After over a decade of writing some of the highest-profile titles for DC, Scott Snyder is turning his creative focus back to creator-owned comic book titles through his newly launched publishing imprint Best Jackett Press. The inaugural title, published through Image Comics this March, is Nocterra, co-created with artist Tony S. Daniel. Crowdfunded through a successful Kickstarter campaign last year and featuring colors by Tomeu Morey, the comic series has a young woman transport vital goods in her big-rig truck through a world plunged in darkness.
In an exclusive interview with CBR, Snyder teased his upcoming plans for Best Jackett in 2021, how Nocterra shares similar themes with the recently concluded crossover event Dark Nights: Death Metal and the meta-textual message of Nocterra and how it related to the Kickstarter campaign itself.
CBR: You have an entire line of creator-owned titles coming from Best Jackett Press. What made you want to lead it off with Nocterra?
Scott Snyder: The reason I wanted to put this one out first is because it embraces all the things that I love to do. All the other books in Best Jackett — we’re probably going to announce eight or nine of them around late spring all together — they’re all in different stages of productions but they’re all well on their way right now. Some of them you’re aware of: There’s a book with Francesco Francavilla, one with Francis Manapul, one with Tula Lotay. I’m going to do a whole expo to show everything that we’ve been working on in the past year at one time.
But the reason I felt Nocterra was the right one to go out with is it goes right up the middle — no pun intended — in the way that it’s meant to be something that embraces my love of big, bombastic storytelling the way I love to do with DC on superhero books. But it’s also personal the way Wytches was. It’s about the darkness that separates all of us and makes us unrecognizable to each other at this particular moment and the need to overcome that with connection. It’s kind of a book that hits all the bases, like American Vampire, to me where it has all these elements that I love to write about all in one place, whereas some of the other books in Best Jackett are part of the fun of challenging myself that are less-of-center for the way that I’m most comfortable writing.
For example, the book with Tula Lotay is historical fiction; there’s no supernatural elements or horror, it’s just straight-up drama. The book with Francis Manapul is sci-fi, which I really haven’t done much of outside of The Wake; it’s like sci-fi noir. All of these different things push me outside my comfort zone and this one, I wanted to start with that’s right in my comfort zone.
This is everything that I love to do: No tricks, no razzle-dazzle, no all the things I learned over the years to grab your attention or flips the script — all things that I love as ways that stress the writing — I wanted to do something that’s earnest, sincere, heart-on-the-sleeve, character-driven storytelling with a big, epic plot and conflict. It’s done right up the middle with a Spielbergian, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones [style.] I love that stuff so let’s do it and make it like, instead of defying your expectations [about its premise and style,] embracing your expectations with it and tells a story that defies expectations through its quality. Like the storytelling and structure is like comfort food, and the quality of the character-building and world-building and conflict elevates that, and it’s just fun; that was my goal, to flex the biggest muscles in the best way.
Snyder: For me, his art is dynamic, muscular, bold, over-the-top, but it’s also really emotional and character-driven. My favorite stuff by him, when he was doing Detective Comics and Deathstroke, was all those things at once. And we became friends 10 years ago when I started on Batman, he was like a mentor — he was already an industry veteran — and he was kind to me when I was starting Batman in the New 52. We bonded over what we were going to do with the Joker: DC wanted us to kill him or lobotomize him and Tony and I came up with the idea of taking his face off together. And he was like “If I do that, you’ve got to have a story for it!” and I was like “I have a story for it, I promise you!”
So we really became friendly then and we have been circling each other over the years, and we tangentially worked together on stuff like Batman Eternal and stuff like that. Whenever I was in Chicago, I’d look him up and we’d hang out and, when I told this idea about two years ago, he was like “As soon as I’m free, let’s do that!” and there was no other artist I approached about this. His style felt perfect for the priorities of this book and this book, again, is meant to be your kind of favorite summer blockbuster, high-octane horror, real over-the-top fun.
In speaking of character, tell me a bit about the protagonist Val. She really does hit the ground running after the prologue.
Snyder: She was a creation that came really organically and spoke to the priorities of the book so I wanted a character who had experienced darkness in a way that mirrored my own anxiety about it as a kid. When I was a boy, my fear of the dark all had to do with my own struggles with anxiety because, in the dark, any one of your fears could be real and material. That’s why I created the Dark Multiverse for DC, and it takes a lot to debunk those [fears] when any one of them could be living in the shadows. Anxiety, to me, is the experience of not being able to quell fears that are irrational or have a lot of evidence against them as real possibilities.
