It’s been a busy year for Scott Snyder and Charles Soule. Between the two of them headlining the Justice League and Star Wars franchises respectively, they managed to find the time to collaborate on a new creator-owned book, Undiscovered Country from Image Comics, with artist Giuseppe Camuncoli, inker Daniele Orlandini, colourist Matt Wilson, and letterer Crank!
If you’re wondering how the writers have managed to juggle all of these projects, they’ve also optioned the comic for a movie deal at New Republic Pictures and they’ll be penning the screenplay. Do they sleep? Apparently not.
The first issue of Undiscovered Country was a huge hit last month, managing to outsell DC Comics’ flagship Batman title.
I got on the phone with Undiscovered Country scribes Snyder and Soule and we talked about the huge success of the book, what it’s like working together and with their artist, as well as the screenplay they’ll be writing for the unscheduled film adaptation of their work.
The Beat: I wanted to start by congratulating you guys on the success of the book. I’m wondering, did you anticipate this level of success and fan reception?
Charles Soule: I think the minute you start expecting success, it’s not great for the creative process. Particularly when you’re building something. I think Scott and I knew that we had a concept that really intrigued both of us, and would give both of us an opportunity to write a project that would be thematically interesting and deep and personal, and would let us write about things that we really cared about, from America to isolationism to crazy fish monsters. It was something we both knew we could put our best into, and once you put your best into it you hope the audience responds in a way that reflects the effort and time and skill that you put into it. The way that Undiscovered Country has been received exceeded all our expectations and it’s been just amazing. Now we feel like we’ve entered this promise or contract with the readership, to everybody that invested their time and money into the first issue. We now need to make sure ask the subsequent issues are as good or better. I think we can, and that’s certainly what we’re trying to do. Stick around, we’ll see if we can pull it off.
Scott Snyder: Like Charles said, with an indie book in particular you never know how these things are gonna go. The fact that the fans showed up in such numbers is really a testament to what great people we have reading our books. It also allows us to take these kinds of risks more often, and to think of the series as something that’s really gonna have a long life. One of the biggest fears you have going into an indie book is you’re gonna try something that’s really personal and daring and yours, and suddenly not enough people show up for you to keep it going or get to the end. But this kind of a showing at the beginning isn’t about an ego boost or seeing it in the charts, it’s really about knowing that we have this support from the readership to be able to do this as a fully-realised creative vision and give them something really special.
The Beat: Talking of wanting a long life for a creator-owned series, you mentioned before that you were thinking of keeping the book going for around thirty issues. Is that still the plan now that you’ve had this massive debut?
Soule: The story is modular. The way that it works is the main character that you meet in the first issue and those seven people on the expedition are going to be travelling through the United States in a spiral. You learn much more about all this in issue two, but they’ll be encountering all these different zones. The place where they land in the first issue with the crazy apocalyptic setting and the fish monsters is only one of the many ideological expressions of America these people will encounter as they journey through the changed America. Right now the version of it that we planned that would let us get through all the concepts we really felt needed to be there and make it feel as cool and expansive and not rushed was thirty issues. But now with the level of interest that we’ve found in the concept and the ideas that we’re exploring, it’s just a matter of throwing in different zones and throwing in different ideas, which we have tons of. If the fan response and audience stays strongly consistent, which we hope it will and would be so thankful for if it did, I could see it going further. We talked about a lot of different numbers in terms of how far we could go, but we have a beginning, middle, and end, and it’s about how long the interest holds up for us to continue taking that story.
The Beat: Charles, you once told me that you weren’t planning to take any breaks between arcs. Is that still the case and if so, what was the thought process behind that choice?
Snyder: That was a huge part in the construction of the series for us. We want it to feel like this big, propulsive rollercoaster ride through this spiralling yellow brick road into the heart of this twisted, wondrous, terrifying new America. That would be really tough to do if the book was told in a way that was more compartmentalised in terms of its publishing schedule. What’s great about this team is that they’ve really put a bunch of other work aside so that we can dedicate ourselves to giving this series everything we have and to be able to put it out consistently. We’re working on issue six right now, and issue five is being drawn. Part of the contract of the creators and the editor that we signed up with wasn’t a series that was going to take a break. Luckily the team is extremely enthusiastic about that. Cammo [series artist and co-creator Giuseppe Camuncoli], who’s just a powerhouse and someone I feel very grateful to have teamed up with through Charles because they did such great work on Darth Vader, is determined to basically do every issue of the series. So we want it to be something different. We have great love for series that are modular, but we wanted to do this consistent, monthly, serialised storytelling. We almost wanted to be old-fashioned in that regard.
The Beat: Both of you have worked with Cammo in the past and I’m just curious on a craft level how is it that both of you were able to work with him when each of you have had your own experience and collaboration with him. Charles, you’ve worked with him more, so I’m curious as to how it worked exactly.
Soule: That is actually a very interesting question because Scott and I write our scripts differently. They’re both great ways of working but they’re just different. So as an artist, the way you interpret what I give versus what Scott gives is certainly a different challenge. Cammo, to his credit, is incredibly versatile, incredibly skilled and flexible, and he delivers incredible work every time. One of the things that Scott and I both know and have learned throughout our careers is that when you’re working with artists like this, you need to give them as much room as possible to do their best work, and to deliver their vision in a way that you would never be able to anticipate. Ultimately, Scott and I are visual to a degree but we’re not visual artists. We both understand Cammo’s strengths, so we both write to give him the room to use his strengths as strongly as possible. I learned a lot of during the Darth Vader run I did with him, and Scott worked with him on All-Star Batman. When you work with really good people, you get a very quick sense that you need to get out of their way as opposed to being in their way. Cammo’s very much our creative partner. We’re all in it together, from me, Scott and Cammo, to Matt Wilson on colours, to Daniele Orlandini on inks, to Chris Crank on letters. It’s a huge, very connected team.
