One of the critical darlings of the DC relaunch has been Swamp Thing, by writer Scott Snyder and artist Yanick Paquette.
With innovative layouts and a history-rich story that borders on horror, Swamp Thing, is the first regular series for the character in the DCU since Swamp Thing became part of the Vertigo universe in the early '90s. But Snyder and Paquette have kept the continuity of the Vertigo appearances as they've built upon them for the DCnU.
Last week, Swamp Thing #2 introduced several new elements to the character's mythology, and it also brought Abby Arcane to the DCU.
Today, we talk with Snyder for part 2 of our interview (see our part 1 discussion about Batman here), focusing this time on Swamp Thing.
And be warned: This article goes into extensive detail about Scott's plans for the mythology of the Swamp Thing, and as such may contain spoilers.
Newsarama: Scott, one of the things that has really stood out about Swamp Thing is Yanick Paquette's artwork. He's got a really different layout to a lot of these pages, particularly in the spreads where he's got several things happening at once across both pages.
Scott Snyder: Wait until you see issue #3! Yanick's work just gets better and better and better. In issue #3, there's a double spread that tells Abby's whole history with Swamp Thing, just visually, with the Arcane, and the way she used to be with the long hair, and with Alec. And all of it is done over the course of a motorcycle ride. It's just like... I was looking at it and thinking, "How does he even do this?" It's incredible to me.
But it also makes me much more cautious about putting words on the page. I gave Yanick directions, but I also wanted him to flex his muscles -- the same way with Greg [Capullo on Batman]. And Yanick came back with those pages that were just startlingly great. The only thing is that I hadn't anticipated them being so masterful in their own right as works of art and as spreads. So I do feel very badly that in issue #2, I had a lot of exposition in places where I didn't mean to cover up some of his art. I just didn't realize he was going to design it so fluidly across the page!
Now I know a lot better, looking at his stuff from here forward. And we've joked about it a lot, that I promise not to cover him up and he's going to warn me when he does a page more like that beforehand, so I can try to spread out some of the dialogue to give him room to shine on the page.
Both of us are really inspired by what other people have done on Swamp Thing, both writers and artists, and we both are trying our best to make something that's daring and fun that builds on the history of the characters that's come before.
I certainly want him to be able to do that visually on the page, and give him plenty of room to do some bold statements. So I'm super proud of him, and Nathan [Fairbairn], the colorist, as well.
Nrama: Speaking of colors, I noticed in the first issue that the birds, before they died, had both red and green on their necks. Was that on purpose?
Snyder: Yeah, we're trying to lace a lot of things like that. Yanick is great about it, with the references. He tries to put in all the creators' names from the past. So you'll see, like, the Wrightson Diner. That kind of stuff. And yeah, just visually, there are hints in the story, from the colors of the Red and the Green and this other force of rot and decay. We want them to be represented visually as well.
Nrama: This comic, so far, has been a mix of the mythology of Swamp Thing, reviewing and defining its history, along with a bit of horror mixed in. But it all revolves around this human character, Alec Holland. Was the idea behind your approach to have the horror and mythology as kind of a backdrop to the story of Alec?
Snyder: Yes, very much. Some of my favorite stuff about the original Swamp Thing, like in the Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson issues, where it was dripping with horror all the time, and in the Alan Moore stuff, where it's a lot of psychological horror, and visual horror.But it's always, at its heart, this story of a man who has been turned into a monster, and whether he's a man underneath or not.
We're trying to do the same thing, just without the mantle of the monster being on top of him at this particularly moment. It's almost like it's inside him. He starts to realize in issue #3 that not only was he chosen a long time ago to be Swamp Thing, and has this connection to the Green, but that he's perhaps known it in his heart of hearts and made this formula as a way of sort of appeasing the Green and moving away from it.
So it's almost as though he has this sense of being Swamp Thing deep down inside of him, from a long time ago.
The thing we're super excited about is Abby, and the way she's going to be presented on the page.
Nrama: She didn't come across very friendly in the final panel.
Snyder: The idea with her, without giving away too much, is that we wanted to change her up a little. I've always loved her as a character, but I've also wanted to see her take on more of an active role than she did in the original Swamp Thing stories.
My thought is that if certain families have connection to the Green, or certain people and lineages have connections to the Green, whereby they feel what the Green feels and have a parallel with them, then you would imagine that other families, like the Arcanes perhaps, would have a connection to the opposing force — to the Rot. And in that way, Abby, as a niece of Anton Arcane, may have a connection to this opposing force, even if it's tenuous or small and not as great as Alec's to the Green.
