Robbie Thompson and Tana Ford on SILK

A few weeks ago, I sat down at C2E2 with Robbie Thompson and Tana Ford, the creative team behind Marvel’s Silk. With things crazy on the convention floor, we snuck into the VIP room for a quiet place to chat.

(Note: the transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.)

CPH: One of the things that I found very interesting is that both of you came into Silk after she had already been created. So…

[At this point, an official from C2E2 came over to our table to check our badges to verify we belong in the VIP room. We somehow convince them we do.]

CPH: I love that we have that on the recording…. So, she had already been created, she appeared in Spider-Verse, etc., etc., so you had this established status quo with her. And even more with you Tana, since you came in six issues in or so… How did that affect your initial impetus, your initial character design, what you could do with Cindy?

RT: I heard about the character through Ellie Pyle, who originally hired me on Spider-Verse, and all I had seen at that point were some of the teases that were in some of the ASM issues of her in the bunker and stuff like that. But the most informative thing to me is… I can’t remember which issue it is, it’s the issue where she finally comes out of the bunker, and she jumps out of the bunker, and she’s got her cool suit on, she’s like, “Yeah, let’s go fight crime!” And if it was me, I would have just been like “I just want to lie down and never do anything.” In that little moment, though, that to me was the whole character. Like that was someone who went through this traumatic event that is never going to give up. And that to me is a very Peter Parker, Spider-Universe kind of a story, that is someone who very, very much I wanted to write.

Having said that, one of the things that Ellie and Nick and eventually Devin and I would always talk about is she was born out of a giant event, which was Original Sin, and then was launched in an even bigger event, which was Spider-Verse, and we were like, “well, there’s no way we can match that scale.” We can’t. We literally can’t. I can’t get all the Spiders in the book and I can’t get like all the Marvel Universe, so that actually did sort of direct us in the direction we went in, which was to try to… Well, we can’t match the scale, sort of physically, but can we match it personally? Can we really tell a more personal, character-driven story? And so we were kind of reacting to what had come before it in that respect. And that led to everything we ended up doing, both in terms of trying to tell a story about someone who is trying to take agency and control of their own life and deal with their own issues, which very naturally went into her going to therapy, which Marvel was very… so… like almost overly supportive of from jump. We were just on a panel and we were talking about [how] literally Devin would ask, “Has she been to therapy? Is she okay?” We really wanted to make sure we were tracking that every step of the way.

CPH: Did you get any pushback about saying that Reed Richards was in therapy?

RT: [Laughs] No, not at all, not at all. And I will state on the record the only reason the Fantastic Four were in that book… there was really no reason. I just wanted to write lines for Ben Grimm and the Fantastic Four. Part of the reason… just because you want to do something, usually your bosses won’t let you do it, so when I pitched it at first, they were like, “okay, well why?” And I was like “well, to me, Fantastic Four has always been a story about a family, and here’s a character who doesn’t have her family, that’s what she wants.” So for her to see it in that context, she might actually listen to someone who’s actually saying, “hey, maybe you need to go talk to somebody.” And whenever I think about Reed Richards… we always think about, oh, he’s the smartest man in the world, but he can stretch! That’s so scary! And creepy and that would really freak me out. And so it just seemed like a natural thing that he would do, and he seems like a smart person, and doesn’t always do a great job. Like you always see the scene where he’s working all night, and it’s like, well, somewhere along the line he probably had to do some self-care.

But, no, there was zero pushback. Again, Marvel could not have been more supportive of it, of that storyline. And whenever I would drift away from it just because plot would take over, both Devin and Nick—and Ellie as well when she was on the book—would always… They were very, very passionate about making sure it was a big part of the book.

CPH: That issue had one of my favorite jokes from the series, which was Cindy saying, “Oh, they made a movie of The Hobbit?”

RT: Yeah!

CPH: And then Johnny Storm saying, “Actually, they made three!”

RT and TF: [Laughing]

RT: I put in Hobbit references all throughout all of my work.

TF: Dude, I love it! I love it!

RT: Yeah. I put Galactus in the book, and there’s no reason for Galactus to be in there; I’m obsessed with Galactus.

TF: It’s so great.

RT: You drew me a Galactus.

