Posted by Decapitated Dan |

Deep Discussions with Decapitated Dan: Simon Spurrier pt. 2

I recently had a chance to talk to Simon Spurrier about his work on Crossed from Avatar Press. Check it out:

Decapitated Dan: Hey Simon thanks for coming back and this time talking to me about Crossed . First of all let’s talk about you. Who are you and what do you do? How did you find yourself getting into making comics?

Simon Spurrier: Simon “Si” Spurrier, London based novelist and comicsist.  Which isn’t a word, but should be.

“Narrative wetworks” is what it says on my Twitter profile page, which takes up slightly less room than – but is synonymous with – “extremely pompous writer.”

I’ve a passel of novels under my belt – the most recent was A Serpent Uncoiled – and more comics than you can shake a longbox at. Probably best known for my Marvel work (I’m the ongoing writer on X-Men Legacy), but exceedingly proud of my creator owned work: Six-Gun Gorilla, Numbercruncher etc.

DD: Before we fully dive into it, where can we find the Crossed Web Comic online? Why take Crossed online and do a web comic version? How did it all come about?

SS: The ongoing webcomic Crossed: Wish You Were Here can be found through the access portal, although if you want to start at the very beginning – we’re up to a whopping 816 free online pages, which is slightly insane – it’s probably easiest to start with the list of episodes and just plough in:

Crossed started life as a miniseries written by the great Garth Ennis and illustrated by Jacen Burrows – I’ll come back to the what-it’s-all-about part in a moment. That mini was so fabulously successful that Garth and Avatar decided to invite other writers to contribute their own self-contained stories set in the same world; part of the beauty of the Crossed concept is that it’s a global event – you can literally pick any person in any place and tell their story, without intruding onto any other writers’ tales.

So whilst all that was going on William Christensen – Avatar EIC – approached me to do a webcomic set in the same world. The company had had a huge success with Warren Ellis’s Freakangels, which followed roughly the same publishing model (ie: free weekly episodes followed by a retail print version), so they knew that could work. (Actually, by that stage I’d already started work on the other free webcomic Disenchanted, which has only just launched this week, so we switched round some launch dates and ran with the Crossed story first.)

Creating such a longform story in a world so preoccupied with tension (and releases of tension) naturally changed the game somewhat – it’s about very carefully controlling the mood and drip-feeding those peaks of horror and surprise, rather than just throwing everything at the story in a relentlessly-escalating curve – but it’s been a huge, huge success.

DD: So what can you tell me about Crossed: Wish You Were Here? What’s it all about? What are you hoping readers can take away from WYWH?

SS: The basic conceit behind Crossed (and this is the over-simplified version I give curious browsers at the Avatar booth during conventions) is that it’s set in a world where psychopathic sadism is contagious.  Anyone infected develops the cruciform rash on their face and begins to act out their most violent, most brutal, and most deviant desires. So the world has basically ended – it’s a post-apocalyptic survival story.

The slightly more considered version is that it’s horror at its purest and most culturally valuable, in the sense that it sets out to horrify its readers about things which are genuinely and unequivocally horrific. There’s simply nothing more frightening that what People Do To People. Crossed isn’t just some mutation of the oh-so-fucking-tired Zombie genre: it’s a contemplation upon what happens when humanity is stripped of all its fragile veneers of morality and culture. As Garth often says, if you think Crossed is egregiously “sick” then you’re not watching the news.

Wish You Were Here shifts the formula slightly. Whereas most of the other Crossed stories revolve around groups of survivors on the run, trying to stay alive day-by-day, Wish You Were Here revolves around a small community which has stopped running. They’ve found a little island off the coast of Scotland and they’re determined to make a go of it: defending it, farming it, building a future. They’re totally fucking doomed, of course, and most of them know it, but still.

So as well as the requisite tension and instances of really extreme horror, WYWH plays a lot with themes of community, politics and morality.

DD: Who are the main characters?

SS: Too many to list (we started with 24, which have been whittled down and topped-up in equal amount), though the whole thing is very much built around the diary of the “central” character, Shaky. It’s no secret that he’s based – or at least was based, at the start – on a fictionalised version of me. We first meet him sitting in a coffee shop in London, writing comics, when the whole world goes wrong. I was actually in that cafĂ©, writing that scene. Very weird.

