Cleverness in Service to the Story -- Si Spurrier Interview

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about Si’s work and even just about things he says in this interview, but there is so much great stuff in here that a prelude beyond some basic context is unjustifiable.  This interview has been transcribed from a conversation Si and I had on day three of New York Comic Con.  A series of serendipitous events that worked out grossly in my favor allowed the interview to happen in one of the only quiet corners of the Javits center, despite the fact that I massively fucked up and didn’t book an interview room because of this being my first time doing anything press-related, and in the clusterfuck of NYCC no less.  The only part of the interview that was edited out of the transcription is the part where a security guard interrupts, thinking (rightly) that we weren’t supposed to be where we were, until we convinced him otherwise. What follows are the words of a creator who has a deep appreciation for the medium of comics and, perhaps more importantly, a deep appreciation of his collaborators and the role they play in breathing life into his scripts.  If you’re a fan of Si Spurrier’s comics work (especially The Spire), a formalist geek like me, or even just someone looking for some very substantial nuggets of #makecomics wisdom, I think this is a must-read.

Thanks to Si for taking the time to chat with me, and thanks especially to the fine people at BOOM! (particularly Mel Caylo and Christine Dinh) for facilitating the interview!

AUSTIN LANARI: I’ll just start with The Spire, since it’s what you’re working on now.  Have you finished writing it yet?

SI SPURRIER: No, it’s gonna be — so this first chunk will be eight episodes and I’ve finished six?  Yes, six.  But, I’m quite neurotic when I write so I — everything’s plotted very, very carefully.

AUSTIN: So, you know where seven and eight are going.

SI: Oh yes, very much so, yeah.  And in fact, I don’t know if you’ve — it’s this thing I waffle about way too much in interviews: I think that the most important part of any story is the ending.


SI: And so there is no point in starting a story if you don’t know how it’s going to turn out.

AUSTIN: So, I know for Jeff Stokely, the inking on Six-Gun Gorilla and how he inks in The Spire is the biggest shift for him, not that the characters look particularly similar, but he has his style; but, the ink just went from ink-well spills to clean really neat really manga-inspired inking.  I know that was his biggest change, what would you say your biggest change was, and I don’t know [that it has to be] between those two works but, what’s the most particular thing about writing The Spire?

SI: It’s funny, I mean, you talk about changes and I realize that half a year ago that the first however long I’ve been working in comics—which is anywhere between seven and twelve years depending on whether you count 2000AD and all that stuff—it was, without me meaning to, a love-letter to 1990’s Vertigo.  And that’s true of some of the stuff I did for Marvel: like, X-Men Legacy would not have looked out of place in 1990’s Vertigo.

AUSTIN: Right.

SI: And I think Six-Gun Gorilla fits in that category too.  It’s a book which appears to be one thing and is not and slowly becomes something very very different and something which is quite esoteric, quite existential, quite meta-fictional: all of the things that I just sort of end up gravitating towards when I’m not thinking about trying to be straight and narrow down the center of character and action.

With The Spire and with everything else that I’m doing at the moment I’ve kind of consciously tried to say “well, this is the difficult second album.”  You know, I’ve done that stuff, and now I want to prove that I can do accessible character-led stories which don’t go into such challenging esoteric territory.  The problem is, of course, that I’m still me and there will always be some of that in there.


SI: My biggest complaint, and I keep saying this, is I find myself incapable of writing something which can be summed up in one line.  People keep saying “well tell me what The Spire’s about?” and I can tell you it’d take me an hour to tell you what The Spire’s about.  And so I’ve resorted to asking other people to answer that question for me.  “Well you’ve read it, tell me what The Spire’s about?”  And so the really cheap elevator pitch is simply “It’s Blade Runner meets Dark Crystal.”

That’s kind of what I wanted to do.  I wanted to create a world, I wanted the world to be fully formed, I wanted to not spend hours and hours and hours telling people every little bit about the world so that they felt like there was stuff to explore and to be uncertain about and then I kinda wanted to ignore the world and tell a very small story in that world.  I wanted to resist the temptation to build in world-changing stakes just because I’ve built the world myself.

And that’s a lazy convention I see everywhere I look.  You’ve created the world so the story has to threaten the world.  And that’s fine and I understand why people do it but I just don’t think it’s necessary.  So yeah The Spire, it’s changed from my previous work in the sense that I’ve wanted to do a very intimate story about one woman, and I wanted it to be in an extraordinary and strange world; but, yeah, it’s not a big meta-exploration of story in the same way that an awful lot of my first stuff was.  It’s a story in its own right.  Does that answer your question?

