Comics writer Dan Watters has been busy lately, ending the world in one book (see Deep Roots from Vault Comics), and re-inventing the devil another (see Lucifer from the Sandman Universe relaunch).
Watters next project is a creator-owned book from Image Comics called Coffin Bound, which is a collaboration with artist Dani and colorist Brad Simpson. Billed as “a road trip through a blood-splattered life,” Coffin Bound (due out in August) is the story of a young woman being chased by a killer. To get out ahead of things, she’s decided to erase herself from the world before her pursuer can achieve his goal. The first issue is dark and dreamlike, as if it can’t quite decide whether it’s a nightmare or a surreal trip into the subconscious, or something in between.
Anyway, we were fortunate enough to have a chance to talk with Watters this year at San Diego Comic-Con about Coffin Bound, the time Neil Gaiman brought him to a frozen New Orleans, and his approach to writing comics.
Check it out…
The Beat: I wanted to ask about the genesis of Coffin Bound and where that idea grew from…
Dan Watters: Dani and I really wanted to make a book together. We’d known each other’s work for a while and we’d see each other at cons, and we knew we had similar ideas that we wanted to work on. It took us a while once we started talking about working to actually work out what we wanted that project to be. Dani did this commission of a girl in a graveyard, and I really really liked it…I saw it on Facebook…and I said, ‘Great, let’s do something with it.’
I was reading a lot of really nihilistic, death-focused philosophy, and I wanted to explore that from a more human angle. It’s all well and good talking about that on a blank page or in a dry book, but when actually try to live that sort of nihilism, where does that leave you? That’s what the book is born out of.
The Beat: I wanted to ask about the governing rules of the reality of the world in Coffin Bound. That reality seems really singular, and it all makes sense. It coheres really well, for how disparate the elements are, and so I wanted to ask how do you decide what can and cannot happen in a book like Coffin Bound?
Watters: It’s always entirely up to you, but it’s about making it seem to make sense. It’s something I realized when I started working on Sandman stuff, was how impressive it was that [Neil] Gaiman managed to make all those Sandman books actually have stakes. Everything always really mattered, even though you’re working in a world that’s based on dream logic where in theory anything could happen at any point. To make those stories actually have stakes, you have to really invest them with emotion.
I think you can do anything weird and surreal as long as the heart of it and the emotional beats are true and earned. Then the rest of it is all kind of dressing on top of that.
The Beat: I wanted to ask about a specific scene in Coffin Bound, the one at the strip club. That scene really lingered with me…the literal strip club. I thought that was brilliant. Can you tell me a little bit more about that scene?
Watters: The whole book is about someone trying to erase themselves, basically annihilate a part of their history. That’s the protagonist’s goal, to erase herself from the plant by destroying everything she’s come into contact with.
This is another way of exploring a similar idea, which is to take the human body and show the parts, show the gears, show the inner workings. Taking something that’s an object of desire and breaking it down until you’re looking at the heart and the lungs and the flesh and the muscles, and the emotion of how that might be cathartic in a different way, to take the object of desire and show that it’s made of parts.
The Beat: I wanted to ask about the planning summit last year in New Orleans for Sandman. How was that experience, and how has it informed your work? Is that something you’ve thought about? Weren’t there graveyards involved?
Watters: Yeah, there are those amazing graveyards. I mean, Si [Spurrier] and I went to one, just when we had some time. We saw Nicolas Cage’s weird, massive pyramid that he’s had built. But the summit itself, it felt like a very Neil Gaiman thing.
We showed up in New Orleans, and the temperature dropped to [20 degrees], which in New Orleans had never really happened before. We were only there for four days, and by the time we left it was [65 degrees]. And it snowed. There were icicles hanging on the roofs in the French Quarter. It was the most bizarre sort of thing to walk around these places that you’ve seen in pictures always with this very heated glow on them, watching the whole thing covered in ice and snow.
It felt like a very Neil Gaiman thing to happen.
The Beat: Almost like he orchestrated it…
Watters: Yeah, and then he sort of swoops in. The summit was amazing too. We spent whole days just talking about what we want to do with these books. Breaking them down and building them from the ground up. He didn’t come in with a particular vision that he wanted us to carryout. It was more that he wanted to see what we could do with the world and with the characters, which I thought was great. It’s what you want to hear as a creator.
The Beat: I’ve noticed in your work that there is consistently very strong prose writing. How aware are you of really creating a strong flourish with your prose?
Watters: It’s something I do think about a lot…and talk about a lot. I think there are more things we can do with narration and narrators. Perhaps even less realistic dialogue and putting a little bit more poetry in comics. It’s hard to say when you know you’ve hit on something that really works. It’s more feeling it out, it’s an artistic thing rather than anything you can formulate.
There are a lot of rules of thumb, things that do work and don’t work. I try to hit on the right balance—it’s the whole game, and it’s hitting on a voice that works as well.
The Beat: Do you work in prose as well, or has it always been comics?
Watters: There are other things I want to do as well. I want to do theater, prose. At least right now I’m more interested in that than TV or film, because you have a little bit more freedom, generally speaking. I’ve had a few short stories published, but I want to work on something long-form soon. It’s just finding the time.