So in that way, we wanted to create a history for her that happened off the page, between when Alec disappeared as Swamp Thing and came back now at the beginning of this series. What happened to her in those missing years? What she discovered about herself and the terrible things she had to face are what's going to come out in the upcoming issues in #3, and in #4 and #5.
Her role in the whole mythology is going to be really expanded and built up, so she isn't just a human that Swamp Thing loves. We want her to be really entrenched in the whole mythology and history and mystery of Swamp Thing, and also in the big elemental forces as well.
She's tough as well. We're not turning her into a crazy villain. She's someone who's been through a lot and learned a lot about the violence of these elements in the interim when Alec was gone. She's been transformed into someone who is a lot more formidable, tougher, and wary, and a lot more jaded than the Abby we've seen before in the Daisy Dukes and the long hair.
Nrama: We did find out the villain is this "Sethe," who is "neither Red nor Green" but is a "being of Rot and Death." How do you pronounce his name?
Snyder: We pronounce him "Seth"-"Ah," but it's really any way anyone wants to say it.
We wanted to create a villain that stands in complete opposition to the forces of life, the Red and the Green. And I talked to [Animal Man writer] Jeff Lemire about this as well. We really had fun coming up with this other element within the mythology that isn't just "death," but is really a force of rot and decay.
We thought, if these forces are the primary living elements — I mean, there's fire and water and those things, but we're not going to be dealing with those at all in Swamp Thing and Animal Man — but the idea is that there's Red and Green on one side, and there's something else on the other. And that this other force would be something that they really didn't like to speak of. And it would be dark, like black, so we call it the "Rot" or the "Other," in some places where they don't talk about it.
Over time, these elements have been at war, in huge ways. At some points, the Green has been dominant. And in those times, the world has been much more lush, with a greening of the world. At other times, the Red has been dominant, probably about right now, when humanity is winnowing away at the natural world.
But there are other times when the Rot has been dominant, in times like the Ice Age or during mass extinctions and things like that.So we really wanted this to be a villain who isn't something that just pops up and fights Swamp Thing, or fights and sends people after Buddy [Baker, Animal Man]. But something that really only comes around once in a very, very long while. So the idea is that these forces of rot and decay are responsible for plagues throughout history. It's tried to make a coop and rise up at different times, like in the '30s during the sandstorms of the Dust Bowl. And it really is always beaten back by these forces.
But now they haven't been paying enough attention, without a Swamp Thing and with Buddy kind of doing his own thing. There haven't been powerful avatars of those two elements, so the Rot has had a chance to gain strength and rise in a way that it hasn't been able to in a very, very long time.
You'll learn a lot more about it. But it's almost like you think about it like a chessboard. Sethe is like the "king" on the board wants other pieces. But so does the Green.
That's the other thing I want to make clear, is that these elements are not peaceful. The Red isn't peaceful, and neither is the Green. I think people want to assume it's calm and soothing. But it's not at all. It's a force of nature. It's violent and volatile. It's hungry and it wants to be the dominant force.
All three of them are constantly at odds.
Nrama: When A.H. Rodgers described the Red, he specifically said that it provides "restraint" to the Green, indicating that the world is not benefitted by too much strength in any force, even the one you'd think is the good guy on Earth, the Green.
Snyder: Right. Each of them provides restraint to the other. The planet ruled by any one of them wouldn't be great. And that's one of the things Alec struggles with. He's not just being callous by saying, "I don't want to become Swamp Thing and work for the Green and be this representative of the Green and knight of the Green." He's saying, "I'm not so sure I'm aligned with the Green," having seen what it wants and having felt its hunger and power. It's a scary thing, the Green.
With Sethe, we wanted to create a villain that has been at war with these other forces over history, that also has echoes in figures from other pieces of mythology culturally, like in Ancient Egypt, like Anubis or Set, you know, Bringer of Storms. So there is almost a creepy quality that you can look at Sethe when he forms in certain ways and see hints of figures of death, from the Grim Reaper to figures from other cultural mythologies and folklore. Any time you see something that has a kind of Bringer of Storm quality, it's that we wanted to play into that idea. It's something that's walked across the sands for thousands of years.
Nrama: We've seen Maxine in Animal Man talking about the "Red Place," and as we talk, it's become evident that the two of you are tapping into the same idea. There have been indications that you two are crossing over the two books are having cameo appearances. Is that going to happen?
