James Tynion IV is known mostly for his DC Comics work along with mentor and friend Batman scribe Scott Snyder, as well as having a few solo titles under his belt on Red Hood and The Outlaws, as well as Villain's Month Ra's al-Ghul and Court of Owls. This year, he pairs up with indie sensation Michael Dialynas (Amala's Blade) to debut The Woods from BOOM!, his first original series.
Newsarama spoke to both writer and artist about the series, which centers around a group of students and teachers who are tossed into a fantastic alien world in search of the how and why they landed there, about their collaboration process, the daunting pressure of a first-time ongoing creator-owned series, and who would survive longer in an alien landscape.
Newsarama: Before we get to talking about The Woods, James, this is your first creator-owned venture, why was BOOM! a good fit for you?
James Tynion IV: I love the team at BOOM! Studios. I remember when I had my first meeting with them, and it was just absolutely clear we shared a vision about what the future of comics looks like. I've talked a lot in the past about how I think the market should have way more youth-driven comics in high-concept settings, approaching the Young Adult book market, but there's still so few projects out there in that vein. These are my favorite kinds of stories… Taking the whole experience of growing up and casting it in an arena where you can literalize the struggles we all go through with huge crazy science-fiction set-pieces.
When I first talked with Matt Gagnon, I explained what kinds of stories I wanted to tell more than anything else… Stories with teenage characters wrapped up in horror and science fiction. Series that build huge worlds with deep emotionality… And Matt was completely on the same page. BOOM! Studios has been at the forefront of trying to approach every corner of the market. The fact that they've been hiring the webcomic writers and artists I've been swooning over since high school and middle school just show that they have a strong understanding of what the next 5-10 years of comics are going to bring. When I realized they were on the same page as me, I was more than eager to jump onboard.
Nrama: On the contrary, Michael, you've had some creator-owned works come out in the past decade; what was it about The Woods that appealed to you?
Michael Dialynas: That's right, I've being doing mainly self-published and creator-owned comics the past 10 years, with the exception of Spider-Man, so when Jasmine sent me James' script I knew I had to take this opportunity. I grew up on films like "The Breakfast Club" and I felt that kind of dynamic tension between the characters of this book. I was so obsessed with Judd Nelson's character when I was 9 that I went to school wearing a flannel shirt and a black bandana around my ankle for a few months heh so you can say The Woods kind of hit a soft spot. Plus, let's not forget, I get to draw and design all these alien creatures and various other mysterious settings to come… really mysterious and weirds things with teeth I tell you!
Nrama: So James, BOOM! had teasers coming out with a small bio for each character, so without repeating those, in your own words, who are these characters in the woods? It seems like such a large cast.
Tynion: In a certain way, they're all expressions of different aspects of my personality from when I was back in High School, but that'll be much clearer once we step into the world of the series and people start reading it for themselves.
Our lead characters are Karen Jacobs and Adrian Roth, who couldn't be more different than one another. Karen is a member of Bay Point Preparatory High School's field hockey team, but this is just the latest in a string of extracurriculars she's been trying out through her college experience while she looks to figure out what kind of person she wants to be. She's aimless, and terrified of what the future might bring. Adrian Roth, on the other hand, knows exactly who he is and is confident that his future's assured. He's that special kind of genius who has gotten nothing but B's and C's throughout high school because he can't bring himself to care about the people around him, or the menial things they're trying to force him to learn.
It's that dichotomy of angst that the series rests upon, the different mindsets of young people about to step out into the world. There's the arrogance of young people like Adrian who feel like they know exactly what to do every step of the way, despite the fact that he's woefully unprepared and doesn't have the emotional maturity to actually cope in the real world. Then there's the paralyzing fear that you've spent 15-18 years of your life building towards adulthood, and you have no real skills or direction, so you're thrown into the dark after graduation without any idea of where you're going next. Throwing these two big personalities into a literal alien forest where there's little to no hope of ever going back to the life they once had is a perfect way to explore those fears, writ large.
