In an exclusive interview, Villain Media speaks with writer Scott Snyder about the action-packed horror adventure, Nocterra #1 (Image Comics). Find out how the story of Valentina “Val” Riggs—a skilled ferryman who has to survive in the everlasting night—came about.
“Ten years after the world is plunged into an everlasting night that turns all living creatures into monstrous shades, the only way to survive is to stay close to artificial light. Enter Valentina “Val” Riggs, a skilled ferryman who transports people and goods along deadly unlit roads with her heavily illuminated eighteen-wheeler.”
With the first installment available in stores, Scott Snyder opens up about the early beginnings of Nocterra, working with his creative teammates— including artist Tony S. Daniel—and how the themes relate to current socio-political events. Check out our review of the first issue of Nocterra as we head off to the writer’s studio to discuss the craft of writing and creating characters.
[Writer’s Note: We’ll definitely be heading to spoiler territory! Don’t say we didn’t warn you!]
Villain Media: You’ve done previous projects with Image Comics. Wytches and Severed are coming-of-age thrillers. Undiscovered Country feels more like a political/adventure thriller. Tell me about the tone of Nocterra.
Scott Snyder: Well, we wanted to do something that would really be a different kind of pacing, a different kind of tone than the other books I’ve done. So this one is really high octane horror, where it’s nonstop from the minute it starts to the very end of issue six, the first arc. You barely get a moment to breathe. It’s the feel we wanted to go for here. It’s a road trip through all the terrors of this new world. It’s a huge amount of fun to do. It’s really propulsive. It’s got this big engine to it! It’s got a different sort of energy than some of the other books.
VM: In my opinion, in part of Val’s world, Tony S. Daniel illustrates her war-torn base like a refugee campsite. Because we’re living through a pandemic and with the recent domestic terrorist attack at the United States Capitol, is it a challenge to depict this dystopian future—much like Undiscovered Country—with all these events going on?
SS: The book was conceived a couple of years ago, The idea came to me two plus years ago, before the pandemic. We were working on it right when the pandemic was ramping up. The political atmosphere was super divisive and ugly. The book at its core is about those things. Sometimes you do books that are openly addressing the current moment. I think Undiscovered Country is a bit bolder in terms of wrestling with some aspects of current American culture. Or will be in the next few arcs. Or it will build up to that.
But with Nocterra, it’s about a darkness that falls over the Earth, separates us from one another, and transforms us into things we don’t recognize anymore. At its heart, it has elements that speak to this moment for me and Tony. It was always something that felt engaged and important emotionally for our kids and ourselves.
VM: I’m really impressed with the character design of Val. She’s cloaked like a ninja and wears a cape. Tell me about this specific look.
SS: She’s one of my favorite creations! With Best Jackett, the new label I’m putting this book under, I wanted to do something that would set an example for the other books. The idea was to create a main character that would take elements of my life, and my anxieties, hopes. And some of Tony’s, which would allow him to bring a lot of himself into the character, as well as in design and backstory. The fun thing was building her together.
In terms of her look, Tony wanted to do something that his teenage daughters would find cool. So we asked them.! We looked at a lot of video games also, from Fortnite and Halo. All of this to create the look of the world. The tone of the landscape of Nocterra is terrifying as it is. Everything has to stay lit all the time to keep the darkness away from them. Because if the darkness envelops them, with no light on them for more than 10 hours, they start to change into monsters themselves called “The Shade.” The look of all the characters is something that Tony had a blast with. It brought in his kids to help him with. So for Val, we wanted her to look strong and sleek—like you said—a warrior and ninja. A badass trucker feel to her. And something that felt sexy and fun if somebody wanted to cosplay it. It was simple. Sometimes it’s difficult to create something bold and simple and iconic, but Tony is good with that! We’re really happy with the way she came out!
VM: In the first issue, most of the action takes place between Val and the sixteen-wheeler. It’s like a pet to her. Tell about the relationship between the protagonist and this inanimate object.
SS: Yeah it’s a rolling home to her. I wanted her to be someone who can navigate in this world, like a sailor or a pirate. I wanted this to feel like they’re roaming the dark seas of this place. She’s definitely the captain of this ship. And so, an eighteen-wheeler felt right because we wanted a muscular feel to the book, where everybody could survive was really not only to stay lit, but stay fast and on the move. Yea, let’s make it a truck book! It all came together well. The relationship is how she feels close to home. The truck has all these cool secrets that we’re going to reveal later. We gotta give it a good name down the line! I should have done that in the beginning! [Laughs] We were having so much fun with the character that we didn’t do it. We’ll bring it in during arc two. It’ll play a big part.
