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High Octane, Bombastic Horror - Scott Snyder Talks Nocterra

Interview conducted by James Ferguson

Scott Snyder and Tony S. Daniel hit Kickstarter last year to fund a special edition of Nocterra #1, their new creator-owned project. This week, the standard edition of the comic debuts in the direct market from Image Comics. After a mysterious event plunged the world into darkness, what remains of humanity fights for survival and light. If you lose the light, you just might lose yourself. I got a chance to speak to Snyder about the project, the characters that inhabit this world, and even a little about Batman.

"FULL THROTTLE DARK," Part One-Ten years after the world is plunged into an everlasting night that turns all living creatures into monstrous shades, the only way to survive is to stay close to artificial light. Enter Valentina "Val" Riggs, a skilled ferryman who transports people and goods along deadly unlit roads with her heavily illuminated eighteen wheeler.

James Ferguson: When we last spoke, the Kickstarter for a special edition of Nocterra #1 was just beginning. It's clear after reading it that that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Scott Snyder: My hope is that people get to read both and see how much it's changed. They can further follow the process that way and get to enjoy the transparency of the whole thing.

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JF: You had a stellar Kickstarter campaign for a special edition of Nocterra #1. Now that the book is hitting the direct market, how has the response been? Do you think it would have been any different had you not done the Kickstarter?

SS: I don't know. It's the first time Image wanted to try something like this. It's totally new ground for us. I think the benefits of the Kickstarter on our end, one the one hand, it was such a great community to become a part of. To see it become so celebratory and supportive, it was an inspiring experience in and of itself. From a more practical standpoint, it raised a lot of awareness about the book so that hopefully, the groundwork will have already been laid for people to know about it. On another level, it protected us against the pandemic and any kind of economic volatility so we had the money in the bank to make the book regardless. We didn't have to lean on Image or anyone else to be able to do it. It's helping fund other books on Best Jackett for me.

It was a great experience overall. It was way more work than I thought. My hope is that it will bring more people to the book. It's designed as a real big fun passion project. Some books I do are more experimental or darker than others. This one to me, is everything I love to do in the super hero world and everything I love to do in the indie world mixed together in one place.

JF: It's funny you say that some books are darker than others as I'm sure Nocterra is a little darker than most because of the premise of the book.

SS: It's definitely horror, but Wytches to me has the kind of horror that is extremely challenging and upsetting from the go. This one is more high octane, bombastic horror in a fun way too. It's a personal book. I wanted it to be something that really grabbed you from the beginning, while also overwhelming you with how fun it is.

JF: There's been a rise of action horror or horror thriller. You can have both in the genre. Horror has experimented with sci-fi and comedy and now it's action's turn. That's kind of where this can sit. Speaking of the darker moments, I love the name of the event “The Big PM” and how time changes afterwards with people referring to the year not as BC or AD, but as PM, like it's 3 PM, means it's three years after. How did you decide on this name?

SS: We talked about it as part of the title originally. The whole point with this book was to create a world people could lose themselves in. That's the engine for all the creator-owned stuff I'll be doing in 2021. I wanted it to be something that could keep going for a long time. That meant creating a really immersive world, mythology, ecosystem, and characters. We wanted to announce from the beginning that we had thought a lot of things through, like what solar lamps do, weapons like sizzlers and pops that use phosphorus, and how long it takes for Shades to turn into monsters. A lot of the fun was coming up with language and terminology for this world. The Big PM is the darkness that's hit the earth and it's changed everything into a monstrous version of itself if the living creature is left unlit for too long. It changes plants and the whole ecosystem. It's almost like a whole world blooming in the dark that doesn't want to have anything to do with us. It's a lot of fun.

One of the things that Tony is so good at is the world-building aspects. The characters in the book do whatever they can to keep themselves illuminated so they don't change. Those that can afford them have these super cool LED suits. Some have lights strung around their battery pack outfits. Others have candles and torches. It leads to all of these really fun character designs.

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JF: I saw some with Christmas lights on them and others that looked like they were going to a rave so it's a pretty wide variety. Regarding the characters, how would you describe Val as Nocterra begins?