AUSTIN: It does, it does, but I’m not sure it’s all that different.  So, you talk a lot about how a story has to end… not in order to matter, but in order to be…

SI: Its story.

AUSTIN: Yeah, in order to be the story that it is.

SI: Yeah.

AUSTIN: And something that I noticed—I mean, it’s in Six-Gun Gorilla, it’s definitely in X-Men Legacy—actually, X-Men Legacy is probably the best example because here’s an event that if it happened to, say, Scott Summers or someone like this, it would be just this massive, huge deal and have this continuity ripple and that’s kind of what — it’s not just what the readers would care about, it’s kind of… it would be pitched as, here’s what the readers are supposed to care about: the fact that this has this continuity ripple.

SI: Yup.

AUSTIN: And the ending of X-Men Legacy was significant because the biggest impact it had was on itself, on what came before it.  Don’t you think that something that you have been doing is telling these — trying to make the story as intimate as possible and kind of [walling] it off from all the noise?

SI: Well in the case of X-Men Legacy, overtly and perversely yes.

AUSTIN: [laughs] Yeah.

SI: I’ve gone on record saying that I was kind of naughty.  I said, “here is my story,” it’s a character they gave me specifically so that I could tell any story I wanted because, frankly, nobody gave a shit.

AUSTIN: Right.

SI: I don’t want my story to be ret-conned or ignored (which is more likely).

AUSTIN: I mean, it already has been [ignored].  There have been things that have happened where it’s just been like, oh, well, you know, they just acknowledge he exists.

SI: Yeah, well, so, I guess the better way of putting it is that I wanted it to be clear that if someone was going to ignore it, they were ignoring it.  If somebody wants to use that character [David Haller] they either have to just simply ignore everything I did—which, they may—or they have to be clever enough to find a way to bring that character back.  And that’s perverse and not really something you’re supposed to do as a team player.  But it felt like it I was going to play that kind of game, if I was going to be selfish, if I was going to ring-fence my story and try to make it somehow timeless, that was the time to do it.  That character and that artist and that story.

And it worked, and I didn’t put anybody’s nose out of joint that I’m aware of.  If I had tried to do that with Scott Summers, if they had been stupid enough to give me the chance then of course it would have been a very different ballgame and I wouldn’t have been allowed to do it—

AUSTIN: [laughing] Right.

SI: —or it would have been a major issue.  So it felt like the right time to do that.  What’s kind of both good and bad about that is that because of the way I played X-Men Legacy I’ve become—at least as far as Marvel is concerned, or at least as Marvel was concerned—the cerebral weird guy (who does 1990’s Vertigo books for Marvel).  And it’s taken a little while for them to—I mean, even X-Force was sort of the same paradigm and I could bore you with why that turned out the way it did, it wasn’t entirely my intention that it should be the way it was—it’s only now with things like Marvel Zombies and other stuff (that might or might not happen in the future) that I feel like I’m able to say I can also do the character-led stuff the kind of straight-forward action stuff.  Because I look forward to doing that, it’s something I want to prove that I can do.  It’s not my natural home, it’s not my natural habitat, but every time I’ve been given the chance to do it I think I’ve done it pretty well.

To an extent The Spire is not that, it’s not pure action, it’s not people punching each other.

AUSTIN: Of course, it’s more than David flicking his finger and removing Magneto’s helmet.

SI: Precisely.

AUSTIN: That was the special thing about—

SI: Yeah, “should’ve worn a chinstrap.”

AUSTIN: [laughs]

SI: But, The Spire is at least on that continuum.  It is a more straightforward story than something like Six-Gun Gorilla.

AUSTIN: There’s a scene in The Spire, first issue, where Sha is in bed with someone and we don’t see who that is and then it’s kind of, like, unveiled that it’s a woman.  What’s the thinking behind keeping it a mystery and unveiling it like, “surprise!”

SI: Multiple reasons.  I didn’t want — I didn’t want people to assume…  If it had been a big thing if we had said, “hey hey, there’s this great book called The Spire and the central character is a lesbian, aren’t we progressive and cool?!” then I would have felt like that was cheap.

spire lesbians


SI: So, to an extent, the fact that it’s held back is because we didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, it should just be a thing.  That said, it makes sense in rhythm of storytelling to kind of make it a moment and to say “alright, well, just, we’re challenging your expectations.  You might have thought this about this person, but it’s different.”