TF: I did, I did, on Love Is Love, which if it makes it into your interview it would be great. People should go pick up Love Is Love.

CPH: So, Tana, you came in sort of midway through. Did you feel that you had the ability to put your own stamp on Cindy?

TF: At first… As a reader of comics, I find it really jarring when artists change, and I didn’t know how long I would be on the book, and so I wanted to do justice to Stacey Lee’s vision of what Silk was, and I didn’t… I knew enough that I can’t ever be her. Like her style is very different from my own, but I was really reaching for a sort of, I don’t know, like this relentlessly optimistic page feel that really isn’t in my nature. And so as I started doing more and more issues, I was like, oh, well this is just getting grittier, and it matched the stories that I was getting…

RT: Yeah.

TF: But it was a difficult sort of lift at first, when I thought I was only going to be on for an issue or two.

RT: I’m actually gonna interject and toot your horn for you. She came in, and it was a challenging issue because it was the end…

TF: It was.

RT: …of Cindy Moon, it was the Last Days of Cindy Moon…

TF: The end of the world!

RT: …and the end of the world, which we wanted to play as all off screen, and so it was a really hard issue to come in, and one of the things I was extremely fortunate about this book from beginning to end was I got to work with really, terrific artists, and everyone came in and really made it their own. And I think Stacey really set that tone from the beginning, which is like, hey, this is a very specific look for this character, but she matched the tone of the story, and every single artist that came in… [to Tana] You really made it your own from jump. And the only piece of art that I own from the entire run is from that issue that I got from you….

TF: Yep…

RT: And it’s one of my favorite pages.

TF: And it’s Cindy in therapy.

RT: Cindy in therapy.

TF: It’s the first moment where she goes to therapy, when she can’t speak, where she spends an hour not saying anything in therapy.

CPH: And the clock is just ticking.

TF: And the clock is just ticking down, yep.

RT: I had to have that page, and I think that was one of the… well, it wasn’t the first page I saw… I mean, I’d seen your work, since they sent me samples of your work, and I was like, oh this is gonna be great. But when I saw that page in particular… That’s what I mean by an artist taking it and making it their own. Stacey and Veronica and everybody that worked on the book—Irene as well—they all have their own style, and I would try as a writer to write to it.

And then we became kind of pen pals throughout the course, and I would try to reach out, hey, what about this, what do you want to try here, do you want to draw something different, and we kind of would… it was more of a back and forth.

TF: Yeah. One of the things that I really… that I’m intensely proud of was our collaboration.

RT: Yeah.

TF: It’s really hit or miss behind the scenes, and if you don’t get along with a writer, if you’re butting heads with your editorial staff, if your colorist is just like out of left field, the whole book suffers, and your willingness to put… to bleed onto the page suffers for it. And we had a dream team on Silk.

RT: It was great.

TF: I mean, the editors… You were saying earlier that the editors, Nick, Devin, supported you throughout, whenever you wanted Galactus for no reason.

RT: Yeah. I mean, I did have to justify it, but yeah.

TF: [Laughs.] Not to say that they didn’t do their jobs. But a lot of the questions I get asked, because we have the lesbian characters, Lola and Rafferty, and how much of your queer identity can you put onto the page? How much do they hold you back? And my answer is always 0% I have never gotten notes from the editorial staff that were anything but love. They’re just, “yes,” and “this looks great” and “absolutely” and “we love it.” We just had such a good team.

RT: It’s another example of why, like, from Ellie, who was the first editor, Ellie Pyle, and then Nick and Devin. I hadn’t really thought about a supporting cast at first. I was just like, “Um, punching? I don’t know? Comics?”

TF: [Laughs.]

RT: But Nick is really passionate about making sure that who the person is outside of their superhero life is just as compelling, and when we started bringing Lola and Rafferty into the book, again, much like going to therapy, they asked, “Where’s Lola? Where’s Rafferty? What’s going on with them? What’s going on with their relationship? Why aren’t they hanging out? If they’re not hanging out, what does that say about what we’re doing?” Again, they could not have been more encouraging, in every single part of it.

And this is just a really small anecdote—there’s a moment in the last issue at the wedding—cause I just wrote it’s their wedding and it’s the people there, but Tana will send me the layout with dialogue balloons and then suggestions for lines, and I got a really great response on the last issue, which was the stuff about archery.