Snyder: Yeah. You know, we got into the kind of fake "Tweet" war the other day. People knew we were joking, I hope, because we were telling each other off and making fun of each other's comics, and trying to get J.T. Krul and Josh Fialkov and all those guys involved too, taking sides and "yelling" at each other.
But meanwhile we were texting each other and joking around about it. But we were being so over-the-top that I hope people know we were joking.
Anyway, in the midst of all that, Jeff mentioned that we're planning a "big crossover." I think people thought that was a joke too.
But we really are planning a big crossover, in our second year, our second arcs. And you will see some crossover this year as well, both in the mythology. The mythology is shared. It's not a separate "Red" in Animal Man from the one in Swamp Thing. It's all happening simultaneously, and it's part of a shared mythology.In terms of seeing cameos, you will see some crossovers and cameos and stuff pretty soon. But the real big crossover is going to happen after these independent stories finish. They are fighting one force, but they're fighting very different sides of it, and it's very separate in terms of that.
We don't want you to feel like you have to read both books, at all. It's not that kind of thing.
Next year, in the second arc, we have something special planned that we're working on.
Nrama: One of the things I like about Swamp Thing is that there were other Swamp Things, like A.H. Rodgers. And this idea that Alec Holland is their "warrior king." Will we see more of the other Swamp Things from history?
Snyder: Oh sure! You definitely will. You'll see them as they were down the line, and you'll hear their stories. They're warriors for the Green too, so when if they get called upon to uproot and die in the fight, if they get called upon to fight alongside Alec as Swamp Thing, you'll get to see them again.
Those characters are a huge part of the book for me; they make up the Parliament. And the Parliament is the history of the Swamp Thing, which is the history of the Green, which is the history of that part of the world. They're really very, very important, as totems and everything.
You'll see similar things like that from the Red as well. It really is going to be a big war, on two fronts.
I think you'll even see an old Swamp Thing in Demon Knights, coming up. We're trying to play across the board.
I want you to feel the history of Swamp Thing as something important, because one of my favorite ideas was that idea of the Parliament of Trees, and it comes and goes in, like, two pages. It's because he's so full of good ideas. But I was like, "I want to learn a lot more about people who became Swamp Thing in the past!"
So for me, one of the great thrills of getting to do this story is to be able to make up stories for those characters, and try to really do them justice in terms of why they each were Swamp Thing and what their stories are and what's going to happen to them now.
Nrama: Swamp Thing fans have to be excited to see Abby already. And you had hinted we'd see Matt Cable? Is there anything else you want to tell fans?
Snyder: All those characters will be eventually in play. They're not going to show up for awhile, in terms of Matt and Tefé, because I want to establish these characters as the driving force. I want to reintroduce them in ways that are fresh and interesting but consistent with their histories. They're all characters that we have plans for, but I just don't want to give fans the impression it's going to pop up in issue #3.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything you want to tell fans about what's coming up in Swamp Thing?
Snyder: Swamp Thing is a book I took on as a labor of love, and I know Jeff took on Animal Man the same way. We both had full plates, but these are characters that we've both loved our entire lives. We used to talk about which characters we'd love to write, now that we were at DC, if we ever got the chance. And both of us would have loved to write Swamp Thing or Animal Man at any point. So when the opportunity came along, it really was about making space to do it.
What I'm getting at is that neither of us, when we took the books, knew that there was going to be a relaunch, and neither of us, with the relaunch, ever expected this many people to be reading Swamp Thing and Animal Man.
I can't express what a thrill it is to see all these new readers, and also readers coming back. Readers who have enjoyed the character in the past, or just heard about the characters in the past and now are back to read about them here.
It's enough of a thrill to retire on, it feels like, to be able to excite fans about these characters that you love so much. There's no better feeling, honestly, then having people say, "I never read Swamp Thing and I picked it up, and I really enjoyed it, and now I'm going to go back to read the Moore stories, or the Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, or Andy Diggle, or that kind of stuff." And I know Jeff feels the same way.
It's that way with Batman too, but a lot more people know Batman, although it feels good to get people back into that comic.
I'm very, very grateful to DC for the relaunch. Being able to get people excited about comics, and especially about these characters that you care about so much, there's really nothing better, professionally. I can't imagine ever having a better feeling than what I've experienced these last few weeks, seeing people come to like the characters that I care so much about.
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