Though he’s been making his name on superhero comics like “Talon” and “Red Hood & The Outlaws,” there’s a horrific side of writer James Tynion IV that’s been waiting to get out. And this month, his darker tendencies hit the web in the form of he and artist Jeremy Rock’s “The Eighth Seal” — part of Mark Waid’s newly embeddable line of Thrillbent digital comics.
Tynion’s first foray into comics formatted for computer, tablet and phone screens is also his first creator-owned gig, and the writer said that both sides of that equation have him looking to break new ground. “I met Mark through a friend at C2E2 last year, right when he was getting started with the whole Thrillbent process, and it was incredibly exciting for me,” he told CBR. “Because I am just starting out in the industry, I want to make sure I’m keeping abreast of everything new — all the experimental stuff. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t, but I’ve got to figure out how to get out there and do something that will help build the future of this medium.
“I think that was Mark has done with Thrillbent is incredible. The way he’s laying things to tweak elements in panels to change a scene in subtle ways and massive ways — that opens up a huge toolbox for what we can do in comics while still keeping it comics. You can still control the pace of what you’re reading. That’s what is the strength of comics. That’s what you use different panel sizes, the flow of dialogue and the number of panels on a page to do. You can impact the flow of time, but if you don’t keep it in the hands of the reader, it doesn’t mean anything.”
But even as “The Eighth Seal” keeps the power of the story in the readers hands, the political horror thriller is looking to shake them up as well. “The potential I saw in [the digital format] immediately was horror,” he said. “I do realize that comic horror has been a part of the medium for years and years and years, but there’s been difficulty with that. There’s always been only one opportunity for a shock in a comic, and that comes every two pages with the page turn. It’s the only time you could jump out and scare a reader. With the Thrillbent format, you can change things suddenly and jump out at the reader more because they can’t see what’s coming. You just swipe through, so all of the sudden that tool is in the arsenal. Somebody can have a person creep up behind them, or the figure in a mirror can move in a scary way. I can use those tools to draw out the horror in the best possible way.
“As I was sitting down and thinking about this possibility, I decided to reach out and contact Mark because I had this story I’d been thinking about for a long time. It’s a political conspiracy/psychological horror story. The logline I’ve been using to describe it is ‘Rosemary’s Baby meets The West Wing.’ So I sent Mark — who I’d only met once before — an e-mail with the pitch, and remarkably he got back to me and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ That was before ‘Talon’ even came out. The only thing I had to my name was a few ‘Batman’ back-ups and the ‘Batman Annual.’ Maybe ‘Talon’ had been announced, but the first issue wasn’t release.
“I’m extraordinarily grateful to Mark for giving me the time of day. It’s incredible to be a part of this platform, especially since he’s launched Thrillbent 2.0 with all the new series trickling in over the coming weeks and months. It feels great to be a part of something that can have some weight in moving the industry forward in how it approaches digital comics.”
Curious parties — faint-hearted or otherwise — can read the first installment of the strip below, but first, Tynion explains the hook of the series. “The main character of the story is the First Lady of the United States, Amelia Greene. She was a teacher at one time, but her life has been taken over by politics and doing these small, petty events all around DC and America that she doesn’t feel any connection to. She has this growing resentment in her that she’s not able to do the kind of work that she feels passionate about. She’s not able to make a difference anymore.
“What happens is that she starts to see things. She starts to see herself become this horrible monster and do these terrible, terrible things. The scary thing is, she feels so good when she has these visions — when she sees herself ripping people apart, it feels perfect. It’s the most exquisite feeling she’s ever known, and she’s just terrified that she’s going insane. She doesn’t know what’s brought this on. The medication she takes isn’t working, and there’s no way of predicting when this happens or what it means. It could happen to her at a public event or at any time. That’s where the story begins — with her talking about what she can do to stop this and the realization of this happening to someone at such a high level of the United States’ political world.
“We also introduce the idea that somebody may be doing this to her, and that’s the conspiracy theory side of this. That’ll all play out over the months to come, but that’s the heart of the story we’re telling. It’s this idea of ‘Is this insanity or the machinations of a larger machine? What do they hope to gain?'”
Overall, “The Eighth Seal” is a place for Tynion to stretch his writing muscles in ways that show off a more personal, if terrifying, side of him. “This is my first foray into creator-owned work. I wanted to do something there that I was passionate about, and part of this whole story is the idea of identity. Maybe you don’t really know what’s lurking inside you. You’re not sure if it’s a part of you or if you have any control over it. So you’ve got to try and maintain that control or maintain that poise as you live your life. I wanted to put that idea in a high concept setting and do something totally crazy with it.”