TF: Yeah, the archery after the cake cutting! Cause it’s their wedding, and so the archery competition will be after the cake cutting. And I wanted to tie back, and so I was like, “Robbie, can we please put this in here?” Because it ties back to the day they got engaged, and the fact that Rafferty is sort of an expert marksman and it just had this very unifying, closing, satisfying moment.

RT: Now, it was… You do this on another issue, too.

TF: Yeah.

RT: Where rather than just “hey about these lines” she’ll show me the layout and show me where the dialogue balloons could go, and I’m like, “well now you’ve completely sold me!” I can’t say no because it’s a great moment. As you said, it kinda tied back and…

TF: I’m not trying to strongarm you; you’ve been nothing but like “Yes!” and “Absolutely!” and I’ve had other artist friends with very famous writers who are like, “No.” Like full stop, it it’s not in the script, it’s not in the book. And it’s never felt like that…

RT: No.

TF: …it feels like we’re building something together and it’s been beautiful.

RT: We’re a team, and we’ve been a team from top down. And, again, a lot of that comes from Nick. Nike likes to build a team of people that are like-minded individuals. But it is a bit of a dance—the more issues that we did together, the more I would just send you an email saying, “what about this?”

We had some plans for moving forward that we didn’t get to do…

TF: I KNOW!

RT: …which is a bummer, but maybe we’ll get to do them someday.

TF: Someday.

CPH: There was a lot in that last issue.

RT: There was a lot. [Laughs.]

TF: [Laughs.]

RT: Someone tweeted at me like “This feels really rushed” and I’m like “you’re right.”

TF: [Laughs.]

RT: But one of the things that I wanted to do was get some of the stuff out of the way so that we could have some of the quieter moments, because those are the ones that at that point in the story I cared most about. The storyline with Fang we wanted to do for another six issues, and we actually made a few adjustments as we went along because I was writing #14 while you were drawing #18…

TF: That’s right.

RT: …because Irene was drawing at the same time, so that we wouldn’t miss any shipping dates. Because Nick runs a very tight ship and when Dan lays out his events, you know like two years in advance when you’re supposed to be slotting in and you’ve got to really hit those marks. So we definitely did. I’m completely 100% guilty of overpacking and stuffing that. But we made a choice.

TF: Slotting in was pretty good

RT: Yeah, there you go.

CPH: Ba dum tss.

TF: [Laughing.]

RT: But we had a choice. We had a choice early on, and I had a long conversation with Devin, and I think he was right, and I think his instinct was right, which was, we could have just done… Marvel was actually really gracious. I knew at issue 14 that we were no longer going to be doing the book and we could have just… they actually gave us an extra issue for Clone Conspiracy and they gave us the two issues past that to wrap up the storyline, which doesn’t happen, and that’s a credit to Nick and to Devin for really fighting to get us a little extra space. But Devin’s point was, “hey, let’s not end her story, but let’s end the story that we’re telling, so that there’s a sense of satisfaction. It’s gonna feel really rushed; it’s gonna feel jam packed, but if we make some room for some of these more quieter moments at the end of the book to really show how she’s grown, hopefully it will at least feel a little satisfying in that regard.” But, yeah, there’s literally six issues of story in three pages.

TF: [Laughing.] Yes, yes… Oh, we have a call back to the first issue when she’s talking with Spidey and they’re on the phone with each other. I thought that was such a beautiful bookend moment.

RT: That came out of a conversation with Devin. We had 20 pages and they had read it internally in the office, and they gave me some notes and some thoughts and some general directions to go on, and some other things. But they were like, “We want to add one more page,” because it’s 21 pages…

TF: It’s 21 pages.

RT: And they’re like, “we want one moment with Spider-Man.” And I was kind of resistant to it at first. But, then I had this idea as we were talking about it—well, could we mirror it back to that opening scene and really show how different Cindy is now versus how she was in that original scene. Because that original scene was one of the first things Ellie and I kinda worked out for issue #1, and I was like, well, I won’t want to revisit it that we can maybe show that she’s kinda grown? Again, that’s a credit to Devin for having a good story sense and an idea that there’s a worthwhile scene to be had there.

