Wednesday 21 July 2010

The Angels & Demons of Thomas E Sniegoski

Thomas E Sniegoski talked to Remy Dean about vampire babes, vampire slayers, hellspawn, writing the TV-tie-in … and being ‘sweet’ (This is an exclusive interview from the Scrawl Archive.)

Tom Sniegoski has been a consistent creator of – and contributor to – comics for more than 20 years, since his baptism into the medium in 1988 with the premiere issue of Steve Bissette's ‘underground’ title, Taboo. A panel from his Teeth story is shown above. He then worked through a variety of independent projects for Caliber Comics until he started writing the adventures of Vampirella in 1992. He made such an impact with these contributions that he was taken on to write Vengeance Of Vampirella for its entire twenty-five issue run as well as the many crossovers and spinoff titles that Harris Comics produced at that time. Sniegoski re-invented the vampire heroine of the title and transformed the comic from super-hero cheesecake into an intelligent action story with a completely new and cohesive virtual reality that combined contemporary culture, cyberpunk, folklore and superstition on a biblical scale. Vampirella was cited as one of the major influences upon the huge television phenomenon of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Since leaving Vampirella, he has worked on many and varied characters for just about every publisher in the industry. Some of these titles are, Shi, Razor, Avengelyne, Star Trek, Batman, The Punisher, Jeff Smith's Bone, Jade and both Buffy and Angel

You are credited (by the fans) as being the (re)creator of Vampirella, how did it feel to let other writers continue with what you set up?
“It's funny, I never really felt that what I did was all that well received. The writers that followed me kept some of the concepts but discarded others. I should probably feel proud that they kept at least some of the changes I made to her origin.

How did you get involved with Vampirella?
“I had met Meloney Crawford Chadwick at a convention in New York and dazzled her with my rather extensive knowledge of the stories and characters that had appeared in some of the other Warren comic magazines – Creepy and Eerie. In case you aren't aware, Harris Comics bought the rights to all the Warren Publishing properties - Vampirella, Creepy, Eerie, The Rook - at a bankruptcy auction.
“I guess she was impressed and when they were looking for a writer to take Vampi in
a new direction she called me up. I'll never forget the phone call. I was working at a college in Boston as the Financial Aid Director and the call came through. I was thrilled to hear from her thinking that she was calling about some of the other ideas that I had pitched to her. All Mel said was, ‘Hey Tom, if given the chance – what would you do with Vampirella?’ The gears immediately started clicking and I rattled off some pretty basic stuff. It must have been what she was thinking as well because she offered me the gig right off.”

Were you happy with how your writing was finally visualized?
“Most of the time I was really happy. But, as with most monthly titles, you're working on a really tight schedule, so every once in a while you don't quite get what you're looking for. It's just something you grow used to with comics.”
How much of what you wrote made it onto the page - how heavily was it edited? Was there anything that was 'cut' for reasons other than editing to fit the page?
“When working with Meloney, almost everything that I came up with, no matter how outrageous, made it into the comic. I think there was only once scene that took place in a funeral home involving a bunch of monsters sitting around a table and eating the dead body of a teenage girl – the undertaker slicing off pieces of flesh as if the girl was a turkey – that she asked me to cut because she thought it was tasteless.”

What is it like working within the constraints of characters and scenarios created by others – especially when those characters are already very developed and very well known by the audience?
“It's not that difficult. When you approach an established character you kind of know the baggage that comes with it. You just look at the established continuity as the tools you can work with to tell your particular story. Every once in a while you're given an opportunity to add to that established continuity – like Vampirella and the Marvel Knights version of the Punisher that I did with writer Christopher Golden.”

How did your involvement with Buffy come about, did you pitch an idea to 'them' or did 'they' come to you?
“Actually, my involvement came as a result of my work with Chris Golden. He had kind of established himself as the writer of the Buffy characters and I was kind of pulled along, due to the fact that we had worked together in the past, and the editors liked the sound of what we had done together.”