But then there’s stuff further along in the story which I think—I can’t talk about it—but when it happens I think it’ll make people talk about The Spire a lot.  I think it’s a really big, good, interesting twist way down the pipe which, kind of validates and informs all these decisions that we’re talking about now so I can’t easily tell you [laughs] very much about that.  But yes, I write nothing that I haven’t thought about.  So there’s a reason for everything.

AUSTIN: Yeah, and I didn’t mean to say the scene was like, “OH LOOK, SHE’S A LESBIAN!”

SI: No, no, I know, and here’s the other thing, and this is an interesting conversation in itself: this is the first time in a long time that I have worked with an artist who I consider a very close friend and who I’m able to abdicate responsibility to, in some respects.

When Jeff and I did Six-Gun Gorilla I didn’t know him.  And he was immediately brilliant and we got to know each other and we’ve become very close to the extent that with The Spire for the first time I can remember I’m deliberately leaving gaps in my script and saying, “alright, Sha encounters something here, probably a person, see what you think works.”  And he’ll draw something and then I’ll go back and rewrite the story around it and it often becomes part of the story.

I mention all this in this context simply because what we’re talking about is Jeff’s instinct rather than my instinct.  He felt like it was a nice thing to reveal in the way that he felt.

AUSTIN: Okay.  So, there’s a page — there’s another page in the first issue (I think it was the first issue), it’s right after the murder scene, and it cuts between… there’s that green vine facade face-thing with the wooden eyes?

SI: Oh yeah, yeah yeah yeah, what’s his name… Mr. Wud.

spire eyes

AUSTIN: Yeah [laughs].  Then it cuts between Sha and one of the Sculpted, the Elder, the leader out in the forest.  For your two BOOM! Books eyes have played a really big role.  Could you maybe talk just a little bit about why eyes seem so…

SI: I don’t know, I don’t think it’s conscious.  I think it’s — there’s so many cliches, “windows to the soul” and all the rest of it—

AUSTIN: Sure sure sure.

SI: The Spire being so much about identity — and it really is and, again, this is something that becomes much more apparent later on when we start to… there’s a couple of hints in the first couple episodes about Sha’s ability to change her skin.  And that becomes a big deal.  And I’m interested in the idea that if you can  change your physical appearance how does it affect your psychological understanding of identity.  So, Sha’s people, the Medusi or whatever they’re called, the jellyfish people who live out in the forest — we start to realize that they’re very good soldiers.  Because in their culture you spend five years of your life reshaping yourself to be a blank: they call themselves “Blanks.”  And they’re essentially choosing to erase their own identities.  They have no individuality, they have no gender, they’re just soldiers.

And that — I think, it’s a cool idea, but it’s also a horrible reflection of the fact that that’s kind of how the military works.  The best soldiers are people who have been so dehumanized.

AUSTIN: It’s very Spartan, yeah.

SI: So there’s a lot of that stuff and it relates, in Sha’s case, moreso, to how she operates with other people around her: sexuality, in particular.  And to answer your question, the one thing she can’t change is her eyes.  And it’s like saying, there’s got to be something, there’s got to be one thing that defines you and who you are.  And so all that stuff in the first episode with Mr. Wud and his false eyes, that’s all gratuitous foreshadowing because later on she changes herself to do some things and she needs to have some false eyes to disguise her appearance.

AUSTIN: Yeah, it’s just, it’s something that — I think you and Jeff especially as a team are very good at where… So, you put that moment in as gratuitous foreshadowing but then Jeff, he builds that page just around the eyes; I mean, that whole page is just eyes.  And right before it cuts to the horizontal panels of Sha and then the dude out in the forest, there’s the closeup on Sha and then in the background one of [Mr. Wud’s] eyes is falling off and it’s just so — if the page wasn’t all about eyes you would just kind of be like “ok…”

SI: “It’s just a thing.”

AUSTIN: “… that annoying guy is back there.”  Yeah. But the whole page is just eyes.

SI: Well this is why I trust Jeff’s instinct.  He’s great.

AUSTIN: He really is.