The Beat: Before the first issue of Undiscovered Country hit stands last month, you announced that you sold the movie rights, with both of you writing the screenplay. Given the early success you have with the book, has that energised your film script writing in any way, or are you keeping the processes mostly separate?
Soule: We know we have to deliver something very different. The process of reading the comic is gonna be reading thirty to fifty or some length of comic issues that are monthly instalments of about twenty pages. Each of them has to be a consistent beginning, middle, and end chapter. You have to modulate it perfectly, like the way the reveals work. Whereas if you’re writing a film, it needs to justifying a presumably massive budget, a two-hour runtime, all of those things that films have to do. The targets we’re trying to hit, the way we’re telling the story, the way we deal with characters, the way we pace our reveals, is super different. We’re even thinking of things that work in the comic on a conceptual, visual level that we’re probably going to change and fiddle with for the movie because you don’t necessarily need it, and it might be interesting to see it explored in a way that’s gonna be just as cool but different for a film audience. I don’t want to say that comics can just go weirder that movies, because that’s not necessarily true, but there is an element of that, of taking these ideas and making them just five percent more grounded and making it work for a way that is different for a film audience than a comics audience. But that’s fun. Scott and I talk about it all the time, it’s really coming together well, we have a huge phone call with the studio right after this, and it’s a blast.
The Beat: Practically, how has it been transiting from writing comic scripts to a film script?
Snyder: Well, we’re just about to start so we can’t tell you yet, probably in a few weeks. With both of us having worked a bit in that world, I think it’s a big challenge and an exciting experiment by taking something that’s a long, serialised narrative and seeing how you can do it as a series of films. It’s almost like taking a series of short stories and seeing if you can do them as a series of novellas or novels. I think one of the great things about this series is that it really lends itself to both formats. There are things that we’re changing for the film, like the way the characters land in the country, how they’re split up, what they encounter. There are different mysteries set up out of the same material to suit the format. It’s a great challenge and I love it. It makes us burn the material down to its core elements and helps us remember what’s so important about it. When you have something that you really love and feel strongly about and is personal to you like this, it winds up being stronger for its elasticity that way. You realise this could be a tv series, it could be a movie, it could be a video game, because at its core it has a certain set of ideas and values in its storytelling and its purpose for existing that can carry it to any of those different platforms. It’s just fun at this point to try and see what we can do in a different medium.
The Beat: The Walking Dead ended earlier this year, and I was wondering if you felt any pressure going into Undiscovered Country, or perhaps even now since it launched very strongly.
Soule: The pressure of this project was to create the best story that we could, that would live up to what Scott and I thought it could be when we first started kicking around the premise. The high concept of this, the United States sealing itself off for thirty years with an expedition coming in to see what its become, is enormous. It could be anything. It took all of what we had and are continuing to give to make it live up to that in a way that we both feel good about, and that Cammo feels good about. When you’re doing an artistic project, that’s the most important thing. Is it going to be like The Walking Dead? Is it going to have that kind of life? Is it going to sell those numbers? We wanted it to do well, we wanted to be able to tell the story we want to tell, and we didn’t want to lose a bunch of money on it. But in terms of are we gonna measure up to other successful Image projects, I don’t think that ever really crossed our mind. I’m not being disingenuous, I mean that. We really wanted to make the best book we could that felt like a good collaboration for me, Scott, and Cammo. We had no idea The Walking Dead was ending, and then when we found out it was gonna end right before Undiscovered Country #1 was gonna drop, and both books are about this travelogue through a vastly different America, we’re like, “Whoa, that’s some interesting timing.” But we weren’t gloating or gleeful, Robert [Kirkman] is amazing and did incredible things that changed the comic medium forever, specifically indie and Image Comics forever. We’re just proud to be putting out a book under the same banner as The Walking Dead, and we’ll see where it goes.
Snyder: Robert was one of our biggest early supporters. He was on Twitter talking about Undiscovered Country and internally at Image, he was the one who said not to call it the next The Walking Dead, but the first Undiscovered Country. He was very much a believer of what the series is on its own but saw the potential in it for something that could have a really long life. It’s been nothing but support and enthusiasm from him and all of Image, and we’re really grateful to be over there.
The Beat: With issue two hitting stands today, what can you tell us about it and the next few issues of this arc?
Soule: Issue one was all set-up, it’s hook after hook after hook. Issue two is where you take a little step back. It still has crazy, awesome action but it’s where we give the readers a little bit more of a grounding in terms of what is happening in the series, what the goals are, what we’re gonna be seeing. There are many, many mysteries with lots of puzzles and lots of reasons to keep reading, but you’ll have a better sense by the end of issue two of what’s going to happen in the series and obviously we’ll pull the rug out from under you again. We wanted to make sure the rules were laid down a little bit and the readers are on firmer footing after issue one.
Snyder: Fans get a sense of the scope of the series. In issue one we really only had enough time to introduce you to one character and give you the high concept, whereas this one digs deeper into our big villain and the team. We learn more about Daniel and Ace. Hopefully it gives you a better sense of the characters and also a better sense of the expansiveness of the story as you start to get a picture of the design of the whole country and how each area is going to give you something completely different.
Undiscovered Country #2 hits comic store shelves and the digital ComiXology store today, so make sure to catch up with Image Comics’ latest mega-hit.