[Interview] James Tynion IV Talks Political Horror In ‘The Eighth Seal’

the_eighth_seal01_01_000-1100x660

As soon as I heard that James Tynion IV’s “The Eighth Seal” was described as “Rosemary’s Baby meets The West Wing“, I knew it was something I had to check out. James Tynion IV has been tearing it up at DC Comics over the past few months, writing titles such as “Talon” and “Red Hood and the Outlaws”, and now he’s got a new horror series at Thrillbent that you can read absolutely free of charge.

If you’ve read any of Tynion IV’s work, it’s obvious that he has a deep love for horror, but with “The Eighth Seal”, he’s finally exploring the genre in the fullest. James sat down to chat with Bloody-disgusting about his new series, why you should check out Thrillbent, and his love for horror. Read the interview below and check out the first chapter of “The Eighth Seal”.

BD: Can you give us the low down on your new series, The Eighth Seal, from Thrillbent?

Tynion IV: The Eighth Seal is a visceral psychological horror story wrapped in a political conspiracy thriller, taking place right in the heart of American power… Washington DC. The story focuses on Amelia Greene, who is struggling through a very public life. That struggle is made infinitely worse by the horrifying visions that come and go with no warning, oftentimes while she’s making a public appearance. She feels like she’s losing control of her life, and her mind. But deep down, as much as she tells herself that it’s all in her head, she knows there’s some dark truth to the visions. She knows something much bigger is going on. That’s where our story begins, and it’ll ratchet up from there significantly.

We’re a monthly book, with chapters going up for free on Thrillbent.com the last Tuesday of every month. For people interesting in getting the next chapters early, we have special advance copies available two weeks before they go live on the Thrillbent website on ComiXology and ComicsPlus for $0.99. The incredible Jeremy Rock, who worked with Thrillbent on the short comic story, Luther, last year, draws the series. He’s brought the horror of the story to life expertly, with the incredible atmosphere provided by colorist Nolan Woodard, and letters by Troy Peteri. I couldn’t be happier with our whole team. We’ve been working for months to develop the best comic we can muster, and I know we have something special we’re ready to show the world.

BD: What is it about Thrillbent or The Eighth Seal that you think will attract readers who don’t normally venture into comics?

Tynion IV: Honestly, I think more and more people are getting accustomed to reading things in a comic format online… So the key is accessibility. You will be able to access every chapter of The Eighth Seal for free on Thrillbent.com, in addition to being able to find them on your favorite comic book application. Mark Waid and the whole Thrillbent team has also developed an incredible bit of technology that allows you to embed a Thrillbent chapter wherever you want online, in the same way you can embed and share a YouTube video. Everyone on The Eighth Seal team is confident in the story we’re telling, and we’re just working to make every scare moment hit as hard as it can, and for the emotional moments to hit even harder. We think that if you take the time to check out the book, you’ll be interested enough to stick around. So the fact that there are so many ways to stumble across it just makes it that much better. If you like horror, and it sounds like this is up your alley, I encourage you to check it out!

BD: Your protagonist, Mrs. Greene, suffers from some pretty horrific hallucinations, yet she’s a very put-together woman. It seems like you are toying with the theme of madness vs. reality in the series?

Tynion IV: Absolutely, yes. That is one of the central concepts we’ll be playing with over the course of the story. With the Thrillbent digital comics format, showing the breakdown of one person’s reality was the kernel that led me to develop the entire project. The idea of seeing that moment when the vision breaks through, and elements start to change on the page. For those unfamiliar with the Thrillbent format, we use layering techniques to do transitions you can’t do in a paper page. What excited me about that, when I first saw it, was the idea of something ordinary changing into something absolutely terrifying without notice. You’ll see what I mean in the first chapter. But yes, the psychological breakdown of our protagonist is the core of this series. We’re going to see Amelia Greene lose control of her very ordered life in the biggest way possible.

BD: When we first spoke, you introduced The Eighth Seal as “Rosemary’s Baby meets The West Wing”. Political drama and horror don’t cross over very often, why did you want to mix the two genres?

Tynion IV: The Political setting really ups the stakes for everyone involved in the story. You can do a private horror, with the same sort of psychological/metaphysical break from reality in a more mundane, human setting. But you know where the scale ends. I wanted to show someone losing their mind in the spotlight. In particular, a spotlight from which actual power can be wielded. The decisions happening among these people in this setting don’t just affect each other; they affect the entire world. That’s what drew me to this genre-mashup more than anything else.