VM: You mentioned Best Jackett Press before. Tell me about working on your own imprint, especially with Tony S. Daniel.
SS: For years, I’ve been at DC [Comics]. I loved it there. I really loved the people there. The folks leading the charge there are really great! I’m happy to support them and do work with them in 2022! After such a long time, it was exciting and fun for me to be able to say to myself, “I’m going to be my own boss this year.” I’m going to make my own creations and publish them anywhere I would like, that would have me. Some at Image, some elsewhere, wherever the creators I’m working with want to place their books. We’ll do that whether it’s digital, print, anything. The fun of it was always having control over it with my partners.
With Tony, we’re looking over our inclinations and our strengths. Tony is a muscular, bombastic artist. His world-building is great! So we thought going into something that was a. blockbuster would be fun. I had this idea. I told it to him a couple of years ago. He loved it. So we decided to take this book with Image if they’ll still have it. It feels like a monthly comic book. It feels like a big high-stakes sort of summer blockbuster type story. So it felt like the right place. And luckily, it worked out well. The benefit of Best Jacket for me is I could do a book with a creator and then decide with them where that book should go, how we distribute it, what it’s going to look like. Is it going to be a graphic novel? Or three issues or six issues? Are they going to hardcovers? The decisions are ours. It’s a lot of fun to get to do that after so many years of having those things out of your hands.
VM: Nocterra was also launched on Kickstarter about a year ago. Tell me about the challenges of starting the campaign for the comic.
SS: The idea with Kickstarter was a two-folder. The pandemic closed everything down just as we were starting to write and draw the comic with Image. With Image closed and stores closed, we wanted to find a way we were able to continue with the book and Tony wouldn’t have to go back and take other jobs. And I wouldn’t have to put it aside. We came up with the idea for Kickstarter for people who wanted to buy it. It would allow us to support the book and create the funds for ourselves and pay the art team. I could ways pay Tony, colorist Tomeu Morey, and letterer Deron Bennett. And just have enough to pay the art team so that they didn’t have to get other jobs.
And we didn’t want to sell the first issue. We didn’t want to give people something boring. It wasn’t a cash grab. What if we showed them the early stages of the book and create different material for this that allows them to feel part of the process? They can see this is the way the script changes into the art. This is back and white pencils. So you can see how it looks before it gets colored. And we’ll give the script and art so you can see them separated. I’ll write an essay about how scripting works for me and why I chose this style of scripting; and why I chose the design. With the Kickstarter campaign, I’ll offer classes for people who want to learn more about comic writing. Tony will do the drawings on Instagram so you can see his method. The whole part of Kickstarter was inclusion. It’s supposed to say you’re part of this process if you want to be. It’s about the craft. It’s about letting you in to be part of something as we built this. Luckily, it went really well. We made the money we needed to make sure we can do this comic no matter what happened. It was really an eye-opening and inspiring experience.
VM: How did Nocterra change you as a storyteller?
SS: It was invigorating! It was the first book I had done creator-owned for a while, since Wytches and Undiscovered Country, which I’m co-writing with Charles Soule. So it’s been a long time since I’ve done a new creator-owned project by myself, with a creative partner. The way it changed me, every time I did a creator-owned comic in the past, I’ve had DC work on the side. And so at DC, I could put all the kind of storytelling that was a big summer blockbuster type of narrative where it was huge and over-the-top high stakes, big drama superhero, big emotions, big violence, big conflict into a superhero world.
I would use creator-owned and independent comics to flex different muscles and explore different creative channels. Do things that were quieter, darker, and experimental. Without having DC, I realized I could put all these things into one place. So Nocterra represents the first indie book that has those superhero sensibilities and has the big drama/action, all of that from the very beginning. But also has the personal element from Wytches and American Vampire. It brings everything together in one place. That’s what makes it a different experience for me.
VM: What are you working on now?
SS: I’m just working on this! Nocterra is great but I have a bunch of other projects for Best Jackett that I’m wiring on the side. One of them we announced Chain with artist Ariela Kristantina. It’s about a bunch of people in the Arctic that get locked in this place while the world is falling apart. It’s a lot of fun and a different kind of book! It’s much more like a locked-box sort of mystery. In early summer, we’ll be announcing a lot of other books with a lot of other creators. I just don’t want it until I have them all ready to start almost. So we’re working on eight other books right now simultaneously from scripts I’ve written over the years. We’ll have some really big announcements when it gets warmer out.
Nocterra #1 is out in stores now.