Most fans will know James Tynion IV for his work in the DC Universe’s Batman family, but this year, he branches out to his first original ongoing, creator-owned title. Tynion and artist Michael Dialynas launch “The Woods” through BOOM! Studios this May, presenting a serialized, character-driven story centered around a Midwestern American high school which was mysteriously transported to an alien planet on October 16, 2013.
“The Woods” follows the 437 students, 52 teacher and 24 additional staff from Milwaukee, Wisconson’s Bay Point Preparatory High School far outside the reaches of our solar system as they explore an alien wilderness and attempt to discover where exactly they are and how they got there.
In anticipation of the series’ debut, Tynion spoke exclusively with CBR News to discuss the concept behind the series, the challenge of working on his first original ongoing, the character-driven nature of “The Woods,” the serialized format and more.
CBR News: “The Woods” is a new ongoing series launching in May, and your first original work outside DC Comics. Tell us a bit about how the story developed for the series.
James Tynion IV: I remember sitting down and thinking back in the summer of 2012 that I wanted to start developing a project that really spoke to me; the kind of book that only I could write. Something that pulled from all of my greatest influences, and operated in the genres that I’ve always loved. With my work at DC Comics, I’ve been playing in other people’s sandboxes, but the fact of the matter is, I got into the comics industry to build sandboxes of my own. I started laying out the pieces of a world that would give me the opportunity to show the world what a James Tynion comic book, unfettered by anyone else’s rules or continuity, might look like. I asked myself, “If there was only one comic book story you could tell for the rest of your life, what would it look like?” At the end of that process, the rough sketch of what would become “The Woods” came to life.
I love young characters pitted against impossible odds, I love building strange worlds with deep, terrifying mysteries. I love horror, and science fiction, and basic interpersonal dramas. Those are the things I weaved together to create this story. On a larger level, “The Woods” is a story about what happens when a Midwestern high school is transported into the middle of a terrifying alien forest, with no real hints about what brought them there or why. But on a more human level, “The Woods” is a story about being a teenager, so certain of what the future might hold and so sure that they’re prepared for it, but once they step out in the world, they’ll learn that the tools they’ve developed to cope with reality are vastly underdeveloped. They’re lost and terrified, and in the case of this story, that’s both literally true and figuratively true.
With such a large cast of people to draw from, where will the story’s primary focus be in terms of characters? What can you tell us about the main cast?
The main story of “The Woods” is centered around the six characters we’ve introduced over the past week or so — when the school is transported into The Woods, chaos erupts around the school and nobody knows what to do next. Nobody but a gangly unpopular senior named Adrian Roth, who comes to understand something about this world. He’s been waiting his entire life to step into a position of real power, and he sees this as his chance. Adrian will gather the other five students, and using the chaos erupting around the school, lead them right into the forest in order to find out the reason they were brought there. One of these five, directly opposed to Adrian, is the character I’ve come to think of as the lead of the book: Karen Jacobs. She doesn’t know exactly what she wants out of life, but she’s been trying her best to move in the right direction. She doesn’t trust Adrian, and she’s probably right not to trust him, but his mission is too important not to come along for the ride.
That’s the heart of the series, those six characters and their journey, but we’ll also continue to show the school, and how a student body of hundreds of teenagers and just a few dozen faculty cope with trying to build a new society in the middle of the Woods.
One of the interesting aspects of setting the series in a high school is that the students far outnumber the teachers and staff. How will you explore that balance during the series?
That will be one of the key tensions of the School plot moving forward. In a typical high school situation, you don’t really question the fact that the teachers and faculty have absolute power, but thrust into a scenario where those adults are just as in the dark about what to do and how to cope with their surroundings, you start questioning that quite a bit. The focal character for that arc is Maria Ramirez, the president of the student council, whose story pits her against the faculty in trying to give students a voice in this new society they’re all going to have to build together.
What do you think the biggest draw of the series is for fans of your Batman work at DC?
I think some of the best work I’ve done has been with the younger characters, the Robins and the new character Harper Row, over in the Bat-Books. People who enjoyed how I handled those characters I think will find a lot to like over here in the Woods. But my primary concern in this story has always been to really show my personality a bit more potently than I can get across in mainstream superhero comic books. So if you like what I’ve done over in Gotham, and you want to understand where I’m coming from personally, and the kind of writer I think I really am, this is the best book for you to help reach that understanding.
