When writer/artist Kirk Scroggs was approached by DC to do a graphic novel aimed at middle-grade audiences, his mixed two unlikely ideas — creepy DC character Swamp Thing and a teenager’s spiral ring notebook.
What resulted was The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid, which Scroggs both wrote and illustrated in a format that actually looks like a notebook filled with doodles and notes written down by the main character, eighth grader Russell Weinwright.
The graphic novel features humorous text, illustrations, and stories of the spooky Swamp Thing. But as the book’s plot continues, Swamp Thing actually becomes a sort of mentor to Russell as the teen learns to embrace his “Swamp Kid" identity - with a little help from his supportive friends.
Scroggs himself is a long-time fan of Swamp Thing (and got the main character’s name, Weinwright, by mixing the names of Swamp Thing creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson). With the graphic novel’s release this week in comic stores (and next week in bookstores), Newsarama talked to the creator to find out more about his innovative graphic novel, The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid.
Newsarama: Kirk, this is such a unique approach to a character in the DC universe. Did you come up with this approach and this story?
Kirk Scroggs: Yes! They approached me, asking for ideas - they had a list of different characters, and Swamp Thing just stuck out like a beacon to me. And I immediately thought, I want this to be done in a journal format.
Nrama: That structure must have presented some challenges though. What was the process like of working in that format. Did you have to put together an outline of how the story would progress through Russell’s journal, and what drawings and notes would go on each page of his notebook?
Scroggs: Yeah, I actually just got a real spiral notebook and doodled out the pages and the layout.
I wanted the book to look like it was an actual spiral notebook - like something a teacher would confiscate off a kid’s desk. You know, the kid who’s just way too creative and drawing way too many monsters.
And I also wanted readers to sort of, maybe, get the impression that maybe they could create their own comic book. They just grab what they have on hand - pencils, markers - and sit down with a spiral notebook and create their own stories.
Nrama: Swamp Thing has always walked this line between superhero mythology and straight-up horror. How did you mix that type of character with the tone of a teenager’s notebook?
Scroggs: At the beginning of the story, the actual Swamp Thing is sort of this boogie man, out in the woods, that kids sort of use as, you know, the Bigfoot legend.
Then as the story progressed, I thought it would great to realize that he’s actually a good guy. You see that behind all the algae and moss, he’s got a good heart and he fights for justice.
Nrama: The main character is Russell Weinwright, and Swamp Thing kind of becomes his mentor. What were your thoughts behind developing that relationship? You make Swamp Thing almost this cool friend that Russell has.
Scroggs: Yeah, you know, when I was a kid, I secretly wanted to be Swamp Thing, more than Superman or Batman. I like that he’s sort of this universal monster character combined with Superman.
I just thought it would be fun to have Swamp Thing become this Obi-Wan kind of character, and Russell would sort of break down his defenses. You know, Swamp Thing’s grumpy and an outcast and doesn’t really want a kid in his life. But Russell breaks him down.
And then at the same time, Russell’s dealing with his own issues, like being comfortable in his own skin and being accepted. I think his friend Charlotte helps him realize that he needs to embrace who he is.
Nrama: You mentioned that you want to be Swamp Thing when you were a kid. I assume you know this character and his history pretty well, particularly since you gave Russell the surname “Weinwright.”
Scroggs: Yeah, I really loved Bernie Wrightson when I was young. He illustrated some Stephen King stuff, like Creepshow and Cycle of the Werewolf, and that’s how I found out about Swamp Thing. It was like, oh, Bernie Wrightson! He did the look of Swamp Thing!
It was always up my alley. He was an amazing artist.
Nrama: Ok, let’s talk about the main character in this — Russell, who is the “Swamp Kid.” Can you describe the character as we meet him in Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid?
Scroggs: Well, Russell is the ultimate outcast. He’s got algae for hair, he’s got face tendrils, and he can shoot vines out of his arm. He’s got this one, like, tree trunk arm that has a frog living in it. So you can’t get much more of an outcast than Russell.
And he’s got to survive eighth grade, which is tough for even those of us who don’t have foliage and vines.
So yeah, he’s just trying to make it through life. He’s got one great friend, Charlotte, who is his champion.
Nrama: She’s really helping his get through — like, the strength that keeps him going.
Scroggs: Yeah, she won’t have it when he’s being mopey. She is just like, you have to accept it and be yourself.
She is amazing. She fights alligators. She can look at DNA through an electron microscope. She’s got it all.
Nrama: And then Preston emerges as an interesting character. Can you talk about him a little?
Scroggs: I love Preston because, at first, you don’t know whether you can trust him, because he’s sort of this, like - he’s got his own website, and it’s kind of TMZ-like. He’s just out to exploit Russell for his odd situation.
But at the book progresses, you realize that he’s a good guy as well. I think it’s important that Russell judged him too quickly at first, and maybe he judged Russell too quickly. But they developed a great friendship over the book.
Nrama: How did you find the voices of these teens? I mean, is it your inner eighth-grader?
Scroggs: I have an eighth-grade brain, unfortunately. Or maybe fortunately!
Nrama: Worked out well for writing this story.
Scroggs: Yes! I was getting in trouble for drawing monsters all the way back to kindergarten. I was on drawing way too many jack-o-lanterns and skeletons. It was always Halloween in my mind.
Nrama: So you had a notebook a lot like this?
Scroggs: Oh yes. Probably several. I had teachers who were amazed and supportive, but then I had those teachers that would just write a little not, like, “we’re a little concerned about Kirk.”
Nrama: This is aimed at a younger audience, but it really looks at Swamp Thing from an interesting angle. Did you have that character and his fans in mind as well?
Scroggs: I definitely wanted to keep Swamp Thing kind of spooky. I don’t think I sanded the edges too much. I definitely wanted to embrace the spooky, tragic, universal monster quality of it.
But I think it’s a good doorway into Swamp Thing, and maybe even to the wider DC Universe. That’s what I’m hoping, at least.
Nrama: And maybe there will be more Swamp Kid?
Scroggs: I left a few doors open at the end of the book, so maybe we’ll see more. Who knows?