Kevin Sharp, Fanbase Press Contributor: Chris, please take us through the impetus for launching Syzygy. What was your, and Ashley’s, original vision for the label?
Chris Ryall: It started just so Ash and I had a place to do, basically, whatever we wanted without having to ask permission from anyone. Just a way to get back to the pure joy of making comics that took whatever form suited our current mood. And then we realized that it’d be even more fun if the idea of what it was expanded to involve friends and people we respected, too. Which is what made Rain such a great book to start with, since that series checks both those boxes.
KS: The press release mentions the dictionary definition of Syzygy (“a pair of connected or corresponding things”), but just to cover my bases: Any connection to the Frederick Pohl novel or any other pop culture sources?
CR: It’s a name Ash suggested, and I think mostly just because he’s always been drawn to names that were graphically interesting. For me, the two times I’d seen the word were, one, there was a mystic character with that name in Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar series; and it’s the title of a great episode of The X-Files. So for all those reasons, it works for me… even though what I heard when we told people the imprint name was that no one would be able to define it, spell it, or pronounce it. All of which have pretty much proven to be true so far.
KS: Because readers probably aren’t familiar with such a process, can you give us the broad strokes of what it looks like to start a label like this from scratch, rather than being already inside a publisher’s apparatus and carving out a space from there? What’s the overall to-do list on your end before it becomes a real thing in the world?
CR: In a perfect world, every detail of everything would be aligned before starting any new publishing venture: having contracts all worked out, figuring out all the accounting needs, building out a publishing schedule that doesn’t change every five minutes, and building up a big backlog of work that could roll out as needed.
But instead of doing any of that, we just started making comics and figured the rest would fall into place. Which it mostly has so far, but not without many sleepless nights, long hours, and crash-courses in managing all sides of the business that I used to be able to pass off to others. Mostly, though, it’s again about surrounding yourself with talented people all focused on the same thing: making great comics.
I’ve done this long enough that I’m at least aware of what’s needed on all sides of the business, although that’s not exactly always great comfort, either, since that means I’m aware of what’s not yet been done. My to-do list every day looks like the way they show Santa Claus’ “Nice List,” just endlessly long and filled up.
KS: How did you both first cross paths professionally?
CR: [I]t was through IDW publishing David’s and Drew Zucker’s great comic, Canto. Personally, I’m sure it was at a Comic-Con, when David was signing at the booth. But it’s really been in the past couple of years that I’ve gotten to know David on a much deeper and better level, where I could really see that his professionalism matched his talent; and he’s just someone I like to talk to and be around, so hopefully Rain is just the first of many projects we’ll be able to do together.
David Booher: Getting to know Chris has been one of the highlights of my career so far. As he mentioned, we crossed paths through Canto at IDW, and I also remember meeting in person at San Diego or another con. I was new to comics when Canto came out. I still feel very new to it. Working on Rain with Chris, I’ve gained so much insight into the industry, and I’m very happy to say we’ve become friends along the way. I’m right there with him in hoping Rain is only the first of many projects we do together.
KS: David, how did your initial involvement in Rain come about?
DB: I read Joe’s novella a few years ago. I immediately fell in love with everything about it – the compelling plot, the strange apocalypse, and the wonderful characters. It’s such a visual story that my brain was immediately conjuring ways it could be adapted visually. I knew Chris was close with Joe from Locke & Key, so I reached out to Chris with my ideas about how Rain could be adapted to comics. Luckily, Joe shared our excitement for adapting the story. From there, we got to work bringing Joe’s world to life.
KS: In this case, you’re taking a short story from prose to sequential format. Have you had other opportunities to practice the art of adaptation? What were the first challenges to consider when you sat down to start laying out your version of the tale?
DB: I’ve had some experience adapting my own comics to TV and film (and vice versa), and I’m currently writing a run on Firefly, so an adaptation wasn’t entirely out of my comfort zone. That said, every story requires its own special touch when imagining it for a new medium. My first — and probably biggest — challenge was to figure out what we could fit into a five-issue limited comic series and what we’d have to leave out. For me, the core of the story is the relationship between Honeysuckle and Yolanda. Using that as the guiding light helped everything else fall into place.
KS: If that relationship was your guiding light, what about the specific steps of “taking apart the engine” of the prose story and putting it back together as a comic?
DB: My first step was to identify the four or five beats in the plot of the novella that could be separated into individual comic issues for a miniseries. Then, I wrote a short outline, dedicating about a paragraph or two to the main beats in each issue. I don’t like to go into a huge amount of detail in an outline since I’m always surprised with what comes out of the scripting process itself. Using these guideposts, I could let the scripts unfold, adding to or subtracting from the novella as the story required.
KS: Chris, you’re partnering with Image for this venture. What specifically about them — as opposed to publisher X — makes a good fit for your label?
CR: Image is a place I’ve always respected, for everything they’ve brought to and done for creators and this industry. So, when they offered space for an imprint, it made great sense, especially owing to the fact that [Ashley] has always been one of the more fiercely independent and idiosyncratic creators around… so it’s good for us to have a place that accepts what we do without restraint or complaint.
KS: Tell us a bit about the working dynamic between you and Ashley. What makes the two of you click as partners?