If that all sounds desperately meta, don’t worry. I simply felt that in order to do justice to a speculative scenario like this, it was important to try and be honest about one’s reactions and responses. The further Shaky has strayed from that point, the more different to me he’s become. Ultimately the whole “writer” aspect of his character has engendered some really interesting character stuff. After all: what’s the good of a writer without an audience? What exactly is he useful for, after the end of the world. The answer, depressingly, is that’s he very good at being a scheming little shit.

DD: Do you have more planned for WYWH? Can we expect you to be the writer on it for the foreseeable future?

SS: There’s a very definite ending in mind, and always has been. I’m a firm believer that stories aren’t stories unless they have endings – whether those endings are temporary, modular or oh-so-very-final.

But don’t worry, there’s still a ways to go yet. And Crossed, remember, is one of Avatar’s strongest brands: we’re not going to be stepping away from that world any time soon.

DD: Let’s jump to Badlands. As a reader of Badlands, I just finished your latest story arc (#37-#39. Personally I thought it was very different then most of the other arcs. How did you come up with the very cinematic concept for this arc? What was a big stand out with this arc was the wording of the narrator in the gutters. Has this been a technique you have used before?

SS: My feeling’s pretty simple on that: when you’ve got a concept as simple and flexible as the one which underpins the Crossed Universe, you quickly realise you don’t have to keep telling stories about that. It doesn’t have to be about “the disease” per se; it can be about characters behaving in certain ways as a result of this Different World.  In my previous Badlands arc (eps #19 and #20, I think) I was interested in what it might be like for two star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of this apocalyptic event – so, a story “about” love and loss and betrayal, rather than “about” the Crossed plague. This time round I caught myself in a very nihilistic mood: I wanted to tell the exact opposite of a heroic, upbeat, survival-against-the-odds sort of tale. The idea of two characters on a really dark quest – to kill themselves in the most perfect way possible – arose pretty quickly. The rest suggested itself in due course: a twisted take on the buddy-movie, with two very different characters, on a road-trip. That threw up the notion of different types of itinerants: a biker and a beatnik. Like most ideas, it’s just a case of assembling things bit by bit, according to the ingredients you want to use. I have to say, even I surprised myself with how on-the-nose I chose to end that story. Like I said, I was in a very nihilistic mood.

As for the narrative style, the beauty of Crossed is that you can use these comics as a way of experimenting because the central concept is so familiar by now. You can do things you couldn’t get away with anywhere else, because you’d be too busy establishing the rules of the world and all the rest of it.

With the Badlands arc you’re describing, just like with the Crossed Annual I wrote earlier in the year and the Crossed Special I did more recently, I simply took the opportunity to muck about with the narrative rules which make comics such an exciting medium – establishing an intrusive narrative voice to give the whole thing a pleasingly “mythic” vibe.  I wrote a far more in-depth explanation of all this stuff over on my tumblr, for those interested:

DD: What do you like about working on Crossed titles?

SS: As above, really: the endless opportunity to experiment.

What is the most horrific thing that has happened to you while working on anything Crossed related?

SS: Oh, I dunno. I get accused of all kinds of things by well-intentioned people who haven’t read the material and hence assume it’s just a festering bowl of gratuitous violence and sex. You must be sick! You must hate women! You must hate men! I’ve developed a host of pretty well-reasoned arguments for Crossed actually being the most culturally valuable expression of the horror genre you’ll ever see, but it doesn’t always stick. Some people will be outraged because they’re outraged, and reason doesn’t much come into it.

But as for horrific things which’ve happened to me while working on it? I guess… there was a pretty nasty sense of dissonance at the beginning of Wish You Were Here, when the central character was still identifiable with my own life. There’s one very uncomfortable scene during which he/I makes several phonecalls to members of his family, hearing all kinds of obscene things along the way. That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever written.

DD: So in summary give me a quick recap on Crossed and why fans should give it a try.

SS: Because it’s smart, tense, carefully-considered horror done right.

DD: Thanks so much for your time Simon.