Filed under: Interviews | Tags: berniewrightson, lenwein, STEVENILES, Swampy, swampy thing
The DCnew52 has been a mixed bag of comics all of varying quality. Controversies, cancellations and second wave titles aside it is no secret that the books giving DC and their readers their best are titles from the ‘Dark’ stable, Swamp Thing and Animal Man particularly. Jeff Lemire, writer of Animal Man, has taken the mantle of DC golden boy as he moves from his inroad ‘Sweet Tooth’ at Vertigo to multiple books at DC proper. Scott Snyder is currently at the helm of both Swampy and Batman where he is currently penning the ‘Court of Owls’ saga which is being heralded as one of the best modern Bats stories ever.
It is Snyder’s contribution to the ongoing Swamp Thing saga that I am interested in. Swampy as both a character, traditional horror comic and an analysis of ever evolving relationships of connectivity have made a lasting impression both upon myself and my expectations for comic books, irrespective of genre.
My first experience with Swampy was entirely resultant of wonderful chance and idle browsing in Glasgow’s ‘City Centre Comics’ after discovering there were no new Blue Beetle issues for me to read. Non consecutive issues from towards the end of Alan Moore’s run and several from Nancy A. Collins’ stint were my starting point. Although these writers give two very different interpretations of the Swamp Thing they were sufficient to get me seriously interested. Cue up a few issues from Rick Vietch and I was hooked.
Volume 1 of Swampy was one of the last points in the saga for me to get involved with, mainly due to the cost and scarcity of the issues here in the UK (I’m late to the tpb party) and also I don’t believe the latter half of the volume has been collected, but please correct me if I’m wrong. I came back from the USA last summer with the entire first volume and steadily devoured them.
Wein and Wrightson created a comic book that is both in every sense traditional, whilst at the same time truly groundbreaking. Wein plays with narrative in an inventive fashion which allows you to experience the story from angles other writers would overlook. Of course, no one, and I mean no one, draws darkness like Bernie. Whether its a desolate Scottish moor, Swampy’s gnarled and overgrown form or the eerie face of a clockwork loved one half forgotten there is a sweeping edge to his lines that draws the eye further and further into each panel until you are completely immersed.
I had the immense pleasure of conducting a short interview with Bernie when he was in the UK for the London Super Comic Con in February. I asked him what he thought of Swampy’s long lasting appeal:
I have no idea (why swampy has such an enduring appeal) I think, I think maybe it’s the flexibility of the character. It seems like every creative team that has worked with that has put their own stamp on it and it has become part of the characters mythos over the years and it keeps changing and evolving
I haven’t seen the new swamp thing (Snyder’s) but the stuff I have seen over the years, the really remarkable thing abut it for me is that It all seems to work. It’s all good stuff. And I can’t think of another character that anyone is able to do that with. Someone like superman, batman, are bound by very strict rules of conduct and history and behaviour and everything and swamp thing just kind of grows as a plant should.
Undoubtedly Swampy has been best served by the excellent start given to him by Wein and Wrightson. There have been several dips in quality throughout the characters long life, most noticeable, in my opinion, was Andy Diggle’s run. I wondered what Bernie Wrightson, a noted master of horror, would list as the key ingredients for a successful horror comic. He was refreshingly to the point with his answer:
It should be scary, or funny, or both. Mostly just entertaining.
Swamp Thing made history by being the first comic book to disregard the Comics Code Authority and write specifically for adults. This ushered in a season of change for the entire comic book industry. I queried with Bernie how he felt the industry has changed since he started out, with particular regard to his autonomy as a creator:
I have over the years gained a lot more autonomy than when I started. When I was first getting into the business I was a good little boy and did whatever they told me. Over the years I’ve kind of outlived all those old editors and publishers and everything and I’m kind of a big old bear in the forest now and I come along and it’s like ‘oh what do you wanna do Bernie’? And it’s like well I do whatever I want.
Bernie has reached a point in his career where he is clearly a much sought after artist who no longer has tow any party line. He can work with creators of his choosing and it is in these partnerships where he creates some of his best work. For example his work with Steve Niles, recently showcased in IDW’s oversized ‘Monstrous Collection of Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson’. Luckily, we can expect more from the pair in the near future.
Right now I’m working with Steve Niles on a sequel to Frankenstein – it will be a 12 or 13 issue miniseries from IDW. It’s all in black and white and it begins where the original novel ends where the monster is drifting away on a block of ice and we just kind of picked the story up from there. I’m drawing and inking. I have had a great time working with Steve. Steve can do anything. We’ve done some stuff that is genuinely creepy and we’ve also done some horror that is hysterically funny and I love working with him. He listens to my ideas which for a writer is extraordinary. We have a really really great collaborative relationship. And we’re good friends.
‘Frankenstein Alive, Alive!’ should be due out soon. Meanwhile, you can get the current Swamp Thing, monthly from DC. We’ve reviewed several issues of it here at Comics Anonymous (issues #1,#2 and #7) and it really is great. I will most probably be talking more about Swampy in the near future because I love it.
All photos courtesy of Fiona Watson Photography.
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