BD: How do you strike a balance between the drama and horror?

Tynion IV: It’s a balancing act to be sure… Horror doesn’t work unless you like the characters. You have to want them to be okay, so when everything starts going horribly wrong, you feel it in a deep and profound way. I’ve been very conscious about trying to strike that balance and build a cast that you won’t want to see dragged through the darker parts of the series. Time will tell if I pulled it off, but I love our cast, and I think people will latch onto them, too.

BD: I just read the first chapter; it ends on such a cliffhanger! Where can we expect the series to go from here?

Tynion IV: Well, the next few chapters are going to introduce a wider cast, and delve deeper into the relationship Amelia Greene has with these visions. The scope of the series is going to slowly reveal itself. There’s not much more I can say than that, but I just wrote the most horrifying thing in the series yet. I was actually cackling to myself at my desk in the middle of the night. So there’s some really really messed up stuff coming down the pipeline. And we’re still pretty much at the starting point. There’s a ways to go before things really start falling apart in the most horrifying way my twisted brain can manage.

BD: Using the digital layer technique, it adds a whole new element to the horror that you just don’t get in traditional comics. How do you approach writing for Thrillbent differently than you do for your work with DC?

Tynion IV: It’s a very different style of writing, honestly. It’s looser, because what constitutes a single page or “screen” can be totally dependent on how the story is flowing at a different moment. It wouldn’t work without a real partner, who is even smarter about organizing the story flow than I am. Jeremy Rock takes every script and makes it all that much better, drawing out the scares, and building tension perfectly for the scene at hand. I come up with ideas for swipe effects, and ways to use the layering to draw out specific moments, or do things we haven’t really seen in a comic before… And then Jeremy does it twice as well as I ever imagined.

BD: Creating a horrific atmosphere must be easier because you can utilize “jump cuts”. How do you go about creating horror for readers?

Tynion IV: This was one of the first things that drew me to the Thrillbent style of comic, and made me determined to get onboard with Mark Waid and tell a freaky story. A paper comic only has one opportunity every two pages for an honest-to-god scare. It happens on the page turn, when you have no idea what’s about to happen. With the swipe through singular pages of the Thrillbent format… There could be a scare lurking absolutely anywhere. You get the same tension you would while watching a movie, magnified by the doubt of whether you’re actually ready to swipe ahead, knowing that something scary might happen.

BD: Because this is such a new and innovative form of storytelling, do you find yourself having to develop new storytelling techniques?

Tynion IV: Absolutely yes, and since it’s all new and experimental, we’re constantly debating how best to do one thing, and how to try something that we’re not even sure is possible. It’s all about figuring this format out to the best of our abilities. It’s hard to describe the process, but we’ve got bonus pages in the ComiXology/ComicsPlus versions where we go into the process and you can see how something transfers from script to screen. I will say that the best way to write this has been to assume everything is possible. And then if Jeremy needs to call me up and tell me I’m crazy and it’s not going to work, than so be it… But so far, everything we’ve come up with has worked in one way or another. So I’m going to keep pushing the bar and see how far we can go with these crazy cool new comic tools.

BD: You’re obviously a big horror fan. What are some of your favorite horror films?

Tynion IV: Rosemary’s Baby was on repeat when I started putting this bad boy together last summer, but my tastes run pretty wide. For the last few years I’ve watched 31 new horror movies every October, and that’s on top of having written my thesis in college on horror films. It can be tough to talk about all time favorites without sounding trite – The Shining, The Thing, Alien, Near Dark, The Silence of the Lambs would all be at the top of my list. Recently, I haven’t been able to get Martyrs out of my head. The New French Extremity films are incredible, with their visceral nihilism… They’re brutal to watch, and Martyrs is the king of them all. I can only hope that I can come up with something as deeply fucked up as that one day.

BD: Thanks so much James, I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

Tynion IV: Thanks for having me! I hope folks enjoy what we’ve got planned. And if you like what you see, be sure to check out some of the other great stories running over on Thrillbent.com! We’ve got a twisted take on the Hero/Sidekick dynamic with Insufferable, a prison-based thriller called The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood, and a bombastic story about the modern world invaded by magic called Arcanum. They’re all waiting for you, free to read each week on Thrillbent! And there’s lots more coming up, so stay tuned!