“The Woods” is your first original work in mainstream comics. What was the most challenging aspect of building a story like this from the ground up?
Honestly, I’ve been building worlds of my own since I was a kid. Superheroes came later. The most challenging thing has just been trying to pace myself, because I want everyone to see everything I have in store, even though this is a story that Ideally could run for years. I have so many bits and pieces I want people to see. I keep wishing every issue was 100 pages instead of just 22. But in general, this is the kind of comic I’ve been wanting to write for my entire life, and the first entry in what is hopefully an entire bookshelf of James Tynion IV original comic books. The biggest challenge honestly has been not shouting from the rooftops that I was going to get to tell this story from back when I started talking it through with BOOM! Studios last spring.
The series seems like it’s a very serialized story, with one issue building on the next. While readers have the opportunity to get in at the ground floor in May, will there be points during the series for new readers to jump on? How do you plan to balance the serialized nature of a story like this and the monthly comic format where any issue can be someone’s first?
This is a big mythology story, but it’s very character driven, so I think people will be able to pick up on the pieces month to month. Obviously, the best way to read the book is to start with Issue #1, but we’ll be operating with four issue arcs, and each arc will do its best to bring people up to speed.
Joining you on this project on art is Michael Dialynas. What about his work makes it well-suited to the story you have to tell?
Michael has been an absolutely incredible partner in bringing “The Woods” to life. His vision of the characters and the world has brought so much to the personality of the series already. He’s incredible at the kind of emotional storytelling that was absolutely crucial to building the kind of series I wanted to create, and man, just you wait until you see what he’s done with the creature designs. There are lots of weird, scary things in that forest, and I’ve had long conversations with Michael about what makes them the way they are. It’s hard to start talking about, because you can’t really see the breadth of what he’s going to bring to the book month in and month out yet, but I think the promo art is really an amazing first step. I remember the weekend I got the color version, and I put it on my phone before going to my friend’s birthday party, and I think I showed it to every single person in there. I was just so excited. This crazy world in my head had come to life and it was even more beautiful than I had imagined it.
In a story like “The Woods,” the setting has the potential to play as large — if not larger — role than some of the characters. Talk a bit about the location of the series and how it will drive the story forward as the series progresses.
The nature of the titular Woods is really the core mystery of the series. It’s a very, very strange place, with very strange creatures, and shocking inhabitants beyond that. It’s very hard to discuss, because it really is the key to every single mystery in the book, going back hundreds of years in this story’s continuity. There’s so much to uncover when you enter something so purely unknown, and it’s a kind of unknown I want the readers to discover alongside the kids, while they’re fighting for their lives and for their futures.
What sets “The Woods” apart from other serialized comics featuring a horror/suspense twist? What makes the series completely unique as compared to other series?
When I pitched this series, the line that I felt really encapsulated what I’m trying to do was, “Why has mankind always feared the woods?” It’s so fundamental to our species. “The Woods” represent the total unknown, a place of magic and mystery that can eat you up and swallow you whole. Humanity has always feared that darkness, and it’s an archetypal fear that expresses itself on every level of our lives.
This is a story about a bunch of teenagers, who are in their regular, mundane lives at the edge of a kind of forest. They’ve been preparing for adulthood for 15-18 years, and they feel like they know so much more than they do, but there’s still that fear at the core of them, as they wander into the darkness, that the real world is going to rip them apart. I wanted to literalize that terror in the premise of this series. These teenagers are fighting for their future and their identity, all the things we all struggle and fight for every day, and they’re going to have to learn that not knowing what to do is simply a part of adulthood. How we literalize that is the fun of the series.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how when explorers reached new corners of the Earth centuries ago, how they’d walk into the forest and see an animal they never saw before. And they’d have no idea if it were some kind of threat, a beast there to rip out their throats, or simply a timid creature looking for a fresh batch of berries. It’s that purest form of the unknown. It’s not knowing what’s beyond the next ridge, and not even knowing what animals might be safe to eat, or even what plant life. Everything is dangerous. Everything is terrifying. You know — just like real life.