Interview: Simon Spurrier on BOOM! Studios’ Weavers

Weavers #1 Dylan Burnett cover

Weavers #1 Dylan Burnett cover


Simon Spurrier is the popular writer of comics such as Doctor Who, Cry Havoc, Extermination, X-Force, and many more. The Mob and spiders come together in his new project from BOOM! Studios, Weavers. Westfield’s Roger Ash emailed him questions about this new series and he responded with an audio file which you can listen to below. Or you can read the transcription of the interview. Heck, you can even do both!


Westfield: Why did you decide to mix spiders with the Mob?

Simon Spurrier: I guess I should start by giving a quick top line about Weavers itself. The story is about a crime syndicate whose members have been given extraordinary, and often very disgusting, abilities by a group of mysterious, ghostly, psychedelic spiders which one night, very long ago, crawled out into the city and into the mouths of a dozen sleeping people. Imagine if H.P. Lovecraft wrote an episode of The Wire and then got Guillermo del Toro to direct it. That’s the Weavers.

So why did this idea come about? I guess what’s unusual about the Weavers is that I can be pretty precise about what the various inspirations were in a way that is not true for a vast majority of my ideas. They’re usually quite inchoate and difficult to distinguish their origins. The first thing to say about Weavers is that it arose out of a series of contemplations often voiced, often written about, but usually just bimbling about in the back of my brain about superheroes in particular. I write superheroes as part of my living. I enjoy superhero stories a great deal. I think that they have an awful lot of value when they’re treated in a very particular way; specifically as an allegory or a parable, these characters being roughly analogous to gods and demigods from old pagan religions. If you look at the old pagan pantheons you’ve got all the drama and soap opera of human interaction often turned up a little to really exaggerate the emotion and the action and the passion of normal human life, but with an extra layer of simplicity and hyperbole which produces very compelling exemplars of how one should live one’s life and how one should not live one’s life. Hence in superhero worlds, as in the pantheons of the old religions, characters will tend to err towards being purely good or purely bad and there’s very little space for shades of grey in between. Now as long as you can accept all of that, as long as you understand that this is some very sophisticated, very beautiful, very creative but absolutely not real allegory for reality, then I think it’s possible to really enjoy and tell very, very good superhero stories.

Things do get a bit icky and uncomfortable when you try to reconcile these spandex continua with the real world. Under those circumstances, when you try to bring these two things together in the same place, in my experience you tend to get one of two things. You either get these very grim deconstructivist texts which usually demonstrate exactly how kinky or simplistic or silly or impractical or tyrannical or venal the whole superhero setup would be if it really existed in the real world. Of course you’ve got Watchmen which does that in a very serious way and you’ve got things like The Boys, Marshal Law, stuff like that, which makes it into more absurdist comedy. But all of these things are pretty universally negative towards superheroes. The more dangerous approach to reconciling reality with superheroes is that you try to deny that there’s any distinction between these two things at all. You essentially suggest that reality really is, or in fact could be, just like the reality we see in a superhero universe. In which case you’re basically teaching your readers that the world is at its best when it’s a totalitarian moral binary state. Things can only ever be good or bad and never the twain shall meet. Even worse, that the best way of people doing anything good with the world is to run around punching criminals. This is a moral lesson which says one does not create. One improves things by destroying the bad. I don’t think that’s a very healthy message at all to be suggesting as a viable system for reality. Anyhow, I’m waffling. I could go on for hours.

Weavers #1 Selfie Cover by Dylan Burnett

Weavers #1 Selfie Cover by Dylan Burnett


All of this was bubbling and sloshing in my brain until it struck me that there’s a really interesting way to reconcile a lot of these problems and still be able to say something quite interesting about humanity and specialness and power. Specifically, the idea is this: What if all the people in the world who developed amazing extra-human abilities instead of immediately deciding that they’re going to go and fight for justice or goodness or instead they choose to go and try and conquer the world, what if all those people instead were instantly forced, often against their will, to dedicate their allegiance to nobody and nothing except each other? That’s quite an interesting take on the whole idea. The only recognizable structure in the real world which mixes fanatical loyalty with ambition and power and has no higher authority or moral code to guide it is the criminal mob. And that’s the Weavers.

As for the spider angle, that came from two little splurges of inspiration that I picked up somewhere along the way. I tend to read a great deal of stuff about the world most particularly science and folklore. So the first is a form of traditional Chinese medicine called gu or jincan in which, put very simply, a person of power places a series of toxic animals – spiders and scorpions and snakes and lizards – into a pot and buries it and the animals, one assumes, will fight it out to the death and eat the rest. When you uncover this pot, whichever the surviving creature is becomes sort of a fetish, a vessel, for the power of the sorcerer who has conducted this whole gladiatorial combat. That kind of excites me, the idea of the totemization of poisonous creatures. There’s some of that. The second inspiration was a series of experiments in the late 1940s by a pharmacologist whose name I think was Peter Witt. He was testing a whole bunch of different narcotics on various lab animals. He had the great idea, and there’s all sorts of wonderful old stories about why he chose to do this which I won’t go into here, he decided he was going to test a series of drugs on spiders. There are these incredible photos you can see today of the webs which these spiders spun the morning after they had been exposed to marijuana, caffeine, Benzedrine, chloral hydrate, LSD, all sorts of stuff. It’s fantastic. Some of the spiders weaved these incredibly tight webs, some of them you can only assume the spider was drunk when it was weaving it. Some of them are just disturbing and strange and odd and imperfect. Some of them are almost too perfect. It just stayed with me ever since reading about this experiment, this idea of psychedelic spiders kind of rupturing out of reality, weaving the names of the elder gods in the gossamer of their webs. It just sat in my brain and fizzled and came together with all the stuff I just mentioned and ended up playing into the Weavers.