SI: He understands what the story is about and he goes with it.  And there is never a page in The Spire that doesn’t turn out better than I expected it to.  My simple metric is that if I can remember how I imagined the page when I was writing it after I’ve seen the art, then the artist is failing.  And I have no fucking clue what I was imagining when I wrote these pages, because Jeff’s art appears and that becomes the de facto norm.

AUSTIN: I wrote my master’s thesis on — well, part of it was on the syntax of pictorial narratives, and something that I actually cited in my thesis was your Tell, Dont Show post because it was really useful for demonstrating how you can swap out like, individual, sort-of-semantic-equivalent units within the syntax and still kind of have the same thing.  And then you’ve got the Barrage Balloons post right after that.

How cerebral are you about formal things like that while you’re writing?  Do you have to pick apart what you do after the fact?

SI: It’s case-specific.


SI: Normally it’s the case that I operate on instinct.  And when I’m not actually sitting in front of my laptop hitting keys, I spend a stupid amount of time thinking about this stuff.  I do lectures about why comics are the most perfectly distilled and tooled medium for telling stories; which, by the way, is something I believe is fundamentally tied into how humanity understands reality.  I think that we can’t perceive reality without distilling it into these little units of beginning, middle, and end, and I think, for reasons that I won’t go into now because I could talk for an hour, comics are uniquely suited to respond to that human proclivity for seeing the world in terms of stories.

When I’m actually writing, most of the time because all of that stuff is already in [my head] it works the way it works when I’m plotting stuff out.  Occasionally I’ll do wanky showing off and sort of, “alright, I’m gonna do a section here where I…” you know what I mean?

AUSTIN: Sure, yeah.

SI: Which is fine, that’s sort of cool.  It’s rare that that happens and I don’t feel like I’m being gratuitous [laughter].

AUSTIN: Yeah, stepping on your own toes.

SI: But it’s nice to do occasionally.

AUSTIN: I could see… in all of the Crossed examples you used [in your blog post] it was germane to what you were doing in those issues that you were doing some of the technical things.

SI: Yeah, and the slight difference there is that, and I think I probably even said this in that post, everything about the story is already known by the reader.  They know the setup, they know that it’s going to be a horrible, horrifying story about people running away from monsters.

AUSTIN: Right, yeah.

SI: And so you don’t have to spend the time setting up and worrying about the things that you would normally prioritize.  You can instead start saying, “alright, well this is my opportunity to be a little bit experimental with stuff.”  And it’s a nice opportunity to play with these things.

AUSTIN: Alright, let’s jump forward: Cry Havoc.

SI: Yup.

AUSTIN: I’m very excited about it.  I love Ryan Kelly.

SI: He’s great.

AUSTIN: One of the first — when I first started reviewing comics it was only a year ago and they re-released New York Four and New York Five.  They were okay, I’m not really the demographic for that book; but his art, the way he drew New York was just unbelievable, and it blew me away, and I went to see what else he was doing, and I was like, “why aren’t more people hiring him?”  So when he got put onto one of your books I was very excited.

SI: I got him through Kieron [Gillen] because they did that Three book together.


SI: Which is brilliant, by the way and absolutely worth checking out.  But, exactly what you describe: I think Ryan’s joy is in straight lines and architecture and the real world and with Cry Havoc that works in two ways.  It works because there’s a lot of that, and it works because in some scenes he goes in completely the opposite direction.  You may or may not know this but it’s told in three sort of parallel sections.

AUSTIN: Yeah, my next question is going to be about the colors.

SI: So, there’s bits where Ryan is drawing London, he’s drawing hipster bars, and he’s drawing musicians, and then there’s sections where it’s a visual representation of  having incredibly acute senses and it becomes very organic and trippy and the colorists get to have a lot of fun.  And he’s just really really good at doing that thing he’s clearly designed to do, but also going completely off-piste.  And it looks so much better when he throws in a monster, because you’re not expecting it.  This is not the sort of monster book where every other page is some big splash with a big monster jumping out of the page.  It’s the sort of book where it’s incidental and there’s things that just sort of drift into scene and — it’s more disturbing than horrific, I think.

It’s not a horror in the sense that most people with think of it as being a horror, it’s a — I don’t even know what it is, as I was saying before about it really hard to describe things.

AUSTIN: Right.

