Updated: Jan 25, 2020
Dan Watters has been making waves with his latest book Coffin Bound. A book being hailed for it's surrealism mixed with a post apocalyptic world and a touch of Shakespearean tropes on acid.
This book has been one of the most unique books being published at Image and I think everyone should be reading it.
But that's not all he's writing. He's also writing the Lucifer book over at DC for the Sandman Universe of books. If you're like me and you love a little tortured soul that walks the line between good and evil then you should definitely check that out as well.
With all of the hype surrounding his books, I knew I had to sit down and pick his brain a little. Luckily he was more than happy to oblige. Hope you guys enjoy!
COMIC LOUNGE: How did you first get started in comics?
DAN WATTERS: I started working at a small micropublisher in the UK, where I met Caspar Wijngaard- we really got on, and started working on our own project, which was Limbo, which was then picked up by Image. It did well enough that I’ve been working in comics ever since, and full-time for the last few years.
Which makes it sound a little like it was a doddle, I’m aware, but I was already writing like a maniac before I met Caspar. I have completed scripts for entire miniseries tucked away in drawers that will never be made, and should never be made, because they were me teaching myself to write.
COMIC LOUNGE: What was the comic book that made you say "This is what I wanna do professionally?"
WATTERS: Morrison and McKean’s Arkham Asylum. When I read that as a teenager, it kind of blew my mind, how it was taking these Jungian concepts and combining them with tarot and still just telling a rollicking, atmospheric Batman story into the bargain.
I remember reading that book with Morrison’s script notes in the back and sort of taking it for granted that this was a baseline for how much work and effort and knowledge and love has to go into a single graphic novel. I still think that should be the case, and try and make sure it is, at least with my own work.
COMIC LOUNGE: You recently launched COFFIN BOUND at Image, and it blew my fucking mind. Where did the idea for the book first stem from?
WATTERS: Thank you! Coffin Bound was a slow birth, and the product of a lot of conversation between me and Dani. We had met each other and knew each other’s work, and both really wanted to work together. I think we both had an inkling that our creative aesthetics and styles might gel together really well. When we started looking at the kind of stories we wanted to tell, Coffin Bound began to appear. I was reading a lot of nihilist philosophy at the time, which I find really interesting, but I suspect would be extremely difficult to action in the real world, so the main ‘quest’ of the first volume of Coffin Bound is exactly that- an attempt to put that into action.
When we started talking about this, the imagery started to come together thematically, and it all kind of snowballed from there. The joy of creating a book like this is that it’s the product of two people working together to make something that neither of them would come up with individually.
COMIC LOUNGE: The surrealistic elements of the book are what appealed to me when reading it. What are the "rules" of this post apocalyptic reality?
WATTERS: Generally, I’m less interested in hard rules than in exploring ideas. I honestly didn’t realise that Coffin Bound was all that surreal until people started describing it that way, but when I take a step back and look at it I can see it, of course.
The rules of the universe itself are, I think, pretty grounded. We have touches of sci-fi and fantasy in places, but generally speaking if you’re killed, you’re going to stay dead, and if you’re cruel, you’re going to hurt people. Those stakes are always going to be real, and we’re never going to use surrealist elements to cop out on story, which I think is really important in a book like this. Izzy’s journey has to be as gut-wrenching and true as we can make it, so all actions have to have consequences. All vultures have to come home to roost.
COMIC LOUNGE: Izzy is a rucking badass and one of the most compelling characters I've read in a while. What was the inspiration behind her?
WATTERS: Izzy is one of those characters who defined themselves. Sometimes it’s a struggle to build a character up, but occasionally they pop right out at you, and you know it would do them a disservice if you tried to change them.
Izzy sprang out of a commission Dani did of a woman sitting in a graveyard that really resonated with me, and we started trying to work out who exactly she was. And she told us. Izzy is also a lot angrier than I initially thought she was going to be. I was convinced she was an out and out stoic when we set forth on this journey, but this bubbling anger beneath her surface became ever-more apparent the longer we spent with her, and I think that’s part of what makes her appealing. She has so much heart, and it might bleed out in any direction at any moment.