Tell us about your first tie-in novel for Angel.
“It's called Angel: Soul Trade and it's my attempt to tell a really cool, hard-boiled detective story – only with monsters. A little girl's soul has been stolen and it's up to Angel and the gang to try to bring it back to her. As they pursue the case they come to the horrific realization that there is an entire black market set up that involves the sale of human souls. I really don't want to tell too much more, because I don't want to spoil it. Hopefully the fans of the show will dig it.”
What sort of involvement did Joss Whedon and the story editors have in the writing?
“They would read the outlines before allowing me to start the book. Once the chapter by chapter was approved, I was allowed to write the book. After the manuscript was delivered, they went over it and gave me some minor revisions to do. I really had very few problems with them creatively.”

How did you approach the task of writing for a TV tie-in title? I'm guessing you were already familiar with the show?
“Oh yeah. I love the show, so it really wasn't that difficult - especially since I had been writing the monthly comic for Dark Horse with Chris Golden.”

Any advice for the aspiring writer who wants to write a TV tie-in?
“All I can say is, get to know the characters that you're writing about and come up with the coolest possible story that you can think of. You have to catch an editor's eye. Make them say, ‘Hmmm, I never thought of that before’.”

What are your tips for writers wanting to break into the comic genre?
“Surprise me! Make me feel like a kid again like when I was reading Jack Kirby and Stan Lee comics. Bring back that excitement level any way you can. I'm not talking nostalgia here, I'm just talking about solid storytelling. Make me want that next issue really badly.”

Do you have a writing regimen or ritual - any particular time of day, place, etc? Do you write longhand first, directly into a word processor, dictate?
“Let's see… I get up every weekday morning at around five-thirty a.m. and get my wife ready for work – I make her a cup of coffee and her lunch (aren't I sweet?) – feed my dog and get him settled. Then I workout for about an hour or so and then take my shower. From there, I eat some breakfast, take the dog for a longer walk and then return to the house for my work day to begin. It's usually around ten in the morning by then. I sometimes do stuff longhand first and then clean it up as I'm putting it into the computer. In between business calls and calls with Chris, I do my day’s work, usually wrapping up around four-thirty in the afternoon. This is pretty much my daily routine. I sometimes have to do a similar schedule on the weekend.”
How does writing full-length fiction compare with writing for visual media such as comics?
“Comics are much more fun. There is a lot of energy and excitement that goes into producing a comic book. With a comic, I'm not doing all the work. I write the script and then the artist takes over. With a novel, it's all up to me! It's much more time consuming and stressful – but don't get me wrong, there are moments of excitement.”

What is the first book you can recall that really grabbed you and carried you along with it?
“It was probably Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. Scared the crap out of me! Took the whole concept of vampires and put it on its ear. Really great book.”

Do you have a favourite author, and which of their books really stand out for you?
“I think if I was forced to pick a favorite it would have to be Stephen King. The guy is just amazing. The Shining is one of the scariest books ever written. It gets into your head and stays there. I think the Dead Zone and Salem's Lot are really powerful pieces as well.”

Is there an all-time favourite book, one that you keep coming back to?
“There are lots like that. It would be hard to pick just one. One of the few books that I've read more than once is Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. I read it in college and I really had an effect on me. Also, Ernest Hemingway's short stories were pretty influential as well. There are just too many writers to say. Sorry!”

Who would you say were your biggest influences and inspirations on (a) your life and (b) your work?
“As far as comics go, I would have to say Alan Moore. I can remember sitting on a bus reading one of his first issues of Swamp Thing and muttering to myself. ‘Can he do this? I've never read a comic like this before.’ And then I read it again. It was the first time that the writing of a comic really jumped out and whacked me between the eyes. It made me realize that comic book writing might be something I would want to do. As far as my novel writing? I think the best person to blame would be a creative writing teacher I had in high school named Ken Curtis. He'd read what I wrote and toss it back to me with some kind of wiseass comment making fun of it. He was usually right about the work, but it burned my ass. I wanted to turn something in to him that he couldn't make fun of in the worst way. I can still hear his voice when I write something below par. I then quickly delete what I did and start again.
“As far as ‘life in general’, my folks and family have always been pretty supportive. My friends have really been good to me as well.”

Recently you have been writing series fiction for youngsters and young adults aswell as lots more comic stories...
"All in all, I'm pretty busy and damn happy about it!”

- No happier than the awaiting readers!
Thank you, Tom Sniegoski!

Check out the Thomas E Sniegoski official website...

For more on Vampirella have a look at her Official Merchandising Site or go to the comprehensive fan-run site, Vampilore...

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