The rest of the cast rounds the others out, and each of them bring their own skills and expertise to the group. Sanami Ota comes from a family that was once written up in the papers as a modern day Swiss Family Robinson, but all she's ever wanted was to move to a big city and never see a tree or a deer again. Isaac Andrews is a shy, depressed stage crew kid who has auditioned for every school play and never gotten in. He's utterly devoted to Adrian, who he considers his best friend, and whom he is definitely a little bit in love with. Ben Stone is a quiet, overweight kid who has spent his high school career trying to be invisible. Calder Macready has been expelled from 4 other high schools, and would much rather just spend his days at home watching The History Channel with his Grandma. The way these characters all tie together, and play off of each other's insecurities and find themselves in this strange alien forest is what this series is all about.
And then there's Doctor Robot. He is a Space Monkey.
Nrama: What makes The Woods so much different than anything both of you have worked on in the past?
Tynion: For me, The Woods encapsulates so much I've wanted to say in the comic medium since back when I was a high schooler myself. It was huge, creator-owned series with endless worlds and characters that bled off the page that made me want to write comic books. Once I established myself in the comic book world, I knew I wanted to create something that was a complete vision of the kinds of stories I've always wanted to tell. I wanted to write the kind of book that was a real expression of myself. The funny thing is, starting out in this industry the way that I did, I haven't really had the opportunity to show the world what a James Tynion IV comic book would look like in its purest form. I love writing superheroes, but I write comic books because it's my favorite medium of storytelling, and what I've wanted to do my entire life is build my own worlds for a living. That's the big difference. This story is completely me, cover-to-cover, and I could not be more excited to really introduce the comic book world to the real James.
Dialynas: I like to try and be diverse in the comics I do, up until now i think i've managed to do so. I've tried nearly everything from kiddy comics starring a turtle and cat, a steampunk/cyberpunk adventure, an all-ages fantasy with warrior princesses to a Victorian zombie story. The Woods is a Young Adult Sci-Fi Mystery that intrigued me to try out my storytelling skills on and use a slightly different style that i've been using this past couple of years to suit the tone of the story. Talking with James these past months has been a treat and i think we've made something really cool especially with the creatures that our misfit team will bump into along the road. You've only seen Doctor Robot for now but he's just a small piece of the world-building that has been going on in these pages.
Nrama: James, how would you compare this to other teen supernatural thrillers, like Image's Morning Glories?
Tynion: Well, for one, in a perfect world you wouldn't have to ask that question. I wish the market was FULL of stories with big teenage casts dealing with science fiction and horror and all sorts of genre conventions. TV's actually been much better at tackling these kinds of stories, but that has a lot to do, I think, with the impact of Buffy back in the early aughts. I think we're moving closer to that happening in comics… I remember when I first got my hands on Morning Glories and saw what an incredible world Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma were building and I was thrilled. I got about ten copies and gave them to all my friends. It's still one of my favorite books to read month-in and month-out. But at the heart, I think The Woods poses very different questions, and is thematically incredibly distinct. It also revels in the alien setting in ways I can't even begin to hint at, because it's all tied to the huge mystery at the heart of the book.
In general though, I think high school is just that perfect primordial arena in every person's lives. You're starting to become yourself, but you don't know HOW to do that, and you screw up every five minutes. You lose friends. You fall in love. You stay out way past your curfew and have insane arguments with your parents almost every night. Everything feels like life or death, because you don't have the perspective to understand the scale of what's going on, and your hormones are running on such high octaves, that it legitimately feels like your whole life is going to fall apart when something goes terribly wrong. It's the PERFECT groundwork for any kind of story. Teenagers are weird, and fun to watch, because we were all that particular brand of crazy once, and how we handled it shaped us into the people we are today.
Nrama: Do you guys think The Woods is more of a sci-fi or horror story at its roots?
Tynion: To me, horror is is all about the emotions and reactions, while science fiction is much more about the setting and circumstances. So I'm going to cheat and say it's both parts, and also kind of neither. The Woods is primarily a human story. It's the story of children thrust into the unknown, and that unknown is terrifying and dangerous and a lot of the time it's trying to kill them, so that's where you get your horror. But it's also alien flora and fauna, and wrapped up in all sorts of sci-fi crazy fun. At it's roots, though, it's a story about what it means to be 18 years old and trying to figure out your life, and how to shape the journey into the person you want to become.