SI: When I give the first episode of Cry Havoc to people and they say “alright, I’ll read it, but what’s it about?” I can, again, talk for an hour about what it’s about—


SI: When I say to them, “well, you’ve read it now, what did you think it was about?” the distilled version—which is bull shit and I hate this—but clearly it is going to be the thing that we end up using to sell it: ”lesbian werewolf goes to war.”  [laughs] And that’s what the book will be sold along, and that’s kind of fun, you know?  It sounds fun to people.

AUSTIN: I mean, I would read that book, yeah [laughs].

SI: And I hope — it’s the same as Six-Gun Gorilla: people bought it because there was a picture of a gorilla on the front with two guns, “HEY! It’s a book about a gorilla with guns!”  It’s not.

AUSTIN: My friend who runs a comic shop, he’s really into Punisher and stuff like that,and he’s just like, “you would really like that book.”  And I go, “what, you didn’t like it?” and he says, “no, it was too smart for me.”

SI: [laughs] Well I hope Cry Havoc doesn’t do the same.  I think it’s… it’s thoughtful but it’s not like literary difficulty, I’m not deliberately trying to piss people off.  I think if you go into it thinking, “hey, lesbian werewolf goes to war is a good idea” then you’ll enjoy it, but I hope, in the same way as with Six-Gun Gorilla, I hope that you would realize it’s a whole lot more as well.


SI: It’s about — fuck, of course it’s about stories and folklore and all the things that I care a lot about.  So yeah, I’m very excited about that.

AUSTIN: Where did the three colorists decision come from?  Because that’s a very — I don’t want to — ”unconventional” doesn’t really do it justice, it’s unprecedented, I think.

SI: Is it?  Because somebody asked me this yesterday and I’d never heard of it before.  And they said, “is this the first time somebody’s done that?” and I think it’s the first time somebody’s done it deliberately, I’m sure [laughs].

AUSTIN: Right because there’s rotating colorists on titles, etc.

SI: It came from… well, it came from all sorts of things.  It just so happened at the time Ryan and I were putting it together there was a conversation going on in social media about colorists getting the credit they deserve and colorists getting a pretty raw deal when it comes to how much of an impact they genuinely have upon a story, at the same time as we were looking for a way of helping to make a three-thread story less confusing.  To make it as instinctive as possible.  And the simple way of doing that would have been to have three different artists, which I think ends up being too much, you know, it sort of bumps you out of the story, and we just thought well, hey, it’s kind of a nice idea to demonstrate how important a colorist is to a story: by making them the three threads by which these vehicles are differentiated from each other.

And it works brilliantly.  On a really crass level, it’s smart to have more partisan members of your team saying nice things about a book on social media.  We’ve got Matt Wilson and Lee Loughridge and Nick Filardi all carrying our flag for us, whereas it would have just been me and Ryan going, “please buy our book!” and so that’s the sort of — that’s a happy outcome, a happy side-effect

AUSTIN: It’s interesting because I hadn’t thought much about colorists in the short time I’d been reading comics, then I picked up Deadly Class and I loved it, and I realized after finishing the first volume, I was like, “I loved that because of the colors.”  The whole entire reason that the story worked for me was Loughridge.

SI: It makes such a difference.

AUSTIN: We talked a little bit about this already.  You’re the writer who doesn’t want to be branded.  Or at least—

SI: I think.

AUSTIN: [laughs] Right, because that’s the thing!

SI: I go back-and-forth.

AUSTIN: If you become — at what point of not being branded to you become the writer where your brand is, “the brandless writer?”

SI: Well, you may have seen me saying this before, I think—again, having thought about this a great deal, and neither of these is right or wrong, by the way: it’s just two different ways of doing things—


SI: You can either be a writer who stands in front of your stories or you can be a writer who stands behind your stories.  And I know lots of great guys who stand in front of their stories: Warren [Ellis] and Kieron [Gillen], people who identify themselves as part of the experience of reading their work.  You know, you don’t read The Wicked and The Divine without it being part of the Kieron Gillen/Jamie McKelvie experience.  They become part of the experience.

But then, I’m very close with Garth [Ennis] and with Brian K. Vaughan and guys who—whether because they don’t have the patience or don’t care or because they’ve rationalized—don’t want to put themselves in front of the stories.  And they end up having brands because they always come through whether they like it or not, but they are not, as human beings, part of the brand.

I have no fucking idea where I stand in that picture.  I sort of play the game.  I tweet, but I tweet about nonsense, mostly.

AUSTIN: Congratulations on getting married, by the way!

