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September 27, 2011

Stephen King: ‘One of the best writers of all time’?

Posted in: Comics

kingvampire Stephen King: One of the best writers of all time?

Stephen King wrote five issues of Scott Snyder's "American Vampire" (Mark Lennihan / Associated Press and Vertigo Comics)

Scott Snyder, a rising star in comics, worked with horror writer Stephen King on American Vampire,” Snyder’s ongoing Vertigo series. Hero Complex contributor Travis Walecka caught up with Snyder to chat about the series, about horror in general and about King, who today announced “Dr. Sleep,” a sequel to “The Shining,” in a three-part interview. In Part One of the interview, Snyder talked about “Swamp Thing,” one of two revered titles under DC’s relaunch. His second title, “Batman,” is the topic of Part Two of the interview. This is Part Three, the final installment.

TW: Horror plays a big role in your books. Where did you get this wild imagination?

SS: I don’t know, man. I feel like I watched too many horror movies as a kid. Growing up in Manhattan on East 23rd Street, there was a video store called the Video Stop on 26th Street on 3rd Avenue. They wouldn’t let a kid rent R-rated movies, but if you ordered them to your house, they would deliver them. So I used to watch “Friday the 13th,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Halloween,” “Pumpkinhead,” all those “Night of the Living Dead” movies, everything. I was just a huge fan. I don’t know if it was just watching the popular kids get killed, or I was just into special effects for a while — all the Rick Baker stuff. I’ve always grown up with horror stories in my DNA, I guess.

For the most part, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately because now I have kids, when I see something scary for them or when I read something about kids getting hurt, I can’t even really deal with it. When I write it, I can easily write about somebody eating a kid. No problem at all when I’m doing it. I’ve been thinking about it, and for me, really, really good horror is a character being challenged by sort of their greatest fear as it manifests itself in the form of either a monster or just a challenge. It really cuts to the heart of what that character is just afraid of. The story matters in that way, especially in comics, where you are taking these characters that are so heroic and have so many amazing qualities, and then going for something that you think is a great quality but also going for the weak side of that thing.

batmanjoker Stephen King: One of the best writers of all time?

An image from Scott Snyder's "Batman." (Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion / DC Comics)

TW: Can you give us some examples from the superhero world?

SS: For Superman, it’s almost like the fact that he’s a god, or almost a god, in terms of his limitless power can also be something that you could write a story about in a way that really frightens him about being completely alienated and lonely and turned upon by everyone. Or, for Batman, his knowledge of Gotham, his pathological and obsessive needs to not have connections to people and just be the best there is. You could easily do a story where that’s thrown in his face by somebody like the Joker who’s calling him crazy and saying, “You should live in the Asylum with us.” At that point the Bat-world is like Stephen King; it puts you in a situation where you face your fears, where there are terrible things you did … or the things that you don’t want to tell anyone about, but that you’re frightened of that are coming from life and coming for you in some way. In that way, I’ve always been a big fan of psychological horror. Or, it might just be that I watched too many of those slasher films in the ’80s.

TW: Did Stephen King influence your writing?

SS: Yeah, he’s a huge influence. When I was a kid, my folks sent me to a sleep-away camp for eight weeks, pretty much every summer for a while. But the first summer I went — I guess I was 7 or 8 — it was sort of an athletic camp, and I was sort of a chubby arts-and-crafts kid. I wasn’t particularly thrilled. Wasn’t quickly picked for teams and stuff like that. The counselor I had there in our bunk would read us a section from Stephen King’s fantasy novel, “The Eyes of the Dragon” every night. And he started on the first night of camp and ended on the last night of camp. That was the highlight of my day all through that summer. I’ll never forget. It was just magic listening to that story little by little unfold, with Flagg and Roland and all those characters. Stephen King played a big part in my wanting to become a writer, and he’s one of my favorite writers now too.

american vampire 22 Stephen King: One of the best writers of all time?

Cover art for "American Vampire" No. 22. (DC Comics)

TW: What was it like working with King on “American Vampire”? How did that collaboration come about?

SS: Working with him is a joy. How that came out was really weird. He read some of my stories and wrote a blurb for my short story collection after he had read them. I was just incredibly honored and thrilled. And then when I got “American Vampire” through at Vertigo and it was greenlit, they basically asked me if I would be willing to ask Steve King to do a blurb. After sending him the outline, he said, “Well, I’ll do you one better. I’d love to write an issue sometime, because I really love that character Skinner.” And I was like, “Well, if I tell them you want to write an issue they’re going to want you writing.” He was like, “Nah. They probably won’t because I never wrote a comic, and I don’t know if I’m any good. I don’t think they’ll really want me to do it.” I was like, “They’ll definitely want you to write that comic. I promise.” So, I called them on like a Friday and left a message: “I think Steve’s going to want to say he’s willing to write an issue.” Monday morning it was a call from the whole office: “Did you say Stephen King said he would be willing to write a whole issue of ‘American Vampire?’”

I wrote him a real tight outline — I thought with “Under the Dome” coming out and all this stuff that he would be really preoccupied. And one of the most inspiring things about working with him was that when he got on the book, he immediately began to outgrow that outline and didn’t really want to work from it, but worked from the bible of the characters. He didn’t do anything that was antithetical or at odds with what we had set off for the character. But he took those characters based on what we had said about them, and they were much richer and farther along, much more extreme in the best way and pushed them to their limit. It was so exciting to see.

TW: He ended up writing more than one issue.

SS: King would email me saying, “I wrote a little bit more,” and “I wrote a little bit more,” and “I wrote a little bit more.” And I was realizing that he must have had two or three issues at that point. Then, when I saw he had three issues, I told him, “Why don’t you just go five. I mean, you have more to say. It’s all crammed in there.” And so he did five issues, and I did five issues and we just set them up back to back. That’s when I had this panic attack where I was like, “What have I done? I had just invited one of the best writers of all time to write next to me on my very first comic book. I have completely torpedoed my whole career. How could I have been so stupid?” I did so many drafts of my early stuff on “American Vampire” just to be able to approximate the quality of what he was doing. It was a huge honor and a thrill, and he couldn’t be a nicer guy. He always has an open door on “American Vampire,” obviously. We’re eternally grateful for him contributing so much to the series.

— Travis Walecka


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