I wanted a character who had gone through something like that so I had this idea for someone born with these severe cataracts and had spent the first part of her life in the dark. And Tony also really wanted somebody with a background that, I think, spoke to some of his own heritage and wanted her to be part of a family but looking out for somebody else. He’s the father of daughters, so he wanted to bring in a more protective element, and so we kind of built together: She grew up outside the States, and then she came here and suddenly had this surgery that allowed her to see everything but doesn’t trust it. She never trusted it and it feels suspicious while protecting her adopted brother. All of that stuff kind of came from both of us. I love her design, and I hope the fans love her as much as we do.
Is that an extension of the childhood fears and anxieties you had that helped inspire you in work like Death Metal with Perpetua and the Darkest Knight?
Snyder: Yeah, as you make your way through the phantom of anxiety — and it’s not just anxiety, it’s the mindset you find yourself in when you’re isolated — you follow conspiracy theories and look at things through a funhouse mirror maze of things that are only reflecting things that are warped, parallel things you already think of yourself back at yourself. And that can be terrifying when you’re in a bad place in your mind and can only think that things are going to only end poorly. It can be weirdly invigorating when you’re in a place that’s full of bizarre theories that are empowering to you, but it all isn’t real.
Those are kind of truths to the material world that exists outside of it, and the only way out of it is to connect with each other, to find each other on those dark roads, to find that common ground. So the world [of Nocterra] is very representative of the way I felt as a kid, but it’s also sending this message to my own kids now about the world today. It’s literally a book about a darkness that transforms us into monsters because we’re isolated from one another and, if we don’t stay together, we can become unrecognizable creatures.
Last year you successfully Kickstarted this book, and it was your first Kickstarter campaign. I was wondering if you could speak to that experience and why you wanted to do it for this?
Snyder: There were two reasons: One was pragmatic in that we really wanted to make sure that we had money in the bank to do the book, regardless of what happened with COVID — if there was another shutdown, if there was no vaccine — all of it, it was a very uncertain time back in February and March. And there was a sense not to lean on Image or strain any indie publisher to do books if we could get the money ourselves and to be able to do it in an honest way. Also, whatever surplus I could make from it would help the other books on Best Jackett. The extra money I made from the Kickstarter is going directly to Chains, the next book I’m doing at Image with Ariela Kristantina.
But the more exciting reason to us was to be able to show people the real process by which we were making the book because the book is about finding each other in the dark and collaborating to overcome challenges. And the idea of making a book where you’d be able to get my scripts and see that it reads this way but, when you get the final product, it’d be wildly different. My hope is you can see the whole process of how creatively we built something like this and how collaborative it is, with Tony’s art changes from my scripts and then the way what you actually see changes from what’s collected edition, is all part of the experience of how this is the way a comic is made in my opinion; a totally shared experience.
That’s the reason I didn’t give away my scripts in the past: I didn’t want anyone to think there’s a template. The whole goal, when I teach classes at DC or at different schools over the years, the thing I really try to impart to incoming writers is that, if you can stress yourself to do it, the best way is to go to your artist and ask how they like to work and adjust to that. If they like to work to full script, you do that, and if they like to work to outlines, you do that; you manage that because you’ll get the best out of them, and it’ll become the better if you do it in a shared way. The book’s story is about that sort of ideology of collaboration and collectivism be the way through difficult times, so we wanted the Kickstarter to be a part of that whole narrative about the book because it felt sincere.
After helming major events at DC since the start of Rebirth, how is it to go back to focus on working on creator-owned titles?
Snyder: It’s fantastic! I can’t honestly say enough good things about the plans at DC. I spoke with Marie Javins and Daniel Cherry yesterday, and the plans they have and the mission statement DC has going into 2021 are the best I’ve seen in the 11 years I’ve been affiliated with that company. I genuinely feel fantastic about the future of DC, the creators they’re bringing in, the way they’re embracing emergent talent, the way they’re empowering editors; all of it feels really exciting and I have big stuff coming back there at the end of the year, 2021 into 2022.
But to have a year to focus on my own stuff and get all this up and running out the door, and to have the support from Marie and all these other people to do that, feels fantastic. I love being my own boss and I wake every morning with more work than ever on all these books simultaneously but they’re staggered, so many of them have a lot written already over the past year. I really can’t wait until late spring when I can open the curtain and say “This is what Best Jackett is, I really hope you enjoy it.”
Written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Tony S. Daniel, Nocterra #1 goes on sale March 3 from Image Comics.
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