Tim Seeley has been making waves for a long time with creator owned series like Hack/Slash and Revival but recently he’s begun commuting to Gotham City to write Batman: Eternal and Grayson for DC. A skilled writer and a talented illustrator, Seeley is a prolific creator, drawing covers for numerous companies and penning clever, often unsettling, scripts month after month.
With so many interesting projects on his plate, I knew it would be worth my while to seek Seeley out at C2E2, in his hometown of Chicago. Tim was kind enough to speak to me during his live sketching session, the results of which you can see in this article. Read on to hear about Seeley’s process, his thoughts on death and horror, and comics like Revival/Chew, “The Body”, and Grayson.
WCBR: My first question is – maybe not originally – but you’re a Chicago native-
Tim Seeley: Yes, well, yeah, I moved here 12 years ago.
I’m just here for the show – it’s my first time in the city, actually. We met at the In the Dark launch and I read your story… So first question, get it out of the way: does Chicago have a katana luchador problem that I’m unaware of?
Ha ha! I was trying to think of things because I wanted to do a story that was, like, sort of relevant. ’Cause Chicago, obviously, we’re known for some crime problems in certain areas of our city and some gang-related problems. And I was trying to think of a way to do that story about something kind of serious but still make it fun. And I was thinking about how, like, old 70s horror comics, which I think In the Dark is supposed to be sort of an homage to, like, they would go close to reality and then take a weird right turn. And that’s kind of what I was thinking, like- So, katana luchador ninja gangsters are just sort of inspired by that. Like, y’know, it’s sort of real, but not really.
Yeah. Yeah, I definitely was reading it, like, that was not mentioned. Like, you just went with it and you committed and that was that.
Yeah, yeah. And there- so there’s a real famous Chicago gang named The Street or The House End… something. I can’t- now I can’t remember because I’ve been drawing too much, but they were certainly inspired by something called the Graves’ End Houses.
Cool. Well, then to go in about as opposite a direction as you can, my question is, particularly in light of, “The Body” and Revival, do you believe in an essential self, like, something that over time doesn’t change, it’s who you are?
Yeah, I mean, kind of.
You know, I’m not religious. But, I don’t know, I think there’s a certain- there’s some kind of aspect of humans that is…early defined y’know. Like, I’ve watched my brother’s kids, they’re one-years-old, and they’ve already got pretty defined personalities. So there’s obviously something you come in with. Y’know, you come into the world this way.
So there’s something. Like, I don’t pretend to have any understanding of what it is, I just know that it’s powerful and profound and that it’s…kind of beautiful in its way? So, yeah, I think all of my stories are sort of about mortality in some way or another, because I’m sort of obsessed with my own mortality. So yeah, I think that sort of defines a lot of the stories I’m interested in telling.
Sure. And I was curious, in “The Body” particularly, since you do believe in that, what do you think its role is in fear and in horror?
Well, I think that’s an interesting thing. I think that’s the most powerful emotion for people, like this notion of being erased until you never existed at all. Like, death is pretty terrifying, but I think there’s also this sort of — it’s what makes people turn to religion — this idea of that you would just disappear and not leave anything. No legacy, no family, that you would be completely forgotten as if you never existed. I think when you play that as a sort of, y’know, in a way a very physical manifestation that it’s really powerfully frightening to people.
I think that’s the hardest thing for people to deal with. We’re aware of our own mortality. We know we will die. That’s really frightening to us. That’s like the motivation for just about everything we do, right? That’s why we procreate. That’s why we try to strive to do things ‘cause we know we will die.
That’s kind of a horrible thing for any animal to have to deal with.
Uh, I feel-
Or is that under debate?
Well, the idea was if you ask John he’d say it was Chew/Revival and if you ask us it was Revival/Chew, so it’s-
So, it’s Revival/Chew because I’m an asking you-
Yeah, sort of like, back in the day, there was always this rumor that in the ending of Godzilla vs. King Kong that in Japan he won.