SI: Thank you very much, that’s not nonsense! [laughs]

I think I probably veer towards the latter category, just because I — you know, classic British self-analysis and self-effacing, I feel awkward when I put myself in front of the story; but, then it’s worth saying that a lot of my work has been very meta and I end up writing myself into comics because it feels honest to do so.

So, there’s clearly a part of me that wants to be recognized as a person rather than just within the story.  So I don’t know!  It’s the thing that I go back and forth on: I think about this a lot.  And I haven’t made a decision, and I’m hoping that it just sort of gets taken out of my hands and it just happens, and I think it will.  Every time I have this discussion with any of the big guys who’ve done it all and seen it all they say “stop worrying about that, ya prick, just let things happen.” And they will.

AUSTIN: Yeah, I mean, it sounds like the kind of “rockstar” image would have to be of your own making, but everything else would just fall into place.  Even the rockstar thing for some people just falls into place.

SI: Some people are just naturally — I mean, Kieron’s brilliant.  You see him walking through a crowd, he enjoys it.  I walk through a crowd, “[uncomfortable noise] please don’t look at me,” and that’s just the difference between us.  It’s something to do with earnestness.  He’s a very earnest person.  I’m a cynical horrible person [laughs].  So yeah, I hope it’ll just happen.

AUSTIN: I guess I kinda see you as a writer as David was as an X-Man, just kind of like, “I don’t want this title, but I’m a great X-Man, but—”

SI: There’s a lot of me in him and again, I made a rod for my own back [laughs].  I went, “okay, I’ve been given this great Marvel book: I’m going to do it completely not Marvel and completely…” yeah, I was delighted that [X-Men Legacy] did as well as it did, and very surprised that it did as well — and really fucking cross about the number of people who gave it really stinking reviews to start with, and then when it ended, “aw, it’s a tragedy that it’s ended, why didn’t more people support it?”  You fuckers.

AUSTIN: Well that’s anybody that writes about Marvel books.

SI: I know, but—

AUSTIN: You can’t write about a Marvel book without giving it bad reviews and then saying it’s a shame that it’s over.

SI: Exactly, but there was never any case of, you know, “we were really wrong about this book and it’s taken us this long to realize it was great.”  It was just, from one extreme to the other with no acknowledgment for change in the middle.  But I’m not bitter so it’s fine [laughs]

AUSTIN: [laughs] So just to hop back to the writing in The Spire, in terms of big new things, you’ve got the dedicated character work going on that’s a little more typical but not really that typical because of how you’re structuring it and the world that’s just kinda… it’s like, “Boom! Spire!” which is great.  In terms of like, formal weird things like we were talking about earlier, are there any that have been in The Spire, you’d say, or that are coming up in The Spire?

SI: What, like, formalist stuff?

AUSTIN: Yeah, that are unusual, that you haven’t really used yet?

SI: It’s the book where I have avoided those wanky show-off moments the most.  Partly because I’m collaborating so closely with Jeff that I don’t want to be too harsh with him, I don’t want to say, “okay, here’s a great thing that we’re gonna play with.”

There are some bits.  There’s—episode three in particular—there’s a couple of splash pages which are quite interesting.  I don’t know if you’ve seen episode three yet.

AUSTIN: When they’re going down?

SI: Yeah, now that’s most—

AUSTIN: That is a great spread.

Spire splash

SI: It’s great, and it was a bitch to get the lettering right, seriously.  Because, one thing, Jeff’s very — he reads comics differently from me.  He doesn’t see there being any problem with making the reader’s eye go backwards.  And I resist that.  So, that splash, I did this thumbnail (because it was easier to do a thumbnail than to explain it) and of course I will always say “Jeff you will have a better idea than me so go with your own guts.”

AUSTIN: Right, right.

SI: And he did.  It’s similar, but it’s different, and the different bit is the sort of second tier of contiguous panels where the eye is led in the wrong direction.  And I… I haven’t heard anybody say a bad thing about it.

AUSTIN: I’ve heard a lot of good thing about that page. But it is, it is…

SI: It’s fucked up.

AUSTIN: [laughs]

SI: It shouldn’t work.  The fact that everybody says, “that’s brilliant and clever and well-done you guys” tells me that I was worrying too much about something that — I was probably guilty of not giving my readers enough credit.  And I was worrying that they weren’t going to able to work out what was going on.  But they clearly could.  It’s a great scene as a result.