Dialynas: Exactly what James said. Up until now working on the first issues it's been about the teenagers coming to facts about their situation and surviving this dark and gloomy forest but as the story progresses more and more sci-fi elements will occur.
Nrama: With this is your first time working with one another, so what was the collaboration process like?
Dialynas: I don't know about you James but after that first talk/drink/hug at NYCC i knew this was going to be a cool collaboration, heh! Its great that we can talk things out and pick each others brains on matters so that we totally understand whats going on and whats happening in the story. I couldn't ask for anything more. Between talking to James, seeing Josan's colouring as he works on my inks and the quick approvals from Eric and Jasmine at Boom! this project is really moving like a dream, a alien-infested dream.
Tynion: I've been absolutely loving working with Michael. He's brought so much to this book every step of the way, and I can't imagine anyone else bringing this story to life. We're still just getting started, but the thoughts he's brought me on how the creatures of this world have come to be, and why they look what they're going to look like have completely reframed how I want to approach some of those reveals. He thinks in this massive worldbuilding way, which is exactly what I'd hoped and prayed for in a collaborator on this project. And with the promotional campaign, we'd been chatting late at night about what we were thinking, and came up with the yearbook photo idea, and then all of a sudden all those images came through. It was incredible, It all fell out of a conversation while the BOOM! crew back in California hadn't even gotten into the office for the morning yet. Every day I see new art come in from the book is a spectacular day.
Nrama: When dealing with the designs for characters and aliens, Michael, was that all you or did James have notes?
Dialynas: Well James had given me a full description of each characters lives when we started, which was a great place to start. After doing some initial research sketches and playing around with clothing i chatted with James online one night and my first question was "Which one is the huge Star Wars fan?" and he replied "Definitely Isaac!"
These are teenagers and we all know that our lives back then where pretty much about movies, music and sex. These preferences play into their looks so James then gave me a full outline of their musical and movie tastes. I worked from that giving each of them something extra. i.e. Issac has a Storm Trooper tee which gives off more than that he's just a Star Wars fan. Karen is the indie type, so i played with giving her natural colours, a keffiyeh and and leather strapped bag.
But the fun part was when working on the alien creatures. James had described some weird looking things with eyes and teeth. I don't want to spoil anything right now but after doing the first designs we started talking about what this planet was and how the creatures that live there have come to be, we had a lot of back and forth and these alien beings make sense. Up till now four creatures have been designed and i'm looking forward to design the new mysterious creatures to come.
Nrama: James since this is your first creator-owned, do you think we'll finally get to see your style untamed here?
Tynion: I hope so! It's definitely the clearest expression of the types of stories I'm interested in telling. This project is so thoroughly me in its conception that for the most part I'm just trying to let it out and see what happens. There are lots of stories I want to tell in this medium, and The Woods is really just the beginning. I want to write some really, truly horrifying comics, I want to write weird genre-bending science-fiction, hell, I'd love to write just a regular teenage drama one of these days. The Woods is me bursting out the gate and showing people what I'm passionate about and will hopefully set the stage for a lifetime of writing comics of all shapes and sizes about every little weird idea in the corner of my imagination. This is going to be one hell of a ride.
Nrama: Final question: you guys find yourself stranded on an alien world much like The Woods: who would last the longest in the wild?
Tynion: Hmmm… I'm not sure about Michael, but I think I'd walk into it very confident that I could survive, and then probably die within the first few hours. Unless there are other people and then I feel very certain that I could find someone who can fight off the alien wildlife and buddy up with them. Until they realize I'm useless, and decide to cook and eat me (or at least use me as bait to feed one of the monsters hunting us).
Dialynas: I really hope the ten years of being a sea-scout would kick in but I highly doubt it. I'd probably go in "Battle Royale" mode and run around like a lunatic hoping to find something to eat but James has told me that i'm not allowed to make Space-monkey burgers out of Doctor Robot. Its not my fault he just looks so cute and delicious and i like trying new things.
I imagine a Space-monkey burger would be Royal Blue in colour.