What was your inspiration for The Wake?
Scott Snyder: Well my inspiration, the moment I thought of it, was I saw a clip about, like an ancient shark of some kind that they found off the coast of Japan. You could probably find it if you look up “ancient shark off the coast of Japan,” you’ll find it.
Snyder: I probably saw it on BuzzFeed. Anyway, it’s really disturbing in the way it’s very serpentine, and it’s dying at the time, so it has this very slow hypnotic creepy kind of movement, and the thing that struck my imagination wasn’t just that it was kinda this monster that no one knew existed, but that it’s so clearly kind of an evolutionary ancestor of a shark, but it doesn’t look like a shark. I thought about a species of man or some off-shoot of the evolutionary tree of homo sapiens that, instead of coming up and developing upwards, went down. Then I found the aquatic ape theory, and it really sparked my imagination.
I was thinking about mermaids. Like what if there’s a creature that inspired all the myths of the sea, and what would its physiology be? What if it had a toxin that made you hallucinate? Then you would begin to think that you saw mermaids, you saw sirens in the cliffs, you saw anything – sea serpents, krakens. So it gave this kind of really huge folkloric potential and sort of monstrously scary, sweeping potential to the creature, to be responsible for all these different myths of the sea. And I knew I had it, you know?
The mermaids are terrifying. Did Sean Murphy design those, or did you have some input on that?
Snyder: I had input on it, but Sean designed them. Actually, in the trade, they are going to include his sheets of designs. He did like twenty different heads, and he just numbered them, and it’s really cool. It’s like one has bigger eyes, one has a smaller nose, one has a bigger jaw… it’s so creepy.
Snyder: He did a lot of work to create the characters. He wanted Marin, the folklorist, to look a little like Carl Sagan, but not too much like Carl Sagan. He wanted Lee to sort of be tough and look outdoorsy and look like a survivalist, and yet at the same time be sort of, almost a klutz when it comes to simple, every-day things that you feel like you’d be able to handle. Someone who’s super-competent in the field as a marine biologist and yet a total spaz in her personal life. He just put a tremendous amount of thought into the character designs and I think they really come to life on the page. From the monsters to the human ones, too.
The charter Meeks sort of reminded me of Kraven the Hunter.
Snyder: Yeah, he’s suppose to be a cross between Kraven and some billionaire industrialist Sean mentioned. I can’t remember what company it is he founded, it could be something as simple as one of the old internet companies like Friendster. I can’t remember. There’s some internet billionaire that wants to build a house like a flotilla in international waters so that it’s unregulated, and then literally you can pretty much buy, sell, do anything cause it’s in no particular jurisdiction. [Note: He was thinking of Pay Pal founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel.]
Snyder: It could be whatever you want! It’s in international waters! Like, what if there’s a guy out there who hunts endangered sea creatures and sells them to the highest bidder? i really fell in love with that character cause he’s so nasty and vicious and also really funny. He’s got a spark of compassion in him that you’ll see coming up. He’s Sean’s favorite, so Sean loves drawing him.
You briefly mentioned the aquatic ape theory. Lee’s scientific explanation for these mermaid creatures is really fascinating. Is that something based in reality?
Snyder: It’s a real theory, but it’s been exploded, you know? It’s not something the scientific community really espouses, but for a while it actually was a theory. It was proposed by a guy who’s actually a knighted marine biologist in Great Britain, so he was a very respected guy, and it was towards the end of his career. People laughed at it but because of his esteem, it sort of rolled forward a bit and other people picked it up. One later permutation of it came out from [Elaine Morgan], who wrote a book about it. I think it’s just called “The Aquatic Ape.” Anyway, that gave the theory some traction.
Snyder: It’s almost like a kind of fantasy, you kind of want to believe in some way that we spent this significant amount of time in the water, just because of the strange, dreamy quality of that. You imagine these early people becoming more human, neurologically, because of eating fish, and the hair falling off and getting the extra layer of fat, and the kinds of things you think of when mammals start living in the ocean. There’s something almost poetic about that.
One of the things that I think is really fun with doing science fiction or horror is the way you’re on the rails – which is real science – for a while, where there really could be marine biologists that go down in a submarine to the bottom of the ocean, and the key is to make it as believable as possible so that when you go onto the crazy tracks, the things that don’t exist like ghost rigs and 100-foot mermaids seem plausible. You need a smooth the transition onto the insane tracks. I feel like I do that a lot.