Westfield: How much world building did you do for Weavers?

Spurrier: Surprisingly little given some of the very elaborate backgrounds I’ve created for previous stories like The Spire and Six-Gun Gorilla. I think that the world we encounter in Weavers is recognizably real. This is not a place where the average guy on the street is familiar with the idea of superheroes flying around. There’s no widespread knowledge of aliens living among us, all of that stuff. I worry that that destroys the verisimilitude of the story and we go back to what I was saying before about superhero continua being very useful as mythic exemplars rather than as literal versions of reality. I think the only fundamentally not real element in Weavers, besides the trippy god-like spiders that the people have swallowed, is that it’s set in a fictional city; a completely made up place somewhere on the east coast called Mesic City but everyone in the story calls it Sicktown which gives you some indication of what a place it is.

Weavers #1 Incentive Cover by Daniel Warren Johnson

Weavers #1 Incentive Cover by Daniel Warren Johnson


Westfield: The story centers around Sid. What can you tell us about him?

Spurrier: Not a huge amount without giving too much away. He’s a loser. He’s a bit of a flake. He’s found himself dragged into the gang by accident. Essentially he was involved in an incident, wrong place at the wrong time, and one of these spiders I described above scuttled down his throat before he could stop it. So he’s become a member of the Weavers without any intention, without any suspicion that that was going to happen, and he’s now trying very hard to work out if it’s the best thing or the worst thing that has ever happened to him. And the jury’s out on that throughout the majority of our story. So he’s sort of a street level average Joe who gives us very relatable eyes on the situation and allows us to explore this strange setup. That said, this is the sort of story that has a great deal of twists and we’ll very quickly learn that there’s a bit more going on with Sid than first meets the eye. And because I’m me, I really respond to the challenge of introducing a character who is likable and relatable while still permitting him to keep some secrets from we, the readers. That’s something that really appeals to me and I think it’s working really well so far. He’s struggling not only to hide these little concealed nuggets of truth from us, to whom he is telling his story, but also keeping them from the other members of the gang around him and from the spider in his own mind which manifests a secondary conscience forever urging him to be more open with the other members of the gang, to confess all his secrets, and essentially forcing him not to betray anyone. So there’s an awful lot of interesting conflicts going on, both external and internal. And before you ask, no Sid is not an undercover cop. That particular lazy twist gets cleared away very, very quickly at the beginning because I like to think that we’re a little more inventive than that.

Westfield: Who are some of the other characters in the series?

Spurrier: There are loads; too many to go into. I guess we’ve somewhat borrowed a convention from mainstream spandex comics by introducing all these extraordinary characters with all the sorts of bells and whistles that you’d expect in capes and masks comic books, but of course they’re just criminals with weird powers rather than huge world shattering people in extraordinary costumes. So you’ve got the head of the mob, Don Harvest. He’s a man so tied up to the notions of heat and flame and rage that he spends the majority of the story sitting in a freezer cabinet just so he’s not sweating and killing everybody by mistake. You’ve got his daughter Frankie who’s so low down in the firm that she can pry and poke around without too much fear of upsetting the establishment. And she befriends Sid in the course of doing so. You’ve got various lieutenants from the tentacled Damian to a character called Silence who I’m really proud of. He’s a very horrific guy. All the way up to the boss’ consigliere who’s a button down smiley polite woman called Ms Ketter. She seems like a librarian, a very unthreatening person, right up to the moment she rips off your head and licks the stump. She’s good fun to write.

Westfield: The story sounds a bit like Spider-Man gone horribly wrong. Is that a fair comparison?

Spurrier: I guess so and I think that’s something an awful lot of people will see. If I’m charitable I imagine a lot of people assume that was the intent. In truth, it certainly never was. I would never choose to describe or market a story that I’m so ferociously proud of in terms of it being one big reference to something else. That wasn’t even on the radar when the ideas started coming together. But hey, in as much as it happens to be a story about what happens when a young person in an overwhelmingly chaotic city gets the opportunity to exercise great power; yeah, I suppose they are in related territory and yes they both have some spiders in them. But I think they approach a similar suite of themes from utterly different directions. So yeah, you could see it as a companion piece if somebody has over only bought in their whole life Spider-Man comics and this might be an interesting way in. First and foremost, it’s a story that stands on its own two feet and doesn’t need any reference to Spider-Man to have meaning and value.

Westfield: You’re working with artist Dylan Burnett on Weavers. What can you say about your collaboration with him?

Spurrier: Dylan is awesome. BOOM! has become very, very good at matching up artists to my characteristically genre defying stories. They did it with Jeff Stokley on Six-Gun Gorilla and The Spire. He’s become an absolute legend, a very good friend, and I think the same is almost certainly true with Dylan. He’s a master of my absolute favorite kind of comic art which is iconized and exaggerated but without ever becoming cartoony or silly. He just sort of appeared fully formed in my inbox one day effortlessly producing this incredible grime noir mixing it with the finest and trippiest weird-fi you’ve ever seen. It’s sort of tentacled magnificence of body horror and magic. I think he’s going to be a very big talent.

Weavers #1 David Rubin Incentive Cover

Weavers #1 David Rubin Incentive Cover


Westfield: Any closing comments?

Spurrier: Just that Weavers #1 drops in May and I guess an all purpose request for your support. This book has everything that your most mainstream readers would love; young people dealing with specialness, responsibility, surrounded by crime, heaving with incredible action and truly astound visuals, and we’re relying on you guys, our friends in the retail world, to make that clear. This is a very original, very fun, we think very cool take on a set of ideas which has preoccupied comics for a very long time. We are delighted to be able to claim that we’ve got something fresh and new to say about it. We really couldn’t be prouder, so thank you.

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Weavers #1

 

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