With his last book (Punk Rock Jesus) writer/artist Sean Murphy took on religion and the media with magnificent ferocity. This time, though, Murphy has teamed with his American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest collaborator Scott Snyder to tackle the mysteries and monsters of the deep in The Wake, a new horror/sci-fi comic from Vertigo.
In our exclusive interview with Murphy, we talk about the shape of those monsters, The Wake’s massive scope, working with Snyder again, and how he defines success.
Starburst: Can you tell us what The Wake is all about, and also, what inspired the visual sense of the book?
Sean Murphy: Lee Archer is a marine biologist who's about to make the biggest, darkest discovery of her career on a journey that fathoms beneath the ocean waves - and one that will alter humanity's understanding of its origins since the beginning of recorded time. It's a story that spans not only the entirety of human history, but about the evolution of life as we know it on this world.
My goal for the visuals was to be as clear as possible with the storytelling. Punk Rock Jesus was filled with scribbles and jam-packed with detail. With The Wake, I wanted to pull the detail back a bit and allow Matt Hollingsworth (the colourist) to be able to embellish the storytelling with his groundbreaking colour.
Horror, sci-fi, and an ocean setting seems to indicate that we should, maybe, expect a wide array of beasties. Are we going to see a standard collection of existing sea creatures or did you get a chance to create some unique monsters? And if so, where did you draw your inspiration from for them?
The creatures in The Wake are completely original, but based off existing traits of known ocean species. At times, the facial design is that of a piranha. During other parts, it glows with the translucence of other deep sea predators. In the end, it's like nothing people have ever seen in comics.
Can you tell us a little bit about working with Matt Hollingsworth, what he brings to the book and how his colour choices affected your art work? Same question with regard to doing the cover work with Jordie Bellaire?
For the colour, Matt has been working from Japanese woodblock prints. Instead of using flat colors, you'll notice that there's a rice-paper texture to the book. This allows the sky to not only be blue, but blue with orange flecks within it. It's amazing what he's doing - the entire thing looks hand painted with watercolours. It's the best I've ever been coloured.
Jordie is another amazing talent, and a good friend. We were a bit behind schedule, so we brought her in to work on the covers for solicitations. I'm lucky to have two great people handling colouring chores on the book.
How important was your previous experience with Scott on American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest to the collaborative process here?
It's always nice working with people whom you're familiar with. I would have done The Wake even if it was my first time working with Scott, but it's much better that we have a history because it means we're more efficient.
You’ve mentioned that this was a nice break after what, we would imagine, was a bit of plate spinning while writing and illustrating Punk Rock Jesus, but are you itching to get back to something where you are driving the story more on your own again?
I enjoy working alone as much as I enjoy working with a team, to be honest.
If this lives past these first 10 issues, is it something that could be a monthly book, or is it something where you and Scott would have to wait for your schedules to align again so you could knock out another mini?
If The Wake is anything like American Vampire, then it might mean spin-offs, guest artists and writers, and ongoing storylines. Let's see how this goes first, then Scott and I may have some decisions to make.
How do you gauge success with a labor of love like Punk Rock Jesus and also this project? Is it all a matter of feeling self-satisfied with the work, is it peer approval, critical acclaim, sales?
Those are all great ways to gauge success. In order, I'd put them like this: self-satisfaction, critical acclaim, sales, and then peer approval. The last measure of a project's success is that it should lead to a project of equal, or greater, satisfaction rather than dipping in some way.
Punk Rock Jesus picked apart so many sacred cows and popular institutions - reality TV, the media, religion, etc. - have you received any positive feedback from people who live in those worlds?
I have a lot of religious readers, I'm happy to say. Most of them are Christian, but I've had a few Muslim readers in the Middle East reach out to me with kind emails. I've also heard the book is a hit with some US soldiers in Afghanistan.
We noticed a nice Punk Rock Jesus Easter egg in issue #1, can we expect a few more subtle references to your past work and Scott’s past work throughout the series?
Yes, I promised Scott that I'd put in refs to American Vampire as well.
Lastly, this is the first big Vertigo launch in the post-Karen Berger era. You’ve said previously that you hope this book “shows people that Vertigo is still strong”, but is there a bit of extra pressure on you guys to make that happen?
Yes. But the figures coming in for The Wake are very encouraging. I don't think many people are worried anymore.
THE WAKE #1 is in comic book stores now.