The Wake reminds me a lot of classic horror films. The characters /even reference classic horror films. Was that something that you kept in mind as you were writing?
Snyder: Very much. I’m a child of the ’80s and I was a huge horror movie buff. There was a video store not that far from here that finally closed like three years ago – it was called The Video Stop. They wouldn’t rent R-rated movies to kids but they would deliver them to your house if you called, so I would call up and rent all the slasher movies.
Some of my favorites were really these claustrophobic horror movies like Alien and The Thing… the kind where you’re in a remote location and you’re trapped with something terrifying. I wanted the first half of this story to really be that. It’s almost like an homage to all the horror movies that we love, but then to sort of flip it, and make it something that’s like an adventure story, in this dark transformed world, and bring it all together with the mythology at the very end in a way that I hope people find surprising.
The characters have called the creatures mermaids – are we still calling them mermaids? What do you and Sean call them?
Snyder: We call them mermaids. Sean calls them creatures a lot of the time. I usually call them mermaids. To be frank, one of the original ideas was to name the book “Mermaid,” or something like that. Just to be an attention grabber, but it wasn’t right. To me, The Wake is a perfect title for it, because all of the meanings of that word are brought to bear on the story – the funereal aspect of it, the morbid sort of aspect of it, the idea of the water, the wake, the tides, and waking up to a terrible truth. All those things I think are part of the story itself.
What are you most afraid of?
Snyder: In the world?
Snyder: When you’re a dad you become most afraid of how vulnerable you are by having a kid. Meaning, you always have something that feels like a vital organ exposed to the world, like walking around and vulnerable. It’s like someone took your heart or something that you need to survive, and decided to give it feet and let it walk around in the universe, and you can’t protect it. It’s not in your body any more. My greatest fear would be that something would happen to my child.
Whatever your response, I was gonna ask if you’d ever considered turning it into a comic book, but that’s sort of what Severed is about.
Snyder: Yeah. I like to just go there. I mean, we were pregnant with our second kid when that was coming out. I was writing about a guy that eats children with sharpened teeth! You have to do those things, it’s the weirdest thing.
One of the weirdest things though is that I can’t watch any true crime show that’s about a kid being hurt or anything, I just can’t watch it. Even a fictional thing about a kid is very hard for me to watch. Ransom or any of that stuff. I get very wound-up. But I can write the most brutal, horrifying stuff about kids getting hurt and it doesn’t phase me. Why is that? I could write it. You can write Joker and not be troubled by that stuff, but you can’t watch it. I think it’s partly just because you’re in control. You know what’s gonna happen. Even when terrible things are happening, there’s an element of playing god over it. In the real world the terrifying thing is the uncertainty of it, that a terrible thing could happen to my child.
You’ve got a couple of creator-owned books, but you also write Batman and Superman Unchained for DC. Which is more challenging to write?
Snyder: They have really different challenges. I’m not trying to dodge the question, but I really wouldn’t say one’s harder than the other. There are different obstacles to each. With Batman, I think the big challenge is keeping things personal and exciting all the times, so that the stories really matter to us and making sure that that level of investment is there for me and Greg Capullo. These are stories that really matter, both to the mythology and to us, as things that speak to our own fears and things that we love about the character. That’s really the challenge, making it relevant to all of us all the time.
With a creator-owned books, the challenge is really the world-building, making something that’s inherently your own exciting to everybody else. It’s almost an inversion of working on Batman. With Batman, you’re looking for a way to make it personal, and with the creator-owned books, it’s personal by nature, so it’s more about making it accessible and fun and exciting and gripping to readers. They balance each other really well in that regard.
Does one feel like it has higher stakes than the other?
Honestly they both do. The legacy of a character like Batman or Superman, I mean, working on those the stakes are obviously extremely high. You walk around New York Comic Con and you see little kids dressed as Batman Those stakes are almost immeasurably, terrifyingly high. But with creator-owned books, the stakes are really high, too, because that’s your real legacy to the world, to do something that matters. I put too much pressure on myself!
It sounds like you really like to stress yourself out.
Snyder: I do. Everything’s always high stakes. I need a drink.