SS: I really love her. Her call sign is “Sun Dog.” She's been a trucker since she was a kid. What I love about her is that she's a blend of things that Tony and I both wanted to bring to the hero of the book we did together. For me, Nocterra really started with my own fear of the dark as a kid. I had a really huge problem with it. It wasn't just waking up in the middle of the night and being scared. I realized later it had a lot to do with issues with anxiety I've dealt with my whole life, even as an adult. The issue with anxiety and depression is that when you're experiencing them, all your worst fears not only seem possible, but probable, likely, and urgent. Your body is telling you that these are happening right now. There are alarm systems going off all the time. The dark is the perfect place for all of that to breed and breed and breed.

I wanted to do a book where the protagonist had lived in a world of darkness like that and experienced that in a literal and material way for a long period as a kid. She's come out of it and has been scarred by it. She worries that that world she lived in as a young girl was the real one, a world of cruelty and lack of compassion. That was the real world and this one, that seems like a paper thin sunlit thing, is the fake one. She's got a lot of me baked into her DNA.

Tony, as a dad with daughters, wanted to give her someone who she was intent on protecting, even in the wrong way. We built Emory in a similar way how it's tempting right now as parents to look out for your kids where the world is so uncertain, threatening, and precarious that you almost want to teach them to be too tough. You want to tell them not to be hopeful as it leads them to be vulnerable to the world. That's really what the book is about. We need to be hopeful and find each other in the dark if we're ever going to overcome this horrible situation that separates us and changes us into these things we don't recognize.

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JF: You mentioned one thing I want to pick into a bit, that there's a bit of yourself in Val. How often do you do that with the characters you write. Is it tougher with someone like Batman? How often do you approach a character like that?

SS: Always. It's honestly the only way to write Batman, to write your fears into the book so he can take them on in a way. He works through them with you. When writing Batman, the Joker in particular would come into the book and say “I know what you're afraid of” and what he'd say was an extension of one of my deep fears. In “Endgame” or “Death of the Family”, we were pregnant with our second kid at the time and I was afraid of being a father so Joker says “You don't want to be a family man anymore. You want to go back to me and you. You've become slow and old. I know what you want. You want your family to die.” So it's very personal. You write yourself into the books all the time. Otherwise, with 75 or 80 years of history, you can't write anything original. It's the only want to make it something special.

With creator-owned, it's born of all that. With super heroes, it's an inverted system where it's all built. You're coming in to make it personal. With this. Nothing is built so every aspect is personal. Everywhere you look is something that's born of your hopes and fears and everything. It's all created from your own imagination.

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JF: People stuck out in the darkness for too long turn into monsters with an infection that starts in the gums of all places. Why the gums? That just freaked me out.

SS: It's so intimate and personal and creepy. When you go to the doctor and they check your ears, it's so invasive. You don't think of those things. Your subjective experience of the world is so close to them. It's like you're a little thing operating a giant machine from a control room. Those things – your gums, ears, eyes – they're right on the controls. It feels like you're right by the windshield of this thing you're trying to manage all day. There's something so intrusive about that. “I need to see your gums” or “I need to look in your ear.” It felt right. This thing has creeped into your system and it's right there next to your experience of the world.

JF: What do you hope fans get out of Nocterra?

SS: I just hope that they enjoy it. We can't thank everybody enough for being so supportive. The initial sales are far beyond what we hoped. Ultimately, what I wanted to do this book for was to make something that was personal and embraced all my love for epic widescreen storytelling from super hero comics with something we can keep going for a long time. We can explore and have the engine for a lot of storytelling that will take us into the future. We want people to enjoy the world and feel like it's theirs. It's something they can live in, both in fear and enjoyment for a long time. We're really grateful and I hope people enjoy it as much as we loved making it.

Horror DNA would like to thank Scott Snyder for taking the time to speak with us. Nocterra #1 is set for release on March 3rd, 2021.

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About The Author
James Ferguson
Lord of the Funny Books
James has a 2nd grade reading level and, as a result, only reads books with pictures. Horror is his 5th favorite genre right after romantic comedy and just before silent films. No one knows why he's here, but he won't leave.
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