CPH: It’s funny, earlier this morning at the Storytelling Essentials panel, Jamie McKelvie was talking about how it’s awful, you can’t add just one page in the middle of a story.

RT & TF: [Laugh.]

CPH: It messes up all the double page spreads and everything after that.

TF: In the original art, I had drawn the end page, some of the pages before I had gotten the finished script, and so I had a few solid moments that were definitely going to be in the book, when they were doing their heavy lift of squishing everything into the last issue, and so I had already drawn like page 17 or page 18 or something and then this gets stuck in, and so the numbering is off, and so if you come by and look at my original art, there’s gonna be like scratched off page 18, right page 19 or something. [Laughs.]

CPH: Was there anything you had wanted to fit into the book that you weren’t able to?

RT: I mean, yeah. I don’t know where I can begin and where I can end in terms of… because who knows what other stories they might want to tell, but I wanted to do 50 issues, that was my goal. We got to 26 total. I really wanted to do 50. That felt like a good number, and then I should walk briskly away and someone else should write that character for a while. But, yeah, there was a lot of stuff that I wanted to explore with Cindy as a character. We had talked about – you [Tana] and I had talked about what it would be like to go to SHIELD Academy. That is a collegiate experience for her, and that was something I really related to. I went to two schools, and then I was kinda like the older guy at the second university, and everyone else was young. Again, that feeling of… like disconnected. But also let her really build out a team of SHIELD heroes.

TF: Yep. A found family. The X-Men were so foundational for me, as a young queer kid, that I saw this opportunity to turn SHIELD Academy into a new version of that, of the lightning in the bottle, capturing the magic. Of finding people who are like you, who have struggles in this awesome environment, where you can safely use your powers together and push your boundaries and you’re also having all the interpersonal drama that drives being at school or being, I don’t know, in the X-Mansion. And to do this almost like military training, SHIELD Agent training in a group of super-powered people, kids together.

RT: We talked about Alias as a sort of model, you know what I mean? Like obviously without the undercover, we’d kinda done that already, but there’s this feeling that you have this triple life instead of just a double life. And I definitely wanted to explore more stories with Black Cat, I just loved writing Black Cat, and I loved the two of them together.

TF: Yes.

RT: I feel like we kind of left them, left some stories untold there, unfortunately. But who knows, hopefully someone will pick it up down the line. Hopefully it’s us.

CPH: I was telling someone the other day that what I want to see now is a team-up book that’s like Silk, Mockingbird, and Sue Storm as Agents of SHIELD.

RT: I would read the heck out of that book. That would be fantastic.

TF: Uh, yeah. I would draw the heck out of that book.

RT: That would be great.

CPH: Well, that’s probably enough of your time to take up today, but thank you very much for your time talking to me again.

RT: My pleasure.

TF: Thanks for having us. And for us not getting kicked out of here on tape! [Laughs.]

RT: Fantastic.

Portfolio

My writing has appeared in a number of publications, including Comic Book ResourcesBook Riot, Fusion, the Literary Review of Canada, the Queen’s Law Journal, the Manitoba Law Journal, and the Canadian Journal of Law and Society.

My full portfolio is available at Muck Rack, but here are some of the highlights:

Comics and Popular Culture

Marvel’s Silk Explored Trauma, and Became Great in the Process (Comic Book Resources)

No, Diversity Didn’t Kill Marvel’s Comic Sales (Comic Book Resources)

The Legend of Wonder Woman‘s Cancellation and Silencing Criticism (Book Riot)

2012 Was the Start of a New Golden Age of Comics (Comic Book Resources)

These Aren’t the Carbs You’re Looking For: A Geek Guide to Breakfast (Book Riot)

Law and Politics

Here’s How Much Damage Donald Trump Could Do on His First Day as President (Fusion)

Here’s How Barack Obama Might Just End Up on the Supreme Court (Fusion)

How an Outdated Process Is Undermining Voting Power for People of Color (Fusion)

Legal History

The Fix Is In: Exploring the Role of Gerrymandering in Canadian Political History (Literary Review of Canada)

The Gerrymander and the Commission: Drawing Electoral Districts in the United States and Canada (Manitoba Law Journal)