COMIC LOUNGE: Some of the scenes in the book are almost cringeworthy. How do you describe the scenes when sending them to Dani? Does she ever exceed what you originally imagined?
WATTERS: Aha, in a good way, I hope. And yes. It’s very much one thing to talk about these things and write them down on paper, and another thing entirely when Dani turns in these gorgeous inks in which nerve endings and raw flesh are exposed in stark black and white. Dani never fails to stun me with how she can make something so grim and beautiful all at once.
COMIC LOUNGE: What can we expect with the book moving forward?
WATTERS: I’m working on volume two right now, and Dani and I are really excited about the direction things are going. The second book is going to be quite different from the first- the nature of the book, dealing with death as it does, would make it quite pointless to repeat ourselves much. But it’s still very much Coffin Bound. Same characters (those who make it through volume one, of course!), same heart, just a new point of view on it all.
Expect blood, poetry, broken glass, and God trapped in the confines of a syringe.
COMIC LOUNGE: You also write LUCIFER and co-write THE HOUSE OF WHISPERS for the Sandman Universe line of books. What is it like working in this realm of characters created by Neil Gaiman?
WATTERS: Working on the Sandman Universe for the last year and a half has been fantastic. I’ve never worked on something so longform before, and I’ve learned that I love doing so. It’s also been interesting writing characters and premises so well known and loved by comic fans- that I grew up with too- and trying to do it in a way that’s entirely true to what’s come before, while not being slavish to it.
I didn’t want to write Carey’s Lucifer or Neil’s Lucifer, because they both do what they do so much better than I could. Figuring out what a Watters Lucifer looked like was a hell of an exercise, and since I found it, it’s been a joy to write.
COMIC LOUNGE: Can you talk about what's coming up in those books?
WATTERS: I won’t speak for House of Whispers as that’s primarily Nalo’s baby, but in Lucifer we’re heading into the Wild Hunt- a mythical hunt that happens every millennium or so, which will bring Lucifer and Odin of the Aesir to loggerheads. Which should be a lot of fun. I’m also excited that we’re bringing in John Constantine for an issue or two. The Hellblazer and Lucifer have never actually met before, so they should have plenty to say to each other. That issue has been guest drawn by Fernando Blanco who blew me away on Midnighter and Apollo, so I’m looking forward to people getting their hands on it.
COMIC LOUNGE: As you already have a few of books you're working on, is there anything else you have in the works that you can talk about?
WATTERS: I do! I have a story coming out next month in DC’s Secrets of Sinister House Halloween anthology. It’s an Atom horror story that’s my first superhero story, and I had an absolute blast with it. It’s drawn by Sumit Kumar, who’s fresh off the astounding These Savage Shores, and he’s done such great work. I also have an Ares story in the New Year’s Evil anthology, and an Ocean Master Year of the Villain one-shot both at the end of the year.
On the creator owned side, my White Noise studio-mate Alex Paknadel and I are cowriting a comic for Vault with a new artist who’s yet to be announced, but is I think an astounding talent. The book is big and ambitious and something I don’t think I’d ever attempt on my own, and the excuse that Alex and I have been looking for to work together for ages.
Caspar Wijngaard and I are also developing a new project that I’m extremely excited about- so if you liked Limbo, I’d keep an eye out for news of that, hopefully soon.
COMIC LOUNGE: Lastly, is there any advice you can give new writers?
WATTERS: Write, and write, and read, and read, and write. Focus on character over flashy scenes or big ideas. It is the characters that people will remember. Focus on heartbreak and joy and try and purge cliché out of tropes when you use them- tropes aren’t bad in themselves, you just have to guarantee that they feel real every time. And it’s an old piece of advice, but make sure you read outside of comics. Make sure you watch things outside of the norm. Input as much strange, wonderful and uncomfortable media into your brain as you can and see what falls out.
And enjoy it.