AUSTIN: Yeah, I think one of the — probably the worst thing about being a formalist is that a lot of the things you agonize about, the average person just… they might like the exact opposite of something that you think is just the worst thing ever.

SI: Yeah.  I think so, but for me, I tend to define the role of writing comics as, the art of disseminating information in a measured, rhythmic way.  So pace is everything.  The difference between writing prose and writing comics is pace.  That simple: space and time, mixed up together, pace.  When people have to stop and work out where their eyes should go next I worry that it’s interrupting their flow, it’s interrupting the pace, and I was wrong in this case to worry because people enjoyed that scene immensely and it was an important emotional scene.  It’s Sha and her girlfriend having serious conversations about serious stuff.

So, yeah, it’s made me reevaluate how much I can get away with.  I think I was veering towards, “oh god, keep it simple, let’s not challenge anybody too much,” but actually I think, the more people have to invest effort in something, the greater the emotional reward, I mean, that’s always been the case.

AUSTIN: I think it really — what happened on that page was important for how it flowed.  If it was just them, you know, dicking around—

SI: Yeah, wandering around the corridor.


SI: I think it made people pay more attention.  And that’s a really smart tool to have learned.  If I can deliberately cause people to have to question the flow of information, then it means they’re reading it more closely than they would otherwise do.

AUSTIN: Last week a book came out, Rich Tommaso’s “Dark Corridor” over at Image, he had several pages—the first one is really striking—where, this woman is running on a rooftop to the right and he put an arrow in.  And then, the action proceeds to the left and he put arrows down to the left and I’m looking at the page and I’m like this is fucking great.  This is so wonderful that these arrows are here but I bet this gave him, just, a conniption that he had to—

SI: It would be interesting to know at what stage the arrows were added.  Whether they there when it was drawn or whether somebody went, “we should probably put some arrows in there.”

AUSTIN: I talked to him and he said he hates using arrows but for some reason on that page it just worked and he uses them a few more times, he uses them in different ways I think that’s the trick is, even pacing your tricks is important.

SI: And, talking formalism, there are some tricks which, when I read them in other people’s work, knock me out of the story.  This is a double-page splash of somebody showing off.  It’s not critical to the story.  It’s not even particularly interesting.  It’s just a gimmick: it’s showing off.  And I’m guilty of that occasionally, and lots of other people are very guilty of that.

AUSTIN: It’s very tempting.

SI: Yeah.

AUSTIN: These artists are very talented [laughs]

SI: It’s writers as well, honestly.  It is knowing that a certain class of journalist will run it.  Because, “hey, here’s an amazing thing that somebody’s experimenting with.”  Well… so?  It doesn’t make the story any better.  It doesn’t really do anything except go, “look, we’re fucking around with comics!” Congratulations, but do it in a way that makes the story better, rather than just doing it for the sake of it.

I say all this with self-deprecation: I’ve done that.  I do that myself all the time because it’s nice to show off.  But I think we need to get better at deploying cleverness in service to the story, rather than the other way around.

AUSTIN: I completely agree.  Another page from the first issue is where Sha is trying to get through to the throne room and, not the guy asking for the papers, but the two guards with the spears,she’s trying to get by and, at the end of the page one of the spears turns into a panel border that she’s peeking through.

spire spears

SI: Yup, that’s all Jeff.  That’s all Jeff.  Yeah, there’s stuff — my favorite sequence in that first episode is a sequence of three panels, and I wrote them as kind of repeat angles where Sha is walking up flights of stairs, and she’s appearing in the same position in each panel but the background changes.  And Jeff just went ahead and he drew three different panels in three different locations, stairs running through them, and Sha appears only twice, over the breaks.  And that’s dicking around with the sanctity of the panel in the most brilliant way possible.


spire panel fuckery

SI: It’s extraordinary and that’s what I mean when I say that when he and I work together, no matter how brilliant I think a script is, it ends up being greater than the sum of its parts because he takes it and he goes, “yeah, this is cool: I’m gonna do something even cooler.”  And it’s wonderful.  So, the thing you described, that’s all him, he’s gone, “there’s a thing crossing the page anyway: it works well as a panel border.”

AUSTIN: Yeah, I couldn’t really imagine you writing in your script, “The spear turns into a panel border!”

SI: You’d be surprised by how many times I do that sort of nonsense [laughs], but no, that was all him.