CR: I think we’ve both just always been in sync as far as the kinds of stories we like to tell and how we tell them. I realized early on that Ash is someone special in terms of how he approaches stories, design, and art, and I do what I can to enable his best and help guide and steer things where I can. And I try to bear all the non-art-related parts of what we do to keep him free to manage the parts he’s best at.
KS: Were there any lessons to be learned from other specialty comics labels in the past, as either inspiration or cautionary tales?
CR: Nah. I mean, imprints tend to hold the imprimatur of their creator, so even if that imprint’s output isn’t necessarily for me, I respect what they’re doing. If anything, the cautionary tale to me has always been the places that start up with the sole intent of using comics to get their movies sold. Those comics are usually pretty shallow attempts to exploit the medium instead of being made for the more pure motives of just making a good comic first. As such, those places don’t tend to be around too long. They gotta be good comics first, so the caution to me is when you stop caring about that part.
KS: What does Joe Hill’s involvement look like in the making of the comic, both from the publisher’s and writer’s perspective? Is he an active participant or more of a “big picture” voice?
DB: It’s been such a joy to work with Joe. As with any adaptation of someone else’s work, I was nervous at first — I wanted to respect and preserve Joe’s brilliant story as we made the leap into comics. Thankfully, Joe loves comics as much as we do, and he understands the demands and limitations of the medium. He gave us lots of freedom to bring to life the best comic version of Rain, and then he has cheered us on every step of the way.
CR: Joe is definitely involved in opining on how the story is told, and he’s been a great supporter of what David, Zoe, Chris O’, and Shawn are doing with his story. Joe’s love of the medium has always been pure and quite vocal, so when he vocally cheers on what’s going on the comic, it’s just a great feeling, knowing we’ve done right by him.
KS: Talk about getting a rising star like Zoe Thorogood to come aboard. She hasn’t had a great deal of exposure to the American comics audience before this.
CR: Zoe is one of those creators that makes you think, “Wow, I’d love to have someone with a Zoe-like style on this book,” while assuming there’s no way the actual Zoe would be available to work on it. But rather than try to figure out what “Zoe-like” even means since her style is so singularly hers, we figured we’d just ask her. Her style, which feels like pure emotion pouring out of her pencil, felt like the right kind of raw, somewhat rough-hewn and deeply personal kind of look that perfectly captured the relationship between the main characters in Rain. And could really deliver visceral horror where needed, too.
It’s hard to fathom that last year’s The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott was Zoe’s first graphic novel, because it was so accomplished. It’s also hard to think that we found a momentary hole in Zoe’s comic-industry ascension where she’d even be able to do this book with us. I love what she’s done here, I think she and colorist Chris O’Halloran are the exact right art team for Joe and David’s story.
DB: Chris suggested Zoe, and after I read The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott, I was absolutely on board. I love Zoe’s art on Rain because I never really viewed the story as primarily apocalyptic horror; instead, I think it’s a love story set during the apocalypse. It takes a special artist to capture that mix. Zoe managed to do it on every single page.
KS: Chris, how did you decide which titles would mark the label’s launch? Was there a number consideration, a thematic consideration, certain creators you reached out, or…?
CR: Pretty much right from the start, Rain was it. It just felt like such a pure encapsulation of the kinds of stories, and the kinds of creators, we want to present through Syzygy. Oddly, even though it’s an imprint Ash and I started, we thought it felt too self-serving to launch with our own thing, so I love that Rain could kick us off. We were happy to just contribute little bits of fun to the back of each issue and have the primary focus of the launch be on Rain.
KS: David, setting aside Rain specifically, how does your approach differ between writing for comics and writing for the screen? Obviously, one of them is a collaboration with an artist, but aside from that, do you come at the storytelling mechanics in a different way?
DB: I learned pretty quickly that the first step in writing in different media is understanding that each medium has its own demands and limitations. I know the lines are blurring, but comics shouldn’t be storyboards. Movies generally have a structure that you don’t always need in a five-issue comic miniseries. TV lets you tell lots more story than a movie or a comic mini-series. My favorite comics right now are '80s and '90s Vertigo books. In my view, they demonstrate what’s possible in comics that isn’t possible in other formats. When I approach writing a new comic, I take the “Vertigo” perspective: I look at the story with fresh eyes and try to tell the best and most exciting version of it in comics. I’ll worry about any kind of screen adaptation down the road.
KS: Chris, if the label succeeds how you envision it on paper, what might the line look like a year or two or three from now?
CR: Mostly, I would love for this to be a prescient question, because it would mean I could bring in some staff to help balance the workload! But I’ve already got a three-year plan and pub schedule built out, assuming I can figure out ways to make all of these things happen as I’d like. So, I already know what it could look like, it’s just a matter of everything aligning properly to make it happen the way we want.
It’s one of those things where I try not to look so far ahead, other than for publishing planning purposes, because I’ve seen how quickly things can unexpectedly change in this business. So for now, I’m just trying to focus on the joy of making comics alongside all these wonderful people.
In other words, just being able to keep contributing to this industry I’ve always loved is good enough for me.
Learn more about Rain and the other Syzygy titles via their website and follow them on Twitter for more upcoming announcements (@syzpublishing).