[Continuing our Dynamite sponsored series of peer-to-peer interviews, Jim Zub interviews writer David Liss on The Spider #15]
ZUB: What draws you towards the Spider as a character, or the pulp genre in general?
LISS: The Spider, even in his original pulp incarnation, was always a very human character. The Shadow, by contrast, was more of a force of nature with whom other characters had to contend. I always liked that the Spider was driven by human, emotional needs and concerns, and that it was his compassion and affection for the people in his circle that often drove his actions. Rather than making him less tough, it motivated him to become a much more focused, and ruthless, hero. As far as pulp goes, I grew up reading many pulp writers, and so it accesses something pretty basic for me. But more than that, I think the most successful of the pulp writes always got to the heart of what works about narrative. Often basic elements that drive stories — love, fear, revenge, justice, etc. — were underscored and emphasized. The best pulp stories are like narrative on steroids.
ZUB: Beyond the Spider, who are your favorite pulp characters?
LISS: My own reading has always skewed toward the fantastical. I’m still a great admirer of Robert E. Howard’s writing, and Conan is easily my favorite pulp character.
ZUB: Before getting into comics you started as a novelist. How have you found making the transition to comic scripting?
LISS: Like anything else, when you’re learning a new skill, there are some sticky issues you have to work through. My first few scripts were a struggle, but I was lucky enough to be working with an amazing editor at Marvel who provided something like a master class on scripting. Once I had a better grasp of the technical issues — what makes a comic book script work or not work — then I could apply things I learned about story and plot and character in writing prose fiction. Now I can move from one to the other pretty easily, working on, say, a novel in the morning and a script in the afternoon. It takes me almost no time to transition to getting in the right creative head space because I know both media well by now, and that’s key. Knowing the rhythms of a script allow me to look at a draft and think that I need to hit a character point more, or that I need more tension in the last third or whatever it is.
ZUB: How far ahead do you plan your stories?
LISS: I tend to plan on the level of arc. With something like the Spider, I’ve always had planning sessions where I try to decide what major challenge I want the character to face next. In this run, I’ve always front-loaded Wentworth’s personal life, making his relationships — especially with Nita and his father — important for understanding his motivations to be the Spider. So, when I brainstorm ideas for what comes next, I usually think about (1) how I want to further those relationships or the shadows those relationships cast on the character; and (2) what kind of antagonist would be a good physical or emotional challenge for the Spider/Wentworth.
ZUB: When working with a legacy character like the Spider, do you feel pressure to incorporate a lot of the original story elements versus creating new material for the modern era? LISS: I do feel that I need to be mindful and respectful of the original pulps, even while rethinking story elements and character qualities that don’t work in a contemporary setting. For example, I like to come up with enemies that are either rethinkings of original pulp enemies, like the Fly, or modern characters that suggest pulp style enemies, like Anput. Being a part of that tradition is something I take seriously, and while I don’t want to rework original stories in some slavish fashion, I do think my new stories should be seen as part of a continuum.
THE SPIDER #15 $3.99 Covers: Colton Worley Writer: David Liss Artist: Ivan Rodriguez
[Jim Zub is a writer, artist and art instructor based in Toronto, Canada. Over the past ten years he’s worked for a diverse array of publishing, movie and video game clients including Disney, Warner Bros., Capcom, Hasbro, Bandai-Namco and Mattel.
His current comic projects include Samurai Jack, a new comic series continuing the award-winning cartoon, Skullkickers, a sword & sorcery action-comedy, and Pathfinder, a comic series based on the best selling tabletop RPG.]