. How do you feel about the experience of reading comics like The Wake issue by issue, as opposed to waiting for the trade, or picking up all the issues digitally when the series concludes?
SS: They're different pleasures. I enjoy both. I like picking up each issue of The Walking Dead, or Dan Slott's Spider-Man, whereas I think [some series] are better as a whole.
There's some shows I like to binge watch, but then there's shows like Breaking Bad. I think watching that was the greatest television experience of my life, waiting for each episode and inviting friends over. Similarly, The Wake wasn't wasn't designed for the trade, and I think waiting issue-to-issue actually helped the story build suspense.
It could have just been the first half and only been a Creature from the Black Lagoon story, but it was supposed to be a story about exploration, and the scarier aspects of that. I wasn't quite sure how to articulate that, so it became a question of scope, and [the cold opens] helped communicate that it wasn't just about Archer's story.
Z: Some of my favorite parts of the Leeward arc were the pages where we Leeward's map of what remains of the world, and Leeward narrating some of her adventures with the pirates, because both hint at a much larger and weirder world than we even got to see. Are there any particularly fun pieces of that world that you didn't get a chance to fit into the main story?
SS: Yeah! We had adventures for all of those pieces. The sand people, and the tree people from the map at the start.
My biggest criticism of the book if I'm being honest with myself, it's a book I'm really proud of, but I wish we'd had more time with the second half. It was originally pitched as a ten issue series, and it eventually became impossible to expand the scope of things. There were some places I was okay with that, issue two or three, but issue nine was the one that really took a long time to write. There were things I was writing, like summarizing Leeward's adventures with the pirates, and I found myself saying "but I don't want to summarize that!"
I guess at a certain point it became a pragmatic problem of not being able to do twelve or thirteen issues. I think for both Sean and I, if we'd had like ten more pages in that last issue, it would have been perfect. I don't think either of us wanted to make the book lopsided, and make the first half five issues and the second half six or seven, but it would have been nice to have a little more room.
Just being open and frank there were elements both Sean and I would have liked to explore more, but it made me, I hope, a better writer for having to work within those parameters.
We both love the book the way it is and we're both happy with it but we'd love to have a little more room to explore. To be fair we do joke about going back and doing stuff like that for the trade, and we've got time, we've got some time before the trade is coming out.
Z: I'm just going to throw this out there, your run on Detective Comics had a victim fall out of an autopsied whale, Gates of Gotham had a villain who wore a diver's suit, and The Wake brought us scary mermaids. Might you have a thing about the ocean and sea life?
SS: It's absolutely about the ocean! I'm terrified about the ocean! I can't even enjoy the ocean at a beach house. My parents took me when I was three or four, and my parents took me to a movie and the trailer for Jaws 2 was before it, and for weeks I wouldn't go into the ocean. I always thought that was kind of funny, that Jaws 2 was the one that made me afraid of the ocean.
Have you ever seen those Jaws sequels, like Jaws 4? They must have run out of money by the end. At the end, and this is a spoiler for anyone who wants to see Jaws 4, she takes a boat and rams into the shark with it. That has to be the worst way to kill a shark.
There was an exhibit I went to once that was all about the ocean, and how the ocean is viewed as a force of generosity, all these things that we get from the ocean, but also as a force of destruction. It's realistically both a giving and a destructive force.
With the Wake, it's one of the last places that's so unexplored. Yeah, sure, there's probably not a giant dinosaur down at the bottom of the ocean— But there could be! We don't know. It's great for the story to have this cradle of mystery in the ocean.
Z: Do you think this is the last we'll see of The Wake, or is it a world you could see yourself returning to eventually?
SS: I'd love to tell another story, Sean and I both. We'd love to tell the story of Dash the dolphin, and what his life was like before the book. There's three or four stories we've discussed doing, not a Volume 2 or anything because I think it's a pretty complete story as it is, although the more I talk about it the more I do want to do it. The main reason we wouldn't do it though is because we have two other upcoming ideas we want to work on together.
Sean and I are really good friends, and that was one of the joys of working on this book. We've been friends... five years, I think, since I was working on American Vampire, and working with a guy like him, you really trust each other and you push each other. I'd work with him any time. Sean, Greg [Capullo], Rafael [Albuquerque], Jock, Francesco [Francavilla] these are people I'd do anything with. When I go to a con, these are the first people I look up.
I'm someone who's always had trouble working with anxiety and depression and stuff, and I get very excited and I can do anything, and "I'm going to tell Batman's origin, I'm the one to do it," and then other times I say "I'm a total hack, I can't do anything," and it's paralyzing. These are people who have been through me through those hard time. You become friends outside of comics, they know who you are inside out, and you know who they are. There's nothing your afraid of to try and fail.
I look at [people] like Grant Morrison, I could name like ten people who are just so daring, and they just clearly do not give a shit. They're so consistently fearless, and that's the goal."
Z: Speaking as someone who's struggled with a lot of anxiety problems myself, it's really interesting to hear you talk about this.
SS: You know, this Robin Williams stuff the other day, I'm not even someone who's the biggest fan in the world, I thought he was great, of course, but seeing someone battle with depression like that… For those who aren't going through it, it can be so hard to understand. You start feeling anxious and unwell, and just tired, like you've got all this energy in your brain and not the rest of your body. There are things you do to make yourself healthy, things you avoid, you know, staying up too late or things like that, because you know those things will make you feel worse.
For me, The Wake was a great test for that. It was good to get away from superhero comics, and I was pretty depressed when I started it, honestly. Since I've gotten into comics there were maybe two times I was really down, and at that time I was starting my Superman comic with Jim Lee and that was terrifying. Writing The Wake, I was able to shake off thoughts about "oh what a loser I am" by saying "this is honestly a book no one will read." It's a book that's really important to me because of that. Then people did read it, and it wound up doing a lot better than we had really expected!
Big thanks to Scott Snyder for taking the time to talk to me about the conclusion of The Wake. I've enjoyed the series from its first issue, and I'm excited to see what he and Sean Murphy have in store for us in the future, whatever form that may take. The Wake is a now-concluded ten issue limited series. You can find it on Comixology here, or wait for the hardcover release this November.
This was originally posted to Whereinirant.com. Check out the site for content like this, including comic book reviews, TV recaps, and more.