But it’s like- That’s not really what happened, but people really liked that idea, I think. So we thought that it’d be like as if we’re telling different stories and we’d tell people “No, this is it!” like we were fighting about it.
Alright. Cool. So Revival/Chew is- I think Revival is definitely a funny book-
Yeah, it has moments.
It has moments. And, like, y’know, horror is sweetened by or deepened by humor and humor is darkened b-
Yeah. But how do you kind of mix the weirdness of Chew and the kind of grimness of Revival and they both- also, they both play into ideas of government control and…
I mean, one of the ideas we had when we talked about it is that John pitched it to us, he just said, “I’ll tell a Revival story set in the Chew world and you tell a Chew story set in the Revival world.” So, they don’t ignore each other, it’s just that when Chew is in our world, he has to deal with the rules that come with a Revival story. And when we’re in Chew’s world we have to deal with the rules that come with that, so it’s just sort of, recognizing, like, y’know, in our book we can’t really have a cyborg guy. His partner, Colby, is a cyborg. Well, we don’t really have that in our book, so Colby’s not there. It’s not that he doesn’t exist. We just don’t see him in our book.
So, in John’s story he’s able to do funnier stuff because it’s Chew.
And we’re sort of able to do darker stuff because it’s Revival. And I think in the end it just makes a unique comic. Like, that’s what we should be doing. We should be making good comics. We shouldn’t have rules necessarily.
Alright. So, this one’s kind of general, but what is your writing process like?
No, it’s basically, I- it’s changed a lot, but basically is that I take about a day or two just to jam and think about it. Write down notes, just like, anything that comes to mind, what I want in a story. I also think about the scenes first, so I want this scene. But I don’t always know what the story’s about right away, so I have to sort of, y’know- Once I get the scenes I start putting them in order.
So I put as many ideas down as I can and then I break that down into a page order. Like, how many pages I need for each thing. And if I have too many ideas that’s good; that means I can push them off into the next issue. And if I don’t have enough, I need to sit down and get some more ideas. And then I start with an outline where I break down what happens on each page. And once I’ve got an idea of what happens on every page, I sit down and write the full script. Usually, I draw- or write the whole thing at the same time. Sometimes I just write the action first and then put the dialogue in later.
Either way, it’s weirdly painful.
Well as we’re seeing right now, you’re also an artist. You’ve done comics work and covers and all sorts of stuff, do you think- do you see yourself as an artist who’s transitioned into writing or do you see yourself as a writer with like an art-
That’s my official description for myself.
And is that- Do you find that helpful?
Yeah. ‘Cause then I know where to put the priorities sort of without… but, yeah, I mean, I like drawing obviously. But, I don’t know, I think people like it better when I write stuff. They like my art okay- I do sketches at shows and that’s great, but I think people like it better when I write stuff, which I kind of like, because it allows me to make stuff up. ‘Cause the job of writers is, y’know, the emotional beats and stuff and those are the things that really affect people, I think.
You can certainly affect people with a drawing, but really I think that it comes down to the writing and what you do with the character and how the characters react to things. So, yeah, I really like that aspect of it.
Well, you’ve been doing this for a while.
Wow. Okay. So, pretty much since you moved to Chicago or right about the same time?
I moved here for a comics job.
Oh. Okay, that makes perfect sense. So then you kind of have a very kind of clear mind of at what point you decided “I’m doing comics now”?
Yeah. I mean, that was the goal after college. But I worked for two and a half years at a children’s book company, doing comics on the side. And then when I got the job offer down here I moved from Minneapolis down to Chicago to do the job and I’ve been working in that since.
Okay. Well, then, the question is either when you were at the children’s book company or when you got the first job, what’s one thing that you know now that you wish you had known then?
I guess I kind of wish I’d known a little bit more about the business side of things. I’m not terrible at the business stuff, but I’m not- I was worse then. Y’know, like, going to things and knowing who owns what and what you’re signing up for. It’s not a fun part, but it’s really important, especially when you make things up.
Because part of the job of making things up is that if- should it be turned into something else, y’know, an action figure or TV show, you want to know who owns it, so that they can properly be paid. So, turns out that’s kind of an important part of the job. I knew some, but I wish I had known more.
I called Revival your big thing, but, at the same time, you’ve been kind of moving into doing a whole bunch of Batman stuff with DC.
You are working on Batman: Eternal. And if I am not mistaken, I think I saw somewhere that you’re working with Batgirl, Red Hood, and Batwoman.
So are those, like, you- you all work to some extent on all the issues, but you have certain ones where’s it like your little plotline?
Sure you kind of control their story. You’re still working with the other writers, you don’t want to, y’know, push them out or anything, but-
Yeah, that’s kind of how we do it. We know that there’s multiple plots and it’s sort of controlled and based on the idea that Batman works in so many different genres; he’s a horror character, he’s a crime character, he’s a science fiction character. And so each of those stories kind of contains characters dealing with that issue.
Cool. So, uh- was I right in thinking those are characters you’re kind of dealing with particularly?
Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
We all deal with Batman ‘cause Batman’s in every story. You wouldn’t- It would be unwise to do a story without Batman in it.
Sure. So I saw that list of- of characters that you were working with and it just kind of seemed like those three have kind of always been the outliers in the Batfamily, the, you know Jason was Robin for a bit, but he’s pretty well defined himself as- as not under Bruce’s direct supervision.
Yeah, for sure.
What is it about those characters and- and is there something about those- that disconnect from the rest that-
Well, part of it- I don’t want to- to give any of the story away, but- Those characters are driven together because of a specific event and it involves Barbara having to go around the world and Batman won’t let her go herself. And, though Jason is kind of outside his control, he knows Jason knows how to handle himself outside Gotham City-
And so he makes him do that. And Batwoman gets involved in sort of something else, but it’s also partially that she’s- she’s a little bit more of a cool, calm version of Batgirl and in this case she’s sort of acting as, like a big sister.
Right. And I would imagine Barbara is probably not in the coolest and most collected moment of her life-
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So, it’s sort of about, y’know, it is exactly what you’re saying, about. being part of the family, but being sort of the, like, the unwanted stepchildren to a degree. I mean, all the Robins were- were basically hired by Bruce to some degree – not hired – but they became part of the family. Barbara did it herself.
Y’know she- she was inspired and did it herself. And Batwoman is the same thing. And so, yeah, they’re definitely- but then their- their relationship to Batman is very- it’s interesting in the story. It’s very important, I think to the larger family, y’know, obviously Dick is the closest and Damian’s obviously his son and, y’know, Tim is sort of…his own guy, but they- they all have a different reason for why they work with Batman.
Alright. And then I also- this one maybe is a little more for me than some of the others, but I’m curious, you recently did the Killer Croc issue for villains month.
Which, personally, may I say, I thought was a character who desperately kind of needed to be more than muscle and-
Oh, I agree- I fully agree.
And kind of got a little bit of that, so thanks for that-
Oh, yeah, yeah- That was the goal from the beginning.
The first appearance Croc made since that after the reboot was Red Hood and the Outlaws where it was revealed that he’s actually Roy Harper’s sponsor-
– In AA.
Since it sounds like you’re going to be using the Red Hood, is that relationship, that mutual friendship going to come up at all?
Sort of. I didn’t want- I felt like- I liked that idea. I think it’s funny. I think it’s kind of, y’know, unexpected. It also doesn’t really fit with what we’re doing, but I felt like, when I did the Croc one-shot, you had to see how that could be part of his thing. Like, y’know, I mean, until you saw his relationship with- he cares about some people a lot-
Right, but that doesn’t stop him necessarily from-
Right, well, he- he knows the difference between people he cares about and- he cares about the tribe. He’s a very animalistic guy in that way. I was always- I didn’t like that he was animalistic and dumb. I thought he should be animalistic and sort of like, y’know, he has a very clear defined version of who is in his tribe and who isn’t and if you’re not part of his tribe he doesn’t care about you. So, he has no problem ripping your head off, but he will protect you to the death if you’re one of his people. So, that’s kind of the approach that we took with him, I think. And hopefully that explains how he could be involved with Roy Harper, right? I mean, you know-
Yeah. No, I think that makes perfect sense. And while I think Croc has looked progressively cooler since about Hush, that was really, between that and Batman: The Animated Series, he’s- he’s been done no favors in terms of respect or intelligence. I mean, he literally kind of started as a mob boss with like-
Yeah- His own gangs-
And part of the idea was always just, y’know- What I think happened is when Bane came around-
-there was no need for Croc anymore and I think you have to define how they’re different.
That’s what I was hoping to do is show- Y’know Bane is anti-Batman to a degree. He’s like super educated, he’s super smart, but he’s sort of- he grew up in the wrong place. It’s like if Batman had had none of the support of Alfred and all that stuff he might’ve become someone like Bane.
Whereas Killer Croc’s not really- I mean he’s- yes he’s a brute, he’s a monster, but his concerns are very different from Batman’s. I think he’s more- he’s concerned about the underdog. So, yeah, that was kind of the approach that I was taking.
That’s really cool. I like that a lot.
Alright, so finally turning to Grayson, which, I admit, is very interesting to me as a long-time Nightwing fan. Dick Grayson has kind of- I feel like it’s kind of long been public knowledge that Dick is kind of the heart of the superhero community, with all of his time in the Titans and, y’know-
So, what does it mean for Dick to really kind of have no one. All his friends think he’s dead. He’s working with Spyral, which is not necessarily people you can trust the same way-
What does it mean to be the core of that Kevin Bacon-like net.
Huh, the six degrees-
Yeah. He’s a like, one or two degrees from everyone. All of a sudden he has no one. What is that mean for him?
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s what the book is about. I mean, I think that Dick is sort of like the- the example of the perfect DC superhero because he’s about the legacy. He’s been Robin, he’s been Batman, he’s been his own hero. And Dick doesn’t really care about what mask it is that he wears. As long as he helps people, Dick doesn’t care.
I would say that Batman’s disguise is Bruce Wayne; he’s Batman first.
Dick is Dick first. Dick has no problem sort of transitioning to a new thing. But in the cases he’s done it before he’s always had- he’s always done it with something backing him up. So, this story, I think, is about who’s Dick Grayson on his own. And I think the answer is he’s still Dick Grayson.
He’s- I think that character’s so well-defined, it has so much history. He’s a guy that likes to help people. He’s a good-lookin’ guy. Women like him. He’s relatively care-free comparatively.
He’s not driven by darkness, y’know. He’s not like Batman. Y’know, he’s just- he’s a guy who, once he had figured out, y’know, that he had saved a bunch of people on the path to getting revenge for his parents, realized that it wasn’t about the revenge anymore. It was about the people, right?
So, yeah, I think- I mean, I- that part doesn’t change about him. What changes is he’s on the outside looking in now. And how does that effect how he thinks about, y’know, his job and- and there’s a very specific reason why we put him with Spyral, why he has to do that. So we get into that and it has a lot to do with identity and sort of the way we would actually probably think about people who had immense power in real life if we didn’t know who they were?
So, and it kind of goes to that sort of NSA, Wikileaks sort of thing where we live in a world now where you can find out things about everyone, but what about the people that control it all? What do we know about them?
So, yeah. There we go. That was a pretty good pitch.
That was. So, one thing that was interesting that you said in here was, uh, that Dick doesn’t care what mask he’s wearing-
So, you- And you’re welcome to disagree with me. I feel like- I don’t know that I would say Dick cares about what mask he’s wearing, but I feel that when he became Nightwing that was him, in a lot of ways. Nightwing was the hero that was most an expression of who he was.
Well, there’s a great line that Kyle Higgins wrote or it might have been James, I’m not sure, I think it was Kyle. It was like sort of a- I think it was in Kyle’s last issue. Someone was describing like “Oh, my brother-in-law got saved by Batman” and, y’know, Batman did save the guy and then he left. And the other person will say like, “Well, my sister got saved by Nightwing. He stayed around and called and made sure the cops came.” Y’know what I mean?
Like Dick is the humanist aspect of that. I- I would say that- I say you’re right- That’s where he figured out who he was as a guy and how he did things. But, yeah, I mean, I think the- the identity of Nightwing is just sort of a stepping out of Batman’s shadow. I mean, that’s kind of what I think it means. Y’know? That name sort of indicative of being out of the shadow of the cape, right?
But, yeah, I mean, I- I agree. And in this case, y’know, if you read Forever Evil #7, you know that the world knows Nightwing is Dick Grayson so-
So, it’s sort of out of deference and sort of making sure his friends and family can’t be identified as being, y’know, someone could just track it and say, “Okay, this guy’s Nightwing. Now we know who Batman is, now we know who Barbara Gordon is, now we know who Robin is.” Y’know, it’s important for Dick not to do that, right?
He’s in a position now and Batman comes to him and says, “You’re the only one who can do this ‘cause everyone thinks you’re dead.
So, yeah, that’s kind of our idea.
Okay. So, then the interesting thing is if Nightwing was very much Dick Grayson, we’re now looking at Dick Grayson as himself, but, at the same time, he can’t be himself if that was Nightwing. And he definitely- they’re definitely gonna be limits, I’d imagine, if he’s working for a government agency or at least one run like that.
Well, Dick always plays by the rules, y’know, when he- he’s not a rulebreaker kind of guy. He’s not quite like Batman, but he also is just like-
Maybe doesn’t care about the rules as opposed to actively breaking them.
Eh, he thinks, y’know, as long as he’s doing good – and Dick knows what’s good and never doubts if that’s a good thing. He knows what’s good – Y’know, when he’s working with this agency he’s still going to be- he’s going to be Dick Grayson first and an agent of Spyral second.
Okay. Cool. And then last question or basically last question is: we saw in the solicitations, I think it was for the Five Years Later September issue that Dick is, at least at some point, ending up in Russia.
Which is about as classic spy stuff as you can get.
Yes. Too true.
I’m just kind of curious, what do you feel is the balance of spy vs. superhero and what kind of villains is he taking on? Like proper supervillains or more spy game or more taking down institutions and-
I think it’s- it’s a little bit of all that. I think it’s a superhero book influenced by spy books, y’know, spy comics and spy books.
So, that’s where I- yeah, that’s definitely how I think of it. That gives you a chance to do the sort of globe-hopping villains that, y’know, when Batman first fought Ra’s al-Ghul in the 70s. So we’re going to do more stuff like that. There will be, y’know, guys in suits and costumes and stuff, but there will also be spies and politicians and world leaders from evil countries. It’s all that kind of fun stuff, so I think it’s wearing all of its influences on its sleeve and being okay with that, y’know?
Sure. Alright. Very cool. Well, we’ve talked about a lot of different things and that doesn’t even get into a couple of your other projects, but is there anything that is kind of a little ways out that people should be on the lookout for?
Well, I have a book called Sundowners coming from Dark Horse in August.
It’s a superhero horror book. Sort of like a paranoid conspiracy superhero book.
Basically about this bunch of people have this syndrome called Sundowner’s which makes you put on a costume when you go to bed- when you should be going to bed and you run around and fight crime in the street. So instead of being like Lou Gehrig’s Disease it’s like Bruce Wayne’s Disease, basically, is what we’ve been saying. So, yeah, it’s a- kind of like a horror series.
Haha. Alright. So, Sundowners. Is there anything else?
Oh, Jack Kraken and my, uh- when I was five years old I created a superhero called Jack Kraken who is a stretchy-armed spy superhero guy with a jetpack and, he- he fights and tries to maintain the peace between the non-human species of the world, so, like elves and vampires and mermaids. He’s like a UN guy for this weird agency called H.I.M. So, it’s like a crazy fun superhero book that’s coming out in June from Dark Horse, so…
Well, that’s great. I’m glad you got to come back to that.
It’s- That’s the dream: come back to your embarrassing childhood character.
Alright. Well, thank